Mechanic Next Door - Advance Auto Parts Blog

Winter Vision – See Better, Drive Safer

Winter products for your vehicle can help you see better, drive safer.

winter visibility shutterstock_671748786519129117As you drive along a road covered with snow, slush and ice-melting chemicals, the wipers swiping intermittently across the windshield to clear the mess and your field of vision, say a quick “thank you” to Mary Anderson and Robert Kearns. Because of these two inventors, today’s drivers can see clearly during rain and snow, but only if they’re showing their wipers, windshield, and lights some love periodically.

If it weren’t for Anderson, an Alabama woman who invented and patented the first windshield wipers, drivers might still be sliding open a portion of the windshield just to have a clear view, much the same way electric street car drivers did in the late 1800s. That scenario inspired Anderson, as she rode in a street car one winter day, to design the first wiper arms. Crafted from rubber and wood, she patented the invention and tried unsuccessfully to sell the design. Her patent expired before she could profit from it however, even though wipers became standard on most vehicles by 1913.

Kearns invented and patented the intermittent wiper system in 1964 and later successfully sued Ford and Chrysler for using his technology after they declined his offer of a licensing agreement. Kearns, his protracted legal battles with the auto manufacturing industry, and the toll it took on his personal life, were chronicled in the movie Flash of Genius. His intermittent wipers first appeared in vehicles in 1969.

This winter, wipers, windshield chemicals, and lights are the key to clear vision and safe driving. Here are some tips that help deliver maximum visibility.

Wiper blades – if the wipers are more than six months old, consider replacing them. Rubber wears out with time and exposure to the environment and can become hard and cracked. Colder temperatures and ice or snow buildup on windows can also hasten the demise of old wiper blades. The trend in wiper blades now is toward the newer “beam” style blades. They’re a better choice for winter because the spring mechanism is concealed and protected from ice and snow, eliminating the chances of a buildup that stops the wiper from working properly.  Beam blades also make more contact with the windshield, reducing wiper chatter and delivering a much clearer wipe in any temperature. While you’re at it, don’t forget the rear window wiper and headlight wipers, if your vehicle is equipped with them.

Windshield chemicals and tools – a quick and efficient way to remove frost and light ice and get your morning commute off to a faster start is to fill your windshield washer reservoir with a de-icing washer fluid. Not only do these types of windshield chemicals melt frozen precipitation, they also help repel dirt and salt from road spray. Treating the windshield’s exterior with a Rain-X glass treatment product also helps repel water, snow, ice and dirt.

For heavier ice and snow, make sure you keep an ice scraper and snow brush in the vehicle to make clearing the windows easier. For SUV’s and trucks, consider purchasing a long-handled snow brush or broom. It enables you to clear the entire windshield without having to switch sides or stand too close to the vehicle and get covered in snow while clearing it. And, before the first frost, check the front and rear window defrosters to ensure they’re working properly.

Lights – shorter days and inclement weather mean more time driving in the dark. Walk around your vehicle to confirm that all its lights, including turn signals and brake lights, are working. Even if your headlights aren’t burned out, you might want to replace them. Headlights dim over time, sometimes by as much as 20 percent. Additionally, old headlights don’t include the recent advances in lighting technology, such as halogen lights, that shine more light on the road and roadsides and enable drivers to see further and with a wider field of vision.

Editor’s note: Lights, chemicals, wipers – Advance Auto Parts has exactly what your vehicle needs. Buy online, pick up in store, get back to the garage, and get through winter.

 

 

Winter Automotive Fluids

Winter automotive fluids can help you and your vehicle continue moving during freezing temperatures.

Winter. You can love it, hate it, or simply tolerate it. No matter which camp you fall into, when it comes to winter driving, we all have one thing in common – the need to be prepared. It doesn’t matter if you’re braving snow and sub-freezing Minnesota temperatures or just colder January days in central Florida. There are several steps you can take to protect your vehicle from winter’s damaging toll, and one of the first should be a thorough review of the winter chemicals and fluids your vehicle needs as temperatures plummet.

Antifreeze – The name says it all. It’s one of the most important winter chemicals because the liquid in an engine’s cooling system is composed of equal parts of water and antifreeze. Depending on the brand, either ethylene glycol or propylene glycol in the antifreeze prevents that water from freezing, expanding, and causing damage to the engine. Periodically, the antifreeze needs to be checked, however, to ensure both strength and quantity. Use an antifreeze tester yourself or take the vehicle to your mechanic to measure the antifreeze’s strength. This test indicates the lowest ambient temperature to which the engine is protected from freezing. Also check the coolant reservoir level to ensure it’s filled to the proper level.

