Mechanic Next Door - Advance Auto Parts Blog

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.

Wired Up: The Fundamentals of Spark Plug Wiring

spark plug wiring

Not all spark plug wires are created equal. And because moving electricity to the plug to produce a spark is so critically important, using the wrong wires for your vehicle, damaged wires, or poor-quality wires will undoubtedly lead to problems down the road.

As electricity travels along the plug wires toward the plug so it can generate a spark, it’s also looking to do something else – escape. The electricity is looking for any opportunity to jump from the wire and instead head down the path of least resistance. When it finds the escape route it’s been searching for – usually in the form of missing or damaged wire insulation – the results can include engine misfire, poor fuel mileage, hard starts, rough idles and lack of power. Electricity also generates radios waves and if it escapes from the plug wires can interfere with a vehicle’s radio and other electronics.

Accel plug wires pictureThe plug wires’ insulation is what keeps the electricity from escaping, and high-quality wires will have more insulation that’s made from durable components that are better able to resist wear from vibration and heat. Over time, the engine’s heat cycling takes its toll on even the best spark plug wires, which is why replacement is recommended by many manufacturers at 100,000 miles.

There are primarily three types of spark plug wires:

1. Distributed resistance wires are constructed of fiberglass-impregnated carbon. Also known as carbon core wires, they were the standard on about 95 percent of vehicles before 1980.

2. A shift to inductance or mag (magnetic resistance) wires accompanied the rising popularity of Asian vehicles. Featuring a spiral wound core of a copper nickel alloy, the material presents less resistance to the electricity flow, meaning less current is needed to generate the spark, and at the same time the winding pattern and materials help prevent any Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) from escaping.

3. Lastly, there are fixed resistor wires. These are often found on European vehicles and feature steel or copper wire and a resistor inside the plug boot to control interference.

If you think your vehicle might be having some issues caused by faulty plug wires, begin the diagnosis with a close inspection of the wires’ condition. Examine them for heat-induced cracks or abrasions caused by rubbing against other parts. Look for areas where they’ve been burned through because of contact with an exhaust manifold. Also try examining the engine in the dark, looking for visible sparks where the electricity is escaping along the wires, and also listen for an electrical ticking sound, similar to what you hear when you receive a big static electricity shock. Also measure the wire’s resistance with an ohmmeter. One plug wire with a resistance that’s significantly different than the other wires could indicate that’s the problem wire.spark plug wire set photo

When installing new wires, make sure you’re using wires specified for your vehicle. Characteristics such as the wire length or a boot that attaches using clips as compared to a thread-on boot matter when it comes to performance. Also avoid problems by routing new wires in the same manner that the previous wires were, and removing and replacing the wires one at a time.

Using the best spark plug in the world won’t make any difference to your engine if that plug can’t get the electricity it needs, so choose and install plug wires wisely.

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts has your car wiring needs covered. Buy online, pick up in-store, in 30 minutes.

Top Aftermarket Accessories for Cooling Your Engine This Summer

Electric Car Fan photoThere’s one sure-fire way to ruin your day, engine, reputation under the hood, and road trip this summer. It’s fast, requires virtually no effort or planning, and happens to countless drivers every day. All you have to do is let your engine overheat because of insufficient cooling.

In this instance, I’m not talking about the more common, run-of-the-mill catastrophes usually behind a cooling system failure, including broken hoses or belts, insufficient coolant level, water pump or thermostat failure, or foreign object piercing the radiator.

Less dramatic, but equally effective at causing an engine to overheat, are scenarios in which a vehicle’s cooling system can’t dissipate enough heat fast enough to prevent an overheated engine. In most cases, it’s the result of an efficiency issue, even when everything on the cooling system is working properly. In other situations, modifications designed to coax more horsepower from the engine might also require changes to the cooling system because more horsepower usually equates to more heat generated.

Here’s a look at several add-on solutions to prevent engine overheating.

Performance radiator

There’s a reason copper and brass have historically been materials of choice in vehicle radiators. Copper is great when it comes to thermal conductivity, performing 50 percent better than radiator fins made from aluminum. And brass is durable. So why are aluminum radiators becoming all the rage in high-performance engines and even among vehicle manufacturers? Weight. Aluminum radiators weigh 10 to 15 pounds less than traditional radiators. And they compensate for the reduction in their material’s thermal conductivity with increased radiator surface area and coolant capacity, design, fin spacing and even tube size.

