The approaching holiday season is the perfect time to reflect on what you’re most thankful for in life. At work, at home, with your friends and with your family, you’re probably grateful for many things when you stop and think about it.
There’s no reason this gratitude can’t extend to the garage and under the hood as well, particularly if those are places that bring you the most happiness. When it comes to your vehicle and doing it yourself, there are undoubtedly several tools that you’re thankful for and couldn’t imagine completing the job without. What are they?
I have several favorites, including these five.
PB B’laster – What do a phosphate mine and Florida humidity have to do with this corrosion-penetrating product? Everything. William K. Wesley started the B’laster Chemical Company with its flagship product – PB B’laster – in 1957 as a solution to a friend’s problem. Wesley’s friend owned a phosphate mine in Florida. Phosphate’s highly corrosive and Florida’s really humid. Together the two wreaked havoc on the friend’s mining equipment as the machinery couldn’t be taken apart for repair or maintenance because the parts were welded together by corrosion. From your own experience, you know that nothing slows down the job more than rusted parts. Stripped nuts, busted knuckles, broken tools and jobs that take twice as long as they should are often the result of doing battle with corrosion. That’s why I love PB B’laster’s penetrating magic. I don’t know the science behind it, but I do know it hasn’t let me down yet. For really tough jobs, I spray it on the night before I’m going to work on the parts.
Code Reader – The sudden illumination of the dreaded “check engine” light no longer has to induce driver or passenger panic, or necessitate an immediate trip to the vehicle dealer for resolution. Thanks to the availability of handheld code readers and their ease of use, anyone who can insert a plug into an opening can diagnose a check engine light. Surprisingly, the first appearance of on-board computer diagnostics with scanning capabilities was in 1968 when Volkswagen introduced a computer system in its type three fuel-injected models. On-board diagnostics (OBD) didn’t gain widespread implementation however until the 1990s. Today, OBDII plug and play technology allows anyone to quickly diagnose a check engine or other illuminated dashboard light – and save time and money – simply by plugging the reader into the vehicle’s OBD port and reading the Digital Trouble Codes (DTCs) generated. Fixing the problem, however, might be another story altogether.
Nitrile and Mechanix Wear Gloves – Remember when working under the hood guaranteed grease under your fingernails and in every crack and crevice in your hands, along with the occasional scraped and bleeding knuckle? Thankfully, those days are gone, unless you’re really into getting your hands dirty. Generations of professional mechanics and DIYers who blazed the path before us didn’t have the luxury of protecting their hands from grease and grime with latex or nitrile gloves. They also didn’t have Mechanix Wear gloves helping cushion the blow that a slipped wrench often delivers. Back then, dirty, damaged hands may have been a badge of courage, but today they’re just a pain when you’re trying to get your hands clean on a Monday morning before work.
GPS Navigation Systems – Getting lost is a lot harder these days thanks to GPS navigation systems in vehicles. Whether they come pre-installed and integrated with the vehicle’s dashboard display, as a separate windshield or dash-mounted unit, or via a smart phone app, paper maps, planning a route and getting hopelessly lost are things of the past. Like cell phones, this is one driving tool we don’t know how we ever lived without.
Tube Bender – Sure, there are plenty of tube benders out there, but this makes bending metal fuel and brake lines super easy. Using just your hands and this spring tool, you can bend soft metal to the configuration you need without collapsing the sidewalls. The Malco Tube Bender is inexpensive and easy to use, especially when you compare it to the cost and frustration of ruining a section of line by crimping it.
Deep Sockets – I don’t know who invented them or how long they’ve been around – I’m sure it’s centuries – but I am thankful for and can’t live without my set of deep sockets. More often than not, whatever I’m working on requires a deep socket and it’s my go-to tool, preferred over a box wrench simply because of speed and convenience.
Aside from being thankful that you have time to work under the hood and wishing for more of it, what tools are you thankful and can’t live without this season?
Editor’s note: Whether you need to replace a favorite tool that’s lost or give someone holiday gift ideas, Advance Auto Parts has the tools you want and need. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.
“Car history is world history and the world is a strange place full of weird people.”
We recently read Jalopnik’s Book of Car Facts and History Even Gearheads Don’t Know, and wanted to know more about the story behind the story – about this book in particular and Jalopnik, in general. Fortunately, Jalopnik’s executive director, Matt Hardigree, was gracious enough to answer our questions shortly before the site’s 11th anniversary.
First, some context about the book’s title. “At Jalopnik,” Matt says, “we take a wide view of the definition of the term ‘gearhead,’ using it to mean anyone who likes cars because they’re interested in the history, what a car does, how it works. You can define it narrowly, of course, to make yourself feel good. We could say, ‘If you haven’t swapped an engine in every single kind of car, then you’re not part of our club.’ But we want to be inclusive, not inaccessible.” Even on the Jalopnik team, he says, people range from those who do full engine swaps to those who only do a bit of car maintenance.
In general, Matt isn’t a fan of car lingo. “Lingo keeps people away, shuts them out,” he says, “and only serves to make the person using the lingo feel smarter, cooler, and in the know.”
