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.

Why Car Maintenance tops my list of Safe Driving Tips

When it comes time to teach my kids vacation driving safety tips, I’ll begin with this nugget—summer travel is great family fun until the car breaks down, leaving you stranded in a parking lot, baking under Florida’s July sun. Some nugget, huh? But, I experienced it firsthand, and I’m sure you’ve had similar situations. And given that the average age of cars on the road today is 11.1 years, as compared to 8.4 years in 1995, according to the Polk research firm, one of the most important tips I can offer—especially for summer travel—is regular vehicle maintenance.

The top offenders leading to vehicle breakdowns are battery and cooling system failures, and possibly the most obvious, car tire issues. Sad thing is, most of these situations can be prevented, especially the latter. According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, under-inflation is the leading cause of tire failure, and on top of that, low tire pressure can reduce gas mileage. For tire safety and maintenance, a digital tire gauge and a can of Fix-A-Flat can go a long way in preventing summer travel disaster. That, and just making sure you keep an eye on them from time to time.

Being stranded in a parking lot is probably not one of the safe driving tips I’d share with my kids. I can remember back to a time when I was just a little guy, when my family was headed to Disney World’s Fort Wilderness Campground. Dad, exhibiting excellent driving safety practices, piloted our 1974 Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon, complete with faux wood-grain paneling, and a pop-up camper behind. To his credit, he was a very good driver, instilling me with safe driving tips, even though a car maintenance schedule wasn’t something he usually followed. As luck would have it, the car broke down, leaving us sitting in a parking lot hours away from Disney, our summer travel halted. A retired couple caught our plight, and as luck would have it, the solitary old husband happened to be a retired machinist and was pretty sure he could fix our broken part at his home shop. He also scanned our tires, which were a little worse for wear.

So off they went, my mom and siblings in tow. They’d sit in the couple’s air-conditioned home, sipping lemonade, while dad and I sat on the car bumper, talking, sweating, but most importantly, sharing time that would eventually become scarce between us. Hours later, they all returned with the part, our summer travel saved. Once mobile again, we hit the closest gas station to take care of our tire issues.

At the time, it wasn’t fun. Now, it’s a treasured memory, and is in large part why I follow a maintenance schedule, in addition to dad’s driving safety tips.

Editor’s Note: Advance Auto Parts can help you maintain your vehicle with expert advice and quality auto parts.