Smart SpendingSmart Spending

5 car repair myths

These outdated ideas about car maintenance and repair could be wasting your money.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 30, 2011 9:53AM

This post comes from Brian O'Connell at partner site MainStreet.


Urban legends aren't exclusive to Bigfoot and the ability of Leprechauns to find gold. The car repair business is loaded with myths too, and left un-debunked (bunked?) they can hit you in the wallet big time.


Chances are, you don't want that -- not in this economy.


In fact, according to data from AAA, one in four drivers could not afford a $2,000 auto repair bill right now. What's more, about 50% of all American car owners say they are "hanging on" to their older vehicles, knowing full well that the "baling wire and duct tape" approach may be the only thing standing between them and a fat auto repair bill they just can't afford.


The trouble is, even the average repair for a "check engine light" issue costs just over $300, according to, and standard repairs can easily go over $1,000. AAA adds that a transmission repair can cost between $2,000 and $4,000, while a larger engine problem can cost $5,000 or more. Post continues after video.

Knowing what myths and legends exist in the car repair world may potentially save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Here's a handy list to keep in your glove compartment and break out the next time something's wrong with your wheels:

  • So much for the "$3,000 mile rule." says the $3,000 oil check is a thing of the past. Most new models -- 2010 and older -- can go 7,800 miles before an oil check is needed.
  • Dipstick check. The common refrain among car cognoscenti is that you check the oil on the dipstick. If it's black, change the oil. But Edmunds says that "oil is meant to get dark -- it means it's doing its job. Also, different additives can change the color of motor oil."
  • It's not the gas reports that, for the first time since the advent of on-board diagnostics, the gas cap is no longer the top fix for "check engine" problems. "In fact, four of the top five fixes (replace O2 sensor, catalytic converter, spark plug and mass airflow sensor) are related to vehicle durability," the company says.
  • Careful on the brake fluid. This tip comes from Consumer Reports and it's a common myth linked to brake fluids. If those are low, the conventional wisdom says to top them off. Not so, says Consumer Reports. Instead, get to an auto repair shop and head off a potentially big problem with your brakes by getting them checked immediately.
  • Stretch out a battery charge. Years ago it might have been accurate to charge a dead battery for a few minutes before pulling the plug. Not today, as newer vehicles power more than just an engine -- they now light up iPods, "hot" seats, GPS devices and televisions. So leave that charge running longer - even for a half-hour. If it doesn't hold a charge by then, get the battery checked out.

There's no need to fall victim to costly car repair fairy tales. Keep a sharp eye out, and take good care if your vehicle. Do that and you'll be the best myth buster on your block.


More on MainStreet and MSN Money:

Aug 30, 2011 4:55PM
You can all save yourselves from a "$3,000 oil change" by PROOF READING!
Aug 30, 2011 4:02PM
Yea driving a vehicle with over 200,000 miles on it, I check everything before driving anywhere! Bike with almost a 100,000 miles on it...I also live in a very HOT, Dusty, dirty environment! Lots of blowing sand & dirt & said vehicle is a four wheel drive that spends more time in desert than on highway I do suggest changing oil more often as well as air filters etc! It's the kind of driving you do & where you do the driving.
Aug 30, 2011 6:00PM

I've been in the car repair business all my life and reading these comments just reinforces what I've always said. Everyone who knows a little bit about an automobile thinks he's an expert and really doesn't know much.....that include these idiots writing these articles.

Aug 30, 2011 6:33PM
Aug 30, 2011 12:02PM

I am sure you meant oil change  in stead of an oil check is not needed at 3000 and can got to 7800 before and oil check is needed. I would recommend checking oil weekly or even with every fill up on older high millage cars and at least weekly on all cars. The oil is the life blood of the engine and if it gets low an engine failure may occur. This low oil might not trigger a light at highway speeds but come on when u slow down for the 25 mph exit ramp and that may be to late.  Oil changes are dictated by the type of driving.  Stop and go commuting in traffic the oil change still needs to be done sooner 3000 to 5000 miles. All interstate driving can extend it up to 7500 miles


Aug 30, 2011 6:09PM

I usually refrain from criticizing these kind of articles, but this one is just plain goofy. I won't repeat what others have already said, so let me tackle another statement.

What the heck are they talking about on the battery charge? How often is anyone charging their battery? That typically only comes up if you leave your lights on and kill the battery. Typical fix for that is a jump start, and you are on your way. The alternator fairly quickly recharges. And if you are using a battery charger on a dead battery, do you really expect it to fully charge in a few minutes? Since when? 


