Motor Oil: What Do the Numbers Really Mean?

Our Mechanic Next door delves into the origins and meaning of motor oil viscosity grades.

“220. 221. Whatever it takes.”

motor oil 1

That infamous line of reasoning worked for Jack Butler (Michael Keaton) in the 1983 hit movie Mr. Mom, so it should work for you, too, when it comes to selecting the right motor oil grade, right? Simply pick a number? Wrong! Just like with electricity, when it comes to car oil, numbers matter – especially if you want to protect your engine.

Oil “weights” or grades – such as 10W-30 – are actually a numerical coding system developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) to grade oils based on their viscosity. Viscosity is the state of being viscous, which according to Merriam-Webster, describes “a liquid being thick or sticky, not flowing easily.”

Viscosity is measured by the how long it takes a specific amount of oil to flow through a specific-sized opening at a specific temperature. The longer the oil takes to flow through, the higher the viscosity. The tool used to conduct that test – if you really want to impress others with your motor oil and physics knowledge – is a viscometer.

Think of pouring pancake syrup from the bottle – at warmer temperatures, the syrup pours fast and easy, while at colder temperatures, it’s thicker and more difficult to get flowing. The same can be said for oil.

The particular challenge with motor oil, however, is that automotive engines need engine oil to be both thin and free flowing when temperatures are freezing and the engine is cold, but thick when it’s hot out and the engine has reached operating temperature. That’s where multi-weight or multi-grade oils enter the picture and why they were created.American Petroleum Institute

SAE’s J300 standard, first published in 1911 and revised numerous times since, classifies oil into 11 viscosity grades – 0W, 5W, 10W, 15W, 20W, 25W, 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 – with the “W” signifying “winter,” not weight. Oils first received this “W” designation from SAE in the 1950s. The lower the number preceding the W, the lower the temperature for which the oil is rated. Those winter numbers were modified further after a rash of catastrophic engine failures in the early 1980s. Unusually cold weather in the U.S. and Europe caused oil to gel. When this occurred, the engine would still start, but it couldn’t pull the gelled oil out of the oil pan, resulting in the failures. As a result, SAE added a low-temperature test to measure pumping viscosity as well, and indicated this oil with the W specification.

Back to the idea of multi-weight oils. A popular oil, such as 10W-30, actually performs like two oils in one when it comes to engine lubrication. At colder temperatures it is and delivers a 10W-grade oil performance, while at higher temperatures it is and performs like a 30-grade oil – according to SAE’s standards and tests – providing engine protection at both ends of the temperature spectrum, which is important since engines have to operate in a range of temperatures. Think of it this way – that SAE 30 oil you might use in your riding mower has the same viscosity as the 10W-30 oil in your vehicle, but only at 210°, the maximum temperature that SAE requires. The difference arises at colder temperatures where the SAE 30 oil can’t perform, necessitating some enhancements that make it a multi-grade oil. At those lower temperatures, that’s where the 10W oil and its characteristics come into play.

Oil’s desired performance characteristics at varied temperatures, as specified by SAE, are achieved through the addition of Viscosity improvers (VI) or modifiers that increase the oil’s viscosity as temperatures rise. The result is oil that performs and provides engine lubrication no matter what the temperature.

The good news for drivers is that they don’t need to be an engineer or chemist to know which car oil to use, and they don’t have to change their oil grade whenever the temperature changes. Simply follow the motor oil grade recommended by the vehicle manufacturer for optimal engine protection in all types of weather.

oil sealIt’s important to note that SAE also has a coding system for gear oil, such that used in a manual transmission, and that it’s different than the ratings for engine oil. So if there’s a bottle of 85W-140 oil sitting on the barn or garage shelf gathering dust, don’t put it in your engine.

And finally, when choosing an oil, look for one with the American Petroleum Institute “donut” seal on the bottle. It indicates that the oil meets API performance standards.

Editor’s note: Visit Advance Auto Parts for great deals on Oil Change Specials and more. Buy online, pick up in-store, in 30 minutes.

 

 

Crucial Cars: Chevrolet Silverado

Chevy SilveradoFrom timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

For this installment, our Mechanic Next Door explores one of the most stylish trucks on the block, the Chevy Silverado

 

Pickup trucks aren’t just for work anymore, and haven’t been for some time. That’s not to say they’re no longer being used for work – because they’re just as popular on the jobsite as ever. In modern pickups, however, drivers can be just as comfortable and stylish rolling up to valet parking wearing a black tie as they can pulling in to the jobsite in a hard hat, safety vest and steel toes.

This delicate balance of work and play, of style versus function, convenience or necessity is clearly evident in one of America’s best-selling trucks – the Chevy Silverado 1500.

