Busted: eight car myths
From convertibles being unsafe to idling your car in the morning, modern cars bear little resemblance to their predecessors
SA has what one can best describe as a fascination with myth and legend, especially those involving the supernatural, like tokoloshes.
Vehicular myths also abound and though some are justifiable, some are purely outdated perceptions. Here we debunk eight persistent motoring myths.
SUVs are safer than small cars
Since they’re taller and bulkier, it’s one of the more understandable myths. Naturally, bigger creates perceptions of robustness and under normal circumstances, a hulking vehicle normally wins in a bumper bashing. However this doesn’t mean SUV occupants get off scot-free. Injuries and even fatalities do occur, especially when people aren’t wearing safety belts. Besides, SUVs’ higher centre of gravity makes them more prone to flip-overs than smaller cars.
All SUVs are good off-road
This is one of the more prevalent myths in SA if videos of stuck or river-swept SUVs are the measure. Yes, crossovers and SUVs with raised suspension generally fare better on regular dirt roads than sedans and hatchbacks, but many of the popular models in SA have their limitations.
Many are fitted with road-biased front wheel drive and only a few models are available with all-wheel drive (AWD). Check if your SUV/crossover is fitted with AWD before venturing off-road and, better still, get a 4x4 with low-range gearing before tackling anything more demanding than a typical farm road. Additionally, water defeats all cars including proper 4x4s, so don’t take chances with an overflowing river this rainy season.
Convertibles are unsafe in a crash
Modern technology has made roofless cars much safer. Stability control systems are generally standard, and a convertible does flip the windscreen pillars are generally built with extra strength to withstand the forces, that and roll-hoops situated behind the seats deploy in milliseconds.
Manual cars are faster and more fuel-efficient than automatics
In the past automatic gearboxes were lumbering and unrefined. Nowadays, the automatic gearbox not only provides two-pedalled driving convenience but also better acceleration and fuel efficiency than their manual counterparts.
Using your phone while refuelling can lead to an explosion
Any warnings to this effect at petrol stations are usually taken seriously. Understandably, lighting up a cigarette heightens the chance of a fiery end to your day but what of the use of cellphones while filling up?
There is no evidence that a mobile phone has ever caused an explosion at a petrol station anywhere in the world, according to the UK Institute of Petroleum.
Idling the car in the morning saves the engine
My neighbour has a Toyota Conquest that still runs like a peach. The cheerful crescendo of the engine note serenades my breakfast as the car warms up, ending with a marked “vroom” when the optimal temperature is reached.
Idling a car only wastes fuel and causes unnecessary pollution. Drive off slowly; the engine warms up quicker as you drive.
A bigger engine means more power
This was true during the analogue days when cars came with a set of tools to set the timing chains of their big-capacity motors, but not in these days of downsizing. New frontiers in engine manufacturing, and the integration of turbo- and superchargers, and electric motors, has turned small engines into seriously big hitters. Look to Mercedes-AMG with its banging 2.0l four-cylinder 45 models. Better yet, take a look at the Koennigsegg Gemera with its three-cylinder engine that develops 440kW and 600Nm.
Chinese cars are bad
This is a similar claim made of Japanese cars decades ago and subsequently of Korean brands. But look how they turned out; entrenched and incredibly competitive products with leading factory warranties.
Earlier Chinese cars were very chintzy but the newer stock has turned the corner, and feel and look better — to the point of being ahead of established brands on the technology front. It’s still early days for them to match the very best but Chinese brands like Haval and Chery are well on the way to becoming household names.
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