The Difference Between Ceramic and Semi-Metallic Brake Pads

Source | William Clifford/Flickr

Brake pads are the unsung hero of modern motoring, able to stop your heavy vehicle by converting kinetic (motion) energy into heat. It’s simple, yet brilliant technology. The pads contact the brake rotor and create enough friction to slow down even a Dodge Demon.

Back in the 1950s, when discs started to replace drums, brake pads were made out of asbestos. The material was cheap, quiet, and worked well at dissipating heat, but the brake dust was linked to lung cancer. Fortunately for us all, there are now a lot of excellent affordable brakes that don’t have health implications. Here’s how to narrow down your options when shopping for new brake pads.

Going organic

Organic pads were the first to replace asbestos. Made of various organic compounds like carbon, glass, rubber, and even Kevlar, organic pads are quiet even when cold and quickly heat up to their ideal operating temperature. Still, they have several shortcomings (see below) and have been largely replaced.

Strengths:

  • Organic pads are inexpensive. Everyone likes saving money.
  • Silence. The compounds are soft, translating to a quiet contact with the rotor.
  • Fine for everyday driving.

Weaknesses:

  • Again, organic pads are soft, so they are quick to wear out. While they’re inexpensive, you will have to replace them more often, so organics might not actually save you money.
  • Soft compound translates to a squishy pedal feel.
  • Easily overheated, so these aren’t for performance driving or towing.

With all the drawbacks, you might be wondering why organic pads are still made. The truth is, they are similar to why we have brake drums on modern cars. Organic pads and brake drums are totally outclassed and a bit rare these days, but they still work well enough. The tooling was paid for long ago, making them incredibly cheap to manufacture and sell, with pad sets often priced under $20. If you need basic brakes for your commute in your Toyota Corolla, organic pads will work.

Heavy metal

Wearever semi-metallic brake pads

While organics will generally stop a car, their weaknesses are serious enough that engineers keep looking for better brakes. Semi-metallic pads were the answer, first appearing with the larger and more powerful cars of the ’60s. With iron, steel, copper, and graphite in the friction material, semi-metallic pads have more bite and can stand up to a wide range of temperatures.

Strengths:

  • Semi-metallic pads offer improved brake performance compared to organics.
  • The harder material gives firmer pedal feel.
  • A wider operating range means a more heat tolerant pad that can stand up to heavy-duty work.

Weaknesses:

  • Semi-metallic pads need a proper break-in process for best performance.
  • They are more expensive than organic pads.
  • The metal-on-metal contact means some unavoidable brake dust, and more noise versus organic.

Semi-metallic pads are a great all-around choice if you live in the mountains, regularly tow, see any kind of racing, or just want a solid pad for everyday driving. Yes, there is a very slight price increase over organics, but “you get what you pay for” certainly applies here.

Definitely not fine china

Wearever ceramic brake pads

Just because these pads are ceramic, don’t assume they are like your aunt’s delicate tea sets. First appearing in the 1980s, these pads are more of a hardcore ceramic, like the heat shields on the space shuttles. The inorganic, earthen elements offer some improvements over the semi-metallic design, but they aren’t for everyone.

Strengths:

  • Ceramic pads are the longest-lasting pads you can buy.
  • They’re quieter than semi-metallic pads and offer better heat rejection.
  • Less brake dust than semi-metallic or organic, and the dust doesn’t stick to wheels.

Weaknesses:

  • The most expensive pad.
  • Some noise when cold, not the best choice for cold climates.
  • Not as heavy duty as semi-metallic, so not the choice for racing or towing.

Ceramic pads have become the standard OEM pad for modern cars, and it’s easy to see why. While they are typically the most expensive pad, drivers like the long life and lack of brake dust.

What to buy

When choosing between semi-metallic or ceramic, it’s best to stick with what the manufacturer put in the caliper. If it was semi-metallic in your Ford F-250, go with that option again. If your Honda Accord had ceramics from the factory, buy new ceramic pads.

When replacing organic pads, feel free to upgrade to either semi-metallic or ceramic, as they are both noticeable improvements in every measurable way.

Have a favorite type of brake pad? Let us know what stops you in your tracks in the comments below.

Crucial Cars: Ford Bronco

Cream colored classic Ford Bronco

Source | Andrew Duthie/Flickr

Over the last 50 years, dozens of SUVs and off-roaders debuted only to become stuck in the ruts and mud holes of history, forgotten. There are very few legends in this arena, but the Ford Bronco name recalls off-road fun in an affordable and efficient package. For 30 years, the Bronco was a Spartan, capable vehicle that was everything the modern flabby crossover isn’t: awesome.

1966: Creating a legend

1966 Ford Bronco

1966 Ford Bronco, Source | Valder 137

Ford fans will recognize the names Lee Iacocca and Donald Frey as fathers of the massively successful Ford Mustang. Iacocca liked small vehicles and Frey was riding high after huge Mustang sales numbers, so the pair tried again with what was conceived as an off-road Mustang. Lightning struck twice.

The only real competition of the time came from the Jeep CJ, whose ancient design harked back to the WWII military Jeep. It looked great, but was cramped inside and down on power. Ford solved both issues with its 1966 Bronco. Larger inside but still compact externally, the Bronco could be fitted with the same engine as the Mustang, a 289 V8. The CJ didn’t offer any size V8. Available in truck, convertible, and wagon forms, the innovative design of the Bronco could adapt to drivers’ outdoor needs.

The Bronco wasn’t just more powerful; it was all-around better. Instead of harsh-riding solid axles and leaf springs up front, the first-generation Bronco had coil springs and a three-link-style suspension for better on-road handling, but was still capable and durable when mudding. Later, the truck gained the 302 V8 and an automatic.

With just minor changes over the 11-year first generation, the Bronco gradually lost sales to bigger competition. Still, collectors consider the last ’76–’77 trucks some of the most sought-after Broncos. These years gained factory options like heavy-duty Dana 44 axles, power steering, and power disc brakes, all making the late first-gens comfortable on-road and durable off-road. The early Bronco was one steed that wouldn’t let you down.

