Mechanic Next Door - Advance Auto Parts Blog

Crucial Cars: Ford Explorer

Ford Explorer pictureFrom timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

In this installment, the Mechanic Next Door talks about the comeback kid of the SUV variety, the Ford Explorer.

The Ford Explorer is back. Not that it ever went anywhere, but Explorer sales were declining steadily from their peak of nearly 450,000 new vehicles sold in 2000 to a low of just 52,000 sold in 2009. That nearly 90 percent reduction in sales over nine years certainly gave credence to the observation that there just didn’t seem to be as many Explorers on the road, and the feeling that perhaps Explorer was slowly but surely fading from the automotive landscape into the annals of Ford’s highly successful truck history.

And then 2011 happened, when Explorer sales increased more than 100 percent from the previous year and marked the start of a sales rebound that’s continued every year through 2014 – the latest year for which full-year sales data is available.

So who or what is responsible for the sudden and dramatic resurgence in Ford Explorer’s popularity? Blame it on the fifth generation.

Debuting with the 2011 model year and based on the concept vehicle that Ford unveiled at the 2008 North America International Auto Show, the fifth-generation Explorer was conceived by the same design engineer who held a similar position at Land Rover. Notice any similarities between the Explorer and Land Rover’s Range Rover?

But before looking forward to the latest installment in the fifth generation – the 2016 Ford Explorer – one has to look back to understand the Explorer’s roots, and popularity right out of the gate.Ford Explorer tow picture

The Explorer placed third in truck sales in 1991 – the very first year it was available, and Ford knew instantly they had a clear winner on their hands. If you’re feeling nostalgic, check out this official Ford video explaining how to use the new 1991 Explorer’s features – if you can get past the talents’ “stylish” wardrobe that is. Explorer replaced Ford’s other entry in the sport utility segment, the Bronco II, and was designed to compete directly with Chevrolet’s S-10 Blazer, even though Explorer wasn’t the first compact four-door sport utility to market. That distinction belongs to both the Jeep Cherokee and Isuzu Trooper.

Explorer wasn’t a new name either. Just six years earlier it could be found on Ford’s F-Series Trucks, serving as a trim package designation stretching all the way back to the late ‘60s.

When it debuted, the 1991 Explorer was available as either a two- or four-door model with two- or four-wheel drive in one of three trim levels available on the four-door – the base XL, XLT, or Eddie Bauer. The two-tone green and beige paint scheme available with the Eddie Bauer edition became nearly synonymous with those early Explorers as it seemed they were everywhere.

On the four-wheel drive option, Ford also offered the choice of automatic locking front hubs that engaged with just the push of a dash button, or the traditional hubs that had to be locked manually and the system engaged via a floor lever. As anti-lock brakes were still in their infancy, only the Explorer’s rear brakes were equipped with ABS.

Towing capacity on the first Explorer came in at a hefty 5,600 pounds thanks to a four-liter, 155-horsepower V-6 paired with either a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual. But perhaps one of the biggest reasons behind the Explorer’s instant popularity were its decidedly car-like luxuries, including leather seats and high-end audio, that drivers were not expecting to find in a truck-like vehicle. That power, performance and luxury came at a price – about $22,000 for the four-door model back in the day. Compare that to a price tag of approximately $30,000 for a base, entry-level Explorer today or jump up to the big daddy of them all, the 2016 Platinum Explorer, starting at $52,600.Ford Explorer interior picture

With four generations and five models in the current generation preceding it, Ford took its time arriving at the 2016 Explorer. Outside, the Platinum-level Explorer impresses with its platinum grille, dual-panel moonroof, hands-free, foot-activated liftgate, and LED lamps, all riding on bright aluminum 20’s featuring painted pockets. Inside, it’s all luxury, all the time, with wood accents and “Nirvana” (do they take you there?) leather-trimmed seats with “quilted inserts,” (what does that even mean?), USB charging ports, a command center with so much technology in its display that it looks more like the cockpit of a small plane, three rows of seating for seven, and Enhanced Active Park Assist to take the stress out of navigating virtually any type of parking space.

Under the hood, three engine choices are available with the Platinum – a 2.3 L EcoBoost I-4, a 3.5 L TI-VCT V6 (twin independent variable camshaft timing), or a 3.5 L EcoBoost V6. Getting all that power to the ground is a six-speed, SelectShift automatic transmission and front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.

