Most of us view our vehicles as something between an immutable feature of daily life and a rabid, suicidal dragon that gorges on explosions until it inevitably explodes itself. That's because we all know it's only a matter of time until something goes horribly wrong with our cars, and then we're epically, mythically screwed. As a result, various rules of thumb for regular car maintenance have been passed down through the generations -- precious wisdom handed to us by our ancestors in order to stave off, for a spell, the ruinous, virgin-eating car repair monster. But many of these rules are, at best, wildly outdated and, at worst, a total waste of money.
Note: I work as a mechanical engineer on diesel engines for locomotives. I can back up how a car engine works and the science behind these myths, but I don't want to give the impression that I'm a professional mechanic. As with all Cracked articles, you should probably use this as a jumping-off point and explore the information more on your own, rather than take it as gospel. Because if something goes wrong and you tell somebody that you got your bad advice from a website spinoff of a defunct Mad magazine imitator, they're going to laugh at you. Forever.
6Change Your Oil Every 3,000 Miles
To maximize your engine's life, you should change the oil and filter every 3,000 miles. At this point you should also say several quiet prayers to the gods of breakdowns and have a mid-ranking church official -- no lower than a nun but no higher than a bishop -- bless the water in your vehicle's coolant.
"I'm sorry, my child, but the Lord can't drive or bless a manual transmission."
The idea that you should change your car's oil every 3,000 miles is so pervasive that it has its own Wikipedia page ... specifically debunking it. This misconception has its roots laid all the way back to the 1970s, when oil technology was still developing and the engine operating environment wasn't nearly as smooth and controlled as it is today. Back then, 3,000 miles was actually a pretty good rule of thumb. So was "Never trust a European" and "Chest hair, son: Always chest hair." However, just like international relations and grooming habits, engine and oil technology have improved drastically over the decades. The life of the oil in your car has now increased far beyond that allegedly sacred 3,000-mile barrier.
So why do we hang onto it? Because no one has bothered to tell the oil-change industry. Those poor, naive fellas still "recommend" changing it every 3,000 miles, despite the fact that synthetic oils lasting up to 15,000 miles have been available for years. If only somebody would show them the backs of those bottles in their tiny, uncomfortable lobbies; why, we're sure they'd immediately mend their ways and return all that needlessly spent money of yours.
"So as you can see, it was clearly a moral dilemma, and I just couldn't do that to you. Here's $300 for your trouble."
Sure, 3,000-mile oil changes won't hurt anything, but neither will 1,000-mile changes or 500-mile changes, or just a big hose attached to a barrel in your trunk that constantly pumps only the finest, freshest artisanal crude right into your engine block.
So how often should you actually change your oil? However often the manufacturer of your actual engine tells you to. For most cars built in the last decade or so, that's around 7,500 miles, but could be as high as 20,000.
Shit, some people sell their cars before they ever see that number.
Probably the same people who toss their champagne once they've poured the first glass.
5Warm Up Your Engine Before You Drive
Whenever you start your engine, particularly on cold days, you have to let it warm up to its normal temperature before driving, otherwise it will turn into a bear and eat your dog. Or wait, no, that's feeding ferrets after sundown. If you drive a cold engine, the whole blasted thing will self-destruct, right?
"Seriously? This is goddamn California."
As long as you're not flooring it everywhere you go, you can get going as soon as you turn the key. This myth comes from an understandable place: Various engine parts and oil do take some time to warm up before they can operate at full capacity. However, an idling engine takes much longer to warm up, so it ends up experiencing far more cold-start wear and tear than if you just hopped in and drove it.
Think about it: When your engine is idling, it's still producing power, so what difference does it make if that power is being used to move the car or just scratch its shiny metal ass? Additionally, there are other parts of your car that also need warming up, like your transmission and wheel bearings, and those don't get any help until you actually get the thing moving.
As demonstrated here, with the Cracked company vehicle.
Plus, there's another one of your components that needs warming up to function: your catalytic converter. Until that gets up to operating temperature, your emissions are through the roof. Every second you let your car idle in the cold, a single tear freezes to Al Gore's face. And that's only funny the first dozen times or so. Just avoid highway speeds and rapid acceleration for a few miles, and you can drive right off, winter be damned.
Of course, that all applies to newer, fuel-injected cars. If you've got an old carbureted classic out there, you can hang out in the parking lot for a while, if only to let the opposite sex get a good heaping eyeful of you.
You won't be laughing when we hit 88 mph and have your pre-you grandpa at gunpoint.