Dad as Mechanic
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Someone’s Dad, somewhere, checks the oil in the family car.

Lie Number One: Change Your Oil Every 3 Months or 3,000 Miles

Sure, this advice was probably good back when Dad got his first car sometime in the '70s (or even earlier). Technology has changed a lot since then, though – if you don’t believe it, find a 1972 AMC Gremlin and take it for a test drive!

But seriously: not only are modern engines made to higher tolerances and with different materials than that Detroit iron was, motor oil companies have also spent the last forty years improving their products. They’ve invented additives that extend oil life and created new blends that are better at keeping dirt and other yuck from collecting on your engine parts. Cars are better, and oil is better: you don’t need that oil change on Dad’s schedule.

Why Do We Still Think the Interval Should Be 3,000 Miles?

Probably because every oil-change shop, dealer, and mechanic in town slaps a sticker on your windshield that says, “Come back in 3,000 miles.” Think about it: would you throw away your jeans after three months just because the salesperson said you should? You might suspect that the salesman just wants to make another sale while your jeans are still good…

More than 110 million gallons of motor oil are sold in California every year[1], of which a significant amount – perhaps as much as half – is changed before its time. That’s a waste of resources and your money, and can contribute to water and soil pollution.

Keep Checking that Oil Level
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Regardless of how often you change your oil, you should check the fill level every time you fill the gas tank.

How Often Should I Change My Oil?

The people who made your car know, and they'll tell you when to change your oil; just check your owner’s manual. Most new cars have an advised interval of 5,000 to 10,000 miles, depending on driving conditions – hard driving like towing, stop-and-go, and lots of short trips will reduce the oil life and decrease the recommended change interval.

The engines in some models contain a sensor to check the oil’s condition, prompting the driver to change when the oil reaches 10-15% of oil life. If you don’t have that sensor and you've lost the owner’s manual, CaRecycles will can help you find it by using their “Check My Number” campaign[1].

Keep Your Hands on the Wheel
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Put down the phone and put both hands on the wheel – but where?

Lie Number Two: Drive with Your Hands at Ten and Two on the Wheel

Once again, technology has gotten between Dad’s advice and reality – technology in the form of safety equipment, the air bag. With the hands at ten and two, the rapid inflation of an airbag might slam the hand and arm into the driver’s side window, injuring arm or fingers. Experts now advise[2] that drivers place their hands at three and nine on the steering wheel. This, they say, improves reaction time and awareness of the wheel position, while providing better leverage for turning and allowing 180-degree turns of the wheel without the need to remove the hands.

Of course it goes without saying that both hands should always be on the wheel – and neither one on a cell phone: Dad would probably agree!

Side View Mirrors Aren't for Viewing Your Side
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Proper position of the side view mirrors is essential to reducing and removing blind spots. This one is positioned wrong!

Lie Number Three: Position the Side View Mirrors so You Can See Your Back Bumper

Dad always said that when you adjust the mirrors after sitting in the car, you should be able to see the end of your car on both sides. Nope, wrong: positioning the mirrors lie this creates large blind spots on both sides where a driver can lurk, out of sight, ready to honk and sideswipe your car on your next lane change.

Instead, you should position the mirrors on both sides so that a vehicle in the next lane appears in the side view mirror just as it disappears from the rearview mirror on your windshield. This isn’t news – a paper published by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) in 1995 explained their method. Such authorities as Car and Driver magazine[3] and NPR’s “Click & Clack, The Car Guys”[4] have explained how to set your mirrors. The only problem most people have is getting used to not seeing their own car in the mirror any more.

Don't worry, Dad, we still love you, and all your other advice is (probably) still good!