What's The Best Car Secret You Know?

Photo credit BMW
Photo credit BMW
CountersteerYour true stories of good and bad things that happen in cars.

Since cars span so many eras and were designed, thought up and created by so many different people, it’s inevitable that there would be many little secrets and nuggets of knowledge hidden away in them.

I’m not just looking for model-specific secrets either. Is there a certain car that you know about that’s secretly an incredible off-roader or a superb driver’s car? Hidden quirks or switches that only you and other owners know about? Or—the Shangri-La of gearheads—a secret, great driving road?

For example, according to Jalopnik boss Patrick George, under the plastic panels inside a BMW E30, there were little hand cranks for the windows and sunroof in case the motors failed. I’m sure other cars of that era did that, too, but that’s a cool little piece of information.


What’s the best car secret that you know?

Writer at Jalopnik and consumer of many noodles.

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Here’s some things I’ve picked up...

1) Bought a new or used vehicle that’s not the “premium” version? Odds are favorable your vehicle is set up for the options, at least most of the way. For example, I bought a 2013 F-150 XLT Plus Package pickup when it was a year old. The only thing it didn’t have that I wanted was remote start (I hate the cold). The wiring harness and everything was already installed except for the remote start antenna and the key fobs with the start button (it had the other alarm components already). A quote from the dealer put me getting remote start added at around $900. However, I bought the antenna off ebay for around $80, popped it into the truck, and then paid a local dealer $35 to activate it. I had Wal-Mart cut the blanks and programmed the remote start key fobs myself. Total cost? About $200 when you consider the cost of the key fob purchase. This is also true for accessories like foglights. Its cheaper for the manufacturer to use one harness with all of the goodies and just not plug everything in. Buy the lamps and switch and check the harness.

2) When searching for replacement parts, its important to remember to cross-check makes and models. A Ford part may be a lot cheaper than a Mazda part, even if they are the exact same item. The same may be true for models. A part for a Fox-Body Mustang may be cheaper than a part for a Fox-body Cougar because of the perceived “rarity” of the Cougar bodystyle.

3) Vehicles break when the warranties expire.

4) Stopping to help someone broke down on the side of the road will lead to a case of “Carma” where you end up breaking down on the side of the road later on. Do it anyways, particularly if it’s old people, a woman, or someone with kids, because the world needs more people acting decently to other people.

5) No matter how quickly you pay off a vehicle, most vehicles will never have positive equity once you’ve bought it. If you’re obsessing about resale value, then you’re costing yourself more than just the lost value of the car. There’s more important things to worry about in life.

6) Car got a starter problem? Hit the starter with a hammer, tire iron, or a rock. Its often the bushings that are bad inside the starter. The impact will help it make a connection and the vehicle may start. Count on whacking it at least two or three times, and having to crawl under the car at least twice. 90 percent of the time it works 100 percent of the time, until it doesn’t work anymore. To date, my longest record of “whack a starter” was 45 days from initial starter failure until I could afford to replace it.

7) If the throttle sticks, put the car in Neutral. It’ll sound like you’re going to blow the engine, but you still have brakes and steering and can coast to the shoulder and stop. THEN kill the engine. On some vehicles, killing the engine will lock the steering wheel. Most engines won’t blow due to a speed/rev limiter.

8) You’d be surprised how many cars can be started with a wire run straight from the battery to the starter posts. If you’re having a problem getting the vehicle to start, put the key into the “run” position and try hooking juice straight to the starter. If the car starts, drive it to the mechanic and save a tow.

9) One of GM’s best innovations was an under-hood light on a retractable spool. I don’t know all of the years of pickups that had it, but my parents’ 1993 Chevy Silverado with the 5.7 Liter V8 had one. It would stretch all the way to the back. It was freaking genius.