Mechanic Next Door - Advance Auto Parts Blog

Top Vehicles with Retro Styling – Part 1

Are we in love with the car, or our memories?

What is it about cars and nostalgia? Why do so many of our most vivid or cherished memories include a vehicle playing a starring or supporting role?

For me, those important vehicles and memories include a 1974 Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon, 1978 Mercury Zephyr, and my all-time favorite – a four door, five-speed, sunroof-equipped 1985 BMW 318i.

The work I did on all those vehicles is part of the memories each holds. The Zephyr in particular was my guinea pig. I remember replacing the starter, dashboard, back seat, radio, radiator, and a number of other parts through the years, all of which helped me build my mechanical knowledge and confidence.

A number of modern vehicles can trigger a drive down memory lane simply because they look like their iconic predecessors. Here are five on my list of contemporary vehicles with retro styling – in no particular order. What have I left off the list? What’s your favorite, and more importantly, why? I’ll explore five more in an upcoming installment.

2015 Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang

The 2015 Mustang comes with the model’s first ever EcoBoost® engine – a 2.3-liter power plant delivering 310 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. For the really performance-minded driver, the GT model features a 5.0 liter V-8 churning out 435 HP and 400 pound-feet of torque. This iconic sports car’s first model in 1964 pales in comparison when it comes to power as its 170 cubic-inch engine only cranked out 156 pound-feet of torque. And, it’s angular retro looks are nothing to sneeze at.

2005 Ford ThunderbirdFord Thunderbird

Ford’s more than four million Thunderbirds went through many different looks through the years. The 1955 debut saw classic lines and a hard-top or convertible version while the sixth generation from 1972 to 1976 model years were boxy and big, making this version the largest Thunderbird Ford had ever produced. The eleventh generation, from 2002 to 2005, would be its last and saw a return to a more classic look, similar to the earliest model years.

2006 Dodge ChargerDodge Charger

Seven generations of Chargers brought us from those first intimidating, wide-nose models of the ‘60s and ‘70s, through the embarrassingly compact fifth generation in the 80s, full circle to the sixth and seventh generations, available from ’06 through today. That evolution saw a return to looks that are more in line with those first Chargers, from the taillights to the hood and side panels.

2010 Chevy CamaroChevy Camaro

Debuting with the 1967 model as a competitor to Ford’s Mustang, four generations of Camaros prowled the streets until production ended in 2002, only to see the model revived for the 2010 model year with generation five. With today’s MSRP of $75,000, 505 HP, and a seven-liter V8, the 2015 Camaro Z-28 bears some resemblance to those first Camaros in looks only.

2015 VW BeetleVW Bug

The Beetle or “People’s Car” translated from the German “Volkswagen,” was officially called the “Type 1” when production began in 1938. Today, Volkswagen refers to its latest Bug model as, “a sleek twist on an iconic shape.” Out of all the retro-styled vehicles, the Beetle might bear the closest resemblance to its first ancestor.

A few of the cars on the list went through some “changes” or “growing pains” that left them looking nothing like their much-loved predecessors for several years before they came back around to today’s popular styles. The Ford Mustang is a case in point.

Those 80’s and 90’s-era Mustangs, for me at least, don’t conjure up memories of the tough-looking Mustangs I remember from the 60’s and 70’s. They were Mustangs in name only, unlike today’s Mustangs that look mean, powerful and menacing, just like their brothers from those first two decades of Mustang production.

Retro styling’s popularity could also be attributed to the timeless nature of certain style elements. Much the way some antiques, whether furniture or paintings, retain their value and popularity because of their classic style elements, perhaps the same can be said for certain classic vehicle lines and characteristics?

Or, maybe nostalgia and elements that never go out of style don’t have anything to do with retro styling’s popularity today. For some drivers, it could be that the vehicle’s good looks and solid reputation, built over several decades, leads them to equate today’s models with their popular classic ancestors. The Chevy Camaro has always conjured up the image of a street-savvy, aggressive performer, never straying too far from its original looks, even with the latest model.

Whatever the reason for our love affairs with cars, history and retro styling, two things are for sure – what’s old will someday be new again, and no one’s clamoring for a 2016 reintroduction of Mercury’s Zephyr, including me.

Editor’s note: Whether you’re restoring an original classic or working on vehicle based on a classic, Advance Auto Parts has the parts and tools you need. Buy online, pick up in store—in 30 minutes.

My garage. My sanctuary.