1978: A full-size workhorse

1978_ford_bronco_front

Source | Magley64

The second generation was brief, at only two years. Why a full redesign for such a short time? The original Bronco was uncompetitive by the time it left the market, outgunned by vehicles like the Chevrolet Blazer and International Harvester Scout II. A larger, more powerful, and heavier-duty Bronco was in the works but had been delayed due to the ’70s gas crunch. Ford didn’t want to look irresponsible debuting a monster truck when gas was at a shocking dollar per gallon.

Once the supply crunch passed, the 1978 Bronco hit the streets and dirt trails. Essentially a half-ton F-100 truck with a shortened frame and a removable hardtop canopy over the bed, the Bronco was larger than its predecessor in every way, including under the hood. The base engine was a 351M, which was cool and all, but wrong for those penny-pinching times. The 400 V8 was available for extra cash, as the biggest engine available in any generation Bronco. It didn’t have to stop there, though—since Ford dumped the huge 460 V8 into all kinds of cars and trucks in the late ’70s, a 460 would drop right in. As is, the second-generation Bronco was an ogre on the street but could overpower hills, mud, and rocks when off-roading.

1980: Downsized and upscale

The 1980s were a different time and saw economy introduced across the range of models, including large cars, SUVs, and trucks. The third-generation Bronco was built on the new seventh-generation F-150 chassis, and parts sharing continued. Downsized in external dimensions and available engines, the Bronco gained an inline six as the base engine. It was somewhat fuel efficient but lacked the ponies for towing. The 302 and 351M were optional for the V8 crowd. The independent front suspension helped road manners, and the interior was quieter and almost civil. The removable hardtop continued, as did seating for six, but competitors with four doors were starting to gain ground, and the Bronco was a bit softer than previous versions.

 

1987: Continued refinement

1987-91_Ford_Bronco

1987 Ford Bronco, Source | IFCAR

In 1987, another new truck meant another generation of Bronco. This time underpinned by the F-150, the Bronco gained subtle front-end aerodynamic tricks and a complete redesign of the interior. Unfortunately, the same cubic-inch options continued, with a straight six, 302, and 351W. These were the digital Broncos, offering fuel injection. Enthusiasts cheered when transmissions gained a gear, getting to four speeds in the automatic and a five speed for the manual. The 1991 25th anniversary showed the Bronco getting old and Ford not caring. Rather than going hardcore on a retro 4×4 with monster capability, Ford offered red paint and leather. A flashy and comfy steed, but mainly marginalized.

1992 practicality and out to pasture

1992-96_Ford_Bronco

1992 Ford Bronco, Source | IFCAR

The 1992 Bronco was handsome, if tame looking. With buyers less interested in gas mileage, model bloat was not an issue, and the Bronco porked it on up to 4,600 pounds. Still, there were some standouts in the fifth generation. 1996 is the winner here, as it had OBD2 for easy tuning and troubleshooting, and cool mirrors with turn indicators in the side mirror glass. The 351W was the choice for solid towing, with manual hubs, quad shocks, and tow package for possibly the best ’90s all-around SUV.

While a great rig, the Bronco lost ground to the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon, and their reliable and quiet all-metal construction. The Bronco’s removable roof was awesome fun, but NVH suffered with wind noise, squeaks, and rattles. Power was adequate from the aging V8s, but gas mileage was terrible, seeing 20 MPG downhill. The two-door design looked great, but proved less popular than four-doors like Grand Wagoneer and Suburban. Buyers wanted looks but bought convenience. Outclassed as an on-roader, Ford dropped the Bronco for the clean-sheet four-door Expedition in 1997.

Rumors and Return

So if it was outclassed and inconvenient, why did the Bronco matter and why are its competitors mostly forgotten? It was a cheap and simplistic vehicle that was ready to take you on an adventure, any time you wanted to go. The idea of a fun, affordable off-roader is what people remember, rather than the rattles and poor gas mileage. Add some nostalgia, great stories, and experiences from owners, and it’s no wonder the Bronco is still talked about today.

After years of rumors, internet claims, and even a couple of concept trucks and infamous renderings, Ford confirmed at the 2017 North American International Auto Show that the Bronco will return in 2020. We do know it will be built on the same platform as the new Ford Ranger, but details are still under wraps as of this writing.

Enthusiasts hope for a capable compact that can take on the modern CJ, the Jeep Wrangler. Corporate bean counters want the cheapest vehicle with readily available parts, so it may end up looking like a new Ranger with seats in back. Or it could be a mix of something in between, capable and corporate, like Toyota’s FJ Cruiser. Ford just has to remember the original idea: simple, charismatic, honest, and fun. It worked before, and the Bronco just might be a hit again.

Ever driven a Bronco? Did it weasel its way into your heart? Tell us why in the comments!

What’s the Difference Between Car, Marine, and Lawn-Mower Batteries?

There are few things worse than turning the key and hearing nothing but a loud click, click, click, as the gauge lights fade. Your battery is dead. It’s time for a new one, but when you start your search there are, well… let’s just say “a ton of options” would be an understatement. Not all batteries are equal, and different vehicles have different requirements. Here’s what you need to know before you hit the store for a new battery.

For comparison: car batteries

All of the batteries listed here work generally the same way: A positively charged metal plate with a negatively charged plate in an electrolyte solution create an electron flow that you know as a useful electrical voltage (potential) and amperage (capacity).

Modern cars run on 12-volt electrical systems, and auto batteries are designed to work with this voltage. Manufacturers design standard flooded automotive batteries to deliver a quick burst of energy to quickly start the vehicle. We measure this by the battery’s CCA rating. A Honda Fit 1.5L can get by with lower CCA than a big block Chevy Chevelle 7.4L, so pay attention to what your ride needs.

The energy storage is shown as reserve capacity, which is less important in a car, as running the lights, radio, and such are the job of the alternator. It seems obvious, but you should stick with a car battery for cars.