First introduced in 1998 for the ’99 model year, the Chevy Silverado was a follow up to Chevy trucks’ successful C/K pickup line and built on GM’s long success with pickup trucks – dating back to its first model in 1930. 1998 wasn’t the Silverado name’s debut, however, as it had made an appearance previously. Chevy used Silverado as a trim line name for both its Suburban and C/K pickup truck models from ’75 through ’99.

The Silverado is now enjoying its third generation, and still building and improving on the success of generations one and two, which ran from 1999 – 2006 and 2007 – 2013, respectively. The 2015 model is hauling some exciting new additions, without losing many of the features responsible for Silverado’s nearly universal appeal.

Bragging rights are always a good place to begin, and the “firsts” or “mosts” that Chevy lays claim to with the new 2015 Silverado include:

• the most fuel-efficient gas V8 pickup truck ever (with the 5.3-liter engine)

• the most powerful engine available in a half-ton pickup

• the first truck to include 4G LTE WiFi connectivity

Power

Because it’s a truck, size matters, and Chevy’s able to make its “most powerful engine” claim thanks to the 6.2-liter V-8 option churning out 420 horsepower and 460 lb.-ft. of torque for a towing capacity of 12,000 pounds. Yeah, that’s six tons. If that’s too beefy for some drivers’ tastes, other available options include a 5.3-liter V-8 producing 355 HP and 383 lb.-ft. of torque or the base engine – a 4.3 liter V-6 with 285 HP and 305 lb.-ft. torque. Paired with these powerplants is a six-speed automatic transmission.

The mid-range 5.3-liter version is the engine that enables Chevy to make the “most fuel-efficient V-8” claim, delivering 16 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.

Style

A big change that catches Chevy Silverado up with its competitors is the addition of the High Country trim line, which is now the top level available on the Silverado and places it in a similar class with other truck manufacturers’ trim lines, including F150’s King Ranch, Ram’s Laramie and GMC Sierra’s Denali (which as most truck aficionados know is a twin to Silverado, at least mechanically.)

Convenience

Pickups, whether they’re four-wheel drive or not, are getting taller, in part due to increased wheel sizes (which, by the way, are available in 17’s, 18’s and 20’s on the new Silverado). Drivers, however, aren’t experiencing a corresponding increase in body height, which makes Chevy’s addition of its CornerStep rear bumper a big convenience factor whether trying to grab something out of the bed or simply fasten a tonneau. And an available spray-in bedliner eliminates the need to secure this work in the aftermarket, protects the bed, and reduces the annoyance factor that comes with things sliding and banging around back there.

Up front, there are three available cab configurations – a regular two-door cab, a double cab featuring four forward-opening doors, and a crew cab. The double cab is available only with the standard six-and-a-half-foot bed (which still makes for a nearly 20-foot long vehicle) while the crew cabs come with either the standard or short (5.8 ft.) box and the regular cab is available with either a long bed at eight feet or the standard box.Chevy Silverado Truck

Safety

In the safety department, Silverado is the first pickup to receive the 5-Star Overall Vehicle Score for Safety – the highest ranking – since NHTSA changed the program requirements in 2011. Helping deliver on that safety promise is a rear-vision camera, forward collision avoidance system, lane departure warning, six airbags, daytime running lights, ABS, and a “safety alert driver’s seat” that vibrates when an alert is generated by Silverado’s crash-avoidance systems.

All of this power, convenience, safety and style come with a price, however, and that price doesn’t look too painful when one considers that Chevy’s MSRP is $26,105 for a base model. Add on some “must-haves” however – including four-wheel drive and that High Country trim package – and tire kickers find themselves staring down a price of more than $54,000 the way that reviewers from Car and Driver did.

Because it’s been around for so long and there are still so many on the road, Silverado parts for repairs are readily available. At the same time, there are almost as many accessories for customizing a Silverado as there are color and option choices available on new ones.

And as a final thought, who can forget the song that has become synonymous with the Silverado, and all Chevy Trucks for that matter? Yes, Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock,” used in Chevy commercials for more than a decade – and guaranteed to be in your head for the rest of the day. You’re welcome.

Editor’s note: Visit Advance Auto Parts for the best in parts, accessories and more. Buy online, pick up in store—in 30 minutes.

Sports-themed Vehicles Take Fandom to Next Level

Green Bay Packers truck

I like football – and several other sports – as much as the next fan. And I consider myself a loyal fan, maintaining allegiances even during an off year – although the New York Giants are certainly testing that commitment this season. All of us regular fans, however, pale in comparison to the “super fans.” You know the ones – dyeing their hair in team colors or going shirtless at the stadium in sub-freezing temperatures to proudly display a torso adorned with their favorite player’s number or those colors.