Engine Oil – Cold weather starts can be easier on your engine if you switch to a full-synthetic oil instead of a conventional oil. Many drivers don’t think about oil when it comes to winter driving and winter chemicals, but synthetic oil flows freer at low temperatures and doesn’t require any time to warm up, providing crucial and immediate protection to the engine’s moving parts at start up. Full synthetics – as their name implies – are composed entirely of synthetic oil. This is not oil that’s been pumped from the ground, rather it is a manmade, engineered oil that’s specially formulated with additives to provide improved wear and cleaning properties, along with other performance enhancements. Synthetic blends, on the other hand, consist of synthetic oil coupled with naturally occurring conventional oil. Check with your vehicle manufacturer or trusted mechanic for specific recommendations on which oil is right for your application.

Fuel Injector Cleaner – Winter temperatures can cause winter driving performance issues related to a vehicle’s fuel system. Prevent problems from occurring by using a fuel injector cleaner. Added to the gas tank during a routine fill up, it cleans the injectors, which oftentimes will help restore lost power, improve fuel mileage, and eliminate rough idling and difficulty starting. Water that may be present in the fuel system can also become a problem in the winter when temperatures drop low enough that this water freezes. A good way to prevent fuel-line and system freeze up is by choosing a fuel-injector cleaner such as HEET because it also is designed to be a fuel-system antifreeze and remove water from the fuel system.

If you have a diesel vehicle  remember that diesel fuel lines tend to “Gel” up in the winter time. Adding a product like Diesel 911 can help and often times remedy this issue. For normal maintenance, use our Power Service products to keep your Diesel fuel system operating at peak performance.

While we’re on the subject of diesel, don’t forget:

DEFDiesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) is mixture of urea and water that reduces nitrous oxide emissions – an atmospheric pollutant produced during combustion – by breaking down the compound into harmless nitrogen and water. On many passenger and commercial diesel vehicles, a dedicated tank contains the DEF which is automatically metered and sprayed into the emissions system and which needs to be refilled periodically. Many vehicles provide numerous warnings and alerts to prevent DEF levels from being exhausted, and will also perform at significantly restricted levels, or not at all, if DEF is allowed to run out.

Deicing chemicals – You can’t drive your vehicle in the winter if you can’t unlock the doors or see out the window, which makes having lock deicers and windshield deicing fluid must-have winter chemicals. The lock deicer thaws and lubricates door locks, as well as other types of locks, helping prevent damage. The windshield deicer can be used year round, is added to the windshield washer fluid tank and helps remove frost and light ice.

Stay warm, drive safe, and be proactive this winter by taking care of your vehicle before problems strike.

Editor’s note: All the fluids and chemicals your vehicle needs to survive winter are available in one place – Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage – hopefully one that’s heated.

 

Synthetic Versus Conventional: Which Motor Oil is Best?

Which motor oil is the best?

As the lubricant for the moving parts of your engine, motor oil is widely considered to be the most important fluid you can use. It prevents excessive engine wear and tear, which makes it vital to keep your car running. So when the time comes to get under the hood do an oil change, you can bet you’ll want to know whether to buy synthetic or conventional oil.

What You Need to Know
There are three main types of oil – conventional, synthetic and synthetic blend. Conventional oil is organic—it’s essentially refined crude oil that’s been pumped up from the ground. Synthetic oil is manufactured molecule by molecule, and because of that, synthetics have fewer imperfections in their chemical buildup than conventional does.

In general, synthetic oil outperforms conventional oil on all counts:

  • Synthetic oil works better in extreme temperatures from below freezing to above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Conventional oil is highly reactive to temperatures.
  • Because synthetics have superior lubrication (they’re more slippery), they give you better fuel economy, performance, and even a longer engine life.
  • And best of all, synthetics don’t have to be changed as often. But make sure you meet warranty service mileage intervals regardless.

The only downside to synthetic oil is it costs more than the regular stuff. But before you choose pennies over performance, crunch the numbers—with longer oil change intervals, the price difference might be a wash.
Synthetic blends, or “semi-synthetics”, add synthetic additives to conventional oil and can be a nice compromise between the two. They’re less expensive but provide some of the performance enhancement you get from a synthetic.