Marine batteries

Starting marine batteryYou may have seen a battery at the parts store that is the size of a car battery, but the label states it’s for marine use. So what is a marine battery? A marine starting battery is quite similar to a car battery, but the differences matter. A boat battery has thicker plates so they don’t shake apart and fail under heavy wave impacts.

Also, you’ll notice the battery is rated in MCA. This is Marine Cranking Amps, which is the same as CCA, but at 32 degrees. Boat batteries have to act like a car battery for engine starting but also need to be able to provide “deep cycle” capacity for running that radio, GPS, or fish finder with the engine off. So, depending on need, there are specific starting batteries and deep cycle batteries.

Lawn batteries

lawn and garden battery

Lawn and garden batteries are, again, a different item. A battery for a riding mower doesn’t need to take on pounding waves, so it’s built more like a car battery. So how long does a lawn mower battery last? When properly maintained during the off seasons, the lawn mower battery last years, even with inconsistent use.

Lawn mower batteries are usually 12-volt. You’ll also notice they’re considerably smaller than car batteries, and tend to be cheaper, too. Lawn mower batteries often have one-third the CCA of a car battery, due to the heavier duty starter required for cars versus mowers.

Farm batteries

Farm batteries are deep cycle batteries with a CCA comparable to a car. This is because tractor engines have roughly the same electrical need at startup compared to your car or truck. On the other hand, the deep cycle is needed here due to the tractor usually running at idle or just off idle.

The tractor’s alternator can’t quite charge the battery at low engine speeds, so the battery needs to have a large reserve capacity. Farm batteries are also heavier duty than car batteries, due to the need to stand up to more bumps, ruts, and off-road work. You can use a farm battery in a car if you have to, but a car battery in a tractor won’t last long.

Golf cart batteries

Golf cart battery

Golf carts vary significantly between manufacturers and models, so the batteries vary, too. Golf carts operate on 36V or 48V electrical systems, with a set of batteries running usually 6, 8 or 12 volts. Definitely read the label before buying. With that said, they also differ in being true deep cycle batteries with a huge rating for amp hours. This is the ability to provide low power for a long time.

Unlike marine batteries that can start engines and provide deep cycle, a golf cart doesn’t have to deal with starting a large engine, so CCA isn’t a factor here. The golf cart needs reliable power for an extended period of time because the battery is the only source of power. Flooded GC batteries aren’t maintenance free. They need to be properly charged after use and electrolyte level must be checked regularly. Top off the electrolyte level in the batteries by adding distilled, deionized or demineralized water to the proper fill level. When the battery finally needs replacing, go with the same voltage as the factory batteries. For example, if your 48V cart has six 8V batteries, buy those six again rather than trying to upgrade to 12V. And don’t try to use a golf cart battery in your car, or vice versa.

Power sport batteries

Power sport battery

Your Jet Ski, snow machine, and ATV run power sport batteries that are specific to the demands of those machines. Most power sport batteries are 12-volt, like your car. That’s about where the similarities end. Smaller engines mean easier starting and thus lower CCA, so you probably wouldn’t want to run your Jet Ski battery in your F-250.

You’ll notice a bunch of different technologies in power sports, as well as some labeled “AGM.” That stands for Absorbed Glass Mat, which is a construction technique where fiberglass separators fully absorb the electrolyte and then are compressed during insertion. These batteries are highly vibration resistant, but AGM does not mean deep cycle.

AGM powersport batteries are not all the same. There are two different types: Dry Charge AGM and Factory Activated AGM. Factory Activated AGM power sport batteries allow you to take the battery off the shelf and use it immediately. Dry Charge AGM is still an AGM battery, but you have to fill the battery with acid and then charge 8-12 hours before you can use the battery.

Charging a Jet Ski battery is similar to charging a car battery, with the exception of using only the slow charge setting here, as most powersports batteries won’t like a 125V engine start setting.When it comes to batteries, the lesson of the day is: use the right battery for the right application. The batteries are internally different and will serve you well in the right vehicle. Remember, like anything else, maintenance is key. Keep it charged with a decent battery charger, and you’ll have a reliable battery that lasts for years.

How do you extend the life of your batteries? Let us know in the comments.

The 5 Coolest Classic Shifter Designs

Interior and steering wheel of a classic car

Source | Rich Helmer, Unsplash

Modern interior designs often deliver shifters that aren’t very memorable. That’s not the case with classic shifters. Those look incredibly different from today’s models but are still affordable and practical upgrades. Here are five of the most innovative, interesting, and sometimes wild shifter designs of yesteryear.

1. Ford Model T direct connection

Cars that are a century old found clever—and sometimes complicated—solutions to engineering problems. Old-timers like the Ford Model T were equipped with oddities like a two-speed planetary gear transmission. Modern manual transmission drivers will recognize the three pedals on the floor, but that’s where the similarities end. The large stick left of the driver is called a clutch lever, with the handle actuating the hand brake. The rear position is neutral with the parking brake on, while the vertical position is neutral with no brake, and forward is drive.

Confused yet? It gets worse, as the stick doesn’t select gears. The pedal on the left controls gear selection, with all the way down being first gear and all the way up being second. Need reverse? That’s the middle pedal. Yikes! Let’s move on before we cause any more headaches.

2. Cord pre-select

The last Cords were gorgeous machines and proved years ahead of their time. Late ’30s models were equipped with front-wheel drive and an automatic transmission, which sounds more like a description of a car from the ’80s. With the extreme complexity for the time, a mechanical connection from the shifter to the transmission was simply impossible.

Cord solved this problem with its pre-selector lever available on the 810. Instead of a direct link to the transmission, moving the shift lever into each gear triggers different electrical switches. These control a pneumatic system that changes gears when the clutch pedal is pressed. It looked great, and it worked even better.

3. Chrysler PowerFlite pushbutton controls

Ever really look at your modern auto shifter? Safety standards are the reason automatic transmission gear selection is ordered PRNDL in a $93,000 BMW 7 Series and a $13,000 Mitsubishi Mirage. Back in the 1950s, fewer standards to meet meant designers had free rein on design. One of those interior innovations was the pushbutton auto. With further refinement of automobile electronics in the ’50s, buttons could be mounted anywhere to remotely control the transmission.

