Get summer-ready…and the latest NASCAR news?

Advance Auto PartsAn abundance of acorns. Wooly caterpillars that are all black. The number of foggy August mornings. All of the preceding are old wives’ tales that supposedly predict winter’s severity. While I put some stock in weather lore, I always wonder why there’s no similar “forecasting” for what summer is going to be like. Here’s my strategy for predicting whether it will be a blistering hot summer – I plan on it. That way, if the summer is mild, I’m pleasantly surprised, and if it’s crazy hot, I’m already prepared.

Everyone around here always talks about getting “winter-ready” but you never hear people making plans to be “summer-ready.”  Our local old timers say we haven’t had any “real” winters since the ‘50s and ‘60s. Back then, the snows were so deep they’d chain half a dozen farm tractors together in a line to try and bust through the drifts and clear the dirt roads. Winter or summer, I like to be ready for anything Mother Nature might throw my way. And for me, being ready starts with my family’s vehicles – particularly the 4×4 truck and tractor. Without them, I’m not going anywhere or getting anything done.

One of my favorite things to do on a beautiful spring Sunday afternoon is a car tune up while I listen to a race on the radio because I follow the NASCAR standings pretty closely. This is a way I can do both – keep track of my favorite NASCAR teams and drivers while getting get a jump on summer’s heat. My spring car tune up includes an auto battery testing and gives me peace of mind that my vehicles are going to perform when I need them.  I’m not talking anything too complicated for most do-it-yourselfers. Here’s my list of tune up “must do’s” before summer.

While it’s still early in the season, even if my favorite driver doesn’t end the year on top of the NASCAR standings, at least these vehicle preparations give me the confidence I need going into summer driving.

Editor’s note: Summer’s heat is tough on car batteries. Make it easy on yourself by having Advance Auto Parts test your battery for free. We also offer free battery and wiper installation with purchase. Most vehicles, most locations.

Ooooh that smell…

“Ooooh that smell. Can’t you smell that smell.”

The lyrics from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s timeless classic “That Smell” are right on the money when it comes to my minivan’s interior these days.

Advance Auto PartsWith two dogs, two little boys, a farm built on red Virginia clay, and a wife who rides horses, one of the most frequently asked questions when anyone gets in the van is, “What’s that smell?” Invariably, it’s a different odor each time, depending on who, or what, was in there last. As a result, I’ve had a lot of practice exorcising our vehicles of offending odors. I am our family’s smell eliminator. Here’s how I do it.

Getting rid of odor isn’t that daunting. The first place I start—and many drivers may not even realize they have one—is the cabin air filter. Located inside the vehicle, usually on the passenger side, between the floor and the dash or glove box, the cabin air filter traps dust, mold, pollen and other contaminants and prevents them from entering the interior. Like any filter, it needs to be changed regularly, particularly if you’re noticing some funky smells. Look how easy it is to change one.

While I have that air filter out, I vacuum the filter compartment. You might be surprised at what you find! Next, I remove the floor mats and give the interior, including seats, compartments, cup holders and floor, a thorough vacuuming to remove the dirt, food, dog hair and occasional horse manure that have collected. It doesn’t take long for these foreign substances to join forces, particularly in warm weather, and change that “new-car smell” into “eww that smell.”

Next, I wipe down all the interior surfaces. I like Griot’s interior cleaner sprayed on some micro-fiber sponges to get this job done. I work from the top down, so that any dirt I wipe off the headrests or sun visors will fall down onto a still-dirty surface that I haven’t hit yet. And because every vehicle has hard-to-reach nooks and crannies, I use an interior detail brush to pry out the remnants of last months’ egg and cheese biscuit from the cup holder, seat creases and wherever else it might be hiding. Remember, my goal here is to be the smell eliminator, and by getting rid of this debris, I am getting rid of odor.

Finally, I use an air freshening product to give the interior a fresh, clean smell. It’s my secret weapon—a “smell eliminator” if you will. And because there are so many scent choices, this might actually prove to be the toughest step for you. First, you have to decide if you want an air freshener that you place in your vehicle’s vents, or one that a lot of drivers hang from a rear-view mirror, or even a little tub of freshener that emits scents based on how much you open the lid. New car, cherry, outdoor breeze, rain, jasmine or fresh linen? You can have it all. Have some fun and experiment—that’s what I do, because let’s face it, when it comes to getting rid of odor, anything is better than a wet-dog, mildew, bottom-of-the-shoe, old Happy Meal smell greeting you every time you open the car door.

 

Editor’s note: If your car’s interior aroma leaves something to be desired, hit up Advance Auto Parts for a wide selection of air fresheners and vehicle interior cleaning supplies.