Twenty five years later, Ford hasn’t forgotten their roots, or what’s behind the Explorer’s enduring popularity – luxury, car-like features, towing and cargo capacities you’d expect to find in a truck, and a revamped style that helps you look good doing it all.

Editor’s note: Got projects? Count on Advance Auto Parts for the right parts and tools. Buy online, pick up in-store in 3o minutes. 

Tech Garage TV review

Tech Garage studio photoRead our review of the Velocity Channel’s popular DIY show.

Do you look forward to seeing how big The Donald’s hair is this week while two celebrities engage in a boardroom battle? Do you enjoy watching “real” housewives fight one another? Are you still upset about Chris’ choice to receive the final rose?

If so, then it’s probably a safe assumption that you can’t get enough drama in your life, and that you love “reality” TV. If that’s the case, then I recommend you stick with what’s been working for you and not watch Tech Garage, one of the newest car TV shows on the Velocity Channel that just concluded its first season.

If, however, you love everything about cars – including how to fix them, coax more performance from them, how their various systems work, why they break and how to prevent failures, then you’re going to want to tune in to Tech Garage every weekend, or catch the episodes online. It could become one of the top car TV shows on YouTube.

Tech Garage features John Gardner, an ASE-certified master mechanic and automotive instructor at Chipola College in Marianna, Fla., explaining how cars and their various systems work. There’s no drama here, but there are plenty of key tips. Whether you’re a heavy DIY’er who can handle pretty much anything under the hood or a 15-year old dreaming about the day you can drive, you’re going to learn something new about vehicle mechanics from watching this car TV show.

On one of the show’s first episodes, Gardner explored the vehicle’s battery, charging and starting system. What makes the show unique is that he doesn’t just explain to viewers how the systems work and leave them with only a cursory understanding. He breaks the system down and provides an in-depth explanation of not just how it works but why, and he uses some pretty cool, functioning system displays that any gearhead would love to have taking up space in their garage or man cave.

For example, in that first episode Gardner goes under the hood to diagnose a lack of starting power in a Mustang. He provides detailed diagnostics using a voltmeter, and has an awesome cutaway of a vehicle battery and even the internal battery plates to show viewers exactly what a crumpled mess it looks like when they begin to fail. Sure, most of us who know about cars understand why batteries fail and how to prolong their lives and replace them, but it’s not often we see the inside of one that has failed to add to our understanding or that we receive an education about volts, amps and resistance.

Tech Garage AC show AC photo

Gardner employs a similar tactic with the full-scale working model of a starting system. He even has a couple starters – including a big field-coil starter – that he’s taken apart to show viewers how they work and why. On this episode, the biggest moment of drama between people is when Gardner asks his assistant to crank the Mustang with the headlights on, and it fails to start. As I said, if you’re looking for fights and name calling, you’re going to find them on this car TV show.

In addition to adding to your knowledge under the hood, Tech Garage provides some pretty cool factoids in every episode that can be used to impress your friends, or one-up a fellow heavy DIY’er who always seems to be a step ahead. Try these on for size. What was the first production vehicle to use an alternator? That would be the 1960 Chrysler Valiant. How about the fact that the first storage battery – called the voltaic pile – was invented in 1796 by Italian scientist Allesandro Volta? The volt is named in his honor. And finally, 99 percent of all new cars sold have air conditioning.

On another episode, Gardner dives into a timely topic now that temperatures are starting to rise – a vehicle’s AC system. In addition to demonstrating how it works and how to quickly and easily recharge it using a canister of AC Pro, and how to identify the high side versus the low side, he has a full scale vehicle AC system, complete with condenser and evaporator – and it’s functioning. If you walk away not understanding more about vehicle AC and how the AC cycle works, you weren’t watching.

With insightful and timely show topics that include brakes and wheel bearings, fuel systems and turbo and supercharging, and engines and related emerging technologies, Tech Garage should quickly build a following of loyal viewers who want to learn vehicle mechanics from an ASE-certified pro.

—MND

The neighborhood service station — a dying breed?

Gas station photoOur Mechanic Next Door reminisces about this steadily declining American institution–where many DIY’ers and professional mechanics first got started.