As a 30 year ASE certified master technician I have to say that this article was the biggest piece of non-information I have ever seen. If you want your car to be safe and reliable yes get the oil changed every 5000-7500 miles (I change mine every 3k) and while doing so have the tires rotated so the brakes can be checked and the drivetrain inspected for leaks. Keep to the manufacturers recommended schedule for trans fluid, coolant and air filters. By doing this you will assure a long life from your vehicle that usually keeps major problems from occurring. Just sayin......

Aug 30, 2011 5:08PM
Another useless article. The gas cap part didn't even make sense. If your light comes on you can still check to make sure you tightened it. Doing so will not cost you thousands of dollars. Most auto parts stores will check for free to see what is causing the check engine light to come on. And how will not doing a dipstick check save you money? I know you don't go by just color but if you have an older car it's a good idea to check the oil in between changes because you could have a leak or be burning some oil. Not checking could cost you money.
Aug 30, 2011 5:33PM
I love any automotive related article posted here. Always good for a laugh. People behind desks should not write on the subject of auto repairs, especially when your entire article relies on references from other, marginally factual sources.
Aug 30, 2011 8:28PM
They need to stop writing and printing things that they have NO knowledge of.  Please stop.

Aug 30, 2011 6:06PM
Dealers makes more money from repairs then they do selling you a car.
Aug 30, 2011 9:32PM

Today's oil is a high detergent oil. That is to say, it scrubs the inside of your engine clean! So let me pose this scenario to all of the smart guys who say it's better to follow the manufacturers maintenance interval:


Okay, you're at about the 5000 mile mark after the last oil change. The oil is black and it feels gritty. Doing it's job, right? The manufacturer says that you can go 7800 miles before you need to change the oil again. Your mind is at ease while you keep on driving...


What is motivating the manufacturer? Right, MONEY! You drive 7800 miles between oil changes with that black gritty oil, it does one thing and one thing only, WEAR THE ENGINE! Faster engine wear = faster vehicle replacement, plain and simple! The manufacturers make more money that way!


Did you know that today's oil filter's do a GREAT job at filtering the oil? Yeah, they do such a great job that they get CLOGGED!! What happens when an oil filter gets clogged? Not much, except that a bypass valve opens up in the oil filter so the the oil can BYPASS the clogged filter! Yeah, that's right, for about half of that 7800 miles your car is pumping around unfiltered, gritty oil throughout the engine!


They did the same BS with the 'maintenance free' batteries years ago. Way back when, a car battery could go 20, 25 years before needing replacement, that is as long as you watched the water level and added distilled water when necessary.


You see, lead-acid batteries that are found in cars use water like a car uses gasoline. You need to periodically add distilled water so that the battery can continue to hold a charge. Guess what? The battery companies noticed that they weren't making much of a profit, so they came up with the idea of 'maintenance free' batteries. You never need to add water!


That dropped the life expectancy of a battery from 20 -25 years down to 4-7 years (believe me, you're lucky to get 5 years out of a new battery!). It's like selling a car with no way to put gas in it. Eventually it's gonna stop running, and you have little choice but to buy a new car! It's an extreme comparison, but I used it to just make a point - Don't believe the hype!


Even 'maintenance free' batteries have vent caps (most do), and it very easy to pop the vent caps off and add distilled water every once in a while. BTW, you should never need to charge your battery, and if you do, something's wrong! It would be wise to find the root cause of the battery drainage...


Oh, about the brake fluid issue, the author is right on the money! Never add brake fluid, get the brakes checked out! As the brakes wear, the caliper pistons move out to compensate for the wear. As the pistons move out, the brake fluid level drops in the master cylinder until... that stupid light comes on! If you pop the cap on the master and add fluid, you will turn out the light. But when you get the brakes serviced, the caliper pistons get pushed back in, and the master ends up overflowing! Very messy! Yeah, I know that the proper way is to crack the bleeder screw when you push the caliper piston back in, but 99 times out of 100 the bleeder screw is rusted solid, and you will end up just breaking it off if you try to crack it, making a simple brake job turn into a... nightmare!


Bottom line - I'll keep changing my oil every 3 - 4,000 miles, and when I pull up behind you at a light and see all of that blue-grey smoke coming from your tail pipe, I'll just smile and wink as I go around you when the light turns green...Open-mouthed 

