The Mechanic Next Door
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:
DEF – Diesel 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.
There’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.