Then there are the fans who clearly take it to another level, beyond even the super fans, by driving vehicles that proclaim for all the world to see their allegiance to a particular player or team. And we’re not just talking about bumper stickers, window decals, bobbleheads on the dash, or custom license plates to let you know who they’re pulling for. Any fan can do that. We’re referring to those fanatical few who invest considerable time and money in customizing their vehicles, turning them into rolling curiosities that are guaranteed to be a hit on Sunday afternoons at the stadium parking lot tailgate, and perhaps a bit of a puzzlement on the roads the other six days of the week. Check out some of these pictures we found for proof.Oakland Raiders motorcycle

Yes, these driving fans are the ones with whom we should really be impressed. Why? Because they wear their team support proudly for all the world to see, during championship seasons and “rebuilding” years, through team and player scandals and controversies, and even when traveling through unfriendly territories where a rivalry with and hatred of their beloved tribe may run deep. Their sports-themed cars, trucks, buses and even motorcycles are a magnet for support – or ridicule – and they don’t care, because they love their team.

Dallas Cowboys carThe vehicle styles, much like their fan owners, run the gamut from kitschy to classy. On one end of the scale are those vehicles – usually older – that look as though they were put together by several friends with a 12-pack in a buddy’s garage on a Sunday afternoon during their team’s bye week. Usually it’s an old pickup truck, sedan, or bus, and there’s bound to be a football helmet or possibly mascot securely fastened to the roof or hood, a paint scheme produced with numerous cans of spray paint in team colors, and undoubtedly team logos plastered all over the place. Classy? Who cares? It’s all about having some fun and helping the team win on game day.

Then there are those vehicles that are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Sporting custom paint jobs and professional graphics, these newer vehicles could just as easily be driven by a committed fan as they could the team owner. A lot of time, planning, and dollars are poured into these sports-themed cars and trucks, so let’s hope it’s a winning season and that everyone who has to ride in these vehicles continues rooting for the same team.New York Giants van

In addition to being very committed to their team and secure in their choice, fans driving these sports-themed vehicle also have to be polite and respectful drivers. Certainly they don’t want to sully their team’s or fellow fans’ reputations with discourteous driving displays, and besides – everyone sees them driving around town and knows who they are. There’s no going incognito when you’re behind the wheel of a pickup sporting a Packer green and gold paint job with a helmet in the center of the roof.

Not everyone can be or wants to be a super fan. For the rest of us, we can still display our allegiance in more subtle ways, whether in the garage or on the road , maybe with a themed license plate frame or even team-branded steering wheel cover. You can show your team colors, without being afraid to drive your vehicle to an away game, or embarrassing your children.

 

Check out these videos we stumbled upon for more super-fandom:

 

 

Here’s to the super fans and the vehicles they drive, and to your favorite team winning.

Editor’s note: When you need to show more team spirit, Advance Auto Parts has the accessories you need. Buy online, pick up in store—in 30 minutes.

Photo credits:

Green Bay Packers Truck

Oakland Raiders Motorcycle

Dallas Cowboys Car

New york Giants Bus

Crucial Cars: Toyota Tundra

Toyota TndraFrom timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

For this installment, our favorite neighborhood mechanic talks through Toyota’s colossal contribution to the full-size truck market.

 If you had told a pickup truck driver in the mid 1970s or ‘80s that Toyota would one day introduce a full-size pickup in the U.S. that would compete with the “traditional” full-size pickup brands—Ford, Chevy, Dodge, and GMC—they probably would have laughed you out of the room. And if you’d also told them that just such a truck would be produced in Texas—where bigger is always better, particularly when it comes to pickups, and hats—they would have known you were crazy for sure. Toyota, after all, was better known then for its gas-sipping, compact cars, as well as its compact Tacoma and mid-size T100 pickups.

Fast forward to 2013 when the full-size Toyota Tundra was the sixth best-selling pickup in America. My how times, attitudes, and even Toyota trucks, have changed.

First introduced in the U.S. in 1999 as a 2000 model year to replace the T100, Toyota’s Tundra was named Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year in both 2000 and 2008. The first-generation Tundras spanned from 1999 to 2006, and with the availability of a 4.7-liter V-8 producing 245 horsepower, were viewed by the industry as the first real foreign threat to the domestic full-size pickup truck market. Tundra’s image among hardcore pickup enthusiasts, however, was still that of a smaller, slightly car-like pickup that wasn’t really up to competing with full-size American pickups just yet, particularly in the area of towing capacity.

That all changed with the second generation, a slightly larger Tundra introduced in 2006 with an available 5.7-liter V-8 engine, towing capacity of 10,000-plus pounds and payload capacity of more than a ton. To illustrate the 2015 Tundra’s towing capacity, since that is such an important consideration for pickup owners, Toyota highlights the 2015 Tundra’s powerful stats in reviewing its latest model online.

“381 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque, a 6-speed automatic transmission, plus a standard Tow Package with added engine and transmission oil coolers equal heavy-duty towing capability. Add Double Overhead Cams (DOHC), a 32-valve head design and Dual Independent Variable Valve Timing, and you get a drivetrain that can tow a space shuttle.”

And yeah, it really did tow a space shuttle.