 

Frank’s Gulf Gas and Service Station was a slightly intimidating place to a five year old. It was dark inside the “office” and in the garage, everything seemed to be either blue-gray or black, and Frank was a tall man, constantly wiping grease from his hands on the blue rag that dangled from his back pocket.

I learned quickly, however, that Frank’s was also a fun place. There were always ice cream sandwiches and cones in an old chest freezer inside the office that we could choose from. Frank’s easygoing personality, quick smile and willingness to help matched his intimidating stature. And, to top it all off, when our car was being serviced, Frank would let us sit in it while he raised it up high on the lift.

As much fun as it was for us kids, however, Frank’s was a lifesaver for my parents, and many of our neighbors.

Whenever there was anything wrong with the car, my dad always said, “Take it to Frank’s.” From routine maintenance to major repairs and pumping gas in between, Frank did it all in a two-bay gas station at the crossroads.

Frank’s, and tens of thousands of other gas and service stations like his across the country, are where countless teenagers first got some grease under their fingernails and began a journey to becoming a lifelong DIYer or professional mechanic. Hang around a gas station, cars and seasoned gas jockeys and mechanics long enough and you can’t help but learn about engines and how they run.

The service station’s history is murky, much like the quality of early gasoline when it was first dispensed everywhere and from everything, including in general stores and from buckets whose contents had to be funneled into the car. The first purpose-built service station is widely credited as being the Gulf Refining Company’s architect-designed, pagoda-style brick building that opened in Pittsburg in 1913. Earlier claims point to a Standard Oil station that opened in Seattle in 1907, but Gulf’s station is thought to be the first designed and built specifically to dispense free air, water and tire- and crankcase-related services, and of course gasoline. This entertaining and informative video traces the service station’s evolution and how the industry has changed. gas station 2 picture

Sadly, the neighborhood gas and service station is steadily becoming a thing of the past. Even Frank’s Gulf has long since closed, and the trend shows no sign of abating. 2013 data from NACS and Nielsen counted 152,995 retail fueling sites in the U.S., a continued decline from 1994 when there were nearly 203,000 gas stations. If you don’t remember or have never seen what a full-service, old-school gas station looks like, check out these photos.

Replacing the mom and pop neighborhood service station are 24-hour, corporate-owned convenience store chains whose primary business focus is selling motorists groceries, fast food and even hardware and household goods. With declining profit margins on gas sales, the only reason many even have pumps is simply to get customers in the door. Vehicle service and repairs at these convenience store gas stations have virtually disappeared. They even have their own trade industry association helping represent their interests – the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS).

It’s widely agreed that the death knell for neighborhood service stations began in the 1960s when convenience stores first started invading the gas-dispensing business, helped in part by new pump technology and states lifting bans on motorists dispensing their own gasoline. Today, only New Jersey and Oregon still have a ban on filling the tank yourself. Also helping fuel the decline were big retailers and grocery store chains’, including WalMart and Kroger, entrance in the 1990s into the business of selling gas.

The decline can’t be blamed solely on competition, however. Stricter environmental regulations related to fuel pumps and underground fuel tanks increased costs for many mom and pop stations while improved vehicle fuel efficiency and the rise of vehicles that use little or no gas saw fewer customers pulling up their stations for a fill up.

gas station 3 pictureFull-service, neighborhood gas stations’ disappearance is a loss for budding mechanics and DIY’ers everywhere, who no longer have a place to go after school where they can get their hands dirty and their minds filled with automotive knowledge. It’s also a loss for drivers who don’t check tire pressure often enough or other vital fluids – including the oil level and when it needs to be changed – and for those who need a quick fix or some free advice while getting a fill up.

Frank’s empty building is still there, but inside it’s even darker than I remembered, much like the outlook for the remaining mom and pop service stations that have somehow managed to hang on.

Editor’s note: Have you logged in any hours at your neighborhood garage? In that same spirit, visit Advance Auto Parts for the parts and tools you need to finish your projects right. Buy online, pick up in store, in 30 minutes.

 

 

 

Muffler Methodology: Getting the Sound You’re After

Car muffler pictureWhat’s your sound preference? Mild? Moderate? Aggressive? No sound at all? Maybe you want a different sound depending on what and where you’re driving? Choose an aggressive tone for your 1972 Dodge Charger that you lovingly restored and is parked in the garage, and another – shall we say – “less noticeable” tone for the Subaru Outback that’s parked in the driveway and shuttles the kids back and forth to their activities.

