Check your oil, coolant, and transmission fluid levels often and change them according to the vehicle manufacturer’s maintenance schedule. That message has been drilled into drivers’ heads since the days of Drivers Ed 101, and with good reason. Fluids are a vehicle’s lifeblood, and over time, they are depleted and also wear out.
But what about the so-called “forgotten fluids,” the ones you don’t hear about every day? Their function is just as important as the previously mentioned three fluids, but they can’t provide protection unless their levels are checked often and they are replaced frequently.
Providing protection in the form of lubrication is what comes to most people’s minds when they think about their engine oil, transmission fluid and other lubricants. But that’s just one of a fluid’s many purposes. They also contain detergents designed to trap contaminants and hold them in suspension until they’re removed during the next fluid change, thereby preventing the contaminants from adhering to the surface of the very parts the fluid is designed to protect. Transmission fluid is a good example of a high detergent fluid because of its ability to remove and hold contaminants. Many old-school mechanics, backed by a healthy dose of modern online chatter in vehicle forums, even advocate adding some ATF to the engine before an oil change. The theory is that the ATF’s high detergent levels deliver a superior cleaning performance, removing contaminants and buildup that can affect engine performance. Do you agree? Have you ever tried this? If so, what were the results? (Let us know in the comments.)
Since transmission fluid probably isn’t one that you’ve been neglecting, let’s focus instead on the four forgotten fluids – transfer case, differential, brake, and power steering. If you’ve been neglecting any of these, it could be time for a vehicle fluids checkup.
Transfer case fluid
Vehicles with four-wheel or all-wheel drive have a transfer case on the back of the transmission. Its job is to direct power to the vehicle axles. Because it’s filled with rotating gears that are doing some heavy lifting and need constant lubrication, it needs to contain the right amount, type and quality of transfer case fluid.
Just like your vehicle’s other vital fluids, transfer case fluid degrades over time and needs to be changed. How often depends on a couple factors, including manufacturer’s-recommended guidelines and driving conditions.
Using a ’04 F150 with a 5.4 liter Triton V-8 and four-wheel drive as an example, Ford recommends changing the transfer case fluid at 150,000 miles. Shorter change intervals are recommended if the vehicle is driven through water, such as during stream crossings or when launching or retrieving a boat. That’s because there’s a chance water could seep into the transfer case and degrade the fluid’s lubricating properties sooner.
Because wheels on the same axle don’t always turn at the same speed, every axle needs a differential. On front wheel-drive vehicles, the differential may be housed within the transmission and utilize the transmission fluid. On rear-wheel drive vehicles there’s a differential in the back, and on four-wheel drive vehicles there can be three differentials – one in the front, center and rear.
And, just like the transfer case fluid, differential fluids have to keep all those turning gears and parts lubricated and moving freely. Fortunately it too is usually a high-mileage interval change, but consult and follow specific vehicle-manufacturer recommendations to be sure.
Brake fluid is hygroscopic. Simply put – it attracts moisture. That’s its weakness and the reason it needs to be changed according the manufacturer’s specs. That’s also why, in addition to convenience, the under-hood reservoir is usually see-through, so the level can be checked without removing the cap and exposing the brake fluid to more moisture in the atmosphere. Interestingly, and helping prove the case in point about forgotten fluids, Ford’s online resource that lists the maintenance schedule for an F-150 includes no mention of ever changing the brake fluid, which appears to be an oversight on their part. All brake fluid isn’t the same either so don’t just grab anything off the shelf. Most manufacturers are using DOT 3 or DOT 4 brake fluid, but find out for sure what’s recommended for your vehicle because those brake fluids can’t be mixed with DOT 5 fluid. Here’s why.
DOT 3 and 4 brake fluids are glycol based whereas DOT 5 is silicone based, containing at least 70 percent silicone by weight. Because of its higher boiling point, DOT 5 is often specified for applications that include military vehicles and high-performance race cars. Unlike other brake fluid, it also doesn’t attract moisture and won’t damage vehicle paint if accidently spilled. Before you go out and purchase a bottle of DOT 5 brake fluid however, know that it can only be used when specified by the vehicle manufacturer. Mixing it with other types of brake fluid can lead to system corrosion and failure, and it isn’t compatible with anti-lock brake systems.
Further confusing the naming system is DOT 5.1 brake fluid. This category was created to include glycol-based brake fluid with performance characteristics similar to silicone-based DOT 5 fluid, despite the fact that it doesn’t include any silicone. Unfortunately many people understand – incorrectly – the 5.1 as signifying some sort of connection to silicone-based DOT 5, further confusing the situation. Think of DOT 5.1 as a DOT 4 brake fluid that performs like a DOT 5 brake fluid. Is that as clear as a dirty fluid?
Power steering fluid
Some manufacturers and mechanics say power steering fluid never needs to be changed while others have specific mileage- and/or time-based intervals. All will agree, however, that the level needs to be checked periodically to prevent damage to the power steering pump and to avoid a situation where you’re forced to try and steer a vehicle whose power-steering has failed. Take it from me, it’s nearly impossible, and dangerous. That’s why I’m of the opinion that it’s a lot less expensive to replace my power steering fluid than it is a power steering pump so why not show it some love with a change out every so often?