_MG_6513bI love my wife. I love my kids. But I really love working in my garage. It’s the one place in my house that’s truly mine. Some people go to the office on a Saturday morning for peace and quiet. Some go to nature. I go to my garage.

In the movie Old School, Will Ferrell jokes about having a “big” weekend planned – accompanying his new bride to Home Depot and Bed, Bath and Beyond. In another scene, he’s under the hood of “The Red Dragon” – a 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am — removing the restrictor plate, getting his hands dirty, and beaming with pride when his wife remarks how loud it sounds.

Like Mr. Ferrell, given the choice, that’s where I’d rather be — in the driveway or in the garage, under the hood, doing some car maintenance.

Working in my garage is bigger than just me being a home mechanic, fixing something or improving it, even though that’s all it may look like to the casual observer. It’s the sense of satisfaction and well-being I derive through that work, in that place – my garage.

It’s knowing that I helped my neighbor replace the universal joint on his 15-year-old F150 when he got laid off and couldn’t afford to have the work done anywhere else. It’s knowing that my wife’s Town & Country minivan is going to start — even on the coldest mornings — when she turns the key at the crack of dawn and heads off to work. And it’s knowing that this home mechanic can walk into his garage, blindfolded or in the dark, and still put his hands on the tool he needs because everything has a place and is exactly where it should be.

That’s what my garage means to me. That’s why it’s my sanctuary — my very own man cave. I don’t get to spend nearly as much time as I’d like to there, making those few weekend hours I am there doing car maintenance that much more meaningful and important to my mental health.

I don’t spend a lot of time hanging out at my local parts counter. Sure, they’re nice enough and I like to hear about what my fellow home mechanics are working on and trade advice, but instead of sitting on a stool waiting for parts to be delivered or located, I’d rather be back in my garage, getting it done, and feeling good about doing it myself.

That’s one reason I jumped on the online parts ordering bandwagon early on. Ordering online and picking up in-store, or receiving them at my home liberates me from wondering and hoping the parts I want will be in stock and available when I need them. I don’t want to spend what little free time I have on a weekend searching for parts – that’s one aspect of being a home mechanic and tireless DIYer that I don’t like.

That’s also why my garage is well organized. I don’t want to waste time searching for tools when that time could be better spent actually using those tools. The key, I think, is to have a spot for everything, and to label it so you can put it back. Look into wall cabinets, rolling tool cabinets, or tool chests and decide what’s going to work best for you. In addition to being functional, my idea of the ideal garage is also one that looks good. I covered my entire garage floor with these interlocking tiles. Now it’s easier on my feet and knees, looks better, and stays cleaner.

As they say, time flies when you’re having fun. That’s why I’m headed back to the garage, that is, as soon as we get back from Bed, Bath and Beyond. It’s all about balance.

Editor’s note: Planning your weekend projects is easy with Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage—fast.


Car Parts, Boat Parts and ATVs – more in common than you realize

Boat engineIf I met him, I don’t think I’d like Murphy simply because I really dislike his law. Whatever can go wrong will go wrong, and more often than not on my day off when I have something planned that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.

This isn’t a recent phenomenon for me either. But the good news is that as my mechanical knowledge grew, I figured out quickly how to circumvent his law and salvage my day – most of the time – when it comes to the motorized vehicles causing me problems and standing in the way of my fun.

The solution I learned about when I was younger, albeit the hard way, is that some automotive parts can serve double duty as replacement parts for recreational vehicles. I say I learned it the hard way because it only came after several outings were ruined by an ATV that wouldn’t start because it needed a specialty part, my grandfather’s old Ford tractor that wouldn’t crank thanks to a temperamental starter, and a dirt bike that quit when the motorcycle battery failed.

I suspect a lot of people were like me when I was first getting my hands dirty taking things apart to figure out how they work, and needing more than a little help from dad putting them back together. I just didn’t realize that some parts were interchangeable. The thought never crossed my mind until one weekend when a bunch of my high school buddies and I were at my grandfather’s cabin for the weekend, fishing and riding four-wheelers and dirt bikes. I was about half a mile from the cabin when the dirt bike I was riding refused to restart thanks to a bad motorcycle battery. Knowing there weren’t any ATV or specialty power sports parts suppliers nearby, I figured my bike would have to be parked for the weekend. Only after I pushed it home on the gravel road that was, thankfully, mostly downhill, did my grandfather tell me that I could get the battery I needed at just about any place that sold auto parts.