The larger the radiator’s surface area translates to greater airflow reaching more coolant which means improved cooling capability. The limiting factor here is the amount of space you have or can create in which to shoehorn in a larger radiator.Car radiator photo

Most radiators utilize a single-pass design – hot coolant comes in one side of the radiator, passes through, and exits out the opposite side. For increased cooling capacity, look at a dual-pass, horizontal-flow radiator. With this design, coolant passes through one half of the radiator, but instead of exiting, it then passes through the other half of the radiator, essentially making two passes instead of one.

Moving to a dual-pass radiator will probably also require a water pump upgrade because this radiator design places more demand on the pump. Which brings us to the topic of coolant speed. An aluminum radiator with larger diameter tubes is going to require an increase in the speed at which the water pump is moving coolant through the system. Your muscle car’s pulley-pump speed might have been sufficient when everything was stock from the factory, but any modifications made might now require changes to that speed and ratio.

In addition to tube size, high-performance aluminum radiators also have more fins, spaced closer together, for increased heat transfer from the coolant to the atmosphere.

Electric fans

Engine-driven fans can get the job done when you’re tooling down the highway at cruising speeds, but when you’re idling or fighting stop-and-go traffic – not so much. For increased cooling capacity, consider installing an electric fan, or two.

Unlike an engine-driven fan, an electric fan is going to generate enough airflow to sufficiently help cool the engine, regardless of engine RPMs or traveling speed. In addition to consistent airflow, electric fans can also net you more horsepower. It’s estimated that engine-driven fans steal about 35 horsepower and clutch-driven fans about half that amount while electric fans only take about one horsepower.

Installing a dual-fan set up enables the entire radiator surface to be covered with cooling air flow. Another option is to use a two-fan system, but with one fan stationed in front of the radiator, pushing air to it, and a second fan behind the radiator, pulling air to it – remembering that pulling is always more efficient than pushing.

As for fan blade style, that depends on what’s more important to you – cooling or noise levels. Curved-bladed fans are quieter than straight-blade fans, but they don’t move as much air.

And in what’s probably beginning to sound like a reoccurring theme, a changeover from an engine-drive fan to an electric one might also require some beefing up of the vehicle’s electrical system to ensure it’s up to the task and increased loads.Car fan photo

Fan shroud

If you’re making the effort of adding an electric fan, make sure you go all the way and include an aluminum fan shroud. The right fan shroud can maximize the fan’s heat-reduction capacity by delivering cooling air to nearly every square inch of the radiator surface, while choosing aluminum helps deliver further weight reduction.

Type of Coolant

When it comes to the liquid flowing through the radiator, nothing’s better at heat transfer than plain old water. Unfortunately nothing also beats water when it comes to freezing in winter and destroying your engine, and corroding the radiator and inflicting a similar level of carnage there. If you are running straight water for coolant – some racing series require this – be sure to also include an anti-corrosion additive to the mix, and to take the necessary steps to prevent freezing before lower temperatures arrive. You’ll also need to research the benefits of using softened water if this is the somewhat risky route you choose to go. If, however, you choose to play it safe by using traditional antifreeze, also consider an additive, such as Red Line’s Water Wetter that prevents bubbles or vapor pockets from forming and helps bring temperatures down.

When it comes to summer driving, just remember – keeping your cool begins with your engine.

Editor’s note: Don’t blow your top…or your radiator cap this summer. Visit Advance Auto Parts for everything your engine needs to stay cool. Buy online, pick up in store, in 30 minutes.

Crucial Cars: Ford Super Duty F-250

2011 Ford F-250 Super Duty photoFrom timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

In this installment, the Mechanic Next Door explores the unstoppable beast that is the Ford Super Duty F-250.

When it comes to geography and trucks, bigger is always better. Just ask the people of Texas, or Ford Super Duty F250 owners.

The Ford F150 pickup is enough muscle for most weekend warriors towing the occasional camper, horse trailer, or boat for a weekend getaway. The same holds true for drivers hauling a bed full of hay bales, mulch for the flower beds or a relative’s furniture.

But when the game shifts to towing bigger, heavier loads more frequently, that’s when truck drivers opt for the big guns – the Ford Super Duty F-250.

Super Duty – it wasn’t a truck first

Ford Super Duty F-250 photoThe Ford Super Duty F-250 debuted in 1998 with the ’99 model year. Those early models featured distinct styling – including unique headlamps and grilles – with countless Ford Super Duty F-250 accessories available today that help them stand out from their less powerful F-150 brethren. That first 250 featured a 5.4 liter V-8 delivering 255 horsepower and 350 pounds of torque, with available options including a 6.8 liter V-10 or a 7.3 liter turbodiesel.