If you’re guilty of forgetting fluids, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. Consult the owner’s manual that’s in your glovebox or available online, ask your mechanic, and check your fluid’s levels and ages. You’ll save money in the long run and drive with peace of mind.
Editor’s note: Stop by Advance Auto Parts for the fluids, parts and tools you need to finish your projects. Buy online, pick up in store, in 30 minutes.
It’s not a question of if it’s going to happen, but rather when. In a parking lot. In the driveway. On the road. Even from within the safe confines of your garage. Your vehicle is going to get scratched or dented, and in all likelihood more than just once over the course of its lifetime. And because the damage is minor, it’s probably not worth filing a claim with your insurance company considering you’ll have to pay the deductible first and possibly be penalized later with higher rates.
You can lessen the sting that comes from inflicting or discovering the damage with the knowledge and confidence that minor body damage can often be fixed by drivers with no previous body repair experience, saving time, money and the inconvenience of being without a car while repairs are made.
Body shop professionals are skilled craftsmen and true artists when it comes to repairing collision damage or restoring a classic vehicle. But if the damage is minor or superficial, most body shops are so busy they probably won’t be heartbroken if you try repairing the damage on your own, saving them for the complex jobs.
Metal hoods, doors, roofs, fenders, and plastic bumpers are all going to dent when impacted with enough force, with shopping carts, hail, another vehicle’s door, and even kids playing baseball often to blame. But these tools could help lessen the damage to both your vehicle and wallet.
Look no further than your bathroom for the first dent removal tool to try – a common household toilet plunger. Wet the plunger’s end, stick it on dent, and gently pull to see if the dent will pop out.
If the plunger doesn’t work, upgrade to a tool that works using the same principle but is designed specifically for the task – a suction cup-type dent puller. Available wherever auto parts are sold, this tool can feature just one suction cup or have several on multiple heads for extra pulling power. There are also several kits available that use the similar pulling-force theory to repair minor dents, but instead of relying on a suction cup they employ an adhesive to attach the tool to the vehicle body.
One homegrown dent-removal procedure popular online involves a hair dryer and can of compressed air. Heat the dent for several minutes using a hair dryer on the hottest setting. Don’t use a heat gun as this could damage the paint. Then take a can of compressed air commonly used to clean off computer keyboards, hold it upside down and spray the area just heated. The science behind this experiment is that the sudden change in temperature extremes causes the metal to expand and contract, popping the dent out and returning the metal to its undamaged state. It seems to work better at removing dents from a large expanse of flat metal, such as a hood, trunk or fender.
Equally frustrating is damage to your vehicle’s paint, whether it’s from a scratch, ding, or something deposited on the paint. In both cases, there are several repair options.
First, try a scratch-repair product. Most vehicles on the road today come from the factory with several layers of paint topped by a clear coat for added protection. If the scratch isn’t so deep that it penetrates down to bare metal, you might be able to repair it with a scratch-repair product that hides and blends the scratch with the surrounding surface while improving the finish’s appearance.
Chipped paint from a stone or other mishap needs to be fixed before the exposed metal reacts with the environment and rust forms. Fortunately, touch-up paint can easily hide small blemishes in the finish. The paint is available as an exact match for many vehicle paint schemes and finishes. Depending on the size of the repair, it’s applied as an aerosol spray or brushed on using a small applicator.
A vehicle’s finish can also be damaged by substances inadvertently added to it. Tree sap and the yellow and white paint used to line roads are two common culprits. If you accidently drive through wet road line paint, follow these steps to remove it before it dries and damages the finish.
First, drive to a car wash and use the pressure wash wand wherever the paint has accumulated. Unless it’s been on there for more than a day, most of the paint should come off. If the paint has already dried or if any remains after the washing, spray WD-40 on the paint and leave it there for a couple hours. The WD-40 will soften the paint, making it easier to remove. For really heavy paint accumulations or paint that’s dried for several days, coat the paint with petroleum jelly, leave it on for eight to 12 hours, and then pressure wash, repeating as needed until all the road paint is gone.
Tree sap, bird droppings, berries, tape residue and old bumper stickers can also damage a vehicle’s finish if they’re not removed promptly. To prevent further damage from aggressive removal procedures, use a cleaner designed specifically for vehicles. They soften and break down the substance, making it easier to remove without damaging the vehicle’s finish.
Body damage also occurs frequently to vehicle lights, exterior mirrors, door handles and other plastic components. Oftentimes the easiest and most economical method for repairing this damage, particularly in the case of light assemblies, is simply to replace the damaged part with a new or salvaged one from an auto parts store or other supplier. For example, the hole in the Subaru tail light assembly pictured here could eventually lead to more serious damage for the vehicle’s electrical system because of water exposure. The broken tail light can be replaced with one costing less than $100 following an easy procedure that takes less than 15 minutes.
Since the vehicle’s body has already been damaged, drivers don’t have much to lose when it comes to trying to repair minor damage themselves, and the rewards of a better-looking vehicle and money saved make the effort worthwhile.