I love the smell of diesel in the morning

Advance Auto PartsThe scent of diesel exhaust on a clear, crisp morning always reminds me of New York City. Whether waiting on a corner or on a train platform, the city’s ever-present buses, delivery trucks and locomotives were invariably powered by diesel fuel back then, and I came to associate their exhaust with memories of the city.

Fast forward 20 years, and diesel exhaust now triggers a personal memory at the opposite end of the spectrum – country living. Out here, diesel engines are just as common as they are in the city, and maybe even more so, because of farm tractors, pickups, and big diesel-powered trucks hauling grain or manure .

A diesel engine is efficient, both in terms of the fuel economy it delivers and the amount of power it generates from diesel fuel, as compared to a gasoline engine. But like any other mechanical device, diesel engines require some TLC, and perhaps even some modifications, if you want them to work for you.

First up – glow plugs. I learned the hard way about glow plugs’ importance, and that they do eventually need to be replaced. It was a classic January morning on the farm – cold and dark.  I needed to use the old diesel tractor to clear the driveway of snow in order to get to work on time. Before I could do that, however, I needed the tractor to start. It didn’t, but did get going later that evening once I replaced the glow plugs.

Glow plugs heat the combustion chambers in a diesel engine, making cold-weather or even cool-morning starts easier. You’ll know it might be time for new ones if you’re having trouble with cold starts, or if it sounds like the engine isn’t firing on all cylinders.

Another helpful tool for cool-weather starts is an engine heater. There are several varieties out there. I’ve used an electric heather that attached to my Massey-Ferguson 65 tractor’s oil pan via a powerful magnet. It kept the oil warm on cold Ohio nights and made starting the tractor easier. There are also heaters that insert into the oil dipstick tube, diesel fuel heaters, and circulation tank heaters that keep the engine’s coolant warm (I know, sounds funny), making for easier starts in low temperatures. If you’ve  seen diesel-powered trucks or school buses parked overnight with what appears to be an electric cord sticking out the front, it’s probably for the heater .

With the advent of  computer-controlled diesel engines comes the increasing popularity of diesel engine programmers – frequently used for diesel-powered trucks – that enable users to change the engine’s factory-programmed settings in order to increase horsepower and/or fuel efficiency. There are a variety of options out there , depending on your vehicle make and model. Given the heavier loads I’m towing and what seems like steadily-rising diesel fuel prices, I’m considering trying one out on my F-150 to see if I can achieve some improvements.

Another consideration, even for diesel-engine cars, is a diesel fuel additive. Many are approved for use in all diesel fuels, and have a wide range of benefits, including: preventing fuel from gelling in cold temperatures, keeping injectors clean, providing lubricants that protect the engine, and boosting cetane (a measurement of combustion quality) for faster cold starts.

By following a planned diesel-engine preventive maintenance schedule, I’m hoping that any new diesel-scented memories I make don’t involve vehicles refusing to start.

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts carries a wide selection of parts, additives and accessories for diesel-engine cars, trucks, tractors and more.

Why we love our toys

Advance Auto Parts Whether it’s a four wheeler equipped with ATV accessories, a compact tractor, snow blower, chainsaw, boat, or dirt bike, these “tools” for work often double as toys. Growing up in the country, we lived at the end of Pine Bluff Lane—a quarter-mile of dirt and dust in the summer, a muddy, ravine-filled goat path in the spring, and in winter, a beast that my father and two neighbors eagerly tried to tame.

Since it was a private lane, maintaining it fell to my family and the neighbors, which wasn’t usually a lot of work, until winter. This was the ’70s and early ’80s—an era of big snows and rear-wheel drive cars. Even a smaller snowfall, when coupled with wind whipping across open fields, was enough to form road-closing drifts. Yes, winter was when the real work, or fun—depending on who you ask—began.

Today, compact farm tractors, gas or electric snow blowers, atvs and atv accessories—such as a snow plow—are more commonplace.  Back then, no one I knew used ATVs and I don’t think an ATV for kids was even invented, but my dad and the neighbors each did have a garden tractor, which was essentially not much more than a glorified, beefier lawn mower.

Every fall, I’d watch him remove the mowing deck from that Sears Suburban 14-HP tractor, periodically cursing a belt that wouldn’t budge, or his bleeding knuckles. Then he’d bolt on cement weights to the rear wheels and add tire chains. Next, came the four-foot snow plow mounted to the front. Finally, he made sure the tractor had fresh gas, an oil change, a new air filter, strong battery and new spark plug. Then, he and the neighbors would wait.

