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On The Road

Hot-wiring is easy, and other car myths

Cars are more and more complex, yet many of us still believe some of the myths perpetuated by Hollywood – and our well-meaning parents back in the day. I’ve heard many car myths during my time in the industry and I’d like to put four of them to rest.

1. Hot-wiring a car is easy. How many times have we watched a movie in which an unsophisticated bad guy spends 20 seconds breaking into a car and hot-wiring it? Unfortunately – or fortunately, for all of us – this is most definitely a myth. Hot-wiring a car requires a lot more than a few simple twists of a wire.

Granted, the starter circuit is quite basic. It includes a starter motor, starter solenoid and ignition switch. The ignition switch sends a signal to the starter solenoid, which in turn engages the starter motor.

Most systems have come a long way in the past 40 years. The ignition switch sits in the steering-lock housing. This housing is buried in the steering column and dash. Even with the proper tools and training, it can take a highly skilled technician up to three hours to remove some switches. The steering-lock housing also uses breakaway bolts, so by the time our movie bad guy gets the dash cover off, they still wouldn’t be much closer to starting the car. Furthermore, most new cars today have internal chips or an immobilizer system, so nobody is hot-wiring these cars anytime soon.

2. Filling the gas tank early in the morning improves mileage. Many people believe that by filling up their tanks later in the day, when temperatures are warmer, the fuel will have less density – and thus less energy – resulting in fewer miles per gallon.

This is not true. While fuel can vaporize with soaring temperatures, nearly every gas station houses its fuel in underground tanks, and it would take an extremely high temperature to cause them to heat up enough to affect the density. If temperatures climb that high in the Bay Area, we’ll have bigger problems than gas mileage.

So feel free to fill up any time of the day without worrying that your mileage will suffer.

3. It’s better to turn off the car and completely remove the key when filling up the gas tank. Coming back to the ignition circuit mentioned earlier, I’ve had many people ask me if they have to remove the key from the ignition completely before fueling. They fear that by leaving the key in the ignition, some system within the car could continue to run and hinder the fueling process.

That’s false. The only risk that comes with leaving your keys in the ignition is that someone jumps into your car and drives away while you’re filling up. When the key is inserted into the ignition tumbler, nothing will happen until you turn the key to position 1, 2 or start. To be clear, systems in some newer cars will actually turn on after you use the remote to unlock or even open the door, but in those cases, the car is just waking up some of its computers and will not affect your fueling process.

4. A car that makes a shaking/rattling sound is out of alignment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people come in and ask for an alignment because their car is rattling or vibrating at a certain speed.

Time and again, I tell them that the problem is not with alignment. Misadjusted alignment can cause bad tire wear or pulling to one side but rarely causes vibration. Vibrations are nearly always tire- or wheel-related, often involving tire balance, wheel bearings or suspension. As tires wear, they lose weight. Weight has to be added back on to keep them in balance. . If your car is vibrating, have your tires and wheels checked first.

Matt Pataky owns Sunnyvale Foreign Car Service, 15 Pioneer Way, Mountain View. For more information, call 960-6988, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit sfcarservices.com.

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