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Popular car myths busted by reality checks

February 22, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
The average household spends more than $700 a year on car maintenance, and Consumer Reports says certain myths can lead people to do the wrong thing, and that can cost you. Consumer Specialist Ric Romero provides a reality check so you can be sure your money is being well spent.

There is a lot of misinformation about how to take care of your car. That's because much of it relates to cars built years ago. Today's autos are better made, but some parts require more maintenance and some require less.

Consumer Reports puts a lot of cars through tough tests at its auto track. 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," said Linkov.

Myth number one: Your engine oil should be changed every 3,000 miles.

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

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 number two: 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," warned Linkov.

Reality check: Get your brake system inspected immediately.

Myth number three: After a jump start, your car will soon recharge the battery.

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

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

And finally, myth number four: Dishwashing and laundry detergent make good car wash soap.

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

The reality check: Use car wash liquid instead.

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

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