A road trip and Dad’s fuel efficiency (or lack thereof)

Advance Auto PartsWith summer almost over, it’s time to reflect. When you’re a kid, those long, hot lazy days are seemingly endless, full of promise, adventure, fun and freedom. Until one hot June day, just as summer break is getting cranked up, your dad comes home from work all excited and drops a bomb.

“Kids, this summer, we’re spending three weeks on the road, driving from New Jersey to the Grand Canyon, towing the camper behind us! The six of us will spend a lot of time together! It’ll be great!”

Uh, no it won’t. For a 13-year-old just starting to plan his summer, have there ever been more terrifying words? I think not. My plan was to spend the summer riding my bike and hanging with friends, not being trapped in a Dodge Ram conversion van with my three siblings and parents on an epic cross-country journey, living in a pop-up camper for three weeks.

This was not going to be good, or so I thought. For one thing, the old man was obsessed with fuel mileage. Always tracking the miles driven and gallons pumped at each fill up, and having a conniption whenever he forgot to record either. As obsessive as he was about the fuel efficiency, however, he didn’t give a hoot about vehicle maintenance. Tire pressure? Air filter? Oil change? A/C tune up? Nah, who needs them. We just hit the road, letting the pieces (hopefully not from our vehicle) fall where they may.

I’m pretty sure that if he had realized the impact a few simple maintenance items have on fuel mileage, not to mention vehicle reliability before a long road trip, he would have been sure to address them before our road trip.

According to fueleconomy.gov, the official U.S. government source for fuel economy information, you can take three steps right now to improve your fuel economy.

  • Keep your vehicle properly tuned and increase mileage by as much as four percent. Fixing a seriously out-of-tune engine, like one with a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve mileage up to 40 percent.
  • Keep your tires at the inflation pressure recommended by the vehicle manufacturer and improve fuel mileage by more than three percent.
  • Use the recommended grade of oil for a one to two percent increase.
  • And here’s a statistic that just might surprise you, as well as your friends. On newer cars with fuel injection and computer-controlled engines, the air filter does impact acceleration but it has no impact on fuel mileage. The air filter does impact fuel mileage on older vehicles without that technology. Either way, check your air filter to see if it’s time for a change.

Somewhere between South Dakota’s legendary Corn Palace and the Grand Canyon, I came to the somewhat surprising, albeit gradual, realization that maybe this trip wasn’t such a bad idea after all. We were seeing some really cool things. Don’t get me wrong, this surly teenager found plenty of reasons to complain, like getting in trouble for “sleeping through all the scenery” or nursing frequent bloody noses thanks to the West’s incredibly low humidity levels. But all in all, it was a truly memorable vacation, even if my dad didn’t get the gas mileage he wanted and we all scattered like jackrabbits, including my parents, the second we returned home.

Editor’s note: If you’re planning an epic, end-of-summer road trip, either with your family or to get away from them, make your first stop  Advance Auto Parts for preventive maintenance items and a roadside emergency kit.  



We Like to Tow

Trailer towingIn the country, we like towing things as much as we enjoy getting towed. Whether we’re the ones being towed out of the woods after getting stuck during a night of mud bogging, or we’re towing a gooseneck stacked high and tight with 200 hay bales, it doesn’t matter. For work or just plain fun, we tow it all.

When there’s minor flooding or a good snowstorm around here, the lifted, four-wheel-drive pickups come out to play, and to help. You’ll see us driving back and forth over these mud- or snow-covered country roads, but not because we’re going anywhere in particular. No, we’re looking for someone who’s slid off the road into a ditch or needs a little assistance climbing a slippery hill. With a tow-strap or even dad’s old logging chains that are always in the pickup, we’ll get you out and back on your way, and we’ll love every minute of it. And if there isn’t someone to tow, we’ll tow something instead.

When it comes to rural living, towing is just a fact of life. Since we are always towing, it only makes sense that early on in our driving careers we get into the habit of doing what needs to be done to help ensure a trouble-free, time-saving experience hauling the heavy stuff.

Your first consideration should be your vehicle’s towing capacity – how much weight it is designed to tow without overloading mechanical systems and causing damage. Towing capacity can be found in your vehicle owner’s manual. Your vehicle also needs to be equipped with a hitch that’s rated for the amount of weight you’re towing.

If trailer towing is in your future, and you’re an inexperienced hauler, spend some time in the driveway practicing backing up the trailer. It’s is a lot tougher than the big-rig drivers make it look, particularly when you’re holding up a line of traffic and all eyes are on you. Here’s an old tip truckers use when backing a trailer – grab the bottom of the steering wheel, and turn the steering wheel in the direction you want the trailer to go.

What’s your best towing tip or worst towing horror story? Let’s see hear about it and see some photos when you share in the comments section below.

Because we typically don’t put as many miles on a trailer as we do the vehicles towing them, trailer tires often wear out from dry rot and age instead of highway miles. Every tire manufactured since 2000 has a DOT alphanumeric code on its sidewall. The last four numbers tell the date of manufacturer. For example, 5107 tells you tire was manufactured in the 51st week of 2007. Tires that are five or more years old need to be inspected for signs of possible age-related failure.

Before your trailer towing begins, have a helper stand behind the trailer while you run through a test of the brake, turn signal and marker lights. You might want to consider switching to LED trailer lights as they’re more durable, maintenance-free, and waterproof and feature a quicker response time.

Other items to pay attention to before you start trailer towing include your hitch ball, the wiring harness, and if it has them, the trailer’s brakes.Advance Auto Parts

If, however, you find yourself on the receiving end of the tow, just remember to give us a smile when our pickup or tractor pulls you out, and maybe a little beer money.

What types of towing endeavors have you been involved with recently?

Editor’s note: Need some trailer accessories before your next big adventure? Tow it on over to Advance Auto Parts for parts and advice. Just make sure you know how to back it up before you get here! 

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.