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.

The Awesome History of Pro-Touring

Pro-Touring Car

Source | Steve Ferrante/Flickr

Giant wheels, perfect stance, megawatt power, and excellent handling—all wrapped in timeless muscle beauty. Pro-Touring can be the ultimate expression of the muscle car, making 50-year-old rides relevant and competitive with modern exotics. Join us for a look at the tech and history behind it.

If this is your first time reading about it, Pro-Touring is a subculture of muscle-car enthusiasts that can be hard to define. It’s generally considered vintage American iron modified to accelerate, handle corners, and stop with the very best modern vehicles of any price point. Picture a classic Plymouth Roadrunner passing a Porsche 911 GT3 in a corner at Lime Rock, and that’s probably a Pro-Touring machine. Modifications must be extensive to get 50-year-old cars up to speed, and usually include engine swaps, forced induction, massively upgraded suspensions, large brakes, and even larger wheels.

Pro Street origins

Way back in the acid-washed jeans and Crystal Pepsi era, the popular trend for American muscle cars was Pro Street. Based on the NHRA Pro Stock class, the street cars mimicked the race-car look with giant hood scoops, flashy pastel exteriors, and “big ‘n’ little” drag tires. The results were sometimes all show and no go, as 1980s Pro Street was more about looks than speed. If someone did build a fast Pro Street car, it was usually too wild to be street legal and could not see action as a daily driver. As the decade ended, enthusiasts went looking for something different, as they wanted both performance and a legal and comfortable ride. Enter the road racers.

Pro-Touring Big Red Camaro on a track

Source | Big Red Camaro

Big Red steals the show

Classic road rallies like the La Carrera and Silver State Classic allowed builders the opportunity to test their mettle and their metal, with expensive European exotics taking home the trophies. That was until Dan and RJ Gottlieb stuffed a 540-inch Chevy V8 into a 1969 Camaro with a race-car suspension and created a legend.

The “Big Red” Camaro broke numerous records and was politely asked not to return. The Gottliebs had built something more than a race car for the street when they insisted the sheet-metal retain the factory look and the interior remain functional as stock. Window cranks and air conditioning? Big Red was reliable, brutally fast, with excellent handling, braking, and a reasonable ride quality. The Pro Touring style had been created.

Manufacturer performance

Enthusiasts think of the ’80s as a dark age of performance, but it’s really when auto manufacturers started to take a serious interest in handling and braking, as all-around performance started to matter more than just acceleration times. BMW wasn’t able to keep up with the pony cars in straight-line acceleration back then, but the popular E30 BMW 3 Series proved customers would line up for solid driving characteristics.

By the end of the ’90s the Corvette became the svelte C5, the fourth generation Camaro SS could pull .90g on the skidpad, and the SVT Cobra received a pony car first: independent rear suspension. The factory had pointed the way for Pro-Touring.

Pro-Touring today

Now you can build a classic any way you want, including for all-around performance. Want a six-speed manual in your ’67 Mustang or paddle shifters in your ’70 GTO? Both are available. There’s even aftermarket independent rear suspensions available as complete bolt-on kits, along with any number of big brakes, huge sway bars, and performance springs and shocks.

There’s no reason to leave your big-block classic in the garage for 90-percent of the year anymore. With the right equipment, that classic can handle the rigors of daily driving, weekend cruising, and the occasional track day, all in the same configuration. If you don’t want to go all out, Pro-Touring still shows how minor upgrades can be rewarding on your classic ride.

Tell us what you think of these auto trends. Leave your thoughts on Pro-Touring in the comments below.

5 of the Most-Coveted Classic Tuner Cars

Tuner cars are nothing new. Back in the ’60s, they were called third-party muscle cars, modified by the dealership or company to increase performance over what the factory offered. Some of them took it a step further and added exclusive wheels, body parts, or custom paint. They built what manufacturers didn’t offer, and a number of legends came out of that work.

