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Ignore Manufacturers' Instructions and Get Away With It

By (view all posts by pmiller)
at 9:55AM Thursday December 29, 2011
under Newsworthy

Photo courtesy of Mike Kalasnik, via Flickr

If you're like me, you change your car's motor oil religiously. The "Every Three Thousand Miles or Every Three Months (Whichever Comes First)" standard might as well have been carved into slabs and hand-delivered by Moses.

And, if you're like me, you've been doing it wrong this whole time.
According to experts, and a campaign by the state of California, car owners have been misled for years. Most cars can go longer than three thousand miles between oil changes, in some cases much longer. Our eagerness to obey the rules has meant we spend more on oil, and hurt the environment by wasting millions of gallons of oil per year.

Thankfully, we can now use the website CheckYourNumber.org to see how often your car really needs its oil changed. However, this episode got me wondering: Are there other cases when I shouldn't trust manufacturers or stores to give me impartial information?

In that vein, read on to discover some other cases where it's fine to ignore the rules and save a little money, consequence free.

Don't Listen to Your Soap Bottle

If you use a washing machine for your clothes or your dishes, you likely turn to the bottle of soap or detergent to tell you how much to use. Unfortunately, the people who sold you that soap are likely to err on the side of "too much" instead of "too little," since that would result in more frequent soap purchases.

Unfortunately, according to the New York Times, those manufacturers have erred on the side of way, way too much soap or detergent. As one repairman says, most people use 10 to 15 times more detergent than is necessary to get their stuff clean. This detergent costs money, and it might be damaging your dishwasher and irritating your skin.

A good rule of thumb is to use just a little bit of soap or detergent, maybe a quarter or a half of the recommended amount. If your stuff still isn't clean, you can try a little more in your next cycle. But, chances are, your stuff will be clean.

Ignore Your Food Packages

I feel compelled to say: Ignoring your food packages outright will likely result in illness. Sometimes, that year-old carton of sour cream is trying to tell you something valuable. But there are plenty of other cases where food manufacturers would have us throw away perfectly good eats, so that we might go out and pay perfectly good money for new eats.

If you want an impartial guide to how long different foods can last, try the terrific site StillTasty.com. StillTasty will tell you how to store food, how long to store food, and how to tell when food isn't safe anymore. For example, the box that your raw eggs come in will likely have you throw them away in a couple of weeks. StillTasty, on the other hand, recommends three to five weeks.

Tell Your Medicine Bottles You Don't Respect Their Opinions

You may have noticed that over-the-counter and prescription drugs are marked with expiration dates, as if they were food. You may even have thrown away drugs that were past their expiration dates. Well, this is something you probably shouldn't do any longer.

It turns out that the expiration dates don't refer to "expiration" so much as they refer to guaranteed potency. The vast majority of drugs are completely safe to use years and years after the expiration date. What's more, most of them retain most of their potency past that date as well. With the exception of tetracycline, insulin, nitroglycerin and liquid antibiotics, you should only throw away an "expired" drug when it really matters that it retains 100% of its original potency.

For example, if you are on a controlled dose of something that you have to take every day, such as an anti-depressant, it would be a good idea to keep those prescriptions up-to-date. If, however, you just need to take a few Advil, there's no sense in throwing out something that is still probably 99% as good.

Have your own tips for when it's okay to break the manufacturers' rules? Please share in the comments.