Fittingly, since the 250’s branding and performance focus on power, the Super Duty moniker first appeared on the scene in 1958 not as a truck but rather as a big, weighty engine producing high torque at low RPMs. And this engine was never designed for the light-duty tasks of transporting kids to a Saturday morning soccer game or hauling a couple of bags of potting soil and some plants. No, this beast of an engine worked and was usually found only in industrial-type vehicles such as buses, dump trucks, garbage trucks and cement mixers.

Forty years later, the first Ford Super Duty F-250 model would seem a fitting way to honor an engine similarly designed for heavy lifting and hard work.

Towing capacity is what matters

Ford says, “90 percent of all Super duty trucks are purchased by customers who tow often.” That’s the main reason truck marketing, and particularly Ford Heavy Duty ads, emphasize towing capacity. But just how much can they tow? 12,500 pounds – and that’s just for starters.

Pretty much across the board, any 2015 Super Duty F250 sporting a 6.2 liter, gas, V-8 and a 3.73 gear ratio can tow 12,500 pounds using a standard hitch and ball setup, regardless of cab configuration . The only exceptions being the Super Cab 4×4 and Crew Cab 4×4 which max out at 12,400 pounds and 12,200 pounds, respectively.

Jump up to a 6.7 liter, Power Stroke Turbo Diesel V-8, however, and that towing capacity increases to 14,000 pounds for both the Super Cab and Crew Cab configurations. Add a 5th wheel gooseneck towing configuration and towing capacities climb higher still, topping out at 16,600 pounds for the Power Stroke Diesel, 4×2 with a 3.31 axle ratio.

Which one of these is not like the others?

The Ford Super Duty F250 differs from its truck family members on both ends of the scale mainly in towing capacity. For example, the 2015 F150 has a maximum towing capacity of 12,200 pounds, while a diesel F350 or 450 can tow north of 26,000 pounds or 31,000 pounds, respectively, as compared to the F250 topping out at close to 17,000 pounds.

The F250’s distinct chrome-bar style grille featuring a huge Ford emblem, big telescoping mirrors, available roof clearance lights also give the Ford Super Duty F250 a look that helps further distinguish it from its less-powerful sibling.Ford Super Duty F-250 2

This might not be the truck for you.

The Ford Super Duty F250 isn’t necessarily the right choice for every pickup truck driver out there. Its main attraction is power – for both towing and hauling. Before you make a purchase decision based solely on that enticing “more power” characteristic, make sure you actually need all the horsepower that comes with an F250. Maybe you, and your wallet, would be happier with an F150? Whatever you decide, know that you’re not going to be disappointed by the best-selling truck in America.

Editor’s note: If you’re searching for Ford Super Duty F250 parts or accessories, stop by Advance Auto Parts for everything your truck needs. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.

 

 

 

Four Vehicle Fluids You May Be Forgetting

Power steering fluid tank photoCheck 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.

Differential fluids

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

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.Brake Fluid tank photo

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.

Minor body damage: eyesore or easy fix?

 

minor car body damage photoIt’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 accidentally 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.broken tail light picture

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.

Engine Gaskets: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly

Felpro gasket photo

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.

Spectacular failures

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
Subaru H4 engine picture

Some Subaru years and models are known for having head gasket issues, as are vehicles from some other manufacturers.

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.

Replacement

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.

Crucial Cars: Ford Explorer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tech Garage – TV’s popular DIY show

Dayco 1Read our review of the Velocity Channel’s popular DIY show.

Updated: February, 2016

Are you hoping for a little sanity before you jump into those Sunday morning news shows? then have a look at Tech Garage, airing at 8:30 EST on Velocity.

If 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.

This is the second season for Tech Garage – and they’re not just rehashing topics they covered last year, but getting into a whole bunch of new stuff to keep you interested and keep you learning. Tech Garage features John Gardner, an ASE-certified master mechanic and automotive instructor at Chipola College in Marianna, Fla., and Bryan Gregory, also ASE-certified and always ready to get his hands on a car project.  The premise is simple, explaining how cars and their various systems work. There’s no reality show drama here, but there are plenty of key tips. Whether you’re a heavy DIY’er who can handle pretty much anything under the hood or a 15-year old dreaming about the day you can drive, you’re going to learn something new about vehicle mechanics from watching this car TV show.

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

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

Tech Garage AC show AC photo

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

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

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

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

—MND