Forefixers: The Innovators Who Brought Air Conditioning to Your Car

Air conditioning console in vehicle

Source | Mike/Pexels

Unless you’ve owned a car with a broken air conditioning system, it’s hard to imagine having to slog through the long, hot summer in a vehicle that’s just as hot inside as everything else is outside. We treasure our cool climate, whether in the home, the office, or somewhere in between at the wheel of our cars. But air conditioning is a relatively modern invention—about half as old as the car itself. So who were the early contributors to our freedom from summer’s brutal reign? Read on to find out.

Black and white photo of Willis Carrier in front of a large machine

Source | Carrier

Willis Carrier

The most important figure in any discussion of air conditioning in the modern sense is undoubtedly Willis Carrier. Yes, that Carrier—there’s a good chance your home’s A/C unit bears his name.

In 1902, Carrier invented the first modern electrical air conditioning unit. Carrier’s impetus for figuring out the electric-powered air conditioner was to improve the quality and uniformity of specialized printing runs for a printing plant. As a result, the systems that created the cool air were large, bulky, and had little potential for any other use.

It would take a little more than a decade for the wealthiest Americans to begin installing the first air conditioning units in their private homes. But it would be several decades before others managed to engineer a solution small enough to fit in a car, yet effective enough to be worth the hassle.

Photo portrait of Thomas Midgley Jr.

Thomas Midgley Jr. Source | Creative Commons

Thomas Midgley Jr.

Carrier’s air conditioning design used cold water in the cooling portion of the device, but that only allowed a small potential for cooling the ambient air. To get much colder air temperatures, and do it quicker, pressurized refrigerants were necessary. That’s where controversial inventor Thomas Midgley Jr. came in.

While pressurized refrigerant air conditioners had been created and used before, it was Midgley who found a way to use a nontoxic, nonflammable refrigerant to keep things cool. Previous systems had used dangerous chemicals like propane or ammonia, but Midgley’s system used Freon, or R12 as it’s also known. R12 powered the first automobile air conditioning systems, and that same refrigerant would continue in use in the U.S. until 1994, when R12 was banned and replaced with R134a, due to R12’s environmental hazards.

Edward L. Mayo

Even though the air conditioning scene for buildings and other enterprises was going gangbusters, it wasn’t until 1938 that a serious attempt to provide air conditioning for cars was patented. That year, Edward L. Mayo, working for the Bishop & Babcock Mfg. Company of Cleveland, Ohio, applied to patent the Bishop & Babcock Weather Conditioner. The system included not only an air conditioner but a heater, too.

Mayo’s design was innovative, and, for the time, very compact. Still, it took up considerable space in the vehicle’s interior, typically occupying a significant portion of the available trunk space. It was also expensive and didn’t have any temperature controls other than an on-off switch. As a result, the system never gained much widespread use and was eventually discontinued.

Vintage air conditioning ad

Nils Erik Wahlberg & Joseph F. Sladky

Another decade and a half passed before the next big advance in air conditioning arrived, by way of the Nash-Kelvinator company and its engineers, Nils Erik Wahlberg and Joseph F. Sladky. Filed in 1950, and approved in 1954, the patent showed an automobile air conditioning system that put all of the components required to manage the cabin air temperature under the hood and cowling. They were tucked away from the passenger and cargo space, meaning the system required no real compromise.

It was called the All-Weather Eye—less expensive and easier to assemble and install than previous systems. And unlike its predecessors, the All-Weather Eye didn’t drive the air conditioning compressor continuously, whether it was being used or not. Instead, it used an electrically operated clutch to engage or disengage the compressor as needed—just like on modern air conditioning systems. That innovation meant less power was diverted from driving the car, improving acceleration and gas mileage when the A/C wasn’t in use.

Future forefixers

The air conditioning system is still undergoing upgrades and changes. We’ve seen the introduction of two-, three-, and even four-zone climate control within a car’s cabin, as well as systems for electric cars and hybrids that minimize the function of the air conditioning under certain conditions to improve efficiency. There’s even an industrywide move to switch from the current refrigerant, R134a, to an even safer, more environmentally friendly alternative, due to take effect in parts of the world by 2018.

In 100 years, there’s no doubt we’ll have many more forefixers to add to this list.

Do you know of any more air conditioning forefixers? Let us know in the comments.