Chrysler introduced pushbutton controls in 1956 to initial acclaim—and skepticism. While the buttons worked effectively, Chrysler left out the park button. Drivers hit the N button for neutral, then hit the parking brake to park.

4. Edsel Teletouch steering-wheel controls

Edsel was a different breed. Aside from the unusual exterior styling, the Ford-based cars used some inventive new ideas. The Teletouch was a pushbutton-operated automatic transmission with the controls in the center of the steering wheel. The idea was to get the controls closer to the driver’s hands, and while a noble thought, it probably caused confusion. Horn buttons had been mounted in the center of the steering wheel since the 1920s, so more than a few drivers probably had unfortunate reactions when they went for the horn and instead changed gears.

Ads of the era stated, “It puts shifting where it belongs.” That’s not far from the truth, but it would be another 40 years before paddle-shift controls showed up behind steering wheels and gained mainstream acceptance.

5. Oldsmobile Hurst Lightning Rods

We thought shifters were all figured out and standardized by the 1980s. We were wrong. The 1983 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme offered a heritage package celebrating 15 years of collaboration with Hurst. Famous for its shifters, Hurst continued its legacy with the Lightning Rods. Sprouting three sticks from the center console, this shifter offered the driver the choice to operate the 200R4 automatic like a regular overdrive auto or deliver full manual control of gear selection. The left stick operates with the familiar PRNDL order, so just use this one for cruising. For manual control, push all three sticks all the way back, and you are in first gear. Push the button and shift up on the right stick, and it’ll go into second. Push button, move middle stick up, and you get third. Overdrive is engaged by the left stick. Want one? Check eBay, but be prepared to pay what could have been a nice vacation.

Need a sweet shifter for your own ride? There are a lot of aftermarket performance shifters available for classic and modern vehicles, with manual or automatic transmissions. These might be chromed show pieces, or they can offer real driving enhancements like shorter handle throws. Installation takes 30 minutes to a couple of hours but can be handled by a novice with some time on their hands.

Are you ready to upgrade your shifter, or would you rather have one of the classics above? Share your thoughts in the comments.

The Story of Grip Clean: How Bryce Hudson Made a Product We Love

Bryce Hudson standing behind his motorcycle

Bryce Hudson

Need to get your hands clean after working in the lawn and garden? Or worse, that nasty grease from working on the rear differential? If only there were an effective product that didn’t dry out your hands. Actually, there is one: Grip Clean hand soap, created by a pro motocross rider, using dirt as a primary ingredient. And, no, this is not an ad. I first saw it on “Shark Tank” and had ordered it before the segment ended. The stuff works.

Hard work = filthy hands

Bryce Hudson knows a thing or two about being dirty. Riding any kind of motorcycle off-road will get you filthy, but ripping around a motocross course at the X Games makes for award-winning grime. Hudson took gold in his first X Games and was the youngest competitor in his class for all four of his appearances. It’s not all trophies and medals, though. In 2013, he missed a landing in competition and suffered multiple fractures to his left tibia. He missed eight weeks of competition but was still able to wrench.

“Throughout my career of being a professional motocross athlete, I always had to do my own mechanic work on my machines,” says Hudson. “And that led to having constantly dirty, greasy, sticky—you name it—kind of hands. I have always used the products that are on the market, but they would cause my skin to dry and crack or even break out in rashes.”

Hudson wanted a heavy-duty but all-natural product, but he couldn’t find one in stores. While working with chemicals all day, the last thing he wanted to put on his hands was more harsh chemicals and abrasive detergents. Synthetic cleaners were not the answer. Then he noticed something about dirt.

Bottle of Grip Clean in a garage

The big idea

“I used to use handfuls of dirt to spread onto oil spills in my garage when I made a mess. It always absorbed all the oils with ease.” Dirt is a natural exfoliant, which is why high-end salons use mud masks and baths to get their clients clean. Hudson used this same approach to develop Grip Clean as a vegetable-based blend with a dirt additive. But don’t look to your backyard for effective soap, as Grip Clean’s “dirt” is a cosmetic-grade pumice.

“This allows the dirt to go deep into the cracks of your hand to latch on hard to remove grease that would normally remain. I tried this theory in many of our test batches, and lo and behold, the product worked better at removing grease than any chemical soap on the market.”

Hudson says he tested small batches for two years to get the formulation right. “And then I gave some samples out to some fellow race teams I knew. The feedback I got back from everyone was phenomenal and everyone wanted more of the product. Suddenly I became known as the ‘soap boy,’ and the rest is history!”

Well, not quite history, as Hudson still had to learn how to do everything, from getting the formula right in larger batches to making labels and proper packaging. Initially, he made batches in his garage with a 5-gallon bucket. A Kickstarter campaign found 195 backers and proved the marketability. But it was still mainly a one-man operation at home. Since Hudson didn’t yet have the capacity to sell on a national level, he had to find an investor.

Bryce Hudson on the set of Shark Tank

Bryce Hudson appearing on Shark Tank

Shark bait

“Getting onto the TV show ‘Shark Tank’ was hands-down one of the most fun, hardest, and scariest things I’ve done in my life.” Hudson stood in line before dawn with 4,000 other people to pitch their creations to the producers. He thought his odds of being picked were low, but a few months later, Hudson was pitching Grip Clean to a nationwide audience.

“I rode my motorcycle in with my helmet on. I took my helmet off and began to give my sales pitch. Suddenly, Mark Cuban and the Sharks were laughing and interrupted me mid-speech. Little did I know I had a serious case of “helmet hair,” where my hair was completely messed up and sticking straight up.” The hair and makeup crew helped him out, and then the pitch went as planned.

Besides that quick fix, he says the pitch went pretty much as aired. Shark Lori Greiner said that the product should really be sold in stores but believed in its product enough to invest. Grip Clean took off from there.