When a “big one” was forecast, Dad was just as excited as us kids about the prospect of a snow day. Oh sure, he’d lament about having to go out in the cold or at night to “open the road” as he put it, but we all knew that he secretly relished the challenge. When night fell and the snow flew and we saw him strap on his rubber galoshes, we knew it was playtime.

He wasn’t alone, as it was often a race between he and the neighbors to see who was going to start plowing first. We’d watch from our bedroom window as the tiny headlights bounced up and down the lane all night. If only they had small tractors or ATVs for kids back then. I could have plowed snow with my dad, instead of running behind him with a snow shovel, trying to help every time he got stuck. Oh, how much faster the job would have gone if he and the neighbors could have only used ATVs or today’s four-wheel drive trucks. Looking back, however, I now realize that they weren’t necessarily interested in getting the “job” done faster, simply because they were having too much fun. It was an excuse to work hard and play hard, and one of the reasons why we love our toys—the ones often disguised as tools.

Editor’s note: When it comes to powering and maintaining your toys, Advance Auto Parts is your best resource. Buy online, pick up in store.

2013: The year I resolve to get my projects done!

Advance Auto PartsIf there was something you could do to make your life easier, you would probably do it, right? That’s the position I’ve found myself in frequently this past year, and I’m frustrated that I haven’t made it a priority—to perform those tasks that will simplify my life, save me time, and protect my investments. Now that the New Year is in full swing, I am resolving to accomplish a lot of things, three of which are automotive-related.

First, I’m going to get those vehicle projects done that have not only been on the list for way too long, but are complicating my life. The short list? Headlight restoration on the 1999 Honda Odyssey.

I replaced the bulbs recently because they both blew out, but I’m not getting the full benefit of brighter bulbs because the lens covers are so cloudy. The fix for that is a fairly inexpensive headlight restoration kit. It’ll make my life easier, because I’ll be able to see further in the dark and my vehicle will look better in the daylight, too. I’m also going to have new wiper blades installed. The new blades are way overdue and because of that, I can barely see when it rains or snows. Luckily I have Rain-X helping to compensate for my poor wipers.

Next, I’m going to keep better track of my vehicle manufacturer’s recommended car maintenance schedule, thereby better protecting my investment. I need to commit to a car maintenance checklist so I know exactly what my vehicles need and when they need it. Right now, I know off the top of my head that my 1999 Honda Odyssey needs a change of coolant, oil, brake fluid, and transmission fluid, a new timing belt, new tires, and some other TLC that I’m sure I’m forgetting, in order to keep it running past the 200,000-mile mark it just hit.

To help me accomplish the resolution listed above, I’m going to get some help in developing that car maintenance schedule. The Advance Auto Parts site has a decent car maintenance schedule as well as a car maintenance checklist that I’m going to take advantage of this year since I’ve already proven previously that I can’t, or won’t track this without some help.

This year, taking better care of my vehicles translates into taking better care of me—from both a safety and a sanity perspective—and I resolve to get it done. Happy 2013!

Editor’s note: If you’ve resolved to have more clarity in 2013, you’ll find the parts and free services you’ll need to get the job done right at Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in store.

This Christmas, I’m easy to shop for.

Xmas TractorWhen it comes to Christmas, I’m easy. For me, unique gift ideas need not apply. Yep, my “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” appearance is a pretty solid indicator of the gifts I’d actually use, so I don’t expect to get a 3-piece suit or skincare kit any time soon. My wife, on the other hand, is much more difficult to buy for, simply because I can never figure out what the heck she actually wants.

She’s not into the stereotypical things that women are supposed to want. She doesn’t like jewelry—I know, I should be thankful—she has plenty of perfume, and I’m not about to try and buy her clothes. Decorative items for the home and things for the kitchen don’t thrill her, with the latter possibly even being a detriment to my well-being if it were to be disguised as a “gift” that she “needs.” Ah well, I guess I’ll figure something out…

In comparison, purchasing gifts for me is a walk in the park, says me. This, despite the fact that I have little interest in many of the traditional activities that come with being “a guy,” such as golf, home electronics, or college sports. I like car gifts. Here’s why. When my day job is over, my joy comes from “working” on our “gentleman’s farm.” I cut wood, I repair fences, I build outbuildings, I mow fields, I break stuff, I fix stuff, I curse my old pickup or tractor when it won’t start, and then I fix it. That’s why I’m easy to buy for.