He does note that enthusiasts seldom refer to a car with its real name, instead giving it an affectionate nickname. “Each person might use shorthand that only he or she understands, and that can cause communication problems.”
The bottom line: a gearhead knows another gearhead when he or she realizes, “Hey! You have the same weird and wonderful problem that I do!”
Premise of the book
“People,” Matt says, “are more interesting than machines. In reality, machines are interesting BECAUSE of the people who invented them and the stories are crazy BECAUSE of people’s inventiveness.”
It was challenging to narrow down the topics to fit into this book, he admits, but they ultimately chose topics that gearheads should know about, but usually don’t, picking posts from six or seven years ago so they weren’t fresh in people’s minds. “Everyone knows the history of Mercedes Benz,” he says, “but who knows about the first amphicar? About an amphibious car that, when it was wrecked on the street, the owner charged a fee for people to view the wreckage? Now, that’s American ingenuity, and we want to educate people enough so that they could do bar chats on the topics.”
“At Jalopnik,” he adds, “we don’t necessarily choose stories because they would appeal to car enthusiasts. More accurately, we choose stories that will help TURN people into car enthusiasts.”
Here are snippets from stories on the brink between “genius and insanity” – targeted towards anyone who “cherishes the weird dark alleys of automobile history”:
- Who is Ferdinand Verbiest and why did his name appear in the first chapter of Jalopnik’s book?
- Flemish Jesuit missionary living in China who built the first self-propelled vehicle in 1672, a toy for the emperor. Unfortunately, he died after falling off of a horse.
- Who was the first automaker to offer a television in a car – in what year at what cost?
- Ford Motor Company: $169.95 in 1965; the television set hung from brackets off the front seats and could be powered by plugging it into the cigarette lighter or into a portable battery pack.
- What does the 1963 Corvette have in common with a headless shark?
- Design teams were brainstorming Corvette concept cars to follow up on the Stingray right when GM’s VP of Design Bill Mitchell came home from vacation. He’d supposedly caught a shark while traveling and brought home the head – and he wanted the car paint to duplicate the natural colors of the shark.
Jalopnik’s book is full of countless other stories like these. So, if you haven’t read it yet, we wholeheartedly recommend that you do.
Behind the scenes at Jalopnik
“Jason is a ridiculous genius,” Matt says, “and can find the greatest moments in automotive history. When he decided to find the first drawing or cartoon of a car, as just one example, he worked on that project for months. Maybe for years. Once he’d find a cartoon that was the oldest he’d seen to date, he’d then start to try to find an older one. He wanted to discover what the oldest cartoons tell us about the people of that era.”
We also chatted about Doug DeMuro – and when he got stopped not once, but twice, in one single evening driving his 1990 Nissan Skyline GT-R (find Advance Auto Parts coverage on that here). “Doug is hilarious,” Matt says. “Here, he is – this average nice guy wearing cargo shorts, getting hassled. The way he interfaces with the outside world resonates with audiences and, when he writes for Jalopnik, traffic goes up.”
The reality is, Matt admits, there is enough material to write 1,000 stories every single day about cars: about crashes, about who is buying, who is selling, who is designing a new model. To make it into Jalopnik, though, it “needs to make us laugh, be a story that clearly targets us. Now that we’re big, we need to be thoughtful and not make jokes at someone else’s expense who never intended to become a public figure, which eliminates some of what we would have published in earlier days. In other words, we were willing to punch our way up, but we won’t punch down.”
Here are two examples of his thought processes about what makes a great story. “If you write about automated cars in a way that makes them seem as exciting as a toaster, that doesn’t work. But if you can write about them as Knight Rider coming to life, you’re writing about a car owner’s partner, his pal, rather than what’s comparable to a refrigerator on wheels.”
Here’s a second example. “When writing about the history of the Mustang, you’d include the story of the horse logo. You’d share how the last battle that used horses was in Hungary, tanks versus horses. The guy who ultimately designed the Mustang logo with a horse survived that battle and designed the logo as a tribute to everyone who fought. So, modern warfare brought about the end of horse participation, yet the animal ends up on a car. Those are the details that make you care.”
For many car guys and gals, modifying their ride’s style to make it their own is one of the most exciting and satisfying aspects of being an enthusiast. Maybe the stock wheels look rather plain and/or lost in the big wheel wells, so installing an aftermarket quartet can go a long way towards jazzing up the car’s looks and stance. Maybe you’d like to liven up its face too by accenting the headlights with some electronic eyeliner. And then there are the sporty spoilers, which range from mild to wild.
Note that in keeping with the affordable and “bolt-on” installation nature of this article, we didn’t include pricier and much more involved mods such as lower body kits and boxed wheel flares.
It’s hard to top a new set of wheels for making an easy, yet impactful visual statement. With so many different styles available, ranging from a subtle upgrade over stock fitment to what can only be described as over the top bling (remember “spinners”? Ugh.), aftermarket wheels are understandably one of the most popular upgrades.