Hitting it big

“We got a ton of orders the night of airing and sold out of product within minutes,” says Hudson. “I was ecstatic but also bummed I didn’t have more product to sell! We were approached by many large retailers all interested in carrying the product, Advance Auto Parts being one of them.

“Partnering with Advance Auto Parts is truly a dream come true. Anyone starting a company or product always has their sights set on getting it into big box retailers and stores. Little did I know how much work it takes to be ready for that moment. Advance believes in our product.”

Freestyle motocross still has Hudson’s heart, but he says he’s found a new passion in his company. Grip Clean is industrial strength but won’t dry out your hands. It’s all-natural, biodegradable, doesn’t leave a smelly residue, and it’s made in the USA. In short, it’s a gold-medal winner.

Have you used Grip Clean? Share what you think about it in the comments.

Everything You Need to Know About Tie Rod Ends

tie rod end of a vehicle

Source | Craig Howell/Flickr

You might be thinking it’s time to replace your tie rod ends, or maybe your mechanic laid down the law. Either way, it’s time to first understand the basics, like what is a tie rod end, as well as the symptoms of a failing tie rod end. While failing tie rods can be a serious issue, there are some easy solutions to the troubles you may have with them. Here’s a complete look at everything you need to know about tie rod ends.

What is a tie rod end, and what does it do

Tie rod ends are simple parts that connect the steering rack to the steering knuckle on each front wheel. An adjusting sleeve sits between the inner and outer tire rod ends. When you turn the steering wheel, it transmits that movement through various steering components until the tie rod ends push or pull the wheel and make the wheels turn. Having the ability to turn corners is pretty important, so tie rod ends play a large role in any vehicle’s safety.

Deceptively simple looking, the outer tie rod end hides some internal parts. Here’s a breakdown of the different pieces:

  • The long shaft body passes steering movement to the ball stud
  • The rounded part houses several bearings that give you proper steering movement even while compensating for bumpy roads
  • There’s usually a grease fitting on the back allowing the bearings to spin freely inside the housing
  • The bushing is there to keep road grit out of sensitive internal parts
  • The threaded bolt end goes into the steering knuckle
  • The inner tie rod end straight body connects to a bearing housing. It’s all covered by a rubber protective dust boot
Outer_tie_rod_end

Outer tie rod end, Source | MOOG

 

Inner_tie_rod_end

Inner tie rod end, Source | MOOG

 

Symptoms of failing tie rod ends

  • Uneven tire wear. If the inside or outside tread of your front tires are wearing early compared to the rest of the tread, it can be a sign that the wheel camber is incorrect.
  • Squealing sound from the front when turning. This sounds different from the squeal/groan the power steering makes when low on fluid. A failing tie rod end has more of a brief, high-pitched shriek. This could just be a bad ball joint, so take a look to be sure.
  • Loose steering feel. Also described as clunky or shaky steering, this will feel like a slight disconnect between steering movement and the associated movement in the wheel/tire.
  • Tie rod failure. This is the most severe sign. A broken tie rod causes steering loss, which could lead to an accident. This is why manufacturers take these components seriously and recall a vehicle if there’s a chance they were misassembled at the factory.

How to tell if tie rods are bad

Fortunately, it’s simple to check if the tie rods are bad. Jack up the front of vehicle, using an appropriate weight jack and rated jack stands. Once the wheel is entirely off the ground, check for play by placing your hands at nine o’clock and three o’clock positions (the midpoint of the left and right sides of the tire). Press with left, then right, alternating a push/pull movement on each side. If there is play or slop, it’s worth investigating further. The front is already jacked up, so take off the wheel and have a look underneath.

Right behind the brake rotor and hub, you should be able to see the tie rod end. Inspect it for any damage. If the bushing is torn, odds are road grit has accumulated inside and destroyed it, so you will need to replace the tie rod. If the bushing is solid, reach up and grasp the outer tie rod firmly, and give it a good shake. If it easily moves from side to side, it’s time for replacement.

Preventative maintenance is key

At every oil change, grease the tie rod ends. Look for a grease fitting on the outer edge by the bushing. Clean it off, and use a grease gun filled with the proper grease. The new grease pushes out the old, as well as any collected contaminants and road grit. Sure, it’s an extra step when changing the oil, but tie rod maintenance will delay the need for a tie rod replacement.

If it’s time to replace your tie rods, there is some good news. Since they are wear items that are meant to be replaced, they are easy to find online or in your local Advance Auto Parts store, and they’re affordable and easy to replace. You’d probably want adjustable tie rod ends in your souped-up classic, but the standard replacement parts are rock solid for daily driver duty.

Have any additional tips on tie rod ends? Drop a comment below.

Hidden Auto History Is Everywhere, Including Oklahoma City

America’s automotive past is all around us, but it’s usually hidden under decades of change. There were a lot more auto manufacturers back in the day, and many more car factories and dealerships. Usually, the buildings they occupied were abandoned and eventually torn down. Fortunately for us, some are still standing and tell a fascinating tale. So let’s examine the hidden automotive history in the architecture of Oklahoma City.

Why Oklahoma City? OKC is a comparatively young city not as well known for its automotive contributions as, say, Detroit. But, as evidenced in neighborhoods like the now-trendy Automobile Alley district, it played quite an important role in manufacturing. Here’s what Oklahoma City’s past looks like in the present.

Packard building in Oklahoma City

Source | Andy Jensen

Packard, 201 NW 10th St.

Packard built some of the most attractive cars in its day, and used ingenuity to compete with the giants of General Motors and Ford. Built in 1925 as a large dealership with indoor showrooms, its display area was big enough for a dynamometer to measure a new car’s horsepower. After Packard ceased operation in the ’50s, the building became a warehouse and, later, a bar.

Today, the early 20th-century brick architecture blends with modern windows the size of garage doors. Blueknight Energy now occupies the office space upstairs, while a large restaurant takes up most of the ground floor. Packard’s New American Kitchen echoes not only the former car company’s name but its ethos as well, with inspired yet affordable food.

