Hit & Myths

- BACKSEAT DRIVER By James Deakin -
I’m a daddy again! Last July 4, my wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Pause for effect. Thank you, thank you... please, don’t get up. Oh, you weren’t going to. Anyway. Don’t worry, I’m not going to subject you to a proud father’s narrative of one of his greatest personal achievements ever — despite the fact that this kid is really cute — but believe it or not, there’s a motoring parallel to this.

As my wife fell deep into the final stages of labor, her OB Gyne was poised and ready for action at the other end of the delivery table and said, "I’m a little concerned." I stood there like a human tripod — video cam in one hand, motionless, humbled by everything that was going on around me and feeling about as useful as an ashtray on a motorcycle until I eventually uttered, "What’s wrong?" "Well," she continued, as she carried on with what she was doing. "I have been using Petron XCS plus for my Altis, but you said that I would be better off saving money with the Xtra unleaded. Why is that so?"

Once I recovered from the palpations, and got the blood back to all my extremities, we engaged in a very lively discussion about an article I wrote last month called, "Fuel for thought", until we were interrupted by my wife who lifted herself up and said, "Hello!? I’m still in the room! Do you mind!? Focus, please!" We were so engrossed, I was almost tempted to say that the Focus was ethanol capable, but I figured it would be pretty hard typing this article in a body cast from the recovery room.

After the drama died down, congratulations were exchanged and our son was cleaned up and whisked away for the pre delivery inspection, the OB came up and said, "Back to our earlier discussion, isn’t this brand better than that brand when it comes to fuel? My friends tell me this, the ads tell me that, I’m so confused. I don’t want to take any risks; I only want the best for my car." I said, "I know. Me too. But let me ask you this, will this brand of milk make my child a genius and play the piano like that kid in the TV commercial?" She smiled and said, "Touche."

But the fuel issue is just the tip of the hood ornament here; there are so many more myths floating around that need to be cleared up. Urban legends and backyard maintenance tips surrounding cars are as old as the automobile itself. Most are laughable, but there are those that stick around long enough to blur the lines of fact and fiction. But while some are funny, there are also some that are downright dumb and only survive because a lot of car owners, like new parents, are among the most gullible people on earth — and this makes us vulnerable. But please, to whom it may concern, do not confuse that with being stupid.

Although there is not enough real estate in this motoring section to refute all myths, I want to at least tackle my personal favorites.

Can a cellphone really blow up a gas station? I keep getting told not to use my cellphone while I’m filling up. Is there any logical reason for this?

Hmmm... what is a stronger word for ‘no’? My guess is that some oil company executive or government watchdog read a Time magazine article in the mid-nineties that talked about the upcoming cellphone boom and took it literally. Or as a personal threat. Yet despite all their warnings, there is not a single substantiated case that links cellphone usage with service station fires. And if there was, it is an even more amazing feat that the international mass media have conspired to conceal it.

So why, you ask, are these large Multinationals adding fuel to the fire by issuing their own warnings and perpetuating the myth? Because if there is a risk, no matter how minuscule, they want to make sure their corporate butts are fireproof. Never mind that the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) and the American Petroleum Institute both issued statements denying the risk. The American Petroleum Institute said, "We can find no evidence of someone using a cellphone causing any kind of accident, no matter how small, at a gas station anywhere in the world."

I knew it! That has been one of my pet peeves; its about time somebody cleared that up. That’s also why I don’t like to switch off my engine and aircon while filling up, either.

Me too. But while the engine running may not cause gasoline stations to self combust, there are at least some practical benefits from it. Firstly, if you ever have a misfill, they can simply drain your tank without it causing any damage to your engine. Also, there’s the environment — think about that poor gas boy that has to inhale all those fumes all day long. Plus it allows the attendants to check your oil etc. It is a courtesy more than anything and should be marked as such.

I’m all for the environment! My family driver even switches off the headlights in traffic. He says it will save battery.

Let me guess, he used to drive a Jeepney? Not just is this unsafe, it is like telling someone they will save money by taking off their glasses when they are not looking at anything. Hello?

He he, I had a feeling that was real dumb alright. That’s why I’m always prepared; I rev my engine just before switching it off to leave a little gas in the chamber when I restart.

Hey, good idea! Why not leave a little food stuck in between your teeth in case you get hungry later on? Although there was some grain of truth to this during the carburettor era, this is one of the worst things you can do to an EFI engine. Unburned gas will cause carbon build up and wreak havoc with your fuel system. Not to mention what left over food will do to your teeth.

What about revving up in the morning to warm up the car?

Here’s what I want you to do. Find whoever it was that told you this garbage, wake them up violently at 3am and make them do a hundred meter sprint. See how well they perform. Just like people, engines need a little time to get all the fluids running through their moving parts before they can operate at their peak. 90% of engine wear comes during cold starts when there is little lubrication. It is always best to start your car normally and drive off slowly for the first 5 minutes or so. No revving, no prolonged idling.

I would never do that! I’m very careful about conserving energy. This is why I coast in neutral whenever I go downhill. This saves gas you know.

Probably. But it could cost you your life. Have you ever tried steering a fully loaded shopping trolley around an obstacle going down hill? You lose the balance of the car plus it puts way too much strain on your brakes. Don’t even think about switching off your engine, it is like switching off your mind. Plus your brake pedal will feel like a block of wood.

Okay then, I can dig that, which is why I always engine brake instead of wearing out my pads.