In addition to the visual pizzazz they provide, new wheels can also improve your car’s handling. Going with a larger diameter wheel means going with a lower profile sidewall for the tire. That translates into sharper handling as there will be less sidewall flex when you’re pushing your car on a curvy section of blacktop. Keep in mind that a stiffer ride is part of the deal, as those shorter sidewalls won’t help absorb the smaller bumps as much as the original, larger and more flexible sidewalls did.
Despite the temptation to “go big or go home” — for example bolting on a set of 20s when 15- or 16-inch wheels were original fitment — we advise keeping it to a “plus two” (two-inch larger diameter over stock) maximum. The reasoning behind our thinking is that, unless you’re going with very expensive, ultra lightweight wheels, those larger wheels are also going to be substantially heavier, which negatively affects a car’s acceleration, braking, and ride characteristics.
One of our favorite sites for wheels is tirerack.com. In addition to the great selection they offer, their site allows you to see what different sets of wheels will look like on your car (provided your make and model is in their extensive data base).
Show me the light
Swapping out headlights and taillights is another relatively simple and cost-effective way to personalize your car. First seen on German luxury cars, accent lighting around the headlights is now a very popular aftermarket accessory. If you’ve got round headlight elements, you can go with what BMW called “Corona rings” — circular lighting rings that surround the round lighting elements. And then there are what we call “LED eyeliner”, which was made popular by Audi and as our nickname implies uses LEDs to brightly accent the headlight clusters.
Custom taillights have been around much longer, and come in a wide array of styles. If a cool, subtle vibe is your thing, a lightly tinted set of taillights can work, especially if the stock ones feature multi-color elements. However, if you are looking for some flash, there are the clear lens units that have individual elements within accented with bright metal accents.
Although front and rear spoilers serve a purpose (they reduce aerodynamic lift at higher speeds, thus keeping the front and rear tires of the car more planted to the asphalt), let’s be honest, most folks dig them for the looks. Just as with the wheels and lighting options, spoilers come in a huge variety of styles.
We tend to prefer the more subtle ones — a discreet chin spoiler up front followed by a small, color-matched rear spoiler rising maybe an inch or so off the rear deck. But for those who like to turn the knob up to “11”, larger front air dams with gaping ducts (to ostensibly help cool the brakes) and large rear wings towering a few feet off the rear deck are available. Not necessarily our cup of 10W-40, but to each their own. It’s all about your own preferences and sense of style.
For plenty of affordable customization options, be sure to check out Advance Auto Parts.
From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
For this installment, the Mechanic Next Door has some fun peeking under the bonnet of the iconic MINI Cooper and looking at how it’s evolved over the decades.
As the MINI Cooper approaches its 60th anniversary in 2019, its creator – Sir Alex Issigonis – would be equally proud and astonished at the iconic model’s longevity and steadily increasing popularity, and perhaps even a little taken aback that some of today’s MINIs aren’t so mini after all.
The first Mini Mark I rolled off the assembly line in 1959 and went on to become the best-selling British car in history with more than five million Mini’s produced until 2000. That was the year that production under the English Rover Group ended after BMW sold the Rover Group – which it had acquired in 1994 – but retained the MINI brand.
Fueling the 1960’s Mini craze was its innovative design – despite being small, it offered plenty of interior space for passengers and luggage. That early design included a transverse engine, front-wheel drive, compact dimensions, and a unibody that reduced weight and increased interior space. Mini’s first generation – called the Mark I but better known as the Austin 850 or Morris 850 outside the UK and as the Austin Seven or Morris Mini-Minor in the UK – encompasses the 1959 to 1966 model years.
The Cooper name became synonymous with Mini in the 60s when John Cooper, owner of the Cooper Car Company, added muscle to the Mini by giving it a larger engine and other enhancements. Cooper was already making a name for his company by leading the revolution toward building and winning with rear-engine race cars. His success carried over to the Mini when his versions won the 1964, ’65 and ’67 Monte Carlo Rallies, with a four-year sweep being thwarted only by the Mini Cooper’s disqualification in the ’66 Rally after taking the top three spots.
Mini’s popularity was helped further by the car’s appearance in chase scenes in the 1969 hit film “The Italian Job.” Those Minis represented generation two – Mini Mark II – and featured a larger rear window and redesigned grill, as compared to the first Minis.
Generation three Mini began with the 1969-70 model and the most noticeable change from the previous generation being larger doors with concealed hinges and larger windows that wound up and down, instead of sliding left or ride. Mini Mark IV through Mark VII followed until BMW’s change in 2000.
Throughout the years, Mini continued to rack up the awards, including Autocar magazine’s Car of the Century in 1995, the Number One Classic Car of All Time by Classic & Sports Car magazine in 1996, European Car of the Century by the Global Automotive Elections Foundation in 1999, and 2003 North American Car of the Year, among others.
Depending on which Mini you’re looking at today, it either looks much like its first ancestor, or only bears a faint resemblance to those early models. As Mini’s popularity grew, so too have the Mini models offered. Today, there are nine Mini models available.