Ford building in Oklahoma City

Source | Andy Jensen

Ford, 900 W. Main St.

Henry Ford was always looking for ways to decrease costs and mass-produce more cars. He found his answer in the 1909 Model T. Ford built this factory in 1916 as part of its expansion plans to supply cars to the people. Within a few years, the company built 24 more factories across the country to help meet demand for the Model T. At its peak, this particular factory cranked out 200 cars a day.

The Great Depression stopped car production, but Ford continued to use the space as a regional parts warehouse until 1967. The factory that got America on the road deserved a 21st-century makeover, and it got one in 2016. The 21c Museum Hotel is a boutique hotel and contemporary art museum worthy of its building’s historical importance.

Pontiac building in Oklahoma City

Source | Andy Jensen

Pontiac, 1100 N. Broadway

During Pontiac’s nearly 85 years making cars, the arrowhead logo fit legends like the GTO, Grand Prix, and Firebird, and later oddities like the Trans Sport and Aztek. Built in 1928, this 14,000-square-foot dealership likely featured cars like the 40-horsepower 6-28 coupe.

It’s now home to contemporary office space housing British Petroleum’s Lower 48 operations. While the workplace is entirely modern, the soul of the dealership is evident. Wooden floors are still spattered with paint, evidence of old-time bodywork. The break room features a garage door that opens to the sky. The ramp for loading vehicles onto the turntable display is still there. It’s some kind of irony that a dealership servicing petroleum-burning cars would later house offices of one of the world’s largest oil companies.

Hupmobile building in Oklahoma City

Source | Andy Jensen

Hupmobile, 824 N. Broadway

Hupmobile started building cars in Detroit, Mich., in 1909. It innovated one of the first steel car bodies but couldn’t last through the Great Depression and stopped production in 1940. This restored building housed the Shelburne Motor Company, which was really more of a new and used dealer with full-service mechanics and even parts reconditioning.

After Hupp fell apart, the building went through an industrial period before falling into disrepair, along with the rest of downtown OKC, in the ’70s. After a few decades of neglect, a full restoration created an attractive storefront and office space. The tall windows now provide an excellent showcase for fine-wine, spirits, and beer purveyor Broadway Wine Merchants. Even if you don’t have a Hupp—stop by for a visit.

GM factory in Oklahoma City

Source | Andy Jensen

GM, 7125 S. Air Depot Blvd.

Modern factories are also hiding in plain sight. Completed in the late 1970s, this GM Assembly built the unfortunate X-body and the slightly-less-terrible A-body. It shifted with the times through various other cars before finally hitting it big with SUVs. A tornado strike severely damaged it in 2003, but GM spent the money to get the plant operational just 53 days later. The Chevrolet TrailBlazer, GMC Envoy, and Oldsmobile Bravada rolled out the doors until 2006, when they shuttered and sold the plant.

Today, the 2.5-million-square-foot facility is home to the local Air Force base and still produces engines. This old factory may not make cars anymore, and the office spaces are the least fancy of the ones listed here, but the F-35’s 29,000-horsepower engines are pretty sweet.

Buick showroom in Oklahoma City

Source | Andy Jensen

Buick, 1101 N. Broadway

This is your grandfather’s Buick. Built in 1927, the four-story Buick building was one of the first indoor showrooms in OKC, and currently anchors the Midtown district. The brick and limestone exterior was meticulously restored in 2014 and topped by a new vintage-style neon sign. Dramatic high ceilings befitting a warehouse now look great with updated halogen and LED lighting. The turntable and car elevator are both intact and operable. Mixing old and new themes is the ground-floor restaurant, Broadway 10.

Buick dealership in Oklahoma City

Source | Andy Jensen

Buick, again, 504 N. Broadway

The Okies from a hundred years ago must have really liked Buicks. This is a smaller Buick dealership, as it was built in 1911 and earned the title of first showroom in the city. It was unique for being a direct sales showroom owned by Buick, rather than the dealer model we have today. There’s a trendy event room upstairs called “The Showroom” which is available for $3,000 an evening—roughly twice the price of a late 1920’s Buick. The building displays art from Ghost Gallery, and the street front is Red Prime Steakhouse.

Take a closer look at some old buildings, and you might catch a glimpse of America’s automotive history. This was just a brief look at one city—let us know if you’d like to see more. And tell us what’s hiding in your town.

The Best Route 66 Attractions

Beautiful Route 66, big sky and straight road

Source | Matthias/Flickr

The Mother Road still delivers one of the best road-trip experiences. Originally a transportation lifeline, Route 66 developed into a unique culture of old-school Americana that can’t be found anywhere else. Pick a few historical sites or see all the oddities. To help you choose, we’ve broken down some of the top attractions.

A massive meteor crater

Source | Meteor Crater Enterprises

Unusual scenery

Wide-open vistas are common scenery when driving Route 66. For a change of pace, when driving near Flagstaff, Ariz., look for signs pointing to Meteor Crater. Fifty-thousand years ago, a large chunk of ultra-dense hit the desert with enough force to vaporize the meteorite and clear out a three-quarter-mile-wide crater. It’s mostly intact today, and viewpoints offer a fascinating look into the basin more than 500 feet deep. Meteor Crater recalls some of the peace and tranquility of the Grand Canyon, except for the “created by a giant explosion” bit. Sure, it’s just a hole in the ground, but the scope of it is mind blowing.

 

Abandoned building in Glenrio, Texas

An abandoned building in Glenrio, Texas, Source | El-Toro/Flickr

A real ghost town

Nothing says “Old West” like an abandoned ghost town. Glenrio, Texas, sits on the border between New Mexico and Texas. Living memories from a past era, the gas station, hotel, post office, and two-dozen other buildings survive in surprisingly solid condition. Entirely abandoned, cars sit rusting in driveways and tall grass grows in massive cracks in the cement. Glenrio is quiet and empty, and an interesting, creepy experience for the type of people who love post-apocalyptic zombie movies.