How to Replace a Fuel Pump

image of a fuel gauge in a car dash

So your car’s been experiencing bad fuel pump symptoms. Sounds like an expensive, time-consuming fix, right? A fuel pump replacement doesn’t have to be either of those things. With some care and attention to detail, anyone with fair mechanical proficiency and a set of hand tools can get the job done.

As with any project, be sure you have on hand all of the parts (be sure they’re the correct parts!) and tools you’ll need for the whole job. That goes double if the car you’ll be working on is your main form of transportation. If you get the tank out and realize you need another tool, you’ll be left looking for a ride.

Before you get started replacing the pump, be sure to check your tank for any leaks or other damage—since you’ll have the tank out anyway, it’ll be easy to replace the damaged fuel tank at the same time. Also check to see if your tank has a drain cock or drain plug on the bottom side of the tank. If it does, it’ll be easier to get the fuel inside the tank out.

As with most repairs or replacements on an automobile, the cost to replace a fuel pump is less if you do it yourself. So take your time, be patient, and be alert, and everything should go smoothly.

Difficulty

Intermediate: A beginner may want to steer clear of this one.

Estimated time needed

One to three hours, depending on skill level, tools available, and vehicle specifics.

What you’ll need for a fuel pump replacement


WARNING! First and foremost, remember that you’re dealing with gasoline—a highly flammable, dangerous substance. Don’t smoke while working on the fuel system and keep all sources of sparks or flame far away from the vehicle and fuel tank during the entire operation. Keep in mind that light bulbs can be very hot, so keep your incandescent shop light on the bench, and use LEDs if you need to work at night.

Also remember that static electricity from your clothes, the vehicle’s interior, or other sources can create a spark, and that spark could be deadly. When removing fuel from the tank, be sure to use a hand siphon pump. Don’t use an electric pump—there’s a risk of a spark causing an explosion.


Step-by-step guide:

  1. Disconnect the negative battery cable.
  2. With a safe workspace laid out, and your car parked on a level, firm surface, jack it up and place it on jack stands, or use a lift to provide access to the underside of the car.
  3. Relieve the fuel system pressure (How to do this varies between makes and models, so refer to the service manual for your specific vehicle).
  4. Disconnect the filler neck from the fuel tank per your service manual.
  5. Support the fuel tank with the jack and the block of wood.
  6. Remove the bolts from the straps holding the fuel tank in the vehicle.
  7. Carefully disconnect the wiring connections, fuel lines, and vent hoses on the top of the tank before fully lowering the tank.33556245572_298db82b8c_oSource | Flickr
  8. Once the connections are released, use the jack to carefully lower the tank out of the car.
  9. Clean the top of the tank around the existing fuel pump assembly to prevent any dirt or debris from falling into the tank during removal.
  10. Refer to your service manual for instructions on removing the fuel pump assembly from the tank. There’s typically a plate held in place with screws or bolts, which, once released, enables removal of the pump.
  11. Install the new pump in the opposite order you used to remove the old one.
  12. Reconnect the fuel lines, wiring connections, and vent tubes, and reinstall the fuel tank.
  13. Reconnect the fuel filler tube.
  14. Reconnect the negative battery cable.
  15. Fill the tank with gas and go for a drive to verify that you’ve properly replaced the fuel pump and that everything is in proper working order.

Got any tips on replacing a bad fuel pump that we didn’t cover? Share them in the comments.

5 Incredible ATV Road Trip Destinations

View from a quad bike with woman driving an ATV in front on a sunny day.

You’ve de-winterized your favorite ATV, the weather is getting better and better, and you’ve got a serious case of the itch to get out and ride. But what if your local trails feel a bit hum-drum? Where should you go to have a great time in the dirt? Fear not, adventurer. We have you covered with this list of some of the best ATV destinations in the country.

Whether you’re looking for a great set of trails in your region or a cross-country trek, whether you’re a beginner or an expert, this guide has something for you. All you have to do is gear up and get there.

Moab, Utah

Source | Mitch Nielsen/Unsplash

Moab, Utah

At the top of just about every list of places to go off-roading in the U.S., Moab rightly earns a place on our short list of ATV road trip destinations. Why? Because the whole community is centered around the activity of off-roading, and there are trails that will suit every level of rider imaginable, from absolute greenhorn to the gnarliest of pros. If you go during the right time of year, there are even off-road, 4×4, and ATV events that can add another layer to your adventure.