- Hardtop Two-Door – bears the closest resemblance to the original Mini
- Hardtop Four-Door – a larger Mini with four doors and more space
- Countryman – the “Big Mini” features four doors, seating for five, and all-wheel drive
- Clubman – four doors, a split rear door, and the largest Mini available
- Convertible – looks like the original, minus the hard top
- Paceman – two-door hatch seats four and features all-wheel drive
- Coupe – powerful, sporty two-seater
- Roadster – similar to the Coupe, but more fun thanks to the soft top
- John Cooper Works – race-ready Minis that look like they could be a lot of fun, and get you in a lot of trouble
With a $20,700 price tag, zero-to-60 stats that are 2.3 seconds faster than its predecessor thanks to a TwinPower turbo engine, tons of dashboard technology, and world-famous, go-kart like handling, today’s entry-level, two-door Mini’s all grown up, but still a serious toy for thrill-seeking drivers of all ages.
Editor’s note: If you want to keep your Mini looking and running great, count on Advance Auto Parts for all your vehicle needs. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.
Many DIYers relish the opportunity to work on their vehicle, whether it’s performing routine maintenance or installing the latest performance upgrade. Sometimes, however, what should be a relaxing and satisfying few hours spent under the hood on a weekend afternoon with the game on in the background turns instead into a knuckle-busting, tool-throwing lesson in DIY frustration.
We’ve all been there – victims of Murphy’s Law. Whatever can go wrong, will, and the chances of it happening rise in tandem with the degree to which you’re feeling rushed or under pressure to get the job done.
Here’s my Top Five List of DIY Annoyances. This isn’t an all-inclusive list, so let’s hear what your biggest frustrations are under the hood.
Plastic engine and under-car covers. Lift the hood or crawl underneath most modern vehicles and you’ll see plastic – a lot of it. Plastic shrouds cover the engine, the battery, and pretty much everything else you might have a need to access under the hood. It’s no better down on the ground with plastic blocking precisely the spot you need to place a wrench. Depending on whom you believe, all that plastic serves a purpose – according to vehicle manufacturers – or it’s been placed there to thwart DIYers. Regardless, its presence makes your job that much more difficult and time-consuming. And, more often than not, the plastic screws or clips holding the shrouds in place break when they’re removed. I prefer a plastic-cover free, roomy engine compartment, circa 1973, in which to perform my best work.
Lost – or as I tell my wife – “temporarily misplaced” tools. It’s a simple job – one that shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes and one for which you have all the necessary tools close at hand. Or so you think. The one tool that you must have for the job, and that you know you do have, isn’t where it should be. In fact, it isn’t anywhere. Did you loan it to someone? Leave it in the shed? Mistakenly throw it away? You now wind up spending more time searching for that tool than it would have taken you to complete the job. Put the tools away where they belong every time.
Fixing that which is not broken, or, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Sometimes you’re unsure exactly what the problem is so you start fixing things that you think may be the culprit, only to find out they’re not. On the other hand, you might be overconfident that you know exactly what the vehicle maintenance problem is so you fix it, and quickly learn it wasn’t the problem. Case in point – the Honda engine on my wood splitter suffered from an intermittent failure to start. I was sure it was the rust build up on the flywheel magnet. It wasn’t. Then it had to be the spark plug. Nope. Followed by the low-oil switch. Wrong again. Finally, I struck gold by cleaning some water and junk out of the carb bowl. Finding the right fix can be time-consuming, costly, and frustrating, but it’s important.
Doing more harm than good. When does a routine carb adjustment turn into a head removal? After you drop something down the intake. In the blink of an eye, what should have been an easy, inexpensive task just turned into an expensive vehicle maintenance nightmare because you deposited a screw, nut, washer or some loose change down there. Sure, you can tell yourself that it fell in the gravel driveway and that’s why you can’t find it. You’ll soon learn the truth when you start the engine. It’s happened to the best of us – good intentions of fixing one part are punished with the realization that you just broke something else, and it’s going to be a lot more difficult and time-consuming to repair.
Other people. Even if you’re living by yourself in a cabin in the woods you still have to deal with other people, and their mistakes, when it comes to servicing your vehicle. Don’t think so? Have you ever been under the hood of a vehicle someone owned before you and found yourself shaking your head in amazement, wondering how and why the previous owner made a repair the way they did? Ever pull up to a self-service car wash or air pump, deposit some coins and only then find out that someone before you broke the equipment? Ever get some bad advice from a well-meaning friend or brother-in-law who “had that exact same model and knows exactly what the problem is.” We’re all human and we all make mistakes. Be ready for it.
Working on vehicles can be a tricky business or hobby and one that’s full of surprises. Expect the annoyances, learn to roll with them, appreciate the time you get to spend under the hood, and share your pet peeves with us. You’ll feel better after you do.
Editor’s note: Whether it’s tools, parts, or knowledge, if you don’t have what you need under the hood, turn to Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.