For automotive geeks

If you are looking to entertain the kids (and your inner kid), head to the Lewis Antique Auto & Toy Museum in Moriarty, NM. This is Archie Lewis’ private collection, and since he’s been collecting for six decades, it’s huge. Inside this warehouse-like museum, there are 30 cars in original condition. If that’s not enough, you can wander through the yard, which is filled with more than 600 vehicles dating back over 100 years. There are fire trucks, T-Birds, Model Ts, Rancheros, and even a rarer selection rounded out by Nash, Packard, and Crosley. If the vintage iron doesn’t interest you, check out the giant selection of old-timey toys.

Vintage Indian motorcycle

Vintage Iron Motorcycle Museum, Source | Rex Brown/Flickr

A motorcycle museum

Motorcycles more your thing? The Vintage Iron Motorcycle Museum in Miami, Okla., will get your motor runnin’. You might not be feeling the modern vibe of the building since it was built in 2006, but the allure here is what’s on display. Stunning classic and antique motorcycles fill the floors in flawless condition. WWII-era US Army Harley-Davidson WLAs, world-record jump bikes, and café racers share floor space with classic race bikes, cruisers, and sidecars. You’ll also set eyes on an unreal amount of equipment and accessories. It has the best gift shop on this list, as you can get real biker stuff, besides the usual Route 66 kitsch.

Source | scott1246/Flickr

Tourist trap

When talking must-see Route 66 attractions, no list is complete without Cadillac Ranch. Although it’s not actually a ranch, there are several Cadillacs here. Sunk into the ground nose-first are 10 Cadys from the late ’40s to early ’60s, which neatly covers the entire span of the tailfin era. This isn’t a museum, though—they encourage visitors to bring spray paint and leave their own graffiti. It’s the best hands-on exhibit on the road. The Ranch is a perennial work in progress, and you can supposedly smell the fresh spray paint from hundreds of feet away. Bring a camera, as your art won’t last long.

An underground cavern

The Meramec Caverns, Source | Tydence Davis/Flickr

Recreation

Need to cool off? Head underground to “Missouri’s buried treasure.” The Meramec Caverns outside Stanton, MO, were originally a saltpeter mine, until being partially blown up in the Civil War. Afterwards it was a Victorian-era party locale, Jesse James’ hideout, and, finally, a tourist destination known for the incredible natural formations. Huge rooms with 70-foot-high ceilings, impressive stalactites, still naturally under construction, and mysterious underground lakes await the visitor with a good flashlight. Tours are currently on hold for renovations but should resume by summer.

A former service station

Cars on the Route, Source | Tony Hisgett/Flickr

Good eats

When it’s time to stop for some grub, there’s no better Route 66 destination than an old fashioned diner. Cars on the Route is a former Kan-O-Tex service station-turned-restaurant and retail shop in Galena, Kan. The gas station retains the cool old-style gas pumps and décor, but the service bays have been cleaned out and remodeled as a ’50s-style burger joint. There’s no gas in those pumps so you can’t fill your tank, but you can fill up on “Cars”themed souvenirs. Speaking of, don’t miss the lifesize movie characters sitting out front.

Metal sculptures with glass bottles connected to them

Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch near Oro Grande, Calif., Source | Kārlis Dambrāns/Flickr

One of a kind…

While you could take the kids to see the World’s Biggest Ketchup Bottle in Collinsville, Ill., there are larger oddities further west. Elmer’s Bottle Tree Ranch, just outside Oro Grande, Calif., is an incredible upcycled industrial-art forest. Like the Cadillac Ranch, this is also not a ranch but a cool interactive artwork. More than 200 handmade steel and glass “trees” rise from the desert in a surreal display, topped by everything from typewriters to old rifles. Like the best art, and the rest of Route 66, the quiet ranch leaves an impression.

No matter what you’re looking for on Route 66, you are likely to find it. Have a favorite destination on the Mother Road? Share it in the comments below.

No Truck? No Problem! How to Tow with Your Car

1955 Ford_airstream

1955 Ford Ranch Wagon towing an Airstream, Source | Flickr

A truck is great for getting work done, but what if you don’t have one? Fear not—you can still make things happen. If you have a car, van, or crossover, odds are your vehicle has a tow rating. As long as you follow common sense when towing, you can probably get the job done with your car. Here’s how.

All show, no tow?

Check if towing is even possible in your vehicle by looking in your owner’s manual. In the cargo and towing section it might state something along the lines of, “Manufacturer does not recommend towing with your vehicle.” At this point, it’s time to look into a truck rental. But if the manual lists a certain towing capacity of “x” pounds, this is the manufacturer’s weight limit for towed loads. If you don’t have your owner’s manual, you can find many vehicles’ tow ratings online.

Don’t base your opinion of towing success on looks or power, as there are several cars that can tow surprising loads. The current Ford Mustang GT, with a 5.0L V8 making 400 lb/ft of torque, has a tow rating of 1,000 pounds. Oddly, the small 10th-generation Toyota Corolla, equipped with a 2.4L four cylinder, has a 1,500-pound tow rating. If you have a Honda Odyssey with a 3.5L V6, you can tow up to an impressive 3,500 pounds.

You may be wondering why these tow figures are so low compared to modern full-size trucks. The short answer is safety. The Mustang GT has the torque to theoretically tow a space shuttle. The issue is, it can’t do it safely on public roads for an extended amount of time.

Let’s say you have that Mustang with its tow rating of 1,000 pounds. A buddy asks you to dramatically exceed that and tow his or her 3,000-pound Ford Focus across town. It can be done… badly. The Mustang could physically tow the Focus, but it would do so with dramatically increased drivetrain wear and potential serious damage to the chassis. The brakes would be inadequate for the increased weight, and the trailer or towed car will sway on the highway as it tries to match the movements of the tow vehicle. In short, it would be a scary and damaging drive, so in the real world don’t ever exceed the tow ratings.

Get hitched

To connect that trailer to your tow vehicle, you’ll need a hitch. A tow hitch attaches to the chassis of the vehicle to create the strongest point to connect a trailer or camper. Most hitches bolt onto the vehicle with basic tools and take less than an hour to install. Like with vehicles, don’t go by looks alone, as similar-looking hitches can have wildly different tow ratings. The two main points you will need to look at are the class rating and the receiver opening.

