Popular car maintenance myths dispelled

February 12, 2010 6:43:39 PM PST
The average household spends more than $700 a year on car maintenance. But there are things you can do to save money.

Consumer Reports says certain myths can lead people to do the wrong thing and that can cost you. Its auto experts have this reality check so you can be sure your money is being well spent.

"Consumer Reports" puts a lot of cars through tough tests at its auto track. And Consumer Reports' Jon Linkov has heard a lot of car-care myths that need a reality check.

"When it comes to maintaining your car, misconceptions abound that could lead you to spend more money than you need to, and even compromise your safety," he said.

Myth No. 1: Your engine oil should be changed every 3,000 miles.

"Despite what oil companies and quick-lube shops say, that's usually not necessary," Linkov said.

The reality check: Under normal driving conditions, most vehicles can go 7,500 miles or more. Stick with your owner's manual for your vehicle's service schedule.

Myth No. 2: If your brake fluid is running low, you should just top it off.

"If your brake fluid level drops to or below the low mark, something could be wrong with your brakes. So topping off the fluid could mask a big problem," Linkov said.

Reality check: Get your brake system inspected immediately.

Myth No. 3: After a jump-start, your car will soon recharge the battery.

"It could take hours of driving to restore your battery's full charge," Linkov said.

Reality check: Have your battery inspected at a service station to see if it needs more time to become fully charged, or whether it needs to be replaced.

Myth No. 4: Dishwashing and laundry detergent make a good carwash.

"It's not worth using dish detergent to save money, because you could damage your car's finish," Linkov said.

The reality check there: Use carwash liquid instead.

Another bit of advice from Consumer Reports: Don't inflate tires to the pressure shown on the tire's sidewall, that's the maximum pressure the tire can safely hold, not the manufacturer's recommended pressure.

The correct tire pressure is usually listed on the door jam in the glove compartment, or near the gas cap.