With All Hollows Eve here, we felt it was only appropriate to put together a list of our favorite scariest cars. It could be a car’s looks that make us shudder. Or, if the car is seemingly possessed by the devil himself, its personality would be more than enough to stop us from getting behind the wheel…or in front of its menacing grille. In other cases, it could be a vehicle’s performance that gives us the willies, whether it be as quick as a cat or as slow as a snail.
Here then, in no special order, are our Top 10 Scariest cars. Tell us in the comments section what you think and if you’d like to add your own favorites to the list.
The Plymouth Fury from “Christine”
With the perfect “face” for a Hollywood thriller, the 1958 Plymouth Fury that starred in this Stephen King movie might’ve said “the devil made me do it” after committing its various acts of terror. That is, if the car talked. Virtually indestructible, Christine had an axe to grind, and grind it she did. Now, every time we see a ’58 Fury at a car show, we steer clear because you just never know…
Early Porsche 911 Turbo
With its powerful engine sitting essentially behind the rear wheels, giving the car a decidedly rearward-biased weight balance, the Porsche 911 Turbo was known for being very unforgiving of unskilled pilots. Although it was generally a solid all-around performer, it had an evil side. If you went into a turn too fast and jumped off the gas and/or hit the brakes, the rear end could swing around faster than you could scream “snap oversteer!” As this Porsche supercar matured, suspension revisions and the adoption of stability control and all-wheel drive tamed the Turbo’s wicked tail.
Animal House Deathmobile
As if the hard-partying frat brothers featured in this movie weren’t scary enough (at least to the school’s professors and female students), they took a pristine mid-’60s Lincoln Continental and gave it a decidedly macabre makeover. Dubbed the “Deathmobile”, the formerly formal luxury car, obeying the hands and feet of its manic driver, wreaks havoc on the homecoming parade.
1920’s Argentine Funeral Car
Hearses are usually gloomy enough for most folks. But this coffin hauler takes it to a whole ‘nother level. Specifically, this custom-bodied coach sports flourishes of carved wood overlays that, to our eyes, emphasize the creepy vibe. Seemingly for comic relief from the specter of death, the car also features what looks like a stylish pompadour over the driver’s compartment.
Bugatti Veyron Super Sport
With a mind-bending 1,200 horsepower overflowing from its quad-turbocharged 16-cylinder engine, the mighty Veyron can rip to 60 mph in just 2.4 seconds. Provided you’ve got the conditions and the considerable nerve to keep your foot in it, this Veyron will obliterate the quarter mile in less than 10 seconds. Ignore the alarms clanging in your head and your rapidly increasing pulse rate and you’ll blast up to a top speed of over 250 mph. With such stupendous performance, the Veyron has been known to put more than a few butterflies in the stomachs of driver and passenger alike.
1950s-1960s air-cooled VW Bus
Using the same 24-50 horsepower engines as the Beatle of the same era, the VW bus understandably had trouble getting out of its own way. Although legions of Dead heads didn’t let it affect their mellow vibe as they went from concert to concert, this sluggish nature made the beloved Bus downright dangerous. With it taking about 26 seconds to run down a quarter mile, the vee-dub’s acceleration (if we may misuse that term) while trying to merge into fast-moving freeway traffic would be terrifying indeed.
“The Munsters” was a TV show that was popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Baby boomers will likely recall with fondness their family car. A custom creation that took the Frankenstein approach to car building, the Munster’s coach was comprised of three Ford Model T bodies along with a seriously built Ford 289 V8 engine. With its considerable presence (it was nearly 20 feet long), the Munster’s “Koach” made a fitting addition to the family of loveable monsters.
Green Goblin from Maximum Overdrive
Not one of Stephen King’s better known efforts, this mid-’80s horror flick featured machines — including lawn mowers, chain saws and hair dryers — that came to life and killed people. One of them was a black tractor trailer that had a cartoonish green goblin head affixed to its front end. As if running down people at a truck stop diner wasn’t bad enough, the sneering mask added greatly to the big rig’s creep-out factor.
A New York Taxi
Typically a Ford Crown Victoria, a NY cab can be a scary car indeed. But it’s not necessarily the car’s fault as much as it is simple physics. You just don’t want to get in its way, as its driver is charged with the nearly impossible task of consistently getting people to meetings and airports on time, despite the teeming masses of pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders and other cars that clog the non-sleeping city’s streets at all hours of the day.
The Beast of Turin
Built to compete in the one-mile speed event in 1911, the Fiat S76, nicknamed the Beast of Turin, boasted a simply massive 28.5-liter, 300-horsepower four-cylinder engine. That means each cylinder displaced over 7 liters. To put it into perspective, just one of this Fiat’s cylinders boasts more volume than the total cylinder volume of a new Lamborghini Aventador’s V12. The Fiat’s giant engine made for a comically tall hoodline and a frighteningly loud and discordant exhaust. Check out the video here and you’ll see, and hear, what we mean. We cannot think of a vehicle more deserving of its nickname.
Have a safe and happy Halloween, folks!
Proper vehicle alignment saves money and improves handling.
