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Time to debunk some automotive urban myths

Today I am going to sort through my inbox, and share with you some of the highlights. Much of my mail is auto-related, which stands to reason. Much of that auto-related mail is a ball of myths wrapped in an urban legend and tied up with a big bow of a lie.

Please stop asking me to join a gas boycott.

Really. I agree that gas prices are ridiculously high. I agree it is onerous and unfair and sometimes even devastating to a household budget that is already being eaten away at by money piranhas. But forwarding chain e-mails telling me we can save the situation if everybody refuses to buy gas on a particular Monday, or from a particular chain, just isn't going to do anything.

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Like any other drastic change, results take time. If I announce I haven't had a glass of wine for an entire day, nobody is going to give me a medal. Or, more importantly, drop the price of wine. If I lose 50 pounds, I'm pretty sure I have to keep it off for more than a week before anyone will make me a Jenny Craig spokesperson.

If you don't buy gas on a Monday, you will buy gas the day after. Or the day before. With no political will to control our ridiculous prices, and no oil company about to turn into a philanthropic organization, it would take lots and lots of people not gassing up for, say, a month, to start having an impact. Lots.

I also get asked to join organizations that tell me they will send me a refund on gas purchases. I chase the details and get lost in a rabbit hole of remittances, vouchers, percentages and savings. I am told expressly that it is not a pyramid scheme. I am told this expressly by lots and lots of people trying to recruit me. Lots.

You know those pictures at the gas station that show a cellphone with a big red bar through it? Remember hearing that if you use a cellphone while pumping gas you will be incinerated? That little sign may be the most potent symbol yet of the power of the Internet. A handful of debunked tales of people's cellphones setting off an explosion while they refuelled has led oil companies and cellphone manufacturers alike to post warnings against doing so. Except, there is no record of any such incident actually happening. Even the Mythbusters guys tried this. If Adam and Jamie can't blow something up, nobody can.

Static electricity is the enemy, if anything. You've been getting that shock when you touch your door handle for a lot longer than cellphones have been around. Speaking of static, as a kid, I used to wonder why some people had those strips hanging from the back of their car. I've been told they serve as a ground, to remove the static charge around your car. I've also been told they cure motion sickness. Some people swear that static builds up on our bodies, then creates the shock when we touch the car door. Others say the static is created by the movement of air around the vehicle. Any physicists out there care to pile in? I'm curious. And if they work, why do I rarely see them any more?

We never had them, and nobody blew up, and my sister barfed on every road trip.

Nova does not mean "no go" or "doesn't go" in Spanish. If I could kill one auto-related urban legend dead, dead, dead, it would be this one. Rumour has it that when GM introduced the Chevy Nova into Spanish-speaking markets in the 1970s, it sold poorly because consumers believed it was call No Go. Wrong. It sold well.

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In Spanish, "no va" literally does mean "no go", but "nova," a different word with a different pronunciation, does not. provides the best explanation I've see for this: English speakers wouldn't avoid buying a dinette set called "Notable" believing it wouldn't have a table.

While some car names haven't fared well over the test of time (Mercury Cougar? Dodge Dart Swinger?), by the time a car hits the market the name has been picked over and test marketed and analyzed to death. I think it's why BMW and Mercedes just stick with numbers.

To wrap up, this factoid isn't from my mail. It's from within the confines of my own family. Exit numbers are not randomly selected. If you just passed exit 276, and you're looking for exit 203, you have 73 kilometres to go. No, not everybody knows that.

On the upside? I learn something new every day, and it often does come from my mail.

Just don't ask me to join your gas boycott.

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About the Author
Drive, She Said columnist

Lorraine Sommerfeld began writing when she was about to turn 40, because it was cheaper than a red convertible. Her weekly column Drive, She Said, while existing in the automobile section, is a nod to those of us who tend to turn the key rather than pop the hood. More


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