Over the past several years, auto mechanics have reported a troubling resurgence in mechanical and electric failures that many believed had been eradicated decades ago. Critics blame this trend on widespread misinformation campaigns, especially on social media, that lead car owners to believe that preventive maintenance is not necessary and – in many cases – actually does more harm than good. These “Anti-Prevver” groups, as they are affectionately known, have myriad reasons to support their belief system.
Former Playboy model and TV celebrity Janelle McCarty is often credited for started the trend, claiming in 1997 that “I drove my ’88 Civic for over a decade without changing the oil,” also claiming “My husband took his truck to Jiffy Lube a month later and it came home with a Check Engine light.”
While Mrs. McCarty stopped short of saying the oil change caused the truck’s malfunction, many fans inferred a connection and began to declare that oil changes were not worth the potential side effects.
More than two decades later, Anti-Prevver groups gained new footholds thanks to the widespread adoption of social media platforms. Reddit groups such as “r/LifetimeFluids” and “r/WeldHoodShut” helped to spread misinformation about preventive maintenance, often insisting that any problems a car might have could simply be solved by fixing them after the problem occurred.
“That’s really dangerous territory,” says Mike Dorff, President of the non-profit Car Dependability Council (CDC). “People often anecdotally claim things like ‘I never changed my Toyota’s oil and it turned out fine’,” he cites, continuing “But they ignore that for every case like that, there are a dozen other VWs with clogged oil lines or Nissans with a crankcase full of sludge.”
Poor maintenance habits are also spread among disparate subcultures, including so-called Holistic Maintenance groups and even among devout Orthodox Jewish communities.
“In Eastern Maintenance, it is believed that keeping the windows clean have a direct Chakra line to the car’s engine compartment,” claims Heather Peters, the owner of a Portland record store and herbal medicine shop. Others, such as Brooklyn Hasidic Rabbi Mordecai Schwartzwalder, simply believe that $24.99 oil changes are too expensive, so he urges his congregants to invest in extended warranties in lieu of maintenance.
In response, many proactive car owners have refused to park their vehicles near Anti-Prevvers. This stance is due to a desire to protest, but also to avoid confronting Anti-Prevvers and their often fanatical rhetoric. One protester, who asked to remain anonymous, said she was dropping her son off at school, only to be accosted by a woman insisting that “Changing transmission fluid causes slippage because the fluid needs free particles to maintain proper friction.”
“Completely f*cking nuts,” the protester said in response. “Everyone knows that regular transmission flushes are a good idea, even if the manufacturer doesn’t require it.”
The CDC has begun highly publicized campaigns to urge car owners to keep up with maintenance, but they have been unable to match the fervor of the Anti-Prevver groups. “We simply don’t have the novelty or the cult-like following,” says Mr. Dorff. “There’s nothing interesting or sexy about changing spark plugs every 60,000 miles.”
Mr. Dorff’s most recent attempt to gain a foothold in social media was an Instagram campaign entitled “More Filters Than Kylie” that featured links to coupons for every type of air, oil, and transmission filter currently available in the US.
“We’re doing our best to reach the youth of today before it’s too late,” Mr. Dorff explains. “With record-low levels of driver licensing and car ownership, young Millenials and GenZ are especially susceptible to the vilification of cars and car maintenance.”
For her part, Janelle McCarty is unapologetic. “My Honda is still working fine after all these years. My husband’s pickup is running, but I always have to ask myself how much more reliable it would be if we just hadn’t taken it to the oil change place at all,” she laments.
“I could be driving my kids to the doctor for their vaccines and get an oxygen sensor malfunction at any time.”