No matter what your harmonic preference or what you’re driving, there’s a muffler that will deliver exactly the sound you’re looking for. Welcome to the world of mufflers and sound enhancements – increasingly popular modifications that can personalize your ride.

Mufflers aren’t a new invention. The U.S. Patent Office records show that a patent for an engine muffler was awarded in 1897 to Milton and Marshall Reeves of the Reeves Pulley Company in Columbus, Ind. Mufflers in the early 1900s featured a “straight through” design that is still popular today. Essentially those early mufflers consisted of a pipe with holes, wrapped in something similar to steel wool, with the pipe passing through an outer shell. A big change to that early design occurred with a switch to a fiberglass packing material in place of the steel wool.

Contrary to the name, a muffler isn’t just muffling the sound. It’s actually destroying many of the sound waves. But let’s back up for second.

The two types of mufflers that most drivers have heard about are a chambered muffler and a straight through or “glasspack” muffler. In a chambered muffler, the sound waves generated by the engine at the end of the exhaust stroke enter the muffler and bounce around the muffler’s various chambers. As they do, they encounter friction which destroys some of the sound waves. Some of the sound waves that aren’t destroyed by friction bounce off a chamber wall and form a sound wave that’s an exact opposite, and those two sound waves cancel each other out, further reducing the noise that the vehicle produces.

In the straight-through muffler design, the sound waves pass through a straight pipe, with some of the waves being absorbed by the material surrounding the pipe, much like the earliest mufflers.

Still a third type of muffler design is a turbo style muffler in which the exhaust gases are forced into an s-shaped pattern and are peeled off and deadened by the muffler material.

Different types of mufflers yield different sounds, and that’s where personal preference and the type of vehicle enter the picture. Case in point, you’ll find more glasspacks on vintage muscle cars than you would on a custom Honda Civic.

Similarly, chambered mufflers deliver their own unique sounds depending on how many chambers they have and the chamber configuration, both of which determine which sound waves die and which escape and are heard.

The other consideration when choosing a muffler and exhaust system modification is, of course, backpressure. All those twists, turns and holes that the hot exhaust gases are forced through in the muffler slow down and restrict the gases’ migration toward the tailpipe. That restriction results in increased pressure, which forces the engine to work harder to expel the gas, which leads to a reduction in power. Less pressure equals more power, and more sound.

The muffler is just one popular modification when it comes to tweaking the exhaust system, with headers, catalytic converters and tailpipes presenting other options. Whatever you decide to modify, you’ll be in good company because exhaust system upgrades are increasingly popular and there are plenty of well-known suppliers in the game, including Walker, Flowmaster, and Magnaflow.

Begin your research by listening to as many different muffler sounds as you can, like the sound test of these eight Flowmaster mufflers that range from mild to wake-the-neighbors. Choose the one you like, and rest easy knowing you can always change up the sound if you get tired of it, or get too many complaints.

Editor’s note: When it’s time to make some noise, start with a muffler modification. Advance Auto Parts has you covered. Buy online, pick up in store, in 30 minutes.

Crucial Cars: Ford Ranger

Ford Ranger 1 photoFrom timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

In this installment, our Mechanic Next Door tackles the mighty mid-sizer, the Ford Ranger.

If you’re in the market for a brand-new 2015 Ford Ranger, your choices are limited – very limited – as in you have one choice. You can buy one by visiting a Ford dealer in another country.

If the idea of traveling outside the U.S. just to purchase a vehicle doesn’t sound convenient or economical, you can set your sights on a compact truck from another manufacturer. Reason being? Ford stopped offering the Ranger to the U.S. market after the 2011 model year. (Before you diehard Ranger fans point out my perceived error, I know Ford did produce a limited number of 2012 models exclusively for the domestic fleet market.)

If you’re a long-time Ranger owner and this is new news to you, I’m sorry. If you want to see what you’re missing in the Ford Ranger 2014 or Ford Ranger 2015 that drivers in other countries are enjoying, feast your eyes on these models. Take comfort in the fact, however, that the decision to discontinue a model that at one time owned 25 percent of the compact truck market was strictly a business one. Two numbers tell the story behind that decision – 330,125 and 55,364. The former is the number of Rangers sold in the U.S. in 2000, the latter the number sold in 2010 – a stunning sales decline of nearly 275,000 Rangers or 83 percent annually over a decade.

