Common Myths Among Young Drivers
Young drivers often become the victims of myths — from bad maintenance advice to mistaken safety tips. Here are 10 common misconceptions among young drivers and what to do instead. To you older drivers: No one's watching, so feel free to take a peek.
Myth No. 1: Change your oil every 3,000 miles. Various service stations advertised the 3,000-mile oil change for years, making believers of many of us. While it doesn't hurt to change the oil that often, it's a waste of money in most cases.
Modern vehicles generally recommend an oil change every 7,500 miles — more than twice the distance those service station ads warn you about. One type of synthetic oil even claims to last as long as 15,000 miles, though that's probably stretching it. The best advice is to follow the recommended schedule in your car's owner's manual. If you often tow trailers or drive in stop-and-go traffic or extreme weather conditions, then change the oil more frequently.
Myth No. 2: Vehicles that require regular fuel benefit from a tank of premium gasoline once in a while. Years ago, leaded gas and high-compression engines demanded the occasional tank of premium gas, which included detergents to clean out fuel injectors. Today, the Environmental Protection Agency requires detergents in every grade of gas. Stick with your vehicle's recommended octane level and you're sure to get the adequate detergents to keep your fuel system clean; 87, 89 and 92 correspond to regular, midgrade and premium gas, respectively.
Jim Williams, senior manager at the American Petroleum Institute, says some gas companies put extra detergents in their premium grade, which might warrant an experimental tank or two to determine whether or not there's improved performance. Many premium-grade "improvements" are just marketing gimmicks, so do your research. Before experimenting, ask yourself if you really need premium gas. Has your engine's performance significantly deteriorated? A tank of premium might seem necessary, but realize you might be masking a more serious problem. It's often best to follow your owner's manual.
Myth No. 3: Keep your dashboard and tires shiny by frequently wiping them with protectant compounds. Dashboards gather dust and tires lose their shine; it's inevitable with use. Frequent use of various protectant compounds available to consumers, however, can actually do more harm than good. Many dashboard cleaners leave a shiny glare and slippery surface, which are hardly the results you want to aid in safe driving.
Some experts even say these treatments cause the dashboard material to dry out or age faster. Also, tires become discolored as a side effect of their built-in chemicals — the waxes and antioxidants that form a protective coating against airborne elements, according to Bill Vandewater, consumer products manager in sales engineering at Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire. Aftermarket shiners can restore a tire's color, but they strip the tire of its original protectants. The result? Vandewater says that over time, cracks form in the rubber. As an alternative, he suggests using mild soap and water with a good brush on the tires. We suggest simply wiping down the dashboard with a wet cloth; there's no need for chemicals.
Myth No. 4: It's best to drive cars with automatic transmissions around town in "3" — or in "D" with the overdrive button off — and save "D" for the highway. The original idea was that drivers needed to lock out the highest gear for more responsive performance in stop-and-go driving. Most modern vehicles employ transmissions that are quick to kick down into a lower gear, so driving without the topmost gear around town only lowers gas mileage.
Myth No. 5: It's best to shift an automatic transmission into Neutral at red lights. This myth stems from the idea that keeping the transmission in Drive while stepping on the brake wastes fuel and causes unnecessary wear on the driveline. In fact, actual engine wear and fuel loss are minimal.
Regularly shifting from Neutral and back into Drive when the light turns green, then immediately stepping on the gas, can wear — albeit slightly — on the transmission, driveline and engine mounts. Ultimately, these stoplight antics probably won't amount to any measurable harm or good; they're likely just a habit by folks who need to keep their hand busy with the gear selector. Our advice? Get a stick shift.
Myth No. 6: Luxury nameplates are the be-all and end-all. Movies and marketers alike drill this message into young drivers — heck, all drivers. Let's analyze it objectively: Luxury brands typically have better resale values than their garden-variety counterparts, but they also tend to cost more. In a level playing field, the difference is often slight. According to Kelley Blue Book, a 1999 Infiniti G20 fetches only $210 more at trade-in than a similarly priced 1999 Nissan Altima.
Also consider repair bills, which tend to be higher for luxury brands. Consumer Guide rates costs for various repairs on used vehicles. In our example, Consumer Guide estimates an alternator repair to average $320 on the Nissan — and a staggering $1,035 on the Infiniti. Such is the hidden cost of leather seats and chrome accents. Still worth it? You decide.
Myth No. 7: Talking on a hands-free headset while driving is a safe alternative to holding a cell phone. We're not going to debate the lesser of two evils. Here are the facts: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that one in 12 18- to 24-year-olds on the road at any given time is also on a cell phone. One-quarter of all police-reported accidents are caused by driver distraction, and cell phones play a significant role. In fact, the risk of collision can be four times higher when driving and talking on a phone, according to a 1997 study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The culprit isn't holding a cell phone or one-armed driving; it's taking your mind off the task at hand: safely piloting 3,000 pounds of steel to your intended destination. A headset does nothing to mitigate this; pull over or put it away. Enough said.
Myth No. 8: You don't have to wear a seat belt when you're sitting in the backseat. Few people explicitly advocate this, but actions speak louder than words: Fewer than half of all rear-seat passengers wear seat belts, compared with the 80 percent average for all vehicle occupants, according to NHTSA. Rae Tyson, chief of media relations, warns of two risks that unbelted backseat passengers incur: First, they're unable to take full advantage of the vehicle's safety features, and accidents — especially rollovers — put them at high risk. Second, they become projectiles toward others during the collision, increasing the likelihood of injury among their fellow occupants.
A 2004 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that during a collision, unbelted backseat passengers create a 20 percent greater chance of death for occupants seated in front of them. "People don't realize the forces involved in a crash," Tyson says. "They think, 'Oh, I can hold myself in my seat.' Crashes are often so violent and contain such high energy that there's no way you're going to be able to physically stay where you are."
Myth No. 9: Keep your doors unlocked so rescuers can get you out after an accident. This seems reasonable, right? No. Eric Bolton, media relations specialist at NHTSA, warns that unlocked doors are more likely to open during a collision and allow occupant ejection — and ejections kill 10,000 people each year. The doors in many modern vehicles automatically unlock following airbag deployment, and even if they remain locked, rescuers can break the windows to get to passengers. This is a far better prospect than tracking down victims ejected during the impact.
Myth No. 10: For maximum airbag protection, reposition everything. This sounds vague, doesn't it? That's because it isn't actually a tip, but rather a collection of them. It seems everyone has advice: Aim the steering wheel at your head. Aim it at your chest. Sit close to the wheel so you pay better attention to the road. Sit far away for more room in a collision.
Let's set the record straight: NHTSA advises that the steering wheel should be aimed at your breastbone, positioned at least 10 inches away and tilted away from your head. But watch out, as a low-slung wheel prompts one-armed driving with the hand draped over the top of the wheel; in a collision, the airbag can shatter that arm from below. Remember to keep your hands on the wheel at the 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock positions, with the seatback upright and the wheel 10 inches from your chest. It might not be comfortable at first, but you'll get used to it — and some day it could save your life.