I hate to admit this, but this one caught me out for years, too. Brake pads are so expensive... until you need to replace your transmission. All experts agree, use the brakes to slow the car down and the engine to propel it forward. Simple. The only reason you see or hear race car drivers doing this is because you should always be in gear while you’re braking, and they always need to be in the correct gear to make sure they are always in the cars power band. But it is the brakes that are slowing the car down. Not the engine. The only exception here is, as I mentioned earlier, when going down long, steep hills (say, Baguio) it is better to keep the car in a lower gear to avoid overheating your brakes.

What about switching fuels? Like if I use Blaze, and there’s only Xtra unleaded available, is it okay to mix?

Yes. The only time it becomes a problem is the other way around; if your car needs the high octane stuff, don’t put the lower ones. Check your owner’s manual to see what octane rating your car needs and stick with it.

Harmless as some of these myths may be, they can add even more confusion to our already chaotic roads. I wouldn’t blame any of you for seeking your sweet revenge on the oil companies and cell phone manufacturers by emptying a pound of sugar into each of their gas tanks — but that would simply be a waste of sugar. Contrary to popular belief, sugar doesn’t dissolve in gasoline, as Forensics professor John Thornton, a researcher at Berkeley confirmed in 1994. Because sugar doesn’t dissolve in automotive fuel, it doesn’t caramelize, and so it does not turn into the debilitating gunk that has kept this myth alive since the invention of the internal combustion engine.

If it makes you feel any better, there has also been no evidence or reports suggesting that running over a snake will make it twist itself around your axle and bite you once you’ve parked the car. Nor have there been any policemen killed by side airbags while using a slim Jim to open a locked car. And, as of this writing, the story of the couple that ran out of gas on Balete drive where the boyfriend ended up getting decapitated by a half man/half horse mythical creature still remains unproven. Sadly, the C-5 stories of kids running into the path of your car to fake an injury and extort money from you, however, is true. I actually saw it with my own two eyes.

Vehicular folklore remains rooted in our car culture and is kept smouldering throughout the years by man’s intimate bond with machine. (No relation to the times that man has been intimate in his machine.) This is largely due to the fact that we love our cars so much but are made vulnerable by our limited knowledge of how they work. Just like babies. I realized that as helpless as I felt in the delivery room that day my son was born, would be similar to how our doctor feels at the casa when she gets a quote for repairs.

And just like those old wives’ tales that have kept every new mother up at night worrying about their babies, mechanical myths and urban legends are here to stay. Some of us will even use these same stories to scare our children off from the dangers they face out there. Sure, there may not be a guy with a hook as a hand stalking lovers in scenic lookout points, but you’re not going to admit that to your 16-year-old daughter now, are you? Exactly. So, as time goes by, rather than these stories dwindling away, you will hear new variations of the classic tales, spun with a more modern twist to them because automobiles are as much an extension of our personalities as they are about transportation.

Constructive criticism is the backbone of improvement. Criticism for the sake of getting one’s biases across? Rubbish. So instead printing some non-constructive messages (oh, we get quite a number of them too), we’d rather give more ample space to some of our more avid followers who only have the best for all road users in mind. Here are some of their constructive thoughts.

Masaya corner Maharlika streets in U.P. Village in Quezon City is just less than a kilometer away from the Quezon City Hall yet the jeepneys that use the area as parking, block half the street during weekdays and even on Saturdays from 7am-7pm. The jeepneys park diagonally and there are usually police and traffic enforcers who eat at the roadside eateries there and they ignore the obvious obstruction of the street. The Department of Public Order and Safety of QC Hall is also ignoring the problem. Vehicle flow in the area tends to slow down because of the parked jeepneys because vehicle volume increases during rush hours since the area is close to some schools and it is also a convenient short cut to Katipunan.

We hope U.P. Village residents can rely on your help to address the problem.

Thank you.

Dante De Ramos

U.P. Diliman

Hope your message gets through to the concerned authorities. Good luck.

I hope you’ve noticed that majority of Filipinos can’t afford to buy a car. I’m just wondering why you keep on featuring expensive European, Japanese, or American cars as if to rub peoples’ sensibilities with an insult. Why don’t you feature other emerging modes of transport like the motorcycle? It would be very interesting to see in your paper if you discuss the much talked about Z-200 Xplorer of Motorstar or Suzuki’s Raider 150 or the Honda XRM — these motorcycles are selling like hotcakes. There are people interested to know your expert opinion on these motorcycles and/or the financing companies available to cater this kind of business.


Dennis A. Ladores

The last thing we want to do is insult our readers, but the truth is that there is a wide spectrum of
STAR readers out there — especially of the Business Motoring page. Some of you can afford cars, others can’t. We try to feature vehicles that cut across your demographics as well. If you notice, we’re one of the few broadsheets to have a motorcycle expert contributor in the person of Mr. Lester Dizon, who is very passionate about his love for motorcycles (see accompanying Kymco Ceriva article on page C-4 of this week’s section). For your peace of mind, allow us to inform you that we are working with Mr. Dizon to further broaden this motorcycle subsection of the Business Motoring page.

Speak out, be heard and keep those text messages coming in. To say your piece and become a "Backseat Driver", text PHILSTAR<space>FB<space>MOTORING<space>YOUR MESSAGE and send to 2840 if you’re a Globe or Touch Mobile subscriber or 334 if you’re a Smart or Talk ’n Text subscriber or 2840 if you’re a Sun Cellular subscriber. Please keep your messages down to a manageable 160 characters. You may send a series of comments using the same parameters.
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