Do You Know What's Bad for Your Engine and What's Not?



By: Ian Fortey

7 Min Quiz

Image: [Monty Rakusen] / [Cultura] /

About This Quiz

It's a weird thing some people do when they buy a car. They'll spend thousands of dollars on what is arguably the second biggest purchase they can make next to an actual house and then proceed to learn nothing about the machine they just bought. If you want your car to work well and work for a long time, you'd do well to learn a few tips for making it run smoothly and efficiently. There are a lot of bad habits people have when it comes to driving, things they can do that will shorten the life of their engine and make things more expensive and more trouble than they need to be over the life of the car. Likewise, there are all kinds of hints and tips you can learn for getting the most out of your engine and keeping it purring like a kitten long after everyone else has to take theirs to the shop to get it looked at.

Do you think you know what's good for your engine as opposed to what's bad for it? Do you have the basic knowledge to keep your car treating you right? Time to show off your stuff. Buckle up and take the quiz!

What should you be doing with your coolant every two to five years, depending on what your manual says?

Just like oil, your coolant can get a little gross after a while. Check the numbers in your owner's manual, but every 2 to 5 years you ought to be flushing your coolant and replacing it. Contaminated, old coolant can damage your radiator and cause your pump to fail among other issues.


What's a good mix for the fluid in your radiator?

You don't ever want to put just water in your radiator, because it risks boiling off when it gets too hot or freezing when it's too cold. A 50/50 mix of water and coolant in your radiator will keep it running without anything cracking.


How long after the check engine light comes on should you actually get the engine checked?

The check engine light isn't a joke or even a suggestion really, it means something is wrong. You should get the engine checked as soon as possible. Too many people make the mistake of leaving it until there's a noticeable problem which is going to cost more.


What's more damaging to your engine — nine trips to a store less than a mile away or one trip 900 miles away?

Short trips are bad news for your engine. Yes, they're hard to avoid because who wants to walk a mile if they don't have to? But they also don't give your engine time to warm up and that, in turn, puts more stress on your engine than taking one single exceptionally long trip would.


Where do you want to keep your car in the winter?

This isn't an option for everyone but, ideally, parking in the garage during the winter is going to be better for your engine overall. Yes, it'll still get cold, but you're cutting out on the wind chill which can make things that much worse.


Does tire pressure have any effect on your engine?

Believe it or not, tire pressure does affect the way your engine performs. If your tires are underinflated, your engine is going to have to put more effort into performing. If you've ever tried to drive on a flat tire you've likely felt how difficult it is. Underinflated tires have more drag to them and you'll suffer a loss in fuel economy as a result.


How often should you get your car serviced at the very minimum?

Your owner's manual will have the recommended service dates for things like transmission fluid, belts and hoses, oil changes, etc., but you should have a mechanic who will check the important areas when you go in for oil changes. That serpentine belt that just started to fray at 40,000 miles doesn't know the manual says it should be good for 60,000!


What's the most stressful thing you can do to your engine just as a light turns green?

Hard acceleration is probably the most fun thing you can do in your car, but it's also a terrible idea in the long run. You're stressing your engine if you burn out of the gate like you're in NASCAR instead of just easing up to the speed limit.


If your temperature gauge shows your engine running cool all the time, is that a good thing?

You might think your engine is doing well if the temperature gauge shows it running cool all the time, but your engine should have a temperature to it. You don't want it to overheat, but by the same token if it's running cold all the time there's a good chance it means your temperature gauge is broken and needs to be looked at.


Revving your engine to warm it up is a bad idea, right?

Revving your engine isn't necessarily a good idea at any time, but it's an especially bad idea when your engine is cold. Revving causes the pistons to pump faster, which is going to wreak havoc on the piston rings and valve train which have not had time to get properly lubricated yet.


When's a good time to change your spark plugs?

Your owner's manual will list how often you should change your spark plugs, but in general it will be every 20,000-30,000 miles. Your mechanic should check these every couple of oil changes just to make sure there's no issues.


Is it better to shift quickly or slowly from reverse into drive?

Even though cars and speed go hand in hand, you really need to take your time with some things. A fast switch from reverse into drive is going to cause damage to your drivetrain and can lead to damage to your axle, transmission and engine. It's best to reverse, come to a complete stop, then shift to drive.


If you live someplace where the weather gets truly frigid, what should you invest in?

Cold starts are just no good for your engine and probably never will be. The problem is that you can't help it when winter rolls around. To save the stress on your engine and its parts, an engine heater is a wise investment if the temperature routinely drops far below freezing.


What's the worst way to get your car moving when you're stuck in the snow?

Deep snow or mud are pretty much the worst things ever and we all have the same idea when we get stuck. You gun the engine and go forward and backward over and over again. That's not a good idea, however, and it will kill your engine if you keep doing it. If it doesn't work in a few tries, stop and try something else.


Does the color of your coolant matter?

You should use one color of coolant in your car and only one. If you have green in there, don't add a blue one. Mixing coolant colors can cause them to turn into a gel-like substance ... which of course won't flow well and will lead to all sorts of damage!


Does ethanol in gasoline improve the lifespan of your engine?

Ethanol is frequently added to gasoline but the problem is that ethanol is not really your friend. Not only does is absorb water which can lead to corrosion but it also breaks down polymers and shortens the life of your engine. Newer engines are not a susceptible to damage, as they are made to use hybrid fuels.