Today, Yenko and Baldwin-Motion Chevys, Royal Oak Pontiacs, and Mustang Stallions and Shelby cars are some of the most sought-after vehicles in the classic muscle car market. Here’s a look at some of the fastest and most well-known classic tuners.

Ford

Shelby GT500

Shelby GT500, Source | GPS 56/Flickr

Shelby GT500

It doesn’t really get much bigger than this. From numerous race wins in the ’60s to Nicolas Cage drooling over one in “Gone in Sixty Seconds,” the GT500 is arguably the best-known tuner car of all time. Carroll Shelby knew the Ford Mustang could be more than a “secretary’s car” and totally changed its attitude by reworking the entire vehicle, including pulling the pedestrian 289ci V8 in favor of a 428ci. More than just turning up the horsepower knob, Shelby added a race-worthy suspension built from his Le Mans days (Shelby had been on the GT40 team), so it could tear up the corners as well as the drag strip. Stripes and custom parts helped the visual punch, contributing to the legend and making the GT500 one of today’s most expensive muscle cars.

Chevrolet

Baldwin-Motion Phase III Chevrolet Camaro

Baldwin-Motion Phase III Chevrolet Camaro, Source | mashleymorgan/Flickr

Baldwin-Motion Phase III Camaro

The Camaro was designed to fight the Mustang, so building a competitor to the GT500 was a natural conclusion. The Baldwin Chevrolet dealership teamed with a nearby speedshop, Motion Performance, to create a limited run of super-muscle cars. Baldwin-Motion would work on nearly anything, but it was famous for the Phase III Camaro (no, there wasn’t a phase I or II). This beast packed a 427 that had been heavily massaged with race-worthy parts. Advertising listed it as 500 horsepower and “unreal” torque. That’s not an exaggeration, as it could run 11.5 in the quarter mile. With optional bulging hoods, side pipes, and outrageous paint colors, these cars weren’t subtle, but they were fast.

Yenko SC427 Nova

Don Yenko’s dealership and performance shop had been building hot versions of the Camaro and Corvair for years by 1969. That experience allowed him to get the new Nova right the first time around. Pulling the top-of-the-line 427ci V8 from the big Chevelle SS, Yenko stuffed it, along with a four-speed manual, into the tiny Nova, making a hilariously fun and dangerous car. Four-hundred-and-fifty horsepower was good for 11 seconds in the quarter on slicks, and even zero-to-60 passed in just 5.1 seconds. It would be 30 years before the factory Camaro could do it that quickly, and for the ’60s it was very impressive. Yenko later reflected in Road & Track that the SC427 Nova was “barely legal at best” and was probably too dangerous for the street.

Pontiac

Royal Bobcat GTO

GM’s excitement division arguably created the muscle car in 1964, but by 1968, the 400ci-powered GTO was fading into the rearview. Mega-dealership Royal Pontiac decided to change things by swapping in a 428ci V8 with a fistful of upgrades. Loaded up with ram air and steeper gear ratios, the rebadged Bobcats were capable of daily driving but were a handful at the limit. Car and Driver called them dangerous in the wrong hands, as they were civil enough for grandma around town but just a gas pedal away from supercar firepower. Bobcats were good for 13-flat in the quarter, if you had tires that could grip all that torque. On regular street tires, they were good at turning rubber into smoke.

Dodge

Hurst/Spaulding Dart GTS 440

The Dart was an attractive but mild-looking compact, and it had acceptable performance with its 340ci V8. The late ’60s demanded more speed, so legendary aftermarket performance company Hurst and Chicago dealership Mr. Norm’s Grand Spaulding worked together to stuff Chrysler’s 440ci mountain motor in the compact Dart. Conservatively rated at 375 hp and 480 lb/ft, the repowered Dart weighed 3,600 pounds. The result was shenanigans, as the Dart GTS 440 was severely nose heavy, and lacked power steering or a warranty. It didn’t matter, though, as the overpowered compact could run low 13s in the quarter mile, beating Corvettes for half the price.