A four-wheel alignment is an important maintenance item that needs to be performed regularly, saves drivers a significant amount of money over a vehicle’s lifetime, and affects vehicle handling and performance.
Too often, however, this maintenance item gets lumped into the category of “recommended vehicle services that just never seem to get done.” You know the ones I’m talking about – shock and strut replacement, washing and waxing, and the list goes on. These maintenance items are often neglected because of cost or drivers’ time constraints, but mainly because some drivers feel they just don’t need to be done. Their philosophy is that the car’s still going to get them from point a to point b regardless of whether it’s aligned.
Before explaining why ignoring the alignment issue is an expensive and potentially unsafe mindset, it helps to understand what alignment is, and isn’t.
Have you ever driven down a straight highway and felt the vehicle pulling to one side or another? Are your tires wearing unevenly with more wear on the outside or inside edge or across the tread face? These are signs that the vehicle is out of alignment.
While a vehicle’s wheels may be out of alignment, it isn’t the wheels themselves where the adjustments are being made during an alignment, simply because there’s nothing there to really adjust. Wheels are bolted on the vehicle, tightened down, and that’s pretty much that. What is being adjusted during a realignment is the vehicle’s suspension.
The three essential, technical elements of vehicle alignment are camber, caster and toe. Camber is the way the tire is angled in or out from the vehicle. If you look at the tires from the front of the vehicle, imagine that the tire’s top or bottom is angled in or out at an extreme angle. That’s camber. To understand toe, imagine you’re floating above the vehicle and looking down on the wheels. The degree to which the wheels turn in or out is toe. Caster or caster angle is more difficult to envision and explain. It refers to the angle of the steering axis and plays an important role in steering and handling.
Modern vehicles in particular have specific camber, toe, and caster specs that need to be maintained in order for the vehicle to handle properly, and so that tires don’t wear out prematurely because of uneven wear patterns. Unfortunately, vehicle alignment can be thrown out of whack easily by the simple act of hitting a big pothole or the curb. Even in the absence of any adverse events, alignment still changes over time. That’s why it’s important to have the vehicle realigned on a regular basis. Many experts recommend an alignment every 5,000 to 7,000 miles. An easy way to remember this is to have an alignment done every other oil change, along with a tire rotation. Some shops offer “lifetime alignments.” This doesn’t mean that the alignment is guaranteed to last forever, because it can’t, but rather that they will realign the vehicle at no cost in the future if it ever needs it. It will.
Alignments, particularly on today’s vehicles, can’t be performed just anywhere, nor can someone tell if a vehicle is aligned properly simply by eyeballing it. What’s required is a specialized alignment machine or rack that measures wheel angles precisely using lasers, and access to the vehicle manufacturer’s alignment specs for the vehicle being aligned. Based on those results, technicians make adjustments to the suspension to properly align the wheels. Most tire shops or mechanics that sell a lot of tires will have the equipment needed to perform alignments. A good time to have a vehicle alignment is when new tires are being installed. Doing so helps protect the sizable investment that a set of tires represents today.
And finally, there’s the option of having a two- or four-wheel alignment performed. Talk with your technician or tire professional to about what’s the best option for your particular vehicle and situation.
Alignments aren’t free, but in the long run, they more than pay for themselves because they increase tire life and improve fuel efficiency.
Editor’s note: When you need tire-care products or anything vehicle-related, turn to Advance Auto Parts first. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.
From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
For this installment, Gearhead’s Garage puts the spotlight on AMC’s entry in the Pony Car wars, the Javelin AMX
Largely overshadowed by the Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac Firebird and Ford Mustang, (and to a lesser degree the Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracuda), the AMC Javelin AMX was akin to RC cola battling Coke and Pepsi. That doesn’t mean it was a bad choice in the Pony car segment (so-called because the Mustang is credited with starting this sporty segment back in 1964). Far from it, the Javelin AMX was just a different flavor. And plenty of performance enthusiasts found it downright sweet.
Note that we are talking about the four-passenger Javelin AMX here that was produced from 1971-1974, not the two-passenger version that was based on a shortened Javelin body/platform, just called the AMC AMX and produced from 1968-1970. Certainly the earlier version was cool in its own right, being the only American car of that time other than the Corvette to seat just two, but its appeal was limited and AMC made the decision to continue it after 1970 with the Javelin body and its backseat fully intact.
Cue it up
As it was now the top performance version of AMC’s Javelin, the 1971 AMX shared its styling. This meant the Javelin’s Corvette-like front fender curves, long hood and semi-fastback roofline were key styling cues, as was the full-width taillight panel. Marking it as the top dog in the AMC kennel were a mesh grille, a rear spoiler and a few options, such as a cowl induction hood and a big “T” stripe for the hood, that were not available on the standard Javelin. Inside the AMX, bucket seats and a console were standard and the dash curved around the driver. Along with that cockpit feel, the dash and door panels featured a metallic “engine turned” appliqué which further enhanced the AMX’s decidedly sporty vibe.