Moab’s rocky, desert landscape is some of the most beautifully austere country in America, offering a range of sand and rock trails. Some of the key trails to check out in and around Moab include Flat Iron Mesa, Cliff Hanger, Crystal Geyser, Copper Ridge, and, of course, Hell’s Revenge. For more details on the trails and the destination, check out Utah’s tourism site.

Dirt bikes on a sand dune

Source | blmcalifornia/Flickr

Glamis, California

The Imperial Sand Dunes near Brawley, California—world-famous simply as Glamis—is the most popular off-roading destination in Southern California and one of the most epic ATV destinations on earth. The towering dunes and shreddable bowls offer fun and challenge to riders of all skill levels.

Glamis is deep in Southern California (near both the Arizona and Mexico borders), and a trip there will take you through some of California’s most remote and least-known territory. The recreational area is part of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s domain and offers RV and tent camping, as well as riding fun. Check out the official page for more information.

snowy road at the foot of a mountain

Source | Andy/Flickr

Katahdin Lodge, Maine

The trails in the Mount Katahdin area offer plenty of reason to visit this remote corner of the country, with hundreds of miles of trails for riders of all levels, from the Aroostook County trails to the Maine Interconnected Trail System. The Katahdin Lodge offers easy access to both of these northern Maine trail systems, as well as to Baxter State Park. For those who include snowmobiles in their ATV repertoire, this is a great year-round choice, as well as a great summer stop for other ATV and UTV fans. Check out the Katahdin Lodge for more information on the trails and where to stay.

man riding dirt bike up a hill

Source | Hot Springs ORV Park

Hot Springs Off-Road Vehicle Park, Arkansas

Located near Hot Springs, Arkansas, this tucked-away gem offers some of the most rigorous climbs in the country, as well as miles of trails for the whole family to enjoy. Its central location and easy access to Interstate 30 also make it a great road trip destination. Hotels and other family attractions in the Hot Springs area, including Hot Springs National Park, offer a broader itinerary. Get a taste of true Southern hospitality while enjoying the warm spring, summer, and fall weather. For all of the details, including trails, fees, and other information, visit the official Hot Springs website.

Black Hills National Forest

Source | Wagon16/Flickr

Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota/Wyoming

With more than 600 miles of designated trails on tap inside this 1.2-million-acre preserve, the Black Hills National Forest is a treasure for the off-road adventurer. Terrain varies from open prairie to deep woods and mountainous sections, with trail difficulties ranging from beginner to expert. Campgrounds are available near the trails, and a range of other family activities can be found within the park. Check out full details on this gem of the upper-western U.S. at the official Black Hills National Forest website.

Do you have a favorite spot to hit with your ATV? Tell us about it.

Thawing Out Your Toys: How to De-Winterize Motorcycles, ATVs, and More

Source | Allar Tammik/Flickr

Spring hasn’t sprung in many parts of the U.S., but it has started its slow and steady ascent from the south. That means sunnier days, warmer weather, and, more importantly, that it’s time to pull those toys out of winter storage and get them ready for action again. This guide will cover the steps you should take to ensure your motorcycles, ATVs, side-by-sides, Jet Skis, and other powersports equipment will be operating in tip-top shape when you head back out this spring.

First and foremost, the key to easy de-winterizing is good winterizing. If you put your toys away properly, they’re much easier to get back in good shape when warmer temperatures arrive. But even if you didn’t do everything you should have to pack your toys away last winter, this guide will help get your gear into proper running order.

1. Perform a thorough visual inspection

Don’t just glance at the oily bits and assume all is well. Rodents love to crawl into tight spaces and tear up wires and other material to make nests. Grab a flashlight and take a serious look around your equipment to ensure there have been no critter incursions that might compromise your vehicle’s function. Check behind any body panels, inside luggage or storage areas, inside fenders, and inside mufflers and air inlets.

Also have a close look for leaks, both under the machine and around seals and plugs on the drivetrain equipment and at the suspension dampers. Also check the brake-fluid reservoir, the brake levers or pedals, and the brake calipers or drums themselves.