These tuned classics were performance bargains in their day but now sell for serious cash. Ever seen one at a car show or the strip? Let us know your favorite in the comments below.

How Does a Code Reader Work?

car speedometer with the check engine light illuminated

Source | Chris Isherwood/Flickr

When that “check engine” light comes on, many drivers start thinking about their bank accounts. They wonder if they need to immediately pull over and have it towed for an expensive repair, or if the issue is something minor that can wait a few days. The light sure gets your attention, even if you’re an expert DIYer. But what does it mean?

There’s a way to find out. Code readers are affordable DIY tools that provide valuable information about the state of your vehicle and, potentially, a solution to the problem.

Wait, why even have computers in cars?

Story time. Volkswagen and Bosch created the first electronic fuel injection system in 1968, but computer controls didn’t really catch on in the US until the late 1970s. With increasingly strict emissions standards, plus a couple of gas shortages, the new engine control unit (ECU) would reduce the car’s emissions and improve fuel economy. These initial computers were connected to just a few sensors. They could read the incoming data, compare that info against tables stored in permanent memory, and adjust the controls as needed for the ideal result.

It worked. Air pollution improved, fuel economy increased, and basic ECUs picked up more and more sensors. This was the first era of on-board diagnostics computers, later called OBD1.

Problems popped up when you tried to take your fancy new 1980 Ford Escort LX to your favorite local mechanics. They didn’t have the tools to diagnose your new ride, because they didn’t want to buy a $5,000 diagnostic tool just for Fords. See, each manufacturer built computers according to their own specifications, so a Ford diagnostic tool wasn’t going to work on a Dodge, and small shops couldn’t afford to buy a tool to service every brand.

Fortunately, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) got together with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to come up with industry-standardized diagnostics and connectors. Starting Jan. 1, 1996, OBDII became standard.

OBD-II engine code reader

OBDII Code Reader, Source | Flickr

How a code reader works

When an automotive sensor fails, its specific outputs change. For example, let’s say the air intake temperature sensor gets corroded over time and eventually fails to work. The ECU is looking for a specific signal range from that sensor, and will throw up a “check engine” light and store a code “P0113″ or similar if that signal fails to register to the ECU. When the ECU doesn’t receive a signal within normal operating tolerances, the ECU illuminates the “check engine” light to get your attention. In short, the “check engine” light alerts you to a problem, and the stored code tells you what the problem is.

The code reader connects to your 16-pin OBDII port, usually located under the steering column. The code reader and ECU use the same programming language and are able to communicate, so the reader understands that “P0113″ is a failed air intake temperature sensor and puts this on the display screen. With this knowledge you can take a quick trip to the auto-parts store and replace the sensor. If the code is still stored after replacement and starting the engine, you can manually clear the error code by setting the code reader to erase it from memory.


Pro Tip: To help you diagnose a vehicle problem, Advance offers free code reading at most store locations (see store for details).


How code readers help you

With industry-standard connection and software, the formerly expensive mechanic’s equipment quickly became affordable for the average motorist. The simplest and cheapest readers will only display the error code. Something like “P0300″ will show in the display window. Then it’s up to you and Google to decode it—in this case a misfire not tied to any specific cylinder.

Going up slightly in price, more advanced code readers usually have large display screens. These readers can display the error in plain language, or offer the ability to read and reset ABS brake codes or the SRS airbag light. Instead of just the displayed error code, you might see something like “oxygen sensor 1, bank 1.” And instead of spending time digging through Google’s search results, you can go buy the oxygen sensor and install it. This saves you time and hassle, and probably money, too. You can skip the dealership service bay and the aggressive upsell on services.

While more complex, these advanced code readers are still easy to use. If you can download and install a smartphone app, you have the technical skill level to use a code reader. People sometimes get intimidated by any product with the word “diagnostics” in the name, but this might be the easiest tool you can use on a vehicle. Literally, you just plug it in.