With an MSRP starting at $29,020, the 2015 Tundra backs up its powerful persona with design features that make it a truck suitable for work, play and family. Tundra’s high-tech and driver friendly. Consider the Limited Premium Package with an illuminated entry system and front and rear sonar that help drivers park. Also available on the 2015 model year is a dizzying array of available interior packages and custom features, such as the Entune™ Multimedia Bundle, consisting of an AM/FM/CD player with MP3 capability, 6.1-inch touch-screen display, auxiliary jack, USB 2.0 port, iPod connectivity, control, and hands-free phone capability.

First Generation Toyota Tundra

First Generation Toyota Tundra

The Tundra is particularly well-known and lauded for its passenger-friendly cab. A recent review by Edmunds described the Tundra CrewMax’s interior as “enormous, featuring excellent legroom and a rear seat that not only slides but reclines as well.”

When you can move and recline a rear truck seat – that’s a lot of room.

Cab configurations for the newest Tundra include a regular cab, Double Cab with four, forward-hinged doors, and the previously mentioned CrewMax with even more room and four doors. Either a six-and-a-half-foot bed or an eight-foot bed are available with the regular and Double Cab models, while the only bed option available with the CrewMax model is a five-and-a-half-foot bed.

One potential downside with the Tundra is its lower fuel economy, which is EPA estimated at 15 and 19 MPG for 2015. But, with the recent trend in lower gas prices, that fuel economy might not be as big a concern as it once was for many drivers.

And while we’re talking numbers, consider this not-so-well-known fact—Tundra wasn’t always named Tundra. When it was first introduced, the Tundra’s “concept” or “show” truck models were named the Toyota T150. Sound like another pickup truck you might be familiar with? Yeah, Ford thought so too, and threatened to sue Toyota unless the name was changed.

Given Toyota trucks’ enduring popularity in the U.S. – first with the T100 and Tacoma, along with the Tundra’s more recent introduction – parts for the Tundra, or any Toyota truck for that matter, are widely available and offer endless options for just about anything you want to do to your Toyota truck, whether new or old-school.

My favorite part about the 2015 Tundra, however, just might be Toyota’s creativity in naming several available colors, including “blue ribbon metallic,” “sunset bronze mica,” or my favorite—”attitude black metallic.” I wonder how that’s different from just plain old black, which is also an available color, minus the “plain old” descriptors of course.

Editor’s note: Whether you’re customizing or cleaning your Tundra, Advance Auto Parts has a top selection of parts and supplies. Buy online, pick up in store—in 30 minutes.

Top 10 Winter Prep Tips for Your Vehicle

Windshield WipersUse this checklist to avoid getting left out in the cold.

Don’t make winter any harder than it has to be – on yourself or your vehicle. To keep your car running reliably this winter, spend a little time on preventive maintenance before that chill in the air turns into a polar vortex.

Here’s a checklist of 10 important maintenance items to take care of now, so your vehicle can take care of you later. While you may be familiar with several, there may be some surprises on the list.

1. Radiator cap – while it’s a simple and inexpensive part, the radiator cap plays a critically important role in your heating and cooling system – not the least of which is keeping the antifreeze in your vehicle, where it should be. A leaking radiator cap can cause the engine to overheat and allow antifreeze to leak, neither of which are good scenarios for winter-weather driving. Take a close look around the radiator cap for signs of leaking fluid. To be on the safe side, if the vehicle radiator cap is several years old, replace it with a new one. The five or six bucks you may invest are well worth the peace of mind and performance you get in return. There is a lot more information available about a radiator cap’s importance.

2. Thermostat – another inexpensive, yet critically important component of your vehicle heating and cooling system is the thermostat. If it’s not functioning properly, you might find yourself without heat. That’s because thermostats can fail, particularly if the coolant hasn’t been changed regularly and corrosion has appeared. Change the thermostat, and change your odds having a warm interior all winter long.

3. Undercar – your vehicle ground clearance could decrease this winter, but only because the road surface might be rising up to meet you in the form of snow drifts or boulder-like chunks of snow and ice. Take a quick look under your car and search for any loose plastic panels related to aerodynamics that might have come loose and are dangling, as well as any exhaust system parts that look like they’re hanging particularly low.

4. Tire Pressure – temperatures aren’t the only thing going down in winter. For every 10-degree drop in air pressure, it’s estimated that tire pressure decreases by one pound. In a tire that’s only supposed to hold 35 pounds of pressure, colder temperatures can translate to a significant tire-pressure deficit. Underinflated tires wear faster, hurt fuel economy, and can reduce handling and traction. Check them with a tire pressure gauge.

5. Headlights – even if they haven’t burned out, it may be time to replace them. Did you know that headlight bulbs dim over time? Couple that with the haze that may have developed on your plastic headlight covers and you could be driving with significantly less light, and reduced down road vision. Change your headlights and restore your headlight covers, and see further.