These three types of motor oil will work fine in your vehicle as long as they meet current American Petroleum Institute (API) certification and don’t go against the manufacturer’s recommendations. The only type of engine you should never use synthetic oil in is a rotary. Rotary engines have unique seals that are engineered for use with conventional oil only.

Pro Tip: Check that you’re not voiding your warranty by using the wrong oil. Many newer vehicles require that you use synthetic oil and some synthetics aren’t approved for certain diesel engines.

The Final Say

When buying oil for your car, the best thing you can do is to follow your manufacturer’s recommendations. So, check that owner’s manual! When you consider that the wrong oil can cause an engine to fail, it pays to take their suggestions seriously. If you have the option to choose between synthetic and conventional and still aren’t sure which to pick, consult a pro—they’ll know what to do.

Tools I Want for Christmas

No one EVER has trouble figuring out what to get me for Christmas. That’s because one of my favorite places to spend time is in the garage, and like most car guys and gals who consider themselves heavy or light DIYers, or somewhere in between, there’s always a new garage tool or gadget on my wish list.

This holiday season, my tool wants aren’t items I must have to finish any one project, rather they are garage tools that would make my life easier and my work more enjoyable. Those qualities are, after all, hallmarks of a great tool and gift idea, right?

Magnetic Tray

Magnetic Tray

A magnetic tray. If Ralphie had one of these in A Christmas Story, he never would have watched in horror as the lug nuts went flying through the air and into the snow, forever lost. I have a similar problem misplacing small metal parts while I’m working on something in the garage, house or yard. A magnetic tray is a tool I can keep close by while working and makes it easy to contain and keep track of any small parts that are involved with the project.

Truck Light Box

Truck Light Box

Truck box light. My 2004 F150 has a hard tonneau cover over the bed. It’s awesome at keeping everything dry and secure, but it has one downside. When it’s dark out and the cover is raised, it blocks any light from the cab-mounted cargo light, leaving me to fumble around in the dark for a flashlight or my iPhone flashlight app. I tried sticking some battery powered lights to the cover’s underside, but they were designed to be used under kitchen cabinets and the adhesive couldn’t hold up to road vibration or to the cover being closed repeatedly. A truck box light that attaches via a magnet to the bed would be a lot easier and remain in place.

Tool BoxThree-drawer portable tool box. All my tools – and there are a lot – have their place in the well-organized garage pegboard, workbench drawers or large rolling toolbox. When I need just a handful of tools to work on something outside the garage or to help a friend, I can usually fit them in a medium-size canvas tool bag. On larger projects that require more tool power, or for projects that I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to need, I’d like to have something that’s sized between the bag and the large rolling tool cart, but is still portable so I can take it with me. I think a three-drawer portable tool chest is the answer. On a related note, Advance has some tool sets on sale right now!

Three Foot FanThree-foot fan. During the summer, my garage gets hot, and sometimes smells from exhaust fumes, pepperoni and onion pizza, and the occasional small engine fire. A traditional box or oscillating fan doesn’t move enough air to keep me cool or to eradicate unpleasant olfactory sensations. That’s why I want the big blades and cubic-feet-of-air-moving-capacity that comes with a three-foot garage fan. And, when I’m not working in the garage, who’s to say it can’t pull double duty and keep me cool while I’m slaving over a hot grill on the back deck?

Editor’s note: Whether you’re buying tools for yourself or for a family member or friend this holiday season, Advance Auto Parts has the tools, parts and vehicle-related gifts to help you finish the job. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.

Five Tools I’m Thankful for and Can’t Live Without

The approaching holiday season is the perfect time to reflect on what you’re most thankful for in life. At work, at home, with your friends and with your family, you’re probably grateful for many things when you stop and think about it.

There’s no reason this gratitude can’t extend to the garage and under the hood as well, particularly if those are places that bring you the most happiness. When it comes to your vehicle and doing it yourself, there are undoubtedly several tools that you’re thankful for and couldn’t imagine completing the job without. What are they?

I have several favorites, including these five.

