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Three Lies Dad Told You About Cars

By Edited Dec 2, 2016 5 7
Dad as Mechanic
Credit: : : w i n t e r t w i n e d : : / flickr.com

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
Credit: dvortygirl / wikimedia commons

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
Credit: Beademung / wikimedia commons

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
Credit: grendelkhan / flickr.com

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!



May 25, 2013 12:03am
Very interesting!

My Daddy (and driving instructor at my high school) did indeed tell me these.
May 25, 2013 6:12am
The ten and two thing is widespread. It seems like everyone either drives that way, or drives "twelve" with one hand on the top of the wheel. There's a reason why race car drivers tend to drive three and nine... and they know a thing or two about controlling a car. :)
May 25, 2013 7:41pm
The whole 3000 miles per oil change thing is something the oil places definitely perpetuate out of self-interest. They really put on the hard sell on that. I would think the engineers who designed your car would definitely know better what your car needs than they do. This article is doing a good service for consumers.
Jun 10, 2013 12:02pm
@Amerowolf: mine too - on both counts. Cars have changed a lot, though, since I took driver's ed more than forty years ago!
Jun 10, 2013 12:03pm
@Alex: I tend to drive with one hand on the shifter (6-speed manual) and one at twelve (or sometimes 6). I tried driving with the hands at 3 and 9 not long ago and my wife asked me what was wrong - why did I seem so tense!
Aug 14, 2013 9:38am
my father also told me the same thing
Feb 4, 2014 3:27am
hahaha, my dad told me the same things, :D dad oh dad!
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  1. "Check your Number." CalRecycle: Check Your Number for Proper Oil Change Interval. 9/04/2013 <Web >
  2. "Avoiding Crashes & Emergency Maneuvers." Avoiding Crashes & Emergency Maneuvers | SeniorDriving.AAA.com. 9/04/2013 <Web >
  3. "How To: Adjust Your Mirrors to Avoid Blind Spots." How To: Adjust Your Mirrors to Avoid Blind Spots - Feature - Car and Driver. 9/04/2013 <Web >
  4. "Avoiding the Blind Spot." Avoiding the Blind Spot | Car Talk. 9/04/2013 <Web >

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