6. Oil – if you’re not using synthetic oil, consider switching. It flows more freely at lower temperatures, making for easier starts and less engine wear.

7. Tire Tread Depth – tires that are showing their age with the telltale sign of little to no remaining tread depth aren’t a good way to head into winter. Tires are your first line of defense when it comes to gaining traction in snow and ice, and worn tires make that job harder. Take a minute to measure your tire tread depth.

8. Windshield deicer – decrease the amount of time you’re out in the cold, trying to scrape your windshield, and increase your visibility with windshield deicer. To see clearly, you need an ice-free windshield, and this is the quickest way to get it.

9. Antifreeze – not only will it help prevent heating and cooling system corrosion in every season, antifreeze also protects your engine in frigid temperatures, if it’s at the proper level and strength. And that’s not all. Having the proper level of antifreeze is a must have if you want the level of heat you’ve come to expect.

10. Emergency Kit – even a new or well-maintained vehicle can experience trouble, and if it does let you down, you should be prepared with an emergency kit to help see you through in case you’re stranded for a few minutes or even a few hours.

As an experienced driver and quite possibly someone who’s pretty seasoned at working on their own vehicle, you’re probably already familiar with the usual suspects that can cause winter driving problems. Even so, it doesn’t hurt for a quick review of your battery and  windshield wipers as the final step in your winter driving preparation checklist.

Chances are, you and your vehicle will get through winter just fine. All it takes is a little time and commitment in the garage now, instead of wishing you had later on.

Editor’s note: Drive safe and warm this winter with parts and accessories from Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in store, in 30 minutes.

Top Vehicles with Retro Styling – Part 2

Dodge Challenger logoIn this exclusive sequel, we explore more contemporary vehicles designed with a nod to the old-school. 

Why do so many people like newer cars with retro styling? Maybe it’s because the vehicle in question is part of a great memory they have. It could also be that the original vehicle had an impressive reputation for good looks or performance and today’s buyers are hoping to recapture those attributes with the modern model. Whatever the reasons, vehicle manufacturers seem to like these retro styles as much as drivers do, particularly when they hit on a winning combination that results in soaring sales.

In the first installment of Top Vehicles with Retro Styling,we looked at several models whose looks borrowed heavily from their ancestors. Since there’s no shortage of retro-styled vehicles that are new today or that debuted within the last several years, we decided to examine a few more.

Chevy HHRChevy HHR – the acronym stands for “Heritage High Roof.” Chevy’s HHR was available in model years 2005 through 2011, and if it looks strikingly familiar, it’s probably because you’re thinking about Chrysler’s PT Cruiser. According to a review in Popular Mechanics, the HHR was also designed by the PT Cruiser’s designer after he and an auto industry executive both left GM for Chrysler. On its “discontinued vehicle page,” Chevy touts the HHR’s best-in-class fuel economy at 32 mpg, resulting in more than 500 miles between fill ups. For a retro wagon like the HHR, one would expect Chevy to be highlighting the HHR’s retro good looks or other appealing features instead of staid fuel mileage.

Chevy SSRChevy SSR – Chevy was obviously having a “thing” in naming its retro models with three-letter acronyms back in the early 2000s. Their Super Sport Roadster supposedly took its looks from a 1950’s-era Chevy pickup. It featured a folding hard top and tonneau cover, weighed in at nearly two-and-a-half tons and was powered by an eight-cylinder, 300 horsepower engine. The SSR was available from 2003 to 2006. Sadly, or gloriously, depending on your view, it was included on Time magazine’s list of The 50 Worst Cars of All Time.

Plymouth ProwlerPlymouth Prowler – From 1997 through 2001, the Prowler was the baddest looking vehicle on new car dealers’ lots. Less than 12,000 were sold throughout all the model years and there were none produced for the 1998 model year. While the Prowler drew rave reviews for its radical looks and nod to 1950’s-era hot rodding, it drew an equally strong criticism for being powered by a measly V-6. The Prowler was Plymouth’s last new model before the brand disappeared altogether, and it too made Time’s list of The 50 Worst Cars of All Time.

Pontiac GTO 2004Pontiac GTO – This one’s a bit of an oddball. If you’re going to name a car after a hardcore, ever-popular muscle car from the ‘60s, shouldn’t that new retro car at least look a little like its proud papa? Yeah, someone forgot to mention that to Pontiac, and therein lies the biggest disappointment with the 2004-2006 GTO – it looks like an unassuming family sedan. Surprisingly, underneath that sleepy exterior was a 350-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 and a six-speed manual transmission. But as we all know, when it comes to cars, looks do matter.

Dodge ChallengerDodge Challenger – Unlike the folks over at GM with their GTO, when Chrysler introduced the “new” Challenger in 2008, they embraced the Dodge Challenger’s original muscle-car-good-lucks from the 1970 through 1974 model years. From the hood scoops to the front grill and four headlights, the new Challengers look decidedly similar to their old-school counterparts. Those street-tough looks are backed up by some serious power in the Challenger’s top-of-the-line model that features a 6.4-liter V-8 and 470 horsepower.