PB B'LasterPB B’laster – What do a phosphate mine and Florida humidity have to do with this corrosion-penetrating product? Everything. William K. Wesley started the B’laster Chemical Company with its flagship product – PB B’laster – in 1957 as a solution to a friend’s problem. Wesley’s friend owned a phosphate mine in Florida. Phosphate’s highly corrosive and Florida’s really humid. Together the two wreaked havoc on the friend’s mining equipment as the machinery couldn’t be taken apart for repair or maintenance because the parts were welded together by corrosion. From your own experience, you know that nothing slows down the job more than rusted parts. Stripped nuts, busted knuckles, broken tools and jobs that take twice as long as they should are often the result of doing battle with corrosion. That’s why I love PB B’laster’s penetrating magic. I don’t know the science behind it, but I do know it hasn’t let me down yet. For really tough jobs, I spray it on the night before I’m going to work on the parts.

Actron OBD II Pocket Scanner

Actron OBD II Pocket Scanner

Code Reader – The sudden illumination of the dreaded “check engine” light no longer has to induce driver or passenger panic, or necessitate an immediate trip to the vehicle dealer for resolution. Thanks to the availability of handheld code readers and their ease of use, anyone who can insert a plug into an opening can diagnose a check engine light. Surprisingly, the first appearance of on-board computer diagnostics with scanning capabilities was in 1968 when Volkswagen introduced a computer system in its type three fuel-injected models. On-board diagnostics (OBD) didn’t gain widespread implementation however until the 1990s. Today, OBDII plug and play technology allows anyone to quickly diagnose a check engine or other illuminated dashboard light – and save time and money – simply by plugging the reader into the vehicle’s OBD port and reading the Digital Trouble Codes (DTCs) generated. Fixing the problem, however, might be another story altogether.

Mechanix Wear Fast Fit Gloves

Mechanix Wear Fast Fit Gloves

Nitrile and Mechanix Wear Gloves – Remember when working under the hood guaranteed grease under your fingernails and in every crack and crevice in your hands, along with the occasional scraped and bleeding knuckle? Thankfully, those days are gone, unless you’re really into getting your hands dirty. Generations of professional mechanics and DIYers who blazed the path before us didn’t have the luxury of protecting their hands from grease and grime with latex or nitrile gloves. They also didn’t have Mechanix Wear gloves helping cushion the blow that a slipped wrench often delivers. Back then, dirty, damaged hands may have been a badge of courage, but today they’re just a pain when you’re trying to get your hands clean on a Monday morning before work.

GPS Navigation Systems – Getting lost is a lot harder these days thanks to GPS navigation systems in vehicles. Whether they come pre-installed and integrated with the vehicle’s dashboard display, as a separate windshield or dash-mounted unit, or via a smart phone app, paper maps, planning a route and getting hopelessly lost are things of the past. Like cell phones, this is one driving tool we don’t know how we ever lived without.

Tube Bender – Sure, there are plenty of tube benders out there, but this makes bending metal fuel and brake lines super easy. Using just your hands and this spring tool, you can bend soft metal to the configuration you need without collapsing the sidewalls. The Malco Tube Bender is inexpensive and easy to use, especially when you compare it to the cost and frustration of ruining a section of line by crimping it.

Deep Socket Set

Deep Socket Set

Deep Sockets – I don’t know who invented them or how long they’ve been around – I’m sure it’s centuries – but I am thankful for and can’t live without my set of deep sockets. More often than not, whatever I’m working on requires a deep socket and it’s my go-to tool, preferred over a box wrench simply because of speed and convenience.

 

Aside from being thankful that you have time to work under the hood and wishing for more of it, what tools are you thankful and can’t live without this season?

Editor’s note: Whether you need to replace a favorite tool that’s lost or give someone holiday gift ideas, Advance Auto Parts has the tools you want and need. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.

Crucial Cars: The Mini Cooper

minicooperside

Image via miniusa.com

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

For this installment, the Mechanic Next Door has some fun peeking under the bonnet of the iconic MINI Cooper and looking at how it’s evolved over the decades.

As the MINI Cooper approaches its 60th anniversary in 2019, its creator – Sir Alex Issigonis – would be equally proud and astonished at the iconic model’s longevity and steadily increasing popularity, and perhaps even a little taken aback that some of today’s MINIs aren’t so mini after all.

The first Mini Mark I rolled off the assembly line in 1959 and went on to become the best-selling British car in history with more than five million Mini’s produced until 2000. That was the year that production under the English Rover Group ended after BMW sold the Rover Group – which it had acquired in 1994 – but retained the MINI brand.