Editor’s note: If your vehicle’s body or finish has suffered a minor mishap, shop Advance Auto Parts for the parts and tools you need to do do the body repairs. Buy online, pick up in store, in 30 minutes.
Note: Always consult your owner’s manual before performing repairs. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure warranties are not voided.
Get the inside track on engine gaskets and a few of their failings, courtesy of The Mechanic Next Door.
Gaskets. How can these relatively inexpensive, somewhat simple vehicle components perform such a crucial role, stand up to torturous temperature and pressure extremes, and wreak so much wallet-emptying havoc if and when they do fail? As it is with most vehicle systems, the answer lies in physics and mechanical engineering.
What they are supposed do
Whether it’s the head gasket on a 1993 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme or the gasket on the end of a garden hose, gaskets – when they work properly – are supposed to form an impenetrable seal between two surfaces, thereby preventing fluids or gases from mixing or escaping. Your vehicle literally has hundreds of gaskets, from the seal around the doors and windows keeping air and water out, to the gaskets on the thermostat housing, valve cover, head, intake, exhaust, and numerous other places.
Gaskets are supposed to be designed and manufactured to withstand contact with a variety of chemicals and tolerate temperature extremes without degrading or suffering any loss of performance, even with long-term use. They’re also designed to compress under pressure so that the gasket molds itself to and matches any imperfections in the surfaces being sealed. And, thanks to being engineered to exact specifications, they help ensure that they are an appropriate match to the surface being sealed and that the materials they’re constructed from can withstand the physical forces they’re exposed to, including pressure and temperature.
Despite, however, the best intentions and designs, gaskets can and do go bad. When they do, the results are often spectacular, and very expensive to correct. One need only look to certain Subaru models and years, the third generation of GM’s 60-degree engine, or the V-6s in several Toyotas to see the ugly picture gasket failure paints.
Looking at head gaskets specifically, since those are the gaskets most drivers have heard about due to failures and the expense incurred in repairing them, and because most heavy DIYers know all too well the frustration and time commitment they demand, the reasons for gasket failure can be narrowed down to several of the most common.
- Engine overheating
- Deficient gasket design
- Detonation damage
- Improper torque
While some will debate whether the problem has ever actually been fixed, head gasket problems are no stranger to Subaru’s first-generation 2.5-liter engine found in many Imprezas, Outbacks, Legacy GTs, and Foresters around the ’96 to ’99 model years. The gasket in question here was a multi-layer one constructed of steel and coated with a graphite-type material. That coating can wear away over time as a result of contact with chemicals in vehicle fluids, and lead to a failed seal that allows coolant to seep into the combustion chamber.
GM’s problems with leaking intake manifold gaskets on the third generation of their 60-degree engine stretched from about the mid-90s to 2003 and led to several class-action lawsuits. Blame here was placed on the gaskets’ design and materials used that allowed the gasket to soften and lose its seal over time.
Toyota’s head gasket failures in the mid-90s on some of their 3.0 and 3.4 liter V-6s meanwhile were traced to the heads’ design and the fact that they are difficult to seal.
Ford Windstars, Dodge Neons, and many other manufacturers and models also experienced head gasket problems at one time or another, further illustrating the critically important role this vehicle component plays and the engineering challenges it presents.
What they’re made of
Depending on their application, gaskets are made of anything from cork, to metal, to rubber and beyond. Vehicle head gaskets are typically:
- Layered steel – constructed from multiple layers of steel (MLS) and usually coated to further enhance their performance. They’re the type most often used in vehicles.
- Copper – delivers a long-lasting performance for extremely durable gaskets
- Composites – made from several materials, including possibly asbestos in some older applications, and usually considered a technology that’s less reliable and more commonly found on earlier vehicles
Don’t Blow a Gasket
A sure-fire way to avoid the time and expense of a head-gasket failure and subsequent replacement is to stay away from vehicles with known head-gasket issues that haven’t had the problem repaired or resolved. After that comes careful attention to changing vehicle coolant and oil at recommended levels to prevent prolonged gasket exposure to chemicals that may hasten its degradation; using the vehicle manufacturer-recommended coolant; maintaining proper torque on the head bolts; and watching for early signs of gasket failure, including white exhaust smoke or coolant mixing with oil, to prevent further engine damage.
The head gasket itself isn’t expensive, costing only about $20 for a 1995 F150 with a 5.0-liter engine or $50 for the complete head gasket set. It’s the time that’s involved with replacing the head gasket that really ratchets up the expense ratio. Because head gasket repairs are easily over $1,000 and can climb another thousand or more beyond that, seek advice from a professional mechanic as well as a second opinion before committing to a head-gasket replacement. Depending on the problem, it’s also worth trying one of the numerous head gasket sealant products available to see if that brings temporary or even long-term relief.
Whatever the gasket problem, and fix, turn out to be, don’t blow a gasket because of the expense and frustration involved. It’s just another part of the joy and pain equation that is vehicle ownership.
Editor’s note: If repairing a blown head gasket is your next project, stop by Advance Auto Parts for the parts and tools you need to fix the problem. Buy online, pick up in store, in 30 minutes.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Full-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.
What’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.
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, 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.
Continued 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.
Whether 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.