Clearly the writing was on the wall, and what it read was that American truck buyers were shifting away from compact trucks, like the Ford Ranger, to full-size ones, like the F-150 or Chevy Silverado. Bolstering Ford’s belief that its decision to discontinue Ranger sales in the U.S. was a sound one, were industry sales figures that showed U.S. compact pickup sales declining from 1.2 million units in 1994 to just 264,000 units in 2012.Ford Ranger photo

Ford, understandably so, believed that discontinuing the Ranger wouldn’t have a significant impact on its bottom line, in part because they figured Ranger owners would simply upgrade to newer fuel-efficient F150s with a V-6. That reasoning looked good on paper, but in reality, many Ranger owners may have simply shifted loyalties as Toyota Tacoma’s market share in the compact truck segment jumped from 38% in 2011 to 54% in 2012 – the same time the Ranger was discontinued. Coincidence? Probably not. What it may indicate instead is that compact truck owners love their COMPACT trucks, and with good reason.

Fuel efficiency, maneuverability, parking ease, and lower cost all factor into the equation as to why drivers choose a compact over a full-size truck. Their reasoning seems sound – if you’re not towing or carrying big payloads, and you don’t need a big truck to make your ego happy, why not go compact? Since 1982, when the first 1983 model year Ranger rolled off the assembly line, that’s exactly what many truck owners did – chose compact. Planning for that first Ranger began in 1976 with Ford’s intention to build a compact pickup that was somewhat similar to its full-size offering, only more economical.

Those early Rangers came with a variety of engine choices, including a four cylinder 72 hp, 2.0 liter version or an 82 hp, 2.3 liter. It would be six years before the Ford Ranger received a facelift with the 1989 model’s modern-looking dash and steering column, new front fenders, grille and hood, and flush front lights.

Ford logo pictureContinued changes with the second-generation Ford Ranger – 1992 through 1997 models – saw some new styling elements, including redesigned seats and door panels, along with the discontinuation of the 2.9-liter engine, replaced by engine choices in the 2.3, 3.0 or 4.0 liter size.

The third, and final generation Ranger (at least in the U.S.), was from 1997 through 2012, with the 1998 model debuting a longer wheelbase and cab. As part of the Ford Ranger’s evolution, the later models had engines cranking out 143 hp from a 2.3-liter four-cylinder or 207 hp from the four-liter V-6 – a far cry from that first Ranger’s measly 72 hp.

The Ford Ranger is a trendsetter in more ways than one. Long before anyone heard of a Volt, Leaf, or Tesla, there was the Ford Ranger EV – yes, an electric Ranger. Produced from 1998 to 2002, this battery-powered electric vehicle looked just like its fossil-fuel powered brethren, with the exception of a small door covering a charging port on the front grille.

The Ford Ranger, it seems, is everywhere on the road today, thanks to its strong sales over several decades and the ready availability of parts to keep them on the road for decades to come. Further proof of the Ranger’s enduring popularity – it was featured on MTV’s hit series “Pimp My Ride” when they took a 1985 Ranger – featuring a broken grille and back window and paint scheme whose dominant color was primer gray – and tricked it out for its 18-year-old owner.

With a new Ford Ranger 2015 available outside the U.S., Ranger lovers still hold out hope that Ford one day will make the Ranger available again stateside. Until they do, what’s your reason for loving the Ford Ranger?

 

Editor’s note: Until Ford makes the Ranger available in the U.S. again, visit Advance Auto Parts for the parts you need to keep your older Ranger running. Buy online, pick up in-store, in 30 minutes.

10 Tips on How and Why to Organize Your Trunk

Messy Car trunk picturesWhether you’re driving a sedan, SUV, pickup or wagon, chances are that its trunk or cargo area is in need of some serious organizing and TLC. For most drivers, these cargo areas get messy in a hurry and understandably so. Being out of sight and a somewhat expansive area, it’s a natural tendency for the trunk to become a catch all for items hurriedly placed in the vehicle, and then just as quickly forgotten.

There are undoubtedly some things that belong in every trunk, such as an emergency kit, and then a whole lot of other items that can probably be removed. It’s a new year and time to get organized, and even if organization isn’t one of your resolutions, just consider this top ten list of how and why to organize your trunk as a way to get a jump on spring cleaning.