Image via miniusa.com

Image via miniusa.com

Fueling the 1960’s Mini craze was its innovative design – despite being small, it offered plenty of interior space for passengers and luggage. That early design included a transverse engine, front-wheel drive, compact dimensions, and a unibody that reduced weight and increased interior space. Mini’s first generation – called the Mark I but better known as the Austin 850 or Morris 850 outside the UK and as the Austin Seven or Morris Mini-Minor in the UK – encompasses the 1959 to 1966 model years.

The Cooper name became synonymous with Mini in the 60s when John Cooper, owner of the Cooper Car Company, added muscle to the Mini by giving it a larger engine and other enhancements. Cooper was already making a name for his company by leading the revolution toward building and winning with rear-engine race cars. His success carried over to the Mini when his versions won the 1964, ’65 and ’67 Monte Carlo Rallies, with a four-year sweep being thwarted only by the Mini Cooper’s disqualification in the ’66 Rally after taking the top three spots.

Mini’s popularity was helped further by the car’s appearance in chase scenes in the 1969 hit film “The Italian Job.” Those Minis represented generation two – Mini Mark II – and featured a larger rear window and redesigned grill, as compared to the first Minis.

Generation three Mini began with the 1969-70 model and the most noticeable change from the previous generation being larger doors with concealed hinges and larger windows that wound up and down, instead of sliding left or ride. Mini Mark IV through Mark VII followed until BMW’s change in 2000.

Throughout the years, Mini continued to rack up the awards, including Autocar magazine’s Car of the Century in 1995, the Number One Classic Car of All Time by Classic & Sports Car magazine in 1996, European Car of the Century by the Global Automotive Elections Foundation in 1999, and 2003 North American Car of the Year, among others.

Image via miniusa.com

Image via miniusa.com

Depending on which Mini you’re looking at today, it either looks much like its first ancestor, or only bears a faint resemblance to those early models. As Mini’s popularity grew, so too have the Mini models offered. Today, there are nine Mini models available.

  • Hardtop Two-Door – bears the closest resemblance to the original Mini
  • Hardtop Four-Door – a larger Mini with four doors and more space
  • Countryman – the “Big Mini” features four doors, seating for five, and all-wheel drive
  • Clubman – four doors, a split rear door, and the largest Mini available
  • Convertible – looks like the original, minus the hard top
  • Paceman – two-door hatch seats four and features all-wheel drive
  • Coupe – powerful, sporty two-seater
  • Roadster – similar to the Coupe, but more fun thanks to the soft top
  • John Cooper Works – race-ready Minis that look like they could be a lot of fun, and get you in a lot of trouble

With a $20,700 price tag, zero-to-60 stats that are 2.3 seconds faster than its predecessor thanks to a TwinPower turbo engine, tons of dashboard technology, and world-famous, go-kart like handling, today’s entry-level, two-door Mini’s all grown up, but still a serious toy for thrill-seeking drivers of all ages.

Editor’s note: If you want to keep your Mini looking and running great, count on Advance Auto Parts for all your vehicle needs. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.

Top Five DIY Annoyances When Working on Your Vehicle

hood up fixing carMany DIYers relish the opportunity to work on their vehicle, whether it’s performing routine maintenance or installing the latest performance upgrade. Sometimes, however, what should be a relaxing and satisfying few hours spent under the hood on a weekend afternoon with the game on in the background turns instead into a knuckle-busting, tool-throwing lesson in DIY frustration.

We’ve all been there – victims of Murphy’s Law. Whatever can go wrong, will, and the chances of it happening rise in tandem with the degree to which you’re feeling rushed or under pressure to get the job done.

Here’s my Top Five List of DIY Annoyances. This isn’t an all-inclusive list, so let’s hear what your biggest frustrations are under the hood.

Plastic engine and under-car covers. Lift the hood or crawl underneath most modern vehicles and you’ll see plastic – a lot of it. Plastic shrouds cover the engine, the battery, and pretty much everything else you might have a need to access under the hood. It’s no better down on the ground with plastic blocking precisely the spot you need to place a wrench. Depending on whom you believe, all that plastic serves a purpose – according to vehicle manufacturers – or it’s been placed there to thwart DIYers. Regardless, its presence makes your job that much more difficult and time-consuming. And, more often than not, the plastic screws or clips holding the shrouds in place break when they’re removed. I prefer a plastic-cover free, roomy engine compartment, circa 1973, in which to perform my best work.