If you winterized well, you may have covered all of the potential problem areas with plastic bags or other covers. Good for you! You can move on to the next step once you’ve inspected for all other mechanical points of failure.

2. Change the oil

Even if you put new oil in before winterizing your machines, you’ll want to swap the engine oil and, where applicable, transmission fluid before you get down and dirty this summer. Why? Because even when sitting unused, the oils and fluids in your engine and gearbox can separate or become waxy, especially in extreme temperatures, which can dramatically reduce their effectiveness in protecting your machine from wear. This is definitely a case where a few quarts of prevention are worth an entire barrel of cure.

3. Check and/or change the battery

If you put your battery on a float charger over the winter, you’ll still want to check its health with a good battery tester to ensure the battery has enough life left to get you through the fun season. If you didn’t keep your battery charged over the winter, chances are good that it has gone completely flat and may need replacement.

You’ll also want to check the battery for any visual signs of malfunction, like fluid leaking out and corrosion on nearby parts and the battery terminals. With wet cell batteries, you’ll want to make sure electrolyte levels are properly topped up with distilled water.

When dealing with batteries, it’s important to remember that battery acid is corrosive and toxic, so you should always wear gloves and safety glasses.

Once you’ve determined the health of your battery, go ahead and charge it if it isn’t already fully charged.

4. Check all other fluid levels

Engine and transmission lubrication are important, but coolant and brake fluid are, too. Be sure all fluids are at their proper levels, and if any are especially low, go back over your inspection list to see if a leak is responsible. Consider draining and replacing the fluid entirely, especially if it shows signs of wear or if you haven’t replaced it in the past few seasons. This is especially true of brake fluid, which absorbs moisture from the air and loses effectiveness over time.

While you’re at it, double-check the oil level, even though you just replaced the oil in Step 2. It never hurts to be sure.

5. Pull the spark plugs, and check or replace

Removing the spark plugs to check for rust or corrosion can give you some warning as to more serious problems inside the engine that may have developed over the winter. If you do find rust on the spark plug, use a borescope to look inside the cylinder to verify the condition inside the engine before starting it. Chances are, however, that your engine will be fine—but your spark plugs may not be.

If you notice lots of dark fouling, you could clean and re-install your spark plugs, but they’re inexpensive, so replacing them with the proper type (consult your owner’s manual and read more about how to tell when they need replacing ) is a cheap and easy way to ensure your equipment will start easily and run well all summer long.

6. Check your tires and all rubber components

Even if your toys have been shielded from the cold of winter, the sheer time they’ve spent sitting can cause rubber parts of all types to develop cracks, flat spots, or other issues. This includes your tires, hoses, and even handlebar grips.

Once you’ve made sure everything is in proper condition and replaced anything that seems dry, misshapen, or otherwise bad, make sure your tires are inflated to the proper pressure—most tires will lose pressure as they sit, and all tires will vary in pressure based on ambient temperature. Don’t just assume that because they were fine when you packed it away that they’ll be fine when you pull them out of the garage after a few months!

Source | Robert Thigpen/Flickr

7. Fire it up!

Starting the engine in your powersports toy after a long winter is one of the most satisfying activities for an enthusiast. But don’t get too enthusiastic out of the gate—let the engine idle until thoroughly warm. Don’t go zipping around the neighborhood or brapping the engine up to high revs right away.

For fuel-injected machines, this first cold-start after the winter will (likely) be easy. For carbureted machines, it may take some more work. Assuming your carb and choke were properly adjusted at the end of the season (and no critters have fouled the situation), it should start right up with the fuel that’s in it—provided, of course, you used fuel stabilizer. You did, didn’t you?

If you own a carbureted machine and, as part of the winterizing process, you drained the carb’s float bowl, you’ll want to follow your manufacturer’s procedure for priming the carburetor (letting fuel back into the float bowl) before attempting to start the engine.

If you followed these steps (and properly winterized your hardware in the first place) you should be up and running, ready to achieve full weekend-warrior status. If you’ve run into some stumbling blocks, however, be sure to consult our other how-to and DIY guides for your specific problem.

Got any other tips for de-winterizing or any triumphant stories of spring’s first ride? Let us know in the comments.