Given the public’s love affair with retro-styled new vehicles, the aforementioned models most certainly won’t be the last that we see appearing on the showroom floor. Who knows? In another 50 years, maybe we’ll see a new, retro-styled Tesla Model S that borrows some from the original looks sported by its ancient ancestor.

Read Top Vehicles with Retro Styling, Part 1.

Editor’s note: Keep your ride looking good and running right with parts and accessories from Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in store, in 30 minutes.

 

Top Vehicles with Retro Styling – Part 1

Are we in love with the car, or our memories?

What is it about cars and nostalgia? Why do so many of our most vivid or cherished memories include a vehicle playing a starring or supporting role?

For me, those important vehicles and memories include a 1974 Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon, 1978 Mercury Zephyr, and my all-time favorite – a four door, five-speed, sunroof-equipped 1985 BMW 318i.

The work I did on all those vehicles is part of the memories each holds. The Zephyr in particular was my guinea pig. I remember replacing the starter, dashboard, back seat, radio, radiator, and a number of other parts through the years, all of which helped me build my mechanical knowledge and confidence.

A number of modern vehicles can trigger a drive down memory lane simply because they look like their iconic predecessors. Here are five on my list of contemporary vehicles with retro styling – in no particular order. What have I left off the list? What’s your favorite, and more importantly, why? I’ll explore five more in an upcoming installment.

2015 Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang

The 2015 Mustang comes with the model’s first ever EcoBoost® engine – a 2.3-liter power plant delivering 310 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. For the really performance-minded driver, the GT model features a 5.0 liter V-8 churning out 435 HP and 400 pound-feet of torque. This iconic sports car’s first model in 1964 pales in comparison when it comes to power as its 170 cubic-inch engine only cranked out 156 pound-feet of torque. And, it’s angular retro looks are nothing to sneeze at.

2005 Ford ThunderbirdFord Thunderbird

Ford’s more than four million Thunderbirds went through many different looks through the years. The 1955 debut saw classic lines and a hard-top or convertible version while the sixth generation from 1972 to 1976 model years were boxy and big, making this version the largest Thunderbird Ford had ever produced. The eleventh generation, from 2002 to 2005, would be its last and saw a return to a more classic look, similar to the earliest model years.

2006 Dodge ChargerDodge Charger

Seven generations of Chargers brought us from those first intimidating, wide-nose models of the ‘60s and ‘70s, through the embarrassingly compact fifth generation in the 80s, full circle to the sixth and seventh generations, available from ’06 through today. That evolution saw a return to looks that are more in line with those first Chargers, from the taillights to the hood and side panels.

2010 Chevy CamaroChevy Camaro

Debuting with the 1967 model as a competitor to Ford’s Mustang, four generations of Camaros prowled the streets until production ended in 2002, only to see the model revived for the 2010 model year with generation five. With today’s MSRP of $75,000, 505 HP, and a seven-liter V8, the 2015 Camaro Z-28 bears some resemblance to those first Camaros in looks only.

2015 VW BeetleVW Bug

The Beetle or “People’s Car” translated from the German “Volkswagen,” was officially called the “Type 1” when production began in 1938. Today, Volkswagen refers to its latest Bug model as, “a sleek twist on an iconic shape.” Out of all the retro-styled vehicles, the Beetle might bear the closest resemblance to its first ancestor.

A few of the cars on the list went through some “changes” or “growing pains” that left them looking nothing like their much-loved predecessors for several years before they came back around to today’s popular styles. The Ford Mustang is a case in point.

Those 80’s and 90’s-era Mustangs, for me at least, don’t conjure up memories of the tough-looking Mustangs I remember from the 60’s and 70’s. They were Mustangs in name only, unlike today’s Mustangs that look mean, powerful and menacing, just like their brothers from those first two decades of Mustang production.

Retro styling’s popularity could also be attributed to the timeless nature of certain style elements. Much the way some antiques, whether furniture or paintings, retain their value and popularity because of their classic style elements, perhaps the same can be said for certain classic vehicle lines and characteristics?

Or, maybe nostalgia and elements that never go out of style don’t have anything to do with retro styling’s popularity today. For some drivers, it could be that the vehicle’s good looks and solid reputation, built over several decades, leads them to equate today’s models with their popular classic ancestors. The Chevy Camaro has always conjured up the image of a street-savvy, aggressive performer, never straying too far from its original looks, even with the latest model.

Whatever the reason for our love affairs with cars, history and retro styling, two things are for sure – what’s old will someday be new again, and no one’s clamoring for a 2016 reintroduction of Mercury’s Zephyr, including me.