Lost – or as I tell my wife – “temporarily misplaced” tools. It’s a simple job – one that shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes and one for which you have all the necessary tools close at hand. Or so you think. The one tool that you must have for the job, and that you know you do have, isn’t where it should be. In fact, it isn’t anywhere. Did you loan it to someone? Leave it in the shed? Mistakenly throw it away? You now wind up spending more time searching for that tool than it would have taken you to complete the job. Put the tools away where they belong every time.

Fixing that which is not broken, or, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Sometimes you’re unsure exactly what the problem is so you start fixing things that you think may be the culprit, only to find out they’re not. On the other hand, you might be overconfident that you know exactly what the vehicle maintenance problem is so you fix it, and quickly learn it wasn’t the problem. Case in point – the Honda engine on my wood splitter suffered from an intermittent failure to start. I was sure it was the rust build up on the flywheel magnet. It wasn’t. Then it had to be the spark plug. Nope. Followed by the low-oil switch. Wrong again. Finally, I struck gold by cleaning some water and junk out of the carb bowl. Finding the right fix can be time-consuming, costly, and frustrating, but it’s important.

Doing more harm than good. When does a routine carb adjustment turn into a head removal? After you drop something down the intake. In the blink of an eye, what should have been an easy, inexpensive task just turned into an expensive vehicle maintenance nightmare because you deposited a screw, nut, washer or some loose change down there. Sure, you can tell yourself that it fell in the gravel driveway and that’s why you can’t find it. You’ll soon learn the truth when you start the engine. It’s happened to the best of us – good intentions of fixing one part are punished with the realization that you just broke something else, and it’s going to be a lot more difficult and time-consuming to repair.

Other people. Even if you’re living by yourself in a cabin in the woods you still have to deal with other people, and their mistakes, when it comes to servicing your vehicle. Don’t think so? Have you ever been under the hood of a vehicle someone owned before you and found yourself shaking your head in amazement, wondering how and why the previous owner made a repair the way they did? Ever pull up to a self-service car wash or air pump, deposit some coins and only then find out that someone before you broke the equipment? Ever get some bad advice from a well-meaning friend or brother-in-law who “had that exact same model and knows exactly what the problem is.” We’re all human and we all make mistakes. Be ready for it.

Working on vehicles can be a tricky business or hobby and one that’s full of surprises. Expect the annoyances, learn to roll with them, appreciate the time you get to spend under the hood, and share your pet peeves with us. You’ll feel better after you do.

Editor’s note: Whether it’s tools, parts, or knowledge, if you don’t have what you need under the hood, turn to Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.

How a Vehicle Alignment Saves Your Tires and Your Money

vehicle alignment

Proper vehicle alignment saves money and improves handling.

A four-wheel alignment is an important maintenance item that needs to be performed regularly, saves drivers a significant amount of money over a vehicle’s lifetime, and affects vehicle handling and performance.

Too often, however, this maintenance item gets lumped into the category of “recommended vehicle services that just never seem to get done.” You know the ones I’m talking about – shock and strut replacement, washing and waxing, and the list goes on. These maintenance items are often neglected because of cost or drivers’ time constraints, but mainly because some drivers feel they just don’t need to be done. Their philosophy is that the car’s still going to get them from point a to point b regardless of whether it’s aligned.

Before explaining why ignoring the alignment issue is an expensive and potentially unsafe mindset, it helps to understand what alignment is, and isn’t.

Have you ever driven down a straight highway and felt the vehicle pulling to one side or another? Are your tires wearing unevenly with more wear on the outside or inside edge or across the tread face? These are signs that the vehicle is out of alignment.

While a vehicle’s wheels may be out of alignment, it isn’t the wheels themselves where the adjustments are being made during an alignment, simply because there’s nothing there to really adjust. Wheels are bolted on the vehicle, tightened down, and that’s pretty much that. What is being adjusted during a realignment is the vehicle’s suspension.

The three essential, technical elements of vehicle alignment are camber, caster and toe. Camber is the way the tire is angled in or out from the vehicle. If you look at the tires from the front of the vehicle, imagine that the tire’s top or bottom is angled in or out at an extreme angle. That’s camber. To understand toe, imagine you’re floating above the vehicle and looking down on the wheels. The degree to which the wheels turn in or out is toe. Caster or caster angle is more difficult to envision and explain. It refers to the angle of the steering axis and plays an important role in steering and handling.