No one has to come up with unique gift ideas for me. It’s pretty much a given that if they’re car gift ideas, I’m going to like them, because almost everything I do on the farm starts with having a reliable vehicle—be it the tractor, pickup, or the trailer I haul wood in. If the vehicle’s not working, the project’s over before I even got started. With that knowledge, my wish list is heavy with what my wife calls my tractor and “car gifts.” Gas cans, jacks, mechanics gloves, battery chargers, Fix-A-Flat, WD-40, tools to replace the ones I broke or lost (usually the latter) throughout the year, and the list goes on.

My wife would probably say my list is boring, given all the car gift ideas it’s got, but that’s what I want, and yes, truly need. Plain and simple, when my vehicles work, stuff gets done. When necessary projects get done, I’m relaxed, and everyone is happy, healthy and secure. I can live with that. And to me, that’s a big part of what this season is all about.

Editor’s note: No matter how far you travel this season, you can help ensure your family’s ride is safe and secure with premium tools, parts and accessories from Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in store. —JK

Turkey, touchdowns…and car radiator hoses?

Thanksgiving always makes me think about my car’s radiator hose. I know, it’s weird. But, there’s a reason. Growing up, my grandparents would come over every Thanksgiving. And, I always eagerly anticipated their arrival. One unusually cold Thanksgiving, they were a couple hours late for dinner. As there were only about 15 miles of country roads separating our houses, we knew that traffic wasn’t the culprit. My dad went looking for them.  Sure enough, he found them and their dark green, 1970s-era Crown Victoria station wagon, on the side of the road, hood up, steam pouring from the engine compartment. The cold weather had taken its toll on their old, weak radiator hose. After locating a tow truck and getting my grandparents to our house, dinner was back on, and tastier than ever.

Car radiator hosesAutomotive hoses are made of rubber, in addition to other raw materials, and like vehicle tires and belts, they aren’t designed to last forever. But because they deliver such reliable performance over many years, drivers often don’t think about the radiator hose, until it’s too late. A broken radiator hose will not only leave you stranded, it can leave you stranded AND destroy your engine through overheating. Makes you want to check your automotive hoses right now, doesn’t it?

Many mechanics and car radiator hose manufacturers recommend replacing automotive hoses every four years, 60,000 miles, or sooner if you see a potential failure looming. Replacing your car radiator hose isn’t difficult, as you’ll see here. But before you tackle the project, start by checking your car hose’s condition if it’s still within the recommended replacement interval. When the engine’s cool, visually inspect all the automotive hoses, not just the radiator hose, for any signs of cracking or bulging spots—a potential sign of impending failure. Squeeze the hose, moving your hand along its entire length, checking for any soft spots in the hose wall—another sign of failure.

If you find that a car radiator hose replacement is necessary, you might want to consider replacing your coolant at the same time, because some or all of it is going to drain out anyway, depending on which hose you’re replacing.

Over this long holiday weekend, I’m going to hone my hose-replacement skills by first replacing the radiator hose on my farm tractor. It should be a quick project, leaving me plenty of time to digest our feast and get in some highly anticipated, post-meal football…ain’t life grand?

Editor’s note: Got projects? Advance Auto Parts carries a wide variety of automotive hoses to fit the vehicle you’re working on today. Get a great deal by texting “HOLIDAY” to 36898 for our latest offers. Up to 5 messages per month; message & data rates may apply.

Lighting up the night with Halogen Headlights

Best car headlightsIt’s dark in the country. That’s one of the great benefits of rural living—especially in fall and winter when the air is crisp and the sky clear. My kids and I marvel at the sheer number of visible stars. But, it can also be one of the drawbacks, particularly when there’s a long list of outdoor projects and a dwindling daylight supply as fall yields to winter.

One of the first places I miss the light is on my commute. It’s dark both when I leave, and when I get home. And although I know every twist, turn, and bump in these unlined country roads, I never quite know what’s lurking ahead—deer, hunting dogs, a fallen tree, or a hay bale that’s fallen off someone’s truck. That’s where high-quality, clean car headlights make all the difference. I learned this the hard way recently when there were no low beams on my wife’s car headlights. In hindsight, I’d noticed that her car headlight bulbs seemed dim last time I drove it, but I just figured the lenses were cloudy and in need of a headlight restoration kit. It turns out that’s not all they needed.

When I drove her car this morning, I quickly realized that I had no car headlights unless I switched to high beams. Thinking back, I then figured out that the car headlight bulbs I thought were just getting dim had actually blown out, one at a time. I decided to wait until it was light enough to drive without auto headlights, and at lunch, my first stop was for some Sylvania XtraVision twin halogen headlights. New halogen headlights can deliver 30 percent brighter light and up to 25 more down-road visibility. Because car headlights dim over time, and tend to fail in close proximity to one another, it’s always best to replace both auto headlights at the same time. I did it right there in the store parking lot—and enjoyed my leisurely and quiet ride home that much more. But in reality, there was a little more work to be done.