Editor’s note: Whether you’re restoring an original classic or working on vehicle based on a classic, Advance Auto Parts has the parts and tools you need. Buy online, pick up in store—in 30 minutes.

My garage. My sanctuary.

_MG_6513bI love my wife. I love my kids. But I really love working in my garage. It’s the one place in my house that’s truly mine. Some people go to the office on a Saturday morning for peace and quiet. Some go to nature. I go to my garage.

In the movie Old School, Will Ferrell jokes about having a “big” weekend planned – accompanying his new bride to Home Depot and Bed, Bath and Beyond. In another scene, he’s under the hood of “The Red Dragon” – a 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am — removing the restrictor plate, getting his hands dirty, and beaming with pride when his wife remarks how loud it sounds.

Like Mr. Ferrell, given the choice, that’s where I’d rather be — in the driveway or in the garage, under the hood, doing some car maintenance.

Working in my garage is bigger than just me being a home mechanic, fixing something or improving it, even though that’s all it may look like to the casual observer. It’s the sense of satisfaction and well-being I derive through that work, in that place – my garage.

It’s knowing that I helped my neighbor replace the universal joint on his 15-year-old F150 when he got laid off and couldn’t afford to have the work done anywhere else. It’s knowing that my wife’s Town & Country minivan is going to start — even on the coldest mornings — when she turns the key at the crack of dawn and heads off to work. And it’s knowing that this home mechanic can walk into his garage, blindfolded or in the dark, and still put his hands on the tool he needs because everything has a place and is exactly where it should be.

That’s what my garage means to me. That’s why it’s my sanctuary — my very own man cave. I don’t get to spend nearly as much time as I’d like to there, making those few weekend hours I am there doing car maintenance that much more meaningful and important to my mental health.

I don’t spend a lot of time hanging out at my local parts counter. Sure, they’re nice enough and I like to hear about what my fellow home mechanics are working on and trade advice, but instead of sitting on a stool waiting for parts to be delivered or located, I’d rather be back in my garage, getting it done, and feeling good about doing it myself.

That’s one reason I jumped on the online parts ordering bandwagon early on. Ordering online and picking up in-store, or receiving them at my home liberates me from wondering and hoping the parts I want will be in stock and available when I need them. I don’t want to spend what little free time I have on a weekend searching for parts – that’s one aspect of being a home mechanic and tireless DIYer that I don’t like.

That’s also why my garage is well organized. I don’t want to waste time searching for tools when that time could be better spent actually using those tools. The key, I think, is to have a spot for everything, and to label it so you can put it back. Look into wall cabinets, rolling tool cabinets, or tool chests and decide what’s going to work best for you. In addition to being functional, my idea of the ideal garage is also one that looks good. I covered my entire garage floor with these interlocking tiles. Now it’s easier on my feet and knees, looks better, and stays cleaner.

As they say, time flies when you’re having fun. That’s why I’m headed back to the garage, that is, as soon as we get back from Bed, Bath and Beyond. It’s all about balance.

Editor’s note: Planning your weekend projects is easy with Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage—fast.

 

Car Parts, Boat Parts and ATVs – more in common than you realize

Boat engineIf I met him, I don’t think I’d like Murphy simply because I really dislike his law. Whatever can go wrong will go wrong, and more often than not on my day off when I have something planned that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.

This isn’t a recent phenomenon for me either. But the good news is that as my mechanical knowledge grew, I figured out quickly how to circumvent his law and salvage my day – most of the time – when it comes to the motorized vehicles causing me problems and standing in the way of my fun.

The solution I learned about when I was younger, albeit the hard way, is that some automotive parts can serve double duty as replacement parts for recreational vehicles. I say I learned it the hard way because it only came after several outings were ruined by an ATV that wouldn’t start because it needed a specialty part, my grandfather’s old Ford tractor that wouldn’t crank thanks to a temperamental starter, and a dirt bike that quit when the motorcycle battery failed.

I suspect a lot of people were like me when I was first getting my hands dirty taking things apart to figure out how they work, and needing more than a little help from dad putting them back together. I just didn’t realize that some parts were interchangeable. The thought never crossed my mind until one weekend when a bunch of my high school buddies and I were at my grandfather’s cabin for the weekend, fishing and riding four-wheelers and dirt bikes. I was about half a mile from the cabin when the dirt bike I was riding refused to restart thanks to a bad motorcycle battery. Knowing there weren’t any ATV or specialty power sports parts suppliers nearby, I figured my bike would have to be parked for the weekend. Only after I pushed it home on the gravel road that was, thankfully, mostly downhill, did my grandfather tell me that I could get the battery I needed at just about any place that sold auto parts.

The same goes for a lot of other power sports machines and their parts. Here are some of the more common parts and problems that might get in the way of your fun, and how to solve them.