Modern vehicles in particular have specific camber, toe, and caster specs that need to be maintained in order for the vehicle to handle properly, and so that tires don’t wear out prematurely because of uneven wear patterns. Unfortunately, vehicle alignment can be thrown out of whack easily by the simple act of hitting a big pothole or the curb. Even in the absence of any adverse events, alignment still changes over time. That’s why it’s important to have the vehicle realigned on a regular basis. Many experts recommend an alignment every 5,000 to 7,000 miles. An easy way to remember this is to have an alignment done every other oil change, along with a tire rotation. Some shops offer “lifetime alignments.” This doesn’t mean that the alignment is guaranteed to last forever, because it can’t, but rather that they will realign the vehicle at no cost in the future if it ever needs it. It will.

Alignments, particularly on today’s vehicles, can’t be performed just anywhere, nor can someone tell if a vehicle is aligned properly simply by eyeballing it. What’s required is a specialized alignment machine or rack that measures wheel angles precisely using lasers, and access to the vehicle manufacturer’s alignment specs for the vehicle being aligned. Based on those results, technicians make adjustments to the suspension to properly align the wheels. Most tire shops or mechanics that sell a lot of tires will have the equipment needed to perform alignments. A good time to have a vehicle alignment is when new tires are being installed. Doing so helps protect the sizable investment that a set of tires represents today.

And finally, there’s the option of having a two- or four-wheel alignment performed. Talk with your technician or tire professional to about what’s the best option for your particular vehicle and situation.

Alignments aren’t free, but in the long run, they more than pay for themselves because they increase tire life and improve fuel efficiency.

Editor’s note: When you need tire-care products or anything vehicle-related, turn to Advance Auto Parts  first. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.

Hatchback Won’t Stay Open? Time to Replace Those Lift Supports!

Hatchback Lift Supports

Hatchback Lift Supports

Worn lift supports could be the reason your hatchback won’t stay open.

On manual hatchbacks, lift supports are designed to help drivers and passengers raise the hatchback from a closed to an open position with minimal lifting effort, and more importantly, to keep the hatchback in that upright position until sufficient force is applied to close it. This is a great system when the twin supports function exactly as they’re designed. Problems arise, however, when these lift supports wear out – and they do – allowing the hatchback to close on its own instead of staying in an open or upright position. Given how many times a car or SUV hatchback is opened and closed throughout the course of a year, it’s not surprising that hatchback failure occurs as these supports eventually wear out and need to be replaced.

Lift support failure can be more than just an inconvenience. It can be a dangerous situation that results in vehicle damage, or worse, personal injury. The supports often fail gradually, exhibiting a diminished ability to keep the hatchback in an upright position, as opposed to failing suddenly and not providing any support whatsoever. This gradual failure is just as dangerous in that sometimes the lift supports might keep the hatchback raised and sometimes they won’t, making it nearly impossible to predict when hatchback failure is going occur, resulting in the hatchback crashing down on someone’s head or hands, or on cargo that’s only been partially loaded, leading to a broken rear window.

Worn out lift supports tend to exhibit failure characteristics more often during colder temperatures. When you notice that your vehicle’s hatchback won’t remain in an upright position, or that it closes too easily – perhaps from a sudden gust of wind – replace the lift supports because the problem is only going to get worse.

Fortunately, replacing the lift supports is a fairly easy, inexpensive job, with new lift supports on this ’04 Subaru Outback totaling a little over $50 for the set, a cost that differs depending on the vehicle.

Hatchback Lift Supports

Hatchback Lift Supports

The supports are connected at the top to the hatchback, and at the bottom to the vehicle. Depending on the vehicle and the type of replacement supports and whether new hardware is included, it may be recommended to also replace any hardware where the supports attach. It’s critically important to replace the lift supports with new ones that are an exact match to those that were original equipment on the vehicle.

To replace the supports, first find a willing helper to hold the hatchback in the upright position. Using material alone, such as a piece of lumber, to prop the hatchback open isn’t the best idea because if the material slips, the hatchback comes crashing down on you.