ZDDP Motor Oil Additive: What You Need to Know to Protect Your Car

Source | Luke Jones

Engines wear out. It’s an unfortunate truth, but it’s not one you simply have to accept, even if you own a classic car. There are steps you can take to keep your engine from deteriorating for a long time, the most important of which is ensuring it’s properly lubricated and that the oil is changed regularly. But does your classic car’s engine want classic oil? Does it need supplements that aren’t found in modern oil, like ZDDP? Read on to find out.

What is ZDDP?

Zinc dialkyldithiophosphate, or ZDDP, was once a common and useful engine oil additive. It was inexpensive, highly effective metal-on-metal antiwear additive, and as a result, it was used widely in engine oils from the 1940s through the 1970s, and is still in use in some cases today. If your car was built during the peak period of use, chances are its intended motor oil included ZDDP. But in the past few decades, it has been phased out due to concerns over its toxicity.

How does ZDDP work?

As your engine runs, it generates heat and friction, especially at high-stress points like the cams, valves, and tappets, where metal-to-metal contact pressures can be extreme. As this heat and friction builds, the ZDDP breaks down into its chemical components, coating the metal with what’s called a tribofilm and taking the brunt of the load. This film forms at the atomic scale, helping to protect the metal in your engine, and reacts in a “smart” way, increasing the protection as the friction and pressure increases. By reducing direct metal-to-metal contact, the ZDDP provides a replenishable wear surface that prolongs the life of your engine. Studies of ZDDP have shown that it effectively provides a cushioning effect on the underlying metal, distributing the force upon it and, accordingly, the wear.

When does a car need ZDDP?

If you own a modern car, built in the 1990s or more recently, there’s no need to add ZDDP to your engine oil. Just ensure you use the oil specified by your manufacturer in your owner’s manual. Modern engines are designed around low- or no-ZDDP oils, and they often use lower valve spring rates, roller lifters, and other methods to reduce the metal-on-metal friction pressure, particularly in the valve train, that ZDDP was used to combat.

In classic engines with high-pressure friction points, however, ZDDP is still a useful ingredient in preserving the performance and extending the life of your car. Today’s oils often contain some level of ZDDP, though the latest ones often contain only trace amounts—enough to help newer cars with minor wear issues but not enough to prevent newly rebuilt or broken-in classic car engines from wearing at much higher rates than intended. While the debate is still raging among enthusiasts, there’s good evidence that classic-car owners should ensure their engines are getting adequate amounts of ZDDP.

Should you add ZDDP to your oil?

Exactly how to ensure your engine is getting enough ZDDP is another question. Some oils sold in auto parts shops, like Advance Auto Parts, still include ZDDP in their formulation. Some of these are only for racing or off-road use, however, and some are not widely available in all regions. None of the oils that still include some quantity of ZDDP indicate on the bottle just how much they contain, or how that compares to the oil originally specified for your car. You can, of course, call the company that makes the oil and find out for yourself with some digging—but that can be a slow and frustrating process.

Fortunately, there are ZDDP additives available on the shelves at your local Advance Auto Parts (or online). These additives are easy to use and economical, so it’s a cheap and simple way to provide your engine with some solid insurance against premature wear. All you have to do is follow the instructions on the bottle, which typically involve pouring some or all of a container into the engine oil fill port. Don’t exceed the recommended amount; it won’t increase your protection and will only waste the additive (and your money) and put more of the harmful zinc and phosphate components of the compound into the environment than necessary.

Which ZDDP additive should you buy?

As great as ZDDP is for protecting your engine, and as many amazing smart-material behaviors as it exhibits at the molecular level, it isn’t a mysterious, proprietary chemical. It has been used and tested for more than 70 years. In other words, just about any ZDDP additive you’ll find will work great in your engine. Some brands of ZDDP additive may be designed to work with the same brand’s engine oil, so those seeking the ultimate in peace of mind might want to team them together. Otherwise, just grab a bottle of your preferred brand and use as directed to give your classic-car engine the protection and longevity it deserves.

Do you have experience with ZDDP? Let us know.

How to Change Spark Plugs

Keep your engine in good working order. Here’s how to change spark plugs.

To some, a car’s engine may seem like an impossibly complicated hunk of mystical machinery. While that’s not too far from the truth for many modern engines, there are still some easily serviceable items on even the most high-tech cars. Spark plugs, especially, are among the easiest parts to replace in any given engine. All it requires is carefully following some basic steps and a handful of basic tools.