1. Batteries – most auto parts stores carry a wide range of batteries that fit boats, ATVs, dirt bikes, jet skis, snowmobiles and even golf carts. Make sure you bring in the old marine battery or whatever type it is and get it tested first to confirm that’s the problem, to get the right replacement size, and to avoid the core charge.

2. Spark plugs and wires – this is another category that you don’t have to rely on a specialty parts supplier for. Even if you think that glow plugs for a Kubota B20 diesel tractor or plugs for a Yamaha Tt-R225 dirt bike are uncommon and only available through a dealer, think again and try your local auto parts supplier first.

3. Boats – similarities exist between inboard motors and some car engines. For example, the 4.3 liter GM V-6 that’s in your 2000 Glastron boat may be able to use some of the same 4.3 V6 GM motor parts that are available at an auto parts store.* Marine batteries can also often be obtained at an auto parts store, saving additional hassle when a marine parts specialty supplier isn’t nearby.

Of course, a little preventive maintenance before you hit the trail or water can help you avoid many of these problems in the first place. But if they do crop up, you now know that many of these parts are readily available somewhere other than just a specialty power sports provider.

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts carries the powersport batteries you need, including ones for motorcycles, boats, ATV’s, tractors, golf carts and snowmobiles.  Buy online, pick up in store.

 

*Always consult your owner’s manual first. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure warranties are not voided.

 

 

Upkeep: Replacing Your Own Shocks or Struts

shocksRecently, I decided to replace the front struts on my old Mercedes, and as I did the job, I found myself thinking:

This really isn’t that hard.

It’s true. For the uninitiated, Suspension work is mostly just bolting and unbolting. I know it’s intimidating to think about taking your suspension apart, but when you get right down to it, it’s probably less complicated than assembling an Ikea bookcase.

And here’s the thing: doing your own suspension work can save you many hundreds of dollars. My rule of thumb is that however much the parts cost, you need to multiply by two or three to get the total cost including labor. If you take those labor charges out, it’s a much more palatable bill. Plus, there’s the satisfaction of knowing that you did it yourself, likely with more caution and care than a typical mechanic would take.

So let’s take a bird’s-eye view of how to replace your own struts or shocks. I hope it’ll inspire you to take it on next time your suspension needs a shot in in the arm.

1. Check Whether You Need a Spring Compressor

Let me be very clear about this: when I did my front struts, I knew ahead of time that I would not need a spring compressor. That’s because the front suspension design on my car is such that the springs are separate (and inboard) from the struts, so you can remove the latter without ever touching the former. But on many cars, the struts/shocks and springs are interrelated or integrated, which means you may need a spring compressor to remove the springs. This is serious business: if you don’t remove the springs properly, they can pop off and damage anything in their path, including yourself! You can rent a spring compressor pretty easily, but make sure you understand how to use it before you do. If there’s one part of the job that could come back to bite you, this is it.

2. Securely Raise One Side of the Car

If you’ve got access to an actual lift, great — I’m envious, and so are most driveway DIYers! But if you’re like the rest of us, you’ll want to jack up one side of the car at a time, just high enough to get a jackstand under the jack point behind the front wheel.

3. Remove the Wheel and Extract the Old Shock/Strut

The wheel is easy, of course, but getting the absorber out of there may take some elbow grease. If a spring compressor is required for your job, this is where you’d use it. On my car, there were three bolts holding the bottom of the strut in place, and fortunately they weren’t too hard to break loose with a socket wrench. Up top, the strut extended inside a strut tower with a serious bolt inside the engine compartment; I had to use an impact wrench with a socket extension to get it loose, so if you don’t have one of those handy and you end up needing one, hopefully you’ve got a friend who does.

Note that you may have to hold up the lower control arm if it starts to drop once you undo those lower bolts — so keep an eye on it as you go, and be ready to slide your jack underneath for support.

4. Install the New Shock/Strut

With any luck, this will be as simple as reversing what you’ve done so far. I always recommend using a torque wrench and tightening all bolts to OEM specifications, but I do have friends who swear by the “Good and tight” method, so I’ll leave this to your judgment. Once the new absorber is mounted and tightened, put the wheel back on, lower the car, and simply repeat steps 2-4 for the other side.

5. Don’t Forget The Test Drive!

When you do work on a vital suspension system, you’ll definitely want to take the car for a slow diagnostic drive afterward, just to make sure nothing feels or sounds off. Don’t go careening along a winding road just yet; I’m talking about a nice slow spin through the neighborhood, perhaps wiggling the steering wheel now and then to test transient response. If everything seems good to go, consider the procedure a provisional success!

As you can probably tell, it wasn’t that hard. Just remember that this article is intended as a very broad overview, so you should do specific research on your vehicle before undertaking the job. If there’s anything you’d add from your own experience, I’m sure we’d all like to hear about it in the comments.

Editor’s note: Head on over to Advance Auto Parts first for the best selection of quality shocks and struts, at even better values. We’ll get you back to the garage fast—buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.