The 5 Biggest Car Maintenance Myths

Find out which car “truths” are anything but – and how to avoid them.

Here at Nationwide, we like to dispel various myths out there about automotive care. So here are five car maintenance myths, which may result in paying more for maintenance/repairs than you should or, worse, actually damage your vehicle – along with expert commentary about smarter alternatives:

1. Myth: You need to replace your oil every 3,000 miles.

Reality: Thanks to advancements with synthetic versions, your car can literally last for thousands of miles over the once-sacred 3,000 mark. To get the most out of your oil, make sure you’re using a synthetic or conventional oil that’s specified by your owner’s manual, and change it according to your oil product’s durability schedule. “And, no, it doesn’t do your engine any better to change oil earlier than it’s scheduled,” says Stan Markuze, founder of PartMyRide.com, an online auto-parts marketplace. “If you’re using a 5,000-mile oil, you’re throwing away a perfectly good product by replacing it after 3,000.”

2. Myth: To keep your warranty valid, you have to go to the dealership to perform vehicle maintenance.

Reality: What matters is that the maintenance work gets done, as opposed to which certified technician does it. “As long as maintenance is performed on the schedule that’s specified in your owner’s manual, you can take it to any shop,” says Sidney Billingsley, CEO and owner of Woodbridge, Va.-based HomeTowne Auto Repair and Tire. Don’t forget to document all work.

3. Myth: You should replace a tire if you run over a nail.

Reality: A capable tire shop should be able to repair the damage done by a small nail or similar puncture with a special, rubber patch job, which goes on the inside of the tire. “The patch usually costs $20 or less,” Markuze says. “Compare that to at least $100 for a new tire.”

4. Myth: You should never replace just one tire.

Reality: Many tire service centers recommend replacing at least two, to ensure the tires have the same tread depth. But given how expensive these products are getting, you could get away with replacing just one, especially on front- and rear-wheel drive models and/or if your other tire has a lot of remaining tread depth. Just make sure you replace it with a tire that’s the same brand, size, tread pattern and speed rating as the one you’re matching it with. “Otherwise, it’s like wearing a running shoe and a heel,” says Matt Allen, co-host of Bumper to Bumper Radio, a top automotive-advice radio program in Arizona. “Okay, maybe it won’t feel quite that goofy. But your car sure will handle and drive oddly with mismatched tires.” (Important note: For all-wheel models, all four tires must be replaced at the same time.)

5. Myth: Fuel is fuel. You can use any quality grade and it won’t make a difference.

Reality: Actually, depending on the type of car you have, you can do a lot of damage by using the wrong type of gas. If you try to save nickels and dimes by using regular fuel in a model designed for premium, you may shell out thousands for engine damage and overall poor performance. And—contrary to popular belief—it does you no “favors” by using premium for a vehicle that doesn’t require it. “You’ll actually hurt fuel mileage performance instead of help it,” Allen says. “You’ll also possibly accelerate and promote carbon and deposit build-up in the valve train and combustion chamber, which can lead to higher maintenance costs.”

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