Aug 30, 2011 10:17PM
I have worked and now own a quick lube oil change shop, for the past 20yrs. Would I like to see my customers coming in every 3,000 mi. You bet! Is it realistic, no. I agree with jciii2010, I have customers that just dont care about there vehicle. Auto manufactures would suggest extending the oil change interval to 5 or 7 or whatever thousand miles. They sell parts, I do not. i do agree that in some cases 5 or 7 thou. miles is ok, depends on if you use synthetic oil or not.( Uh Oh I opened a new can of worms.) Also depends on the type of miles you drive. Do you wait to brush your teeth untill there crusty or do you do it every day and see your dentist twice a year?  My vehicles go 5000 mi. in between oil changes, with Mobil1 synthetic. A combined 400,000 miles on our cars, and they are both running fine. Follow your owners manual, talk to your local mechanic, or talk to the dealership, but at least use your head. Oil changes are cheap insurance, and they give the shop a chance to check all your other fluids and spot potential problems before they arise. Just my two cents worth........
Aug 30, 2011 6:38PM
Low oil level in the crankcase is the primary cause of shortened engine life and engine failure.  Oil is a coolant and when you have less of it, it run hotter and breaks down causing wear. Check the level when you fill up with fuel.  Wait about 5 minutes for the oil to drain back into the crankcase and make sure the car is level.   Oil and filter changes at 7000 miles with today's engines is certainly an acceptable change interval, assuming the car is not used for short runs in cold weather or used in severe use applications such as trailer towing. If that is the case, change the oil at 3000 miles and the filter with every change  If you are able, change your own oil.  The Speedy Lube guys seem to like to install the drain plugs and oil filters with a 3 foot breaker bar. 
Aug 30, 2011 7:03PM
Not all advice found on the web is reliable.  If your vehicle is still under the manufacturers warranty then you should always go by what they say. Then if you have problems, the manufacturer should honor the warranty.  As far as intervals, again what does the manufacturer recommend?  Nissan's require every 3750 miles between oil changes.  It depends on the oil brand you use as well.  Some oil brands will offer a guarantee up to 10,000 miles between oil changes and if your car is harmed, they'll pay for it.  No matter what, check your owners manual, check the labels on the oil, and don't always go by so called experts on every website.  I've worked for over 25 yrs in the automotive field and I've seen some crazy advice and some crazy things done to save money and most of the time, it's money wasted.
Aug 30, 2011 6:46PM
The new oils do have a longer lubrication life, but the real issue is removing dirt from the engine through regular oil changes. My new car also recommends 7500 mile intervals, but will probably end up around 4000-5000 intervals, to make sure the dirt is removed with the new oil filter. Filtration in the new cars is much better than old cars, but much of this still has to due with regular filter changes. The old adage is true, pay a little now, or a lot later.
Aug 30, 2011 5:49PM
I've been running my cars up to 200K to 400K miles and by then usually someone has smacked into one and their insurance company buys me another car.  There is no point at which a car gets too old to run since even an old car can be made from new parts.  I only get rid of a running car when the features no longer meet my needs or I can no longer get parts for it and junkyards make that a long time.

I change oil every 3K miles and use the cheap oil that meets mfg specs.  Mobile 1 can go 10K miles or more and rarely if ever breaks down but the thing that kills oil is the dirt/debris an engine generates while running.  After about 3 months or 3K miles there's enough dirt/debris in the oil to start wearing valve seals, journal bearings, and other internal engine parts even if the viscosity is still fine.  I see this as cheap insurance and doing the oil change myself gives me a chance to look over the vehicle every 3 months.

Keeping an eye on fluid levels is also a very good idea but also looking under the vehicle after it has sat overnight is even better.  In general if the vehicle doesn't make noises, the tires are good, and it doesn't leak fluids you're fine.  Fluid leaks need to be addressed or at least understood ASAP but if anything is low top it off before driving the vehicle to a mechanic.

Aug 30, 2011 11:04PM
OK, as an ASE certified auto technician since 1981, let me say this about the article.... Pay NO attention to items 1 and 2. There never has been a 3000 dollar oil check. Where did they get that?!? Also, The wise person will REGULARLY raise the hood and check all fluid levels, including the oil level on the dipstick! Not all of us have clean white cement driveways and garages to tell us if oil is leaking or not. An engine can start leaking or using oil at ANY time regardless of age or mileage. Regular checks of the dipstick are not just to look at the color of the oil but also the LEVEL of the oil. That's your first clue something could be amiss if you have to start adding oil. Checking your fluid levels regularly can help you keep from getting stranded somewhere, and ruining a perfectly good engine or transmission, that may only need a gasket or seal to stop the leak. And yes, I ALWAYS follow the severe service schedule or exceed it when I perform maintenance on my car. I cant afford to do any less.
Aug 30, 2011 8:27PM

Nice, another example of "FINE JOURNALISM."


Thaksn; Msnbc for ur fine jurnalism.....


wunderfool um example of seeumm dooouumm


Nostusus nsee uumm Party

Aug 30, 2011 7:13PM

There is no substitute for periodic and preventative maintenance for all vehicles and machinery. A very good example of proper preventative and scheduled periodic maintenance is The USAF B-52 Bomber that was built in the 1960s and is still flying bombing missions today. Important to stay on top of all the little items as they are the ones that are going to cause the major problems down the road.

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.