Before we dive into the step-by-step process, you might be wondering how often you need to change your spark plugs, what sort of spark plugs you should use, or whether you need to upgrade your spark-plug wires or other ignition components. Fortunately, these questions are easy to answer. And don’t forget, you may need to replace your spark plug wires every time you change your spark plugs depending on your driving style.

But chances are, if you’re here, it’s because you know it’s time to change your spark plugs. So let’s get started.

Holding spark plugs

Difficulty

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

Estimated Time Required

One hour

What You’ll Need to Change Spark Plugs

Remember, you can always rent tools from us.

 

Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Once you’ve gathered all of the tools you need, as well as the correct spark plugs for your car and spark plug wires (if necessary), you may want to drape an old blanket or towel over the fenders of your car so that you won’t mar the paint as you lean into the engine bay. It’s also good practice to disconnect the positive terminal on your car battery when working on anything electrical.

Pro Tip: Be sure to let your car’s engine cool thoroughly before replacing your spark plugs, and keep any flammable blankets, towels, or shop cloths away from any surfaces that may still be warm. This will also ensure the new spark plugs are tightened correctly (heat expands the engine threads and limits torque).

Step 2: Thoroughly clean the area around your spark plugs. Once you remove the spark plug, you’ll have an open hole directly into the inside of your engine, and any dirt or debris around the spark plug can fall straight in and cause serious wear or damage to your engine—something that should be avoided, for obvious reasons.

You can use compressed air to blow the area clean, and/or a cleaner/degreaser spray and shop towels to loosen and remove any gunk around the spark plug. Be sure to wear eye protection if you’ll be using compressed air or a spray cleaner.

Once you have the area around each spark plug clear of any oil, dirt, or other debris, it’s time to start the actual replacement process.

Step 3: Keep everything in order by removing a single spark plug wire from one spark plug at a time. This prevents you from reconnecting the wrong wire to the wrong plug when it’s time to button everything back up.

Step 4: Once you’ve removed the first spark plug wire, fit the necessary combination of extensions and swivels to the spark-plug socket to comfortably fit the tool to the spark plug.

Turn the spark plug counterclockwise until it comes free.

Even though you cleaned around the spark plug thoroughly before beginning, take care not to knock any previously unseen debris into the now-open hole into your engine’s interior.

Step 5: Once the spark plug is out, take the new spark plug and use the spark plug gap tool to check that there is a proper gap between the outer (hook-shaped) ground electrode and the center electrode. Most modern spark plugs are properly gapped from the factory, but shipping and handling can result in this small but crucial gap being tweaked, so it’s always good to ensure the gap is correct before installing.

If any adjustment is needed, gently open or close the gap until the tool just fits at the correct gap (which should be specified in your owner’s manual).

Step 6: With the gap verified, carefully insert the plug into the open hole by hand. If your spark plug isn’t factory treated with anti-seize, you can rub a small drop of anti-seize lubricant on the spark plug thread so it doesn’t lock up from the heat. Gently start screwing the plug in with a clockwise rotation, ensuring the threads are properly mated.

Pro Tip: Be careful to avoid cross-threading the spark plug when re-installing, as any damage to the spark-plug threads could require costly repairs to your car’s cylinder head.

Once the spark plug is carefully started into the threads, continue tightening the plug down with the spark plug socket and ratchet/extension combination. Be very careful not to over-tighten your spark plugs! Just tighten it down until the spark plug’s washer is firmly in contact with the shoulder of the threaded hole and the washer is slightly compressed.

Step 7: With the spark plug securely re-installed, reattach the plug wire by twisting slightly as you push the boot back down onto the exposed tip of the plug until you hear and feel a firm click. That means you’ve properly seated the plug wire. You can put a drop of dielectric grease inside the plug boot for better heat dissipation.

Step 8: Repeat the process in Steps 2 through 7 for each of your remaining spark plugs until you’ve replaced them all. If you’re also replacing your spark plug wires, go back and do each one in the same order, one at a time. You’ll notice that the spark plug wires vary in length according to their proper installation position, so be sure to match each wire up to the existing wire before removing the old one and replacing with the new wire. Repeat until all the wires are replaced.

You’re done! Before you celebrate, however, be sure to mark down the car’s current mileage in your maintenance notebook, so you’ll know when you need to change your spark plugs again.