1. Increase safety – when a vehicle stops short or is involved in a collision, its occupants are (hopefully) restrained thanks to safety belts. The same can’t be said for items lying loose in the vehicle. In an emergency situation, these items become airborne projectiles capable of inflicting serious injury on occupants and causing significant damage inside the vehicle, particularly if the loose items are heavy. This isn’t as much a concern when the items are contained in the trunk as compared to loose items in an SUV’s cargo area or a pickup truck bed. Loose items can also impact vehicle handling in unexpected ways. Heavy items rolling about can cause a loss of vehicle control during cornering because of the uneven weight distribution and sudden weight shift. Organizing items back there, removing unused cargo and securing what remains can greatly improve passenger safety.

2. Save money – the extra weight being carried around is having a negative impact on both fuel mileage and your wallet. Reduce the vehicle’s weight by removing unnecessary cargo and increase your fuel mileage. A better organized cargo area also helps save money because you know what you have at a glance – such as windshield washer fluid, oil, deicer or bottled water – helping prevent the purchase and unnecessary expense of purchasing duplicate items.

3. Drive (or ride) happier – most vehicle owners aren’t fond of disorder, chaos, and clutter when it comes to their vehicle’s storage area, or any aspect of their environment. Organize your vehicle and be a happier, more efficient driver.

4. Remove everything – the first step in organizing the trunk is to remove everything so you’re starting with a clean slate (after you’ve vacuumed and shampooed the carpet, that is) and you can actually see what’s been lurking back there these past several months. Next, decide what’s staying and what’s going.

5. Get an organizer – there are numerous products on the market that will help you achieve an organized trunk or cargo area. It can be as simple as a device that prevents shopping bags from tipping over or cargo from rolling about, to a multi-compartment organizer that collapses when not being used. Only you know what works best for your lifestyle and trunk. The key to organization is knowing what you have, and having a designated place for it.

6. Keep it out of the trunk – one good way to keep your trunk or cargo area better organized is to not put stuff back there in the first place. Plastic or re-useable fabric grocery bags, your purse, or pretty much any bag with handles might be better off riding up front with you. These ingenious hooks slip over the headrest, providing a convenient and secure spot to hang a bag with handles. With the bags not being in the trunk, they won’t spill over and you won’t run the risk of forgetting they’re back there.

7. Bare necessities – in keeping with point number six, above, the less that’s in your trunk means the less you have to organize. That’s not to say the trunk should be empty. At the very least, there should be an emergency kit with jumper cables or a battery booster, first aid kit, tire inflation, flashlight, snacks and water, fresh batteries, flares and/or emergency warning triangles. If it’s winter and you’re driving in colder climates, also include a small snow shovel, blanket, and traction material

8. Use protection – whether its hauling bags of potting soil, sandbox sand, or water softener salt, or just muddy or snow-covered boots, things can get pretty dirty back there. That’s ok, because the cargo area is designed for this. That doesn’t mean, however, that the carpet or other items stored in the trunk have to suffer from damaging stains or moisture. Trunk and cargo-area liners are made to fit snugly in the area they’re protecting, feature a lip around the edge to contain spills, and are made from moisture proof rubber or plastic materials that make clean up a snap.

9. Stay clean – your vehicle’s exterior probably isn’t sparkling clean 100 percent of the time. And when it’s at its salt- or dirt-covered nastiest, you can be sure that’s the day you’ll need to lean over the back bumper to retrieve something out of the trunk. When you do, you can prevent getting your clothes dirty with this trunk protector that’s always in your trunk and attached to the carpet when you need it. Simply unroll it over the bumper and you’re leaning up against a clean surface.Car trunk organizer photo

10. Contain it – loose items and trunks, beds, and cargo areas aren’t a good combination because they’re guaranteed to deliver spills, damage, frustration and potential injury. The solution is simple – no matter what you’re driving and what you’re hauling, contain the cargo. Bars, tie-down straps, and pet and cargo barriers will help better protect you, your cargo and the vehicle.

 

Editor’s note: Count on Advance Auto Parts for your trunk storage and organizational needs. Buy online, pick up in store—in 30 minutes.

Crucial Cars: Toyota Camry

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

For this installment, the Mechanic Next Door showcases the midsize miracle that is the Toyota Camry.

32 years later and the Toyota Camry is still battling it out with its arch-nemesis Honda Accord.