The supports are under pressure so use care when removing them and wear your personal protective equipment (PPE), including safety glasses. Don’t heat or cut into the supports, or attempt to close them manually when they’re detached from the vehicle.

Many supports are attached via a ball socket that fits snugly over a ball stud. Many supports can be removed by pulling firmly on the support so it pops off the ball stud.

Because there are so many different types of supports and vehicles on the market, just look closely at how the support is attached at both the upper and lower ends, or even find some advice online from any number of driveway mechanics who post their videos online.

It’s also a good idea to take a picture of how the original support arm is installed so that you’re sure to install the new one in the same direction. Also remember to remove and replace the support arm on one side of the vehicle at a time.

Once you’ve installed the new lift supports, be sure to test the hatchback carefully to ensure the supports are functioning properly and that the hatchback remains in the open position. Your head will thank you.

Editor’s note: When your hatchback develops a mind of its own because of failing lift supports, Advance Auto Parts has new replacement lift supports. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.

Prepare Your Vehicle For Winter

Now is the time to start thinking about winter, and your vehicle.

The temperatures are still warm, the sun still shines brightly, and even though summer has already begun its inevitable march towards fall, no one really wants to think about colder weather, winter driving or winter storage just yet. But right now is exactly when you should be thinking about winter as it relates to your vehicle. Doing so will accomplish several things. One, if you intend to drive your vehicle through the winter, preparing it now will help ensure it makes it through the colder months. Two, if you park your vehicle over the winter – whether it’s a tractor or SUV – winter prep today will enable it to start easily several months down the road.

Vehicles that are going to be stored all winter

Before you park your baby in the garage or barn for the winter months, carve out a few hours to take care of a few essentials.

Fuel preservation – gasoline doesn’t las forever, and when it starts to break down, it can make starting difficult and even damage the vehicle’s fuel system. Gas containing ethanol makes the problem worse, particularly in lawn and garden equipment. To avoid the problem, first consider switching to a fuel that’s 100 percent gasoline with no ethanol added. Second, add a fuel preservative to the gas tank and follow the instructions for using it to prevent fuel breakdown and engine or fuel system damage.

Trickle charger – a battery that isn’t being recharged regularly through everyday use may have difficulty starting several months later after it’s lost some or all of its charge. Be proactive when it comes to your vehicle power and connect the battery to a trickle charger to maintain the charge over winter. Another option is to disconnect the battery from the vehicle to prevent any power draws and to increase safety on older vehicles or lawn or farm e equipment.

Preventive maintenance – don’t wait to take care of maintenance items or something you know needs to be fixed. If you don’t do it now, the problem is still going to be there this spring, slowing you down when you would rather be using your vehicle instead of performing maintenance. For lawn equipment that won’t see the light of day again until the grass starts to green, sharpen the blades, change the oil and filter, install a new spark plug and check tire pressures. For cars, SUVs and farm tractors, test the antifreeze to ensure it will adequately protect the engine down to the lowest expected temperature.

Vehicles that are going to be driven all winter

Visibility – being able to see where you’re going is a top priority no matter what season it is, but in winter, it becomes especially important, and sometimes challenging. Check all the lights to confirm they are working. If your headlights are older, replace the bulbs with new ones that feature improved technology that enables you to see further down the road and to the sides. Replace windshield wipers with winter blades in climates where snow and ice can be expected, and fill the windshield washer tank with a deicing fluid.

Starting – summer’s heat takes a toll on batteries, and that weakness is bound to show up on the first really cold morning when your car won’t start because of a dead battery. Have your battery and charging system tested and replace the battery if it’s weak.

Heat – you and your passengers aren’t the only ones who need heat when driving in colder temperatures. The heat’s also required to defrost windows before and during travel. If you hear strange noises when you turn on the heating and cooling system, or you don’t feel any air moving, there could be a problem with the vehicle’s blower motor. Proper coolant levels and a functioning thermostat are also required for heat. Replace both according to your vehicle’s maintenance schedule.

Traction – snow and ice call for tires with plenty of tread life remaining. Check your tires’ tread depth or have a professional check them for you and consider adding tire chains to your vehicle’s trunk emergency kit.

Whether you’re driving or parking your vehicle through the winter, now is the perfect time to prepare it for spring. By doing so, you’ll save time, money and aggravation later on.

Editor’s note: Whatever parts and supplies you need to prepare your vehicle for winter, Advance Auto Parts has them. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.