Class I hitches are rated up to 2,000 pounds gross trailer weight, with a 200-pound maximum trailer tongue weight. The tongue weight is simply the force exerted on the hitch from the trailer. For a real-world example, this means if you have a 400-pound light trailer hauling a 560-pound Harley-Davidson Sportster, you’re plenty safe with this hitch. The Corolla mentioned above would have no problem towing 960 pounds out of its 1,500-pound tow rating, if the tongue weight stayed under 200 pounds. Set the Harley above the trailer axle for a neutral load on the trailer tongue. This Class I hitch usually has a 1-1/4″ square receiver opening. This size accepts ball mounts but can also take bike racks, cargo carriers, or other accessories.

Class II hitches are medium duty, rated for up to 3,500 pounds of trailer weight and 300 pounds of max tongue weight. Class III are even heavier duty, with a trailer weight of 6,000 pounds and tongue weight of 600 pounds. Keep in mind, it’s the hitch that can handle that, not your Corolla.

For more details about tow hitches and getting geared up for towing, check out our tips for first-time towers.

Going the extra mile

For a single trip towing across town, no extra equipment is required. If it looks like you may need to tow more often, here are some additions that can help make it easier and safer.

  • Towing mirrors help you see past the trailer. Since rear visibility takes a huge hit while towing, these extended mirrors let you see around it. Other motorists will appreciate that you can see them.
  • Trailer wiring kits make it easy to stay safe and legal out on the road. Most passenger cars don’t have trailer wiring from the factory, so getting the brake lights and turn signals to work can mean splicing wires. Trailer wiring kits are plug-and-play.
  • Transmission coolers keep the temperatures down in one of your vehicle’s critical drivetrain components. Heavy loads make your vehicle work harder, increasing heat, which can damage a transmission. These affordable add-ons reduce the potential for expensive damage from towing.
  • Larger rotors with heavier duty pads will allow you to safely stop that heavy load. The factory brakes were meant to stop just the vehicle’s weight, so they can overheat when trying to stop additional weight.
  • Hitch covers look cool. Technically they offer some protection from the elements so the receiver doesn’t rust, but mainly they offer a unique way to customize your ride.

You can tow without a truck, but you have to do it the right way to stay safe. Ever towed something with a car? Share your towing tips in the comments.

Mower Time: Getting Ready for Spring

 

lawn mower on grass

Source | Daniel Watson/Unsplash

Your lawn mower might not have a 450hp big block, but believe it or not, the same tune-up principles for your classic muscle car apply to your lawn and garden equipment. If it has an engine, it’s going to need a little bit of prep work to perform its best this spring. Here’s a guide to what needs replacing, what just needs attention, and some general mower maintenance advice.

Walk-behind mowers

Walk-behind push mowers have some of the simplest engines currently made. That makes them easy to work on for any skill level. If you’ve never done any kind of maintenance work before, give it a try with these super-simple tasks.

Oil change

Like with your car, you need to change the oil in your mower on time. This depends on the number of hours and how you use it. Usually most homeowners can get by with changing the oil once a season. Push mowers are cheap and easy to maintain; they don’t have an oil filter and only need one quart of oil. It’s definitely faster and easier than changing oil in your car: tip the mower on its side to drain the oil out the filler spout, then set it upright and refill with fresh oil. Remember to drop off the old oil for recycling.

Spark plug

Spark plugs wear out, too. Like with oil, it’s a good idea to change them at the start of each season. All it takes is a single wrench. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to buy lawn- and garden-equipment spark plugs at a power-equipment store. We stock your Honda’s BPR6 spark plug or your MTD’s RC12 at stores and online too.

Air filter

The air filter keeps dirt, grit, and grass out of the precision internal-engine components. Being down near the debris and spinning blades makes for one filthy air filter that decreases performance. Check the filter throughout the season and replace as needed, usually at least once a season.

Blades

Before you fire up the mower, check the condition of the blade(s). Clean off any excess grass clumps and check for cracks or large chips in the blade. If you find any, it’s time for a replacement. This is easier than it looks—use a wrench to remove the center bolt. If your blade is in good shape, it may only need sharpening. A sharpening kit is about the same price as a new blade but will save you money in the long run.

Ethanol-free gas

Most small engines prefer ethanol-free gas, so fuel up with that if it’s available in your area. Never use E15 or higher ethanol fuels in small equipment not rated for it.

riding lawn mower

Source | Gord Webster/Flickr

Riding mowers

If you’ve gotten this far, we’re guessing you don’t have a small lawn. Riding mowers are great for cutting large amounts of tall grass in a small amount of time, but they do need some extra work. All the above advice for push mowers also applies to riding mowers. The oil change needs a couple more quarts, and there’s oil and fuel filters to swap out, too. Here’s what else to look for.

Blade belt

Under the deck, check the condition of the blade belt and pulleys. A slack belt will cause excessive noise and lack of cutting, so adjust the tensioner and/or buy a new belt. Grease the pulleys to ensure they freely spin.

Battery

Pull out your multimeter and check the voltage of the battery. On a 12V battery, if it tests at less than 10.5V, trickle charge until full and give it a try. If it does not stay charged between mows, then it’s time for a new battery.

Tires

That rider has could’ve been sitting in the same spot all winter. That’s never good for the tires. Look for cracks, dry rot, or flat spots, then inflate to the recommended pressure listed on the side of the tire. If the tires are damaged or don’t hold air, replace them.

… And prep yourself

Safety comes first, so wear gloves when working near the blades. Eye protection is recommended while riding or using a side-discharge push mower. Small engines are disproportionately loud for their size, so remember to wear ear protection any time the mower is running.

Do it right and safe, so you can get your lawn done on the first pass. Spring and summer offer perfect car-show weather, so do your mowing, then get back to wrenching.

Share your lawn and garden tips and tricks with others in the comments below.