Is it cool to drive with the needle on E for a while so long as the car is still going?

Just because you can manage to drive for a while with the tank looking like it's empty doesn't mean you should. The fuel pump works when there's fuel in the tank and when it hits empty it struggles to get those last little bits pumped out, overtaxing the pump. That can cause it to break sooner than it needs to which might cost a bit to replace.


Is it good to let your turbocharged engine idle for a moment before you turn off the ignition?

Many modern engines like Ford EcoBoost are turbocharged engines. What does that mean? It provides additional power to the engine but, in the process, it runs hot. If you shut down your car immediately after stopping you may actually cause the engine oil to boil in the turbine. Give it a minute to idle before shutting down to extend its life.


What's something you should ask at the gas station you go to?

Believe it or not, not every gas station filters their gas and those that do don't always change the filters regularly. If gas is unfiltered at the pump you're risking dirty gas that can limit the lifespan of your engine. Ask when they change filters and if they can't answers, get gas elsewhere.


How far over the manufacturer's suggested weight limit is it OK to load your vehicle?

Everyone likes to push things a little bit, and it always seems like you have wiggle room but at the end of the day, if you overload your car you're stressing the engine beyond factory specifications and that's going to take its toll. Follow the directions and 0% is where you want to be.


How often do you need to change your motor oil if you want the absolute best results?

Some people say you need to change your oil every 3,000 miles but that's not true in today's vehicles. The best idea hands down is to do what the manual says, as the manufacturer specifies the ideal time/distance for an oil change.


What can you do to extend your engine life at red lights?

Revving your engine while at a red light is something you might have been taught to do as a teen to show other drivers you were ready to race on the green. Doing it in a car which costs north of $30K these days is just a bad idea.


Does topping up your brake fluid improve engine performance?

All things being equal, your brake fluid doesn't have much to do with your engine performance. However, and you should probably already know this, not having enough fluid in your brake system can lead to a lack of stopping power.


Everyone knows that there can be too little oil in a car. Can you have too much?

Every fluid in your car has an optimum level, and your engine is no different. You can, in fact, overfill your oil and the result of that could be a serious case of frothing. That leads to air bubbles and decreased functionality, not to mention splashing that can lead to burnt oil and engine damage.


Should you ever wash your engine?

Weird as it sounds, your engine could benefit from a good wash now and then. Now certainly you don't need to watch it every month, but maybe every year or two. When your engine is clean it will run cooler, plus this gives you the chance to make sure all your hoses and belts are in good working order. Just make sure you learn the proper way to clean it and protect certain parts.


Should you ever drive through puddles?

You can't avoid puddles sometimes; it's pretty much impossible. That said, you need to avoid deep puddles or flooded roads if at all possible. Deep water puts you at risk of water being sucked into the engine cylinders destroying the engine. Wet brakes also stop you less effectively, so be sure to pump them a few times after an unavoidable water crossing.


Can you change your oil too often?

As weird as it sounds you can, in fact, change your oil too often. First and foremost it's just a waste of money, and it's also environmentally unfriendly. But frequent oil changes aren't helping your engine out because the car has to keep adapting to new oil volatility.


How hard can you push a brand new car right off the lot for the first 1,000 miles?

With a brand new car, you never want to push it too hard during that first 1,000 miles just to get everything worked in. Just to be on the safe side, try to keep your RPMs below 3,500 for the first 1,000-1,500 miles.


You know your engine has an air filter, right? How often do you need to replace it?

A good rule of thumb is that under normal driving conditions, your air filter will need to be changed every 15,000-30,000 miles. This can vary depending on where you drive. If you don't drive the car much, replace the filter every 3 years to avoid it becoming brittle and falling apart.


Is it better or worse to fill up when the tanker truck is filling up the local gas station?

A popular thought running around on the internet is that filling up your tank when the delivery truck is filling the station's tanks can lead to you getting dirt and sediment from the tanks in your engine. While this is theoretically possible, if your station changes its filters responsibly that should solve the problem.


Does a higher-octane fuel always make your engine work better?

Octane level in fuel refers to the level at which the air-fuel mixture can be compressed before it combusts. Lower octane combusts more easily so people think higher octane equals higher performance, but that is untrue. You should use the octane your engine is rater for. Any higher and you will see no performance boost, it'll just waste your money.


Do you know which one is more important; oil or coolant?

If for some reason someone forced you to choose between topping up the coolant or topping up the oil in your car, you'd never make the right choice because both are important and you can't pick one over the other if you want a well-functioning machine.


How long should you wait to start driving your car if it's nearing freezing?

The old myth that you need to warm your car up in cold weather needs to be dispelled. Today's engines (and those of the past few decades) warm up fastest when being driven. Give the engine 30 seconds before you put it in gear and you'll be fine, the only exception being in subzero temperatures when a brief warming period is a good idea.


Can driving with your windows open help your engine?

Contrary to what you might have seen on a "Mythbusters" episode, a study by General Motors and SAE showed driving with your windows down and the A/C off leads to your car burning less gas than driving with them up and the A/C blowing. It's not a huge difference, though.


Does it matter what brand of oil you use?

The brand of oil pretty much means nothing in terms of how it performs in your car. It's the type of oil you need to be concerned with. Every engine has a viscosity grade recommended by the manufacturer and that's the important thing to consider in using oil.


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