Upgrade Your Car with Modern Stereo Tech

Whether you’re shopping for your first classic car, handing down a beloved vehicle to a high schooler, or looking to upgrade your current ride, adding modern stereo tech to an older car can bridge the generational gap. It may seem like a daunting task to add Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, USB, and app functionality into a 30- or even 50-year-old automobile. In reality, however, you’re just a few steps away from making it happen.

Source | Andrea/Flickr

1. Find a stereo that fits your needs

Maybe you want to stream Bluetooth audio to your car stereo, but you don’t really need navigation or the more complicated features of Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. There are many stereo-head units on the market in the $70-$200 range that will fit the bill perfectly.

If you want to get a bit fancier, look for a head unit that supports your type of smartphone (Apple or Android) and go from there. Some units even feature navigation screens that retract into the dash when not in use. But know that the more complicated and feature-packed your stereo is, the more expensive it’ll be.

2. Find a stereo that fits your car

The ease of this depends on how ‘classic’ your vehicle is. A common industry standard in place since 1984, DIN car radio size, makes it easy to fit any stereo to any car. Your car will have either a single DIN slot for the stereo head unit (roughly 7 inches by 2 inches) or a double DIN slot (roughly 7 inches by 4 inches). It’s possible to mount a single DIN head unit in a double DIN slot with the use of a spacer, but those with single DIN slots won’t be able to swap to double DIN head units.

In addition to choosing the right stereo size for your car, you’ll want to be sure you get a matching faceplate to cover the mounting screws and make the installation look clean and tidy. Often, stereo manufacturers will include a standard faceplate with the head unit, but for some cars with unusual dash opening shapes (Volvo 240s, for example), you’ll want to be sure you have a vehicle-specific trim plate, too.

For cars older than 1984, you’ll find many have slots that will work with DIN or double DIN stereos. You’ll need a mounting plate that’s specific to your make and model, but it should install in a similar manner to more modern cars. For those with older cars with non-standard stereo installation locations or sizes, you’ll need to be a bit more creative, mounting the stereo in a different location. Many owners choose to mount a modern stereo in the glove box to preserve the vintage look, as well as providing a place to mount the new equipment without having to cut or modify the dashboard.

If you’re not comfortable with the level of creativity and possible fabrication installing a stereo in a classic car, there are many custom audio shops that will gladly tackle the project for you. Don’t expect to get the job done at a major chain store though.

3. Find the right wiring harness

It might be a bit intimidating to think about wiring a car stereo into your older vehicle, especially if you’ve never done something like this before. Fortunately, there’s a whole industry built around making this as easy as possible, with adapter harnesses for almost any car you can think of available.

One of the most popular brands is Metra. When looking for the right wiring harness, you’ll want to keep in mind that there are two harnesses offered for most cars: the into-the-car harness and the into-the-stereo harness. You’ll want the into-the-stereo harness for a stereo upgrade, as this is the part that plugs into the car and interfaces with the stereo. Your new head unit will have its own plug with wires coming out of it. To get them working with each other, you’ll need to connect the head unit’s plug and wires to the wiring harness that plugs into your car.

4. Wire it up

If you’re handy with a soldering iron, that’s the best way to connect your new head unit’s plug to your into-the-stereo wiring harness before plugging it into your car. Soldering the connections will ensure you have the most durable, vibration-resistant connection possible. Do your soldering outside the car, preferably on a clean work bench, to ensure you don’t cause any unintended damage.

Pro Tip: Be sure to slip some heat shrink tubing onto each wire before you solder them so you can safely insulate and protect each joint once you’re done.

If you’re not into soldering (and don’t want to learn just yet), you can always use crimp connectors to join the two harnesses. Just follow the instructions on the crimp connector package to ensure you get a good conductive joint.

No matter whether you choose to solder or crimp, connecting the wiring harnesses to each other is usually as simple as matching each wire color. Be sure to reference your head unit’s manual, however, as well as the labeling or instruction that come with your car-to-stereo wiring harness, as some models may use non-standard wire colors.