Extra performance for the AMX
With an overall length of 191.8 inches, the Javelin was about two inches longer than a ’71 Mustang and about four inches longer than a ’71 Camaro. Under the hood, a 360 cubic-inch, two-barrel V8 with 245 horsepower was standard, and could be hooked up to either a three-speed automatic or three-speed manual gearbox. Most buyers stepped up to either the 360 4-barrel (285 hp) or 401 4-barrel (330 hp) V8, either of which could have the automatic or a four-speed manual. Any guesses as to which powertrain we’d go with? The optional “Go” package included either the 360-4 barrel or 401-4 barrel V8 along with dual exhausts, the “twin grip” rear differential, the cowl induction hood with the T stripe, 15-inch (rather than 14-inch) wheels, a firmer suspension and a Rally gauge package.
As you were
For 1972, there were just a few changes to note for AMC’s sporty coupe. A smaller, 304 cubic-inch V8 was the standard engine, with both 360s and the 401 optional. As with other American cars, engine output ratings changed from “Gross” to “Net”. The previous Gross ratings were measured with the engine itself running on a stand, as opposed to the more realistic Net ratings which measured its output with accessory pulleys, exhaust and transmission all installed.
Yes, the ’72 engines lost a little power due to drops in compression that allowed them to meet tougher emissions standards and run on lower octane gas, but they didn’t lose nearly as much as simply comparing gross to net numbers might falsely indicate. That said, the 304 made 150 hp, the 360 2 barrel V8 was now rated at 175 hp, the 360 4 barrel with dual exhaust made 220 hp, and the big dog 401 was rated at 255 hp.
As the mid-’70s approached, luxury started to replace performance as a big selling point. For 1973, AMC offered an optional Cardin (yes, Pierre Cardin, the clothes designer) interior package for the Javelin and it could even be had on the AMX. Fully embracing the outlandish ’70s, the Cardin package featured black upholstery sporting wide stripes of white, orange and fuchsia running rampant over the seats, door panels and even the headliner. Visually, the only notable external change was the taillights going from the previous full width strip design to four semi-squared off units. Fortunately, for those who actually wanted performance more than plush trimmings, you could still specify an AMX with the 360 or 401 Go package and a Hurst-shifted four-speed.
The following year, 1974, would be the Javelin’s — and hence the Javelin AMX’s – last. Other than the Cardin package disappearing from the options roster, nothing changed for ’74.
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Today’s war among American performance cars easily rivals the one waged so fiercely during the 1960s and early ’70s. In addition to the factory muscle car offerings, you had upgraded versions offered by certain dealerships. Owned by rapid enthusiasts, these dealerships were hell bent on giving their customers (and themselves) a reputation for street battle supremacy.
These dealers — such as Yenko Chevrolet, Mr. Norm’s Grand Spaulding Dodge and Tasca Ford — would gladly build up your Camaro, Challenger or Mustang to a performance level seemingly limited only by your nerve and financial status. Pavement burners such as a Yenko Camaro sporting a 427-cubic inch big block gave acceleration junkies serious one-upmanship on their buddies who had “settled” for a stock SS396 Camaro. Likewise for Dodge fans who wanted a hopped up Dart and Ford fans who, before the factory made it available, wanted nothing less than a 428 Cobra Jet V8 in their Mustangs.
Nowadays, modern factory performance cars leave little argument for such improvements. Does anyone really need more than what we’ve seen show up in Chevy, Ford and Dodge showrooms the last couple of years? Specifically, how could you possibly want more than a 580-horsepower Camaro ZL1, a 662-hp Mustang Shelby GT500 or a 707-hp Challenger Hellcat? For those performance buffs who live by the “too much is not enough” credo, there are a number of companies around who are more than willing to boost these beasts beyond their already crazy capabilities.
Mustang fans who were disappointed to see the Shelby GT500 absent from the all-new 2015 Mustang family need only contact Shelby American. Click away and you’ll see they offer the newest ‘stang in the 750-horse “Super Snake” version that along with all that go-power sports upgraded brakes and suspension as well as various carbon-fiber body components. If you do own a 2011-2014 GT500 and you’ve deep enough pockets, you can have them turn your car into a 1,200-hp track day monster.
On the other side of the battlefield, Chevy Camaro enthusiasts can once again hit the streets with a Yenko Camaro, thanks to Special Vehicle Engineering who acquired the rights to use the hallowed dealership’s name. Just like the good old days, a 427 cubic-inch V8 is stuffed under the hood, only this time it’s the modern small-block “LS7″version. Formerly used in the Corvette Z06 and currently seen in the new Camaro Z/28, the LS7 normally makes 505 horsepower. For the Yenko, it is supercharged and further tweaked to make a thumping 700 horsepower. Proper homage is paid to the original Yenko Camaros via a scooped hood and 1969-style “YSC” (Yenko Super Car) body graphics.