The same goes for a lot of other power sports machines and their parts. Here are some of the more common parts and problems that might get in the way of your fun, and how to solve them.

1. Batteries – most auto parts stores carry a wide range of batteries that fit boats, ATVs, dirt bikes, jet skis, snowmobiles and even golf carts. Make sure you bring in the old marine battery or whatever type it is and get it tested first to confirm that’s the problem, to get the right replacement size, and to avoid the core charge.

2. Spark plugs and wires – this is another category that you don’t have to rely on a specialty parts supplier for. Even if you think that glow plugs for a Kubota B20 diesel tractor or plugs for a Yamaha Tt-R225 dirt bike are uncommon and only available through a dealer, think again and try your local auto parts supplier first.

3. Boats – similarities exist between inboard motors and some car engines. For example, the 4.3 liter GM V-6 that’s in your 2000 Glastron boat may be able to use some of the same 4.3 V6 GM motor parts that are available at an auto parts store.* Marine batteries can also often be obtained at an auto parts store, saving additional hassle when a marine parts specialty supplier isn’t nearby.

Of course, a little preventive maintenance before you hit the trail or water can help you avoid many of these problems in the first place. But if they do crop up, you now know that many of these parts are readily available somewhere other than just a specialty power sports provider.

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts carries the powersport batteries you need, including ones for motorcycles, boats, ATV’s, tractors, golf carts and snowmobiles.  Buy online, pick up in store.


*Always consult your owner’s manual first. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure warranties are not voided.



Upkeep: Replacing Your Own Shocks or Struts

shocksRecently, I decided to replace the front struts on my old Mercedes, and as I did the job, I found myself thinking:

This really isn’t that hard.

It’s true. For the uninitiated, Suspension work is mostly just bolting and unbolting. I know it’s intimidating to think about taking your suspension apart, but when you get right down to it, it’s probably less complicated than assembling an Ikea bookcase.

And here’s the thing: doing your own suspension work can save you many hundreds of dollars. My rule of thumb is that however much the parts cost, you need to multiply by two or three to get the total cost including labor. If you take those labor charges out, it’s a much more palatable bill. Plus, there’s the satisfaction of knowing that you did it yourself, likely with more caution and care than a typical mechanic would take.

So let’s take a bird’s-eye view of how to replace your own struts or shocks. I hope it’ll inspire you to take it on next time your suspension needs a shot in in the arm.

1. Check Whether You Need a Spring Compressor

Let me be very clear about this: when I did my front struts, I knew ahead of time that I would not need a spring compressor. That’s because the front suspension design on my car is such that the springs are separate (and inboard) from the struts, so you can remove the latter without ever touching the former. But on many cars, the struts/shocks and springs are interrelated or integrated, which means you may need a spring compressor to remove the springs. This is serious business: if you don’t remove the springs properly, they can pop off and damage anything in their path, including yourself! You can rent a spring compressor pretty easily, but make sure you understand how to use it before you do. If there’s one part of the job that could come back to bite you, this is it.

2. Securely Raise One Side of the Car

If you’ve got access to an actual lift, great — I’m envious, and so are most driveway DIYers! But if you’re like the rest of us, you’ll want to jack up one side of the car at a time, just high enough to get a jackstand under the jack point behind the front wheel.

3. Remove the Wheel and Extract the Old Shock/Strut

The wheel is easy, of course, but getting the absorber out of there may take some elbow grease. If a spring compressor is required for your job, this is where you’d use it. On my car, there were three bolts holding the bottom of the strut in place, and fortunately they weren’t too hard to break loose with a socket wrench. Up top, the strut extended inside a strut tower with a serious bolt inside the engine compartment; I had to use an impact wrench with a socket extension to get it loose, so if you don’t have one of those handy and you end up needing one, hopefully you’ve got a friend who does.

Note that you may have to hold up the lower control arm if it starts to drop once you undo those lower bolts — so keep an eye on it as you go, and be ready to slide your jack underneath for support.

4. Install the New Shock/Strut

With any luck, this will be as simple as reversing what you’ve done so far. I always recommend using a torque wrench and tightening all bolts to OEM specifications, but I do have friends who swear by the “Good and tight” method, so I’ll leave this to your judgment. Once the new absorber is mounted and tightened, put the wheel back on, lower the car, and simply repeat steps 2-4 for the other side.