5. Remove the factory head unit

Many factory head units are installed with anti-theft features to keep thieves from walking away with your stereo. That means you’ll need a special tool, usually a couple of prongs with special shapes, to insert into the sides of your factory head unit, before it will release and slide out of the dash. It’s sometimes possible to make a DIY stereo-removal tool. However, the proper tool is usually cheap to buy, and having the right tool to remove your stereo will make the job much easier and quicker.

6. Plug in the harness, antenna, and any other accessories for your new head unit

The main plug for your new stereo is the one you just finished wiring up, so plug that in. The antenna for AM and FM radio will also be clearly labeled and will be the only connector of its type (typically a round cable with a single prong sticking out of the center). Other accessories, like subwoofers, satellite radio, or CD changers, will have their own specific plugs, and may or may not be compatible with your new head unit.

7. Install the head unit

Once you’re all wired up and plugged in, slide the head unit into the dash until it’s securely in place. Many head units will simply lock into place with a click as it reaches full insertion. Others may require screws to hold them in place. Install any trim surrounds or faceplates necessary to give your installation a finished, professional look, and you’re ready to go.

Once you’ve got the new head unit installed, you’ll be streaming tunes from your phone or music player in no time. Just follow the instructions supplied with your head unit to pair them up, and you’re off and running. Now that your new head unit is working smoothly, you may realize you want a bit more sound than your stock speakers can give you. You may even want more total power than your new head unit can supply, which means you’ll want to install an amplifier. All of this, and more, is possible, no matter the age of your car.

Have you upgraded your ride with stereo tech? We want to hear your experiences in the comments!

What Is Lead Substitute and Do You Need It?

Source | Clem Onojeghuo

If you own a classic car or have been thinking about getting one, chances are someone has told you that you need to use a lead substitute. But what is lead substitute, and why might you need it? Does it really work?

The theory behind lead substitute is that when the engine in your classic car was designed and built, gasoline had lead in it—more specifically, tetraethyl lead, or TEL. That lead served several functions. It boosted the octane rating, allowing for higher compression ratios; helped reduce knocking; and reduced wear on the valve seats. (It did so by helping to prevent “microwelds” from forming between the hot valve surfaces and the seats in the cylinder head as the valve closed.) The process of constant welding and subsequent tearing free when the valve opened again could wear the valve seats over time, requiring expensive repair.

Phasing out lead

A California ban on leaded fuel use went into effect in 1992, and the rest of the nation followed in 1996. The phase-out had already begun in the mid-1970s over concerns about the toxicity of lead and its interference with catalytic converters. Once lead was phased out of gasoline, carmakers began to make hardened valve seats and used different (higher-temperature) valve materials to eliminate the problem of microwelding and valve seat wear. Today, lead substitutes use a variety of proprietary formulas, often based on manganese, sodium, phosphate, or iron, rather than lead, to fulfill the function of lead without the toxic side effects and harm to catalytic converters.

Source | David Brodbeck

When you can skip the lead substitute

So the question arises: If your engine was made before hardened valve seats became common, does today’s unleaded fuel mean you need lead substitute to keep from causing damage to your valve seats? The answer is, frequently, no.

Many of the cars built even when leaded fuel was common have sufficiently hard valve seats to endure unleaded fuel use, especially if the car was made after the mid-1960s. You may want to use premium fuel, especially in higher-performance classic engines, to ensure you have sufficient octane and knock resistance, but the valve seats themselves are unlikely to suffer from unleaded fuel use.

That said, some engines definitely did have “soft” valve seats that were prone to damage from use of unleaded fuels. Some of these engines have been upgraded to harder valve seats over the years by their owners; if yours is among these, you can use unleaded fuel with impunity. If your car is currently running just fine, and has been running for the decades since leaded fuel was phased out, it is probably safe to continue running without lead substitute.

When lead substitute is a smart bet

Most of the cars that had problems with unleaded fuel suffered whatever damage they were going to suffer in the ’70s and ’80s, and have already been taken off the road. On the other hand, many classic-car owners argue that lead substitute can’t hurt your engine and may help reduce any risk of using unleaded fuel in an engine intended for leaded gasoline.

For many, the low cost and ease-of-use of lead substitute (typically a small amount is added to the gas tank at fill up) makes for cheap peace of mind. The bottom line? It’s up to you, but chances are good that you and your engine will get along just fine without any lead substitute, as long as you’re running the proper octane for your car.

Do you use a lead substitute? Tell us about your experience.