Skirting the system

Now, don’t just buy a code reader to clear your check engine light so you can pass the emissions test or safety inspection. It doesn’t work like that. Inspections technicians have advanced code readers that can detect when there is still an issue with your vehicle. Remember, turning out the light doesn’t make the issue go away. The fuel injector or oxygen sensor that triggered the check engine light is still malfunctioning, even if you temporarily cleared the code. The code-erase function should be used after the repair to validate that the issue is fixed.

Have any advice on using a code reader? Let others know in the comments below.

How to Clean an Engine Bay the Right Way

Source | Gerard McGovern/Flickr

Do you clean your vehicle? The answer’s probably yes. But do you clean your engine bay? If not, that’s like taking a shower but never brushing your teeth. Don’t be that person; wash your engine, too.

Now you might be thinking that no one sees your engine bay except you and the occasional mechanic, so who cares, right? Well, like with the rest of your vehicle, cleaning prevents damage and keeps resale value high. A car engine bay covered in oil and grit is allowing premature wear in the pulleys and bearings, or hiding serious issues like gasket leaks. A clean engine bay allows the engine to stay cooler, operate efficiently, and keep your value high.

Difficulty

Good for beginners — A new DIYer will be able to complete the project

Time Required

1 hour

What you’ll need

 

Step-by-step guide on how to clean an engine bay

Hose it down

A quick pre-rinse does several things. It knocks off any of the loose dust and grit, makes it easier for the engine degreaser to spread around, and prevents spots from the soap quickly drying out. In short, a pre-rinse is essential.

Step 1: Wait until the engine is cool. It doesn’t need to be cold though—you just don’t want to introduce a bunch of cold water to hot parts. Pop the hood and let it cool for an hour. This is when you’ll put down the drip pans and absorbent pads to stop the chemicals and gunk from going down the gutters.

Pro Tip: Find a local recycling center that accepts both the used pads and the oily water from the drip tray.

Step 2: Disconnect the negative battery terminal or cover the battery with a plastic bag. Water conducts electricity, and you don’t want it to connect and make new temporary circuits. If you have a classic ride, cover the alternator, carburetor, and distributor with plastic bags. On a modern ride, cover the alternator and go easy with the water around the coil packs and fuse box.

Pro Tip: If you are using a power washer, use the low-pressure setting and rinse everything in the engine bay. Low pressure is better than high pressure here, as you want to clean off the crud, not blast it into the small crevices between components.

Spray it up

Step 3: Now it’s time to spray a liberal application of engine degreaser. Why use a degreaser instead of regular car soap? Your average car-wash soap is fine for grit and dirt but just won’t cut it on oil and grime. Go heavy on the engine degreaser on the typically nasty parts, like the starter and oil pan and anything else oily. Follow the directions on the bottle, but usually you will let it sit for a few minutes to get the most grime-lifting action. You can use a wash brush here for the seriously filthy areas. It has soft bristles that won’t scratch the paint or plastic.

Step 4: Rinse with low-pressure water again and take a look at your progress. Some engines that have never been cleaned in 300,000 miles will need the degreaser again. If not, it’s time to get busy with the automotive soap.

Step 5: Use an automotive car-wash soap to finish cleaning the engine bay the same way you would clean the exterior. Use an automotive wash mitt, get it soapy in the bucket, and scrub up the engine bay just like you would a rear quarter panel, then rinse.

Sweat the details

Step 6: Rinse with low pressure again and remove the plastic bags over the sensitive parts. If they need cleaning, professional detailers will remove the plastic fuse box cover or distributor cap and clean it by hand, where the electronics won’t be affected. Once clean and dry, just bolt them back on.

Step 7: Use a dedicated plastic cleaner to polish out fine scratches and restore shine to the engine bay plastics. Apply with a terry cloth and wipe off with a clean microfiber cloth. For the metal bits, a metal polish will brighten them up. They are all a bit different, but in general, grind a bit into the metal surface until the polish starts to turn darker, then wipe off with a clean cloth.

Now step back and enjoy your work.

Any detailing experts around? Let us know your engine bay cleaning tips and tricks!