I also picked up a headlight restoration kit because the halogen headlights couldn’t deliver their maximum effectiveness since my plastic lens covers were clouded with age. That’s a project I’m saving until the weekend, though. Now, if I can just get the lights working on that old tractor or mine…

To learn more about changing your car headlight bulbs, check out this video.

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts carries a wide variety of auto headlights and headlight restoration kits for all kinds of makes and models.

 

Seasons change…and so should your oil

Out here, most people have more than one vehicle, and we’re not just talking about cars and trucks. Lawn mowers, farm tractors, ATV’s, boats, log splitters, and personal watercraft – the one thing they all have in common is an engine. Each year, when I say goodbye to a long, hot summer, I like to reward my machines for the reliable performance they’ve delivered at work or play, and get them ready for the winter that’s ahead. I start by giving them all an oil change.

It’s a great time to do it—the grass isn’t growing as fast, the garden’s about done, so I’m spending less time weeding, and it’s still slightly too warm to cut wood. To maximize my time, I try to do all of the oil changes on the same weekend. One of the benefits to doing it this way is that I can collect all the old oil at once and take it somewhere that offers free automotive oil recycling. There are countless resources and videos out there that show you how to change your oil. It’s actually pretty easy. Maybe the hardest part is figuring out what’s the best motor oil for your needs and where you stand on the synthetic oil vs. regular oil discussion.

Automotive Oil RecyclingFor me, the best motor oil is the one that’s going to protect my engine. My only two rules are that I always follow the vehicle or engine manufacturer’s recommendation for oil weight, and I always choose oil with the API (American Petroleum Institute) symbol. It means the oil meets API quality standards. As for the synthetic oil vs. regular oil debate and the common question, “Is synthetic oil worth the cost,” I think it is. The best synthetic motor oils are supposed to provide improved performance and engine protection. Consider this info from Mobil 1 website: “Conventional oils lack the performance of synthetic oils in the areas of low-temperature performance and high-temperature oxidation stability.” Most of my engines have a lot of miles or hours on them, so I choose synthetic oils, hoping to keep them healthy and see me through the winter.

For those of you out there with lots of toys, make sure to change your engine oil at the recommended manufacturer intervals. It’ll help prolong life and prevent further problems down the road.

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts is here to help you learn more about which engine oil works best for your car. You can also recycle your used motor oil at most Advance Auto Parts store locations.

Molly’s Truck

Molly lives in the small white house on the hill. I can see it from my home about a half-mile away. Johnny, her husband, passed away last year. I stop in to check on her from time to time. A couple weeks ago, she came to see me with—no surprise—car troubles.

Dead car battery truckJohnny’s truck, a 1994 F150, has been stored in a barn since last year. With summer winding down, Molly was in her belated spring-cleaning mode, and wanted to haul a batch of old paint, worn tractor parts, depleted auto batteries, and half-empty bags of fertilizer to the annual county clean-up. But alas, the truck wouldn’t start. I volunteered to have a look.

The car battery had been in there for quite a while and looked a mess. Add to that the fact that one in four auto batteries on the road is about to fail, and jeez, it’s no surprise it wouldn’t start. The battery terminals were corroded, which I explained could be prevented by spraying battery terminal protector after first using a battery post and terminal cleaning brush. If the truck hadn’t been sitting so long, and hadn’t been stored in a hot barn—with heat being one of the worst enemies of a car battery—I would have just jump-started it, but it’s often better to just replace a car battery when it’s old like this one.

After pulling out the faded, old car battery, loading it into Molly’s trunk, and sending her on her way, I had to hold in a chuckle because she literally thought car batteries lasted 20 years. Beyond that, the truck needed some other TLC. I went back under the hood, checked the fluids (the radiator was bone dry), aired up the tires, and put fresh gas in the tank. Molly returned with a new car battery, surprised at how many other auto batteries there were to choose from.

I tightened the new car battery down, installed the cables, and told her to try it. And as luck—along with a little basic, car-maintenance ingenuity—would have it, the old Ford fired right up.

She put it in gear, and with a wave, was off with her load of old car batteries and assorted junk in tow. I wiped my hands on an old rag that I had found in the barn, satisfied that I had helped a friend, but knowing it probably wouldn’t be the last I’ll see of Molly…or her truck.

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts offers free car battery testing, recycling and installation with purchase. We’d be happy to check your car battery, at one of more than 3,500 Advance Auto Parts stores.