As it did in the early ’70s, the Dodge Challenger faces off against those rivals from Ford and Chevrolet. Right off the showroom floor, you can get over 700 horsepower in a new Challenger, provided you spring for the Hellcat version. That’s enough thrust to sling you down the quarter mile in just under 12 seconds. Should you find that somewhat lacking, you can have the good folks at Hennessey Performance beef up your Hellcat to the tune of 852 horsepower. Short of strapping a Space Shuttle’s Booster rocket to the trunk lid, there’s not much else that you could do to turn your Hellcat into one of hardest accelerating vehicles wearing four tires and a license plate.
Whether you keep your modern performance car bone stock or choose to have it modified by an aftermarket tuning firm, there’s no denying that today’s car wars make this a great time to have a license for us with 93 octane flowing freely through our veins.
Note: Get quality auto parts for everything from regular vehicle maintenance to special car projects at Advance Auto Parts.
From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.
For this installment, the Mechanic Next Door does some heavy lifting, delving into the GMC Sierra pickup’s history and looking at the newest model.
Max and Morris Grabowsky may not be household names, but they cemented their place in automotive history nonetheless. In 1901 the Grabowsky duo built a truck prototype in Pontiac, Michigan, and went on to form their company – the Rapid Motor Vehicle Company – a year later. It didn’t take long for the brothers’ truck-building efforts and success to attract competitors’ attention, with General Motors buying them in 1909. Just three years later at the New York Auto Show, the name GMC Trucks would make its debut.
And so begins the story of GMC’s Sierra – a leader in the category of full-size pickups and a nearly identical twin to Chevy’s Silverado truck lineup. It wasn’t until the 1970s, however, that GMC would debut the name Sierra, using it to designate their trucks’ trim level, until 1987 when Sierra began serving as the permanent name for GMC’s full-size pickups.
GMC’s early, 1960’s-era pickups – before the Sierra name change – were designated as either “wideside” or “fenderside” – the latter corresponding to what many drivers today refer to as “stepside” pickups with fenders that flare out over the rear wheels. GMC also was one of the first to use numbers to indicate its trucks’ hauling capacities using the “1000”, “1500”, and “2000” designations that are common today in one form or another among all the major truck manufacturers. A “K” attached to those numbers indicated a GMC truck with four-wheel drive, and there were just two trim levels available – base or Custom. The standard engine was a 236-cubic-inch inline six delivering 135 horsepower.
Through the mid-1960’s, GMC trucks underwent a suspension change, additional engine options, and cosmetic changes to freshen the truck’s appearance. One of the most notable changes, and perhaps the start of pickups’ migration to becoming more than just work vehicles, was the debut of air conditioning in 1965.
1973 saw GM completely redesign its pickup truck line with longer wheelbases and the debut of a four-door crew cab. Engine choices ranged from a 100-horsepower, 250-cubic-inch inline six on the low end to a 240-horse 454 V8. GM’s next complete overhaul of its Sierra truck line wouldn’t occur until 1988 with trucks sporting a third more glass for improved visibility and a marked focus on more luxury items, such as upholstery and instrumentation.
That 80’s-era “luxury” pales in comparison to today’s model, considering that the 2016 GMC Sierra sports such innovations as advanced safety features and a 4G Wi-Fi Hotspot. The pickup’s evolution from being strictly a work vehicle to becoming a multi-purpose vehicle today is clearly evident on GMC’s site for Sierra, where a review of the vehicle’s interior receives precedence over its capabilities – something that would have been unheard of when trucks were meant solely for hauling and pulling. This old school Sierra’s transition into a show vehicle shows that there’s clearly a lot of life left for these pickups even when their days of doing hard work are over.
That’s not to say that new Sierra’s lack anything in the performance department. Its 6.2L V8 cranks out 420 horsepower, which GMC says is more than any other light-duty pickup. And, according to GM, the available EcoTec3 5.3L V8 engine delivers the best V8 fuel economy available among any full-size pickup. Balancing that power with control is Hill Descent Control, allowing for less nerve-wracking downhill journeys in rough terrain, and the Eaton Locker which automatically locks the rear wheels when slippage is detected.
Other automatic technology features aimed at assisting drivers include the Lane Keep Assist which helps drivers avoid drifting out of their lane by automatically correcting steering, and IntelliBeam which activates or deactivates Sierra’s high beams based on traffic conditions. Forward Collision Alert provides audible and visual alerts to help prevent collisions while the Safety Alert Seat vibrates as a warning signal to drivers.
Technology inside Sierra’s cab that’s aimed at driver convenience rather than strictly safety includes IntellilLink for customizing and organizing a variety of media, Apple CarPlay for syncing phones to the IntelliLink system, the previously mentioned 4G WiFi hotspot, and OnStar’s RemoteLink app to remotely start the vehicle, pinpoint its location on a map, and monitor the vehicle’s mechanical functions.
Available in four trim levels – Sierra Base Trim, SLE, SLT, and Denali, Sierra’s base MSRP is $27,275, and heads higher from there. After decades of popularity among truck buyers and features that give drivers what they want, the Sierra’s popularity doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
Editor’s note: When you need anything related to your GMC Sierra, turn to Advance Auto Parts first. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.