5. Don’t Forget The Test Drive!

When you do work on a vital suspension system, you’ll definitely want to take the car for a slow diagnostic drive afterward, just to make sure nothing feels or sounds off. Don’t go careening along a winding road just yet; I’m talking about a nice slow spin through the neighborhood, perhaps wiggling the steering wheel now and then to test transient response. If everything seems good to go, consider the procedure a provisional success!

As you can probably tell, it wasn’t that hard. Just remember that this article is intended as a very broad overview, so you should do specific research on your vehicle before undertaking the job. If there’s anything you’d add from your own experience, I’m sure we’d all like to hear about it in the comments.

Editor’s note: Head on over to Advance Auto Parts first for the best selection of quality shocks and struts, at even better values. We’ll get you back to the garage fast—buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Top 5 DIY Projects to Tackle Yourself

father_son_work_under_hoodWhen minor things go wrong with our cars, most of us just bite the bullet and consult a trusted mechanic. But have you ever considered that you might be selling yourself short? Fact is, if you’ve got a little patience, you can resolve a lot of these issues without even leaving home. And that means extra money in your pocket, not to mention the satisfaction of a job well done.

In this post, I want to share a few common DIY (“Do It Yourself”) procedures with you. Remember, even if you did every single one of these jobs, you’d still only be scratching the surface of your potential. There isn’t much about a car that you can’t fix on your own. But sometimes, the hardest part is just getting started. Read on for some simple ways to get that DIY ball rolling.

1. Headlight Restoration

If your car’s more than a few years old, chances are its headlight lenses could use some TLC – particularly if you deal with inclement weather on a regular basis. You’ll notice cloudiness on the plastic lens surface and maybe some yellowing as well. Fortunately, a number of reputable brands sell headlight restoration kits that can make those lenses look new again. I’m always a fan of Meguiar’s products, and some of my neighborhood friends have responded well to the 3M kits, too.

Don’t get intimidated if your kit requires a power drill, by the way; that’s just because you need more power to get that crud off than a human arm can muster. In my experience, the job may take an hour or two to do properly, but there’s nothing tricky about it.

2. Headlight Replacement

Mechanics love when customers come in with blown-out headlights. I’m telling you, folks, repair jobs under the hood don’t get much simpler than this one; it’s like giving that friendly mechanic a free lunch. There are tons of replacement headlights and headlight bulbs for sale right here on Advance Auto Parts, and we’ve even got some handy step-by-step tutorials to help you along the way. Be sure to check your owner’s manual, too, as there’s often a How-To in there for the headlight replacement procedure.

A word of advice, though, and this goes for any job that involves disassembly or removal: remember the order in which you take things apart. If you have to remove your headlight assembly, for example, you may end up unscrewing and pulling out a number of pieces. Please don’t forget how to put everything back together.

3. Replace Your Wipers

This is actually a simpler job than headlight replacement, because you don’t even have to pop the hood. Windshield-wiper blades typically just snap into place, so replacing them is as easy as flipping the wiper shafts up off the windshield, popping the old blades off and snapping the new ones on. Your owner’s manual should have specific information about the removal and replacement process.

As for your blade selection, it depends on several different factors–the kind of car you have, where you live and the type of driving you do. You can learn more at this informational page on windshield wiper installation.

4. Replenish Your Fluids

Fluids are the lifeblood of an internal combustion engine. Without enough motor oil, the engine will wear down more quickly and may even seize. Without enough power steering fluid, the pump, bearings and other parts are in imminent danger. Without enough brake fluid…well, you get the point. Bottom line, it’s crucial to make sure that all fluids are always up to spec. To do it yourself, just check your owner’s manual for the location of each fluid reservoir or dipstick, and make a habit of inspecting those fluid levels. I do it every other time I get gas. If you need replacement fluids, the Advance Auto Parts website has got every imaginable variety; just plug what you’re looking for into the search field.

5. Wash & Wax Your Ride

Ever find yourself shaking your head at the price of a car wash? I’ll tell you one thing: it definitely costs more than you’d pay to do it yourself. So why not get up close and personal with your car’s finish? My favorite product is called “waterless car wash,” because you don’t need water or a bucket or anything like that — just grab a microfiber cloth and a bottle of Griot’s finest, and 15 minutes later your car will be shining like it just came from the detailer. Of course, if you want to get more serious with waxing, clay-bar treatments and so forth, there’s a whole world of at-home detailing products to explore.

“Wait, why should I DIY again?”

Let’s recap. When you do simple jobs like these yourselves, you definitely save money, and you’ll also know your car’s being treated with the love it deserves. Plus, you’re gonna learn a thing or two along the way. What’s not to like?

