Aaron Turpen: Here’s a 30 Facts About Cars That You Probably Don’t Know

Columnist Aaron Turpen writes, "Call these conversation starters or random 'know stuff' factoids, but there are some fascinating things to know about cars. If you’re a car nerd like I am, you definitely love spouting weird facts whenever it can be worked into everyday conversation."

Aaron Turpen

May 30, 20236 min read

Random Car Facts 1

Call these conversation starters or random “I know stuff” factoids, but there are some fascinating things to know about cars. If you’re a car nerd like I am, you definitely love spouting weird facts whenever it can be worked into everyday conversation.

Them: “I saw a pheasant today just wandering around town. Pretty cool.”

Me: “Did you know that the average car has more than 100 miles of internal code embedded in its computer?”

Them: “Uhh, pheasants aren’t in any way related to that..”

Me: “Yeah. But that’s a lot. And the average oil change cost has gone up by more than 20 percent in the last five years. Nuts.”

Them: “Speaking of which, I need to get going..”

That would be a typical daily conversation for me. At least, that’s what my wife tells me. I suspect she’s exaggerating. But in the name of random awesome factoids about cars, here’s a list of great ones you’ll find interesting. Guaranteed or your money back,* even.

Let’s start with some stuff about driving and traffic.

  1. If you drove to the moon at 60 mph, it would take almost a month to get there. So you’ll need to pack a cooler. But even Wallace & Grommet used a rocket, so you might consider that instead.

  2. The average driver in the U.S. spends two weeks of their life sitting at red lights.

  3. The highest mileage car ever recorded had 3,039,122 miles on it. That’s equivalent to 177 trips from Alaska to Argentina and back.

  4. Surveys have shown that 90 percent of drivers will sing along to their audio system at least some of the time. Most of them are not on TikTok.

  5. Globally, about three billion gallons of fuel are wasted by vehicles sitting in congested traffic. That’s equivalent to over 50,000 SpaceX rocket launches into orbit.

  6. Most cars in the U.S., including all of those that are sitting in traffic, have horns that honk in the key of F. This legacy standard comes from a horn supplier for General Motors in the 1940s who standardized them to simplify parts throughout the GM line. Other U.S. manufacturers followed suit.

  7. In most vehicles, airbags deploy when impact speeds exceed about 19mph. They deploy within 40 milliseconds of a collision and inflate at speeds up to 4,500 mph. This is why it’s a bad idea to have your feet up on the dashboard while someone is driving.

  8. The average age of a car on the road today is about 12 years.

  9. The average car spends about 95 percent of its time parked somewhere.

  10. Another 95 percent statistic: that’s the percentage of automatic transmission-equipped vehicles are sold in the U.S. compared to manual transmission options.

How about some things about repair and ownership?

  1. The average car has about 30,000 moving parts. Yet most warranty claims in the first year of ownership are not related to the engine or transmission.

  2. The average car owner spends about $400 per year for car maintenance. Not including car washes.

  3. Despite warranty requirements and clear instructions and even reminders via apps or the car’s own dashboard, there are about $60 billion worth of car maintenance issues that get ignored every year. It’s estimated that repairs for issues caused by those missed maintenance items result in about three times that in unnecessary repairs annually.

  4. Nearly 900 million oil changes are performed around the world every year.

  5. The most common reason for a check engine light in the U.S. is an oxygen sensor reading or error.

  6. That wonderful “new car smell” that some manufacturers now intentionally embed into their interiors originally came about from the volatile organic compounds (VOC) that resulted from early plastic, vinyl, and leather treatments.

  7. The most popular car color is white. The least popular car color is purple. According to vehicle sales figures, the most popular car color in Wyoming, outside of white and black, is red.

  8. In the U.S. a car is stolen every 45 seconds.

  9. Around the world, there are over a billion cars currently in use. That’s one car for every 7 people. Globally, about 60 million cars are produced every year.

  10. The best-selling vehicle of all time is the Toyota Corolla.

And now for some industry facts that you may not have been aware of.

  1. Volkswagen is the largest passenger vehicle manufacturer in the world and owns about twelve different car and truck brands. By comparison, Ford, the largest U.S.-based manufacturer (ranked 5th globally), has sales of about half that of the Volkswagen Group.

  2. The fastest engine swap ever done was on a Ford Escort in 1985. It took 42 seconds.

  3. Cruise control was invented by a blind man (Ralph Teetor) whose attorney was complaining to him about speeding tickets.

  4. Currently, the fastest production car is the Hennessey Venom GT, but because it did not meet the minimum threshold of 30 cars produced, that record was not recorded in the Guiness Book of World Records.

  5. A man in Cleveland, Ohio, not likely related to Clinger, invented the steering wheel. Alexander Winton came up with the idea in 1896 and is credited with several other automotive-related inventions, including one of the first commercially-viable diesel engines for automotive use.

  6. About 75 percent of all Rolls-Royce luxury cars ever produced are still in operating condition.

  7. A modern Formula 1 race car can, when traveling at 120mph or more, drive upside-down in a tunnel.

  8. In 1903, a woman named Mary Anderson patented the first windshield wiper system used on production motor vehicles. Before that, drivers had to stop and get out to wipe off the windows by hand. At around the same time as Anderson’s design, several other designs were also patented in other parts of the world. It wasn’t until two years later that brake lights were invented. Proving that the race car mindset was definitely at the fore for automobiles back in the day.

  9. The average car today has about 50 pounds of copper wiring in it. Most cars have at least six computers on board.

  10. Henry Ford created the phrase “tune up” for automobiles. He noted that the coils on his first vehicle prototype were at their most efficient, they would buzz. He compared “tuning” a car to make this buzz to tuning a piano.

*Money being any funds directly spent to purchase and peruse this article. Subject to limitations and other lawyerly small print. Basically, no refunds will ever happen.

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Aaron Turpen