First introduced in the U.S. in 1983 to replace the rear-wheel drive Corona, Camry was Toyota’s answer to the Honda Accord’s steadily growing U.S. popularity. The Accord had already been available in the U.S. for seven years when Camry entered the market and one of the ways Toyota helped set the Camry apart from that competition was by making the Camry larger and more powerful. The first Camry’s wheelbase was nearly half a foot longer than Accord’s and had about seven percent more horsepower.

But it would take Camry nearly 14 years to jump ahead of Accord in retail sales, a feat it accomplished in 1997 when it also became the best-selling car in the U.S. The two have traded places numerous times in the years since even as many other Toyota cars were added to the lineup.

Even today, Camry is still compared to Accord, but Nissan’s Altima and Hyundai’s Sonata have been added to the list, as seen on Toyota’s 2015 Camry website. It’s a perplexing comparison, from a consumer’s point of view, in that there’s very little differentiation between the four models and certainly nothing that makes Camry a clear winner or standout in any one of the more than 25 categories. Perhaps that was Toyota’s intention – to position Camry as Accord’s equal and as a solid choice among the numerous Toyota cars, trucks and SUV’s available today.

Camry, like other Toyota cars, has changed with the times, undergoing a redesign approximately every five years. That first Camry’s 2-liter, four-cylinder engine cranked out 92 horsepower compared to today’s 3.5-liter, V-6 engine that delivers 268 horsepower. The V-6’s availability wasn’t an option on Camrys until 1988 when all-wheel drive also became available.Toyota Camry Trunk photo

As Camry grew in popularity, and size, it also increased its reputation for ride comfort, luxury and delivering a quite ride – attributes that helped the 1992 Camry serve as the model for Toyota’s 1992 Lexus ES 300. Even today Toyota still carefully focuses on and promotes Camry’s quite-ride factor, highlighting the 2015 model’s “vortex generators” on the exterior that are designed to smooth turbulent air, increasing efficiency and reducing cabin noise.

Today’s Camry offers seven different models to choose from – LE, SE, XSE, XLE, Hybrid LE, Hybrid SE, and Hybrid XLE. The two models Camry lovers won’t find, however, are the two-door model and the station wagon, both having been discontinued in 1997.

With a base MSRP of $22,970 and 25/35 estimated miles per gallon, Camry’s 2015 design is promoted as bold and aggressive. An available sport-mesh grill, LED headlights and daytime running lights, 18-inch alloy wheels and dual chrome-tipped exhaust are paired with a sporty interior to give it that look. An interior – or “cockpit that’s ready for the fast lane,” as Toyota describes it on some models – features sport seats, moon roof, and paddle shifters mounted to the back of the steering wheel that enable the six-speed automatic to be shifted manually.Toyota Camry Interior photo

Technology designed to enhance driver convenience and comfort is an integral part of Camry’s interior. The Entune® App Suite enables drivers and passenger to perform a wide variety of activities – including access Pandora and iHeartRadio, make dinner reservations or even purchase movie tickets. The wireless charging feature enables Qi-compatible electronic devices to recharge simply by being placed on the non-slip surface.

On the road, Toyota helps drivers keep Camry’s 268 horsepower under control with a wider track, taut suspension, recalibrated springs, shocks and sway bars, and optimized Electric Power Steering as part of a sport handling package.

Safety features abound on the 2015 Camry and include a blind spot monitor, backup camera, lane departure alert, tire pressure monitor, and cruise control that automatically monitors the preset distance between the vehicle and the one in front and adjusts speed accordingly. Also helping protect passengers inside the Camry are 10 airbags – including knee airbags – Whiplash-Injury Lessening (WIL) seats, and several safety systems – including one that connects drivers with Toyota’s 24/7 call center in the event of an emergency, stolen vehicle or need for roadside assistance.

The Toyota Camry has traveled a long way in its 32 years in the U.S. and continues to gain in popularity while garnering strong reviews. For a nostalgic look back, here’s where it all began with one of the earlier Camry’s in 1986 with Toyota parts that look a lot simpler than today’s complex machines.

Editor’s note: Camry? Accord? Whatever camp you fall into, you can rely on Advance Auto Parts for the car parts and supplies you need to maintain your vehicle right. Buy online, pick up in store—in 30 minutes.

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.

 

 

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.