By the way, give me a shout in the comments if you try any of these DIYs, or if you have any other suggestions for all the aspiring driveway mechanics out there.

Editor’s note: Check out the Advance Auto Parts YouTube Channel for more great DIY project tips.

Finding Parts For Used Cars

Vintage truckIf you’re looking for a car and need to save money, my advice is always the same:

Buy used.

It’s that simple. When you buy a new car, you typically lose hundreds or thousands of dollars just by driving it off the dealer’s lot, and the depreciation just keeps on coming after that. But if you buy an older car in good condition, much of the depreciation will be “taken out of it,” as they say, leaving you with a perfectly fine car that holds its value pretty well.

Here’s my question, though: What happens when you need to buy replacement parts for that used car? As you’ll quickly discover if you go to a dealer’s parts counter, the prices for new parts can be outrageous. It doesn’t always make sense to pay top dollar for replacement parts when you’ve already saved so many dollars on the car itself. There’s got to be a better way, right?

Right. In fact, there are three better ways, as far as I can tell. Here are three tips for making sure you get the parts you need for your pride and joy.

1. Check Salvage Yards for Rare Items

Salvage yards are great for obscure parts that cost an arm and a leg from the manufacturer, or may no longer be available at all. If you get lucky, you’ll find a salvage car just like yours with some undamaged parts to choose from. I’m not talking about standard stuff here, like A/C compressors or transmissions. I’m talking about an original T-top glass panel for a 1985 300ZX, or a door handle for a 1969 Chevelle. Oftentimes, you just can’t find stuff like this anywhere else, so you’re at the mercy of your local salvage yard’s inventory.

Fortunately, salvage yards these days use modern computers to maintain sophisticated inventory systems, and they care about winning your business. There are even national websites like and that let you search multiple yards in your area — you might stumble across exactly what you need with one click. For those impossible-to-find parts, this is definitely the way to go.

2. Consider Remanufactured Parts

Expertly remanufactured parts can be as good as new, and there’s no doubt they’re going to save you a bundle of cash. Big-ticket items like transmissions, heating/cooling systems and even entire engines can be purchased from quality rebuilders for a fraction of what they’d cost new, and they usually come with warranties, too. Advance Auto Parts happens to sell a number of remanufactured components along these lines, so that’s a great place to start. But I’d also suggest checking with local machine shops in your area, as well as mechanics who specialize in your car.

3. Don’t Always Buy Used Parts

I want to be clear about this: there are some situations where you just want to minimize risk. Let’s say you need a replacement starter, for example — a “wear item” that you absolutely count on every day. I’d spring for the new one, to be honest with you. When you’re dealing with older cars at the salvage yard, who knows how close their starters were to failure, you get me? I wouldn’t take that chance.

Some other vital parts that come to mind are airbag assemblies and car brake components, because you don’t want to mess with your safety on the road. And when it’s time to buy new parts, make sure you check out Advance Auto Parts—you’ll be getting quality parts that last a long time, and you’re going to like the bottom line.

What used or remanufactured parts have you tried?

Tell me where you got ‘em and how they’ve worked out for you. Would you do it again? What would you do differently?


Editor’s note: Check Advance Auto Parts for most all of your OE parts needs. Buy online, pick up in store.

Best Cars for First-Time Drivers

I get this one all the time, from parents and kids alike: What’s the best car for a first-time driver? And in most cases, “first-time driver” means teen driver, whether it’s a high-school student who just got her license or a college freshman driving off to campus. So I’m thinking about safety, number one, but I’m also looking for fuel economy, technology and just plain old fun. Want to see the winners? Here are the top 3 cars I’d recommend.

Scion FR-S

Scion FR-SThe rear-wheel-drive Scion FR-S is one of those cars that looks fast, but don’t worry, Mom and Dad — it’s actually quite a bit slower than a garden-variety Camry V6. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun, though; on the contrary, the FR-S will put a smile on anyone’s face, teen driver or otherwise, with its laser-sharp steering, excellent transmissions (manual or rev-matching automatic) and growly four-cylinder engine. This is basically a world-class sports car without the world-class power, which makes it the best first car for budding driving enthusiasts.

Fortunately, the Scion FR-S is about more than just the sporty stuff. It also got top scores from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety in every crash test, and you can expect up to 34 mpg on the highway, according to the EPA. Throw in a standard eight-speaker Pioneer stereo that includes new car tech such as Bluetooth/USB integration as well as a touchscreen interface, and what’s not to like? Well, the tiny backseat is a lowlight, but otherwise, the FR-S should impress.

Mazda 3

Mazda 3The redesigned Mazda 3 is a beautiful car, first and foremost, but I can’t recommend a ride just based on looks. It’s got to have a good foundation, too. And the 3 has one of the best, striking an excellent ride/handling balance on the road that makes me think of the BMW 3 Series. If you’re tempted to get the bigger 2.5-liter engine, I urge you to reconsider; the base 2.0-liter four-cylinder is a joy to wring out, especially if you get the buttery-smooth six-speed manual transmission. Plus, fuel economy with the smaller motor is an amazing 41 mpg.

The Mazda 3 is a pleasant surprise on the inside as well, boasting snug front seats, upscale materials and an available touchscreen that also employs Audi-like knobs on the center console. On the safety front, it aced the latest IIHS crash tests. Now here’s the clincher: you can get all of this goodness for under $25k. Honestly, I’m tempted to buy one myself.

Volkswagen Golf

VW Golf 1I’m talking about two cars here, really: there’s the “Mk6,” which is made in Europe and just wrapped up its production run; and there’s the “Mk7,” a redesigned, Mexican-built model that debuts for the 2015 model year. Either way, the Volkswagen Golf is a heck of a hatchback. I love the understated yet high-quality interior–you could slap an Audi logo on the steering wheel and it would work just fine. The optional turbodiesel four-cylinder, a.k.a. “TDI,” can get you close to 50 mpg on the highway if you drive it right. And the turbocharged GTI delivers truly spirited acceleration, especially the new 2015 model with its robust 258 pound-feet of torque (the outgoing GTI makes 207 lb-ft).

Now let me give you a reason to hold out for the Mk7 Golf: the base engine will be an energetic 1.8-liter four-cylinder turbo that’s a huge upgrade over the old five-cylinder lump. I actually liked the five’s gravelly voice at full throttle, but its fuel economy was seriously behind the times. So if you’ve decided against the TDI and GTI, wait for the 2015 to get a regular Volkswagen Golf. Otherwise, even the Mk6 Golf lineup gets perfect crash scores from the IIHS, and it offers a touchscreen with all the device hookups you need. So don’t dismiss a Mk6 TDI or GTI because it’s old; you might just get a great deal on one.

What are your top picks?

Those are my choices, but I always like to hear what you folks have to say. What are your top new cars for first-time drivers? Let’s discuss in the comments.

Editor’s note: Whether you’re a seasoned road dog or a first-time driver, Advance Auto Parts makes maintenance easy—with great selection and even better values. Buy online, pick up in store.

Replacing Your Headlights

Advance Auto PartsThere are basically two reasons why you’d want to replace your headlights, right? First, maybe one of your headlight bulbs burned out–a safety hazard that can get you an unwelcome ticket from the local authorities. Second, maybe you’re tired of the pale yellow glow from your stock headlights, and you’re ready to upgrade to better bulbs or something like xenon headlights with an HID conversion kit. Either way, you’re probably here because you’re looking for some advice on how to proceed. So let’s dive right in and talk about the best replacement headlights for your needs.

1. Replacing a Burned-Out Headlight Bulb

Here’s a rule of thumb that I always tell people when they’ve got a burned-out headlight bulb: if one bulb’s gone, the other won’t be far behind. It just makes sense to replace both bulbs at the same time.

But now let me give you a tip that’ll save you a few bucks: Don’t go to your dealership to get the replacement headlights. Sure, those dealer lights might have the manufacturer logo stamped on the metal somewhere, but the truth is, manufacturers tend to use the same suppliers as auto parts stores. They just charge you more. And if you get your replacement headlights at a place such as Advance Auto Parts, chances are you’ll end up with brighter, longer-lasting bulbs than what came with your car.

The only problem with buying headlight bulbs on your own is that they don’t install themselves, so you’ll have to figure that part out as well. Fortunately, it’s not too difficult. Many independent mechanics will install the bulbs for you at little or no cost, and if you’re feeling adventurous, you can look in your owner’s manual for headlight replacement instructions.

2. Upgrading Your Headlights

Unless you’re lucky enough to have a car that came from the factory with xenon headlights (a.k.a. HIDs or high-intensity discharge lights), you could probably use a little more light on dark roads. One option is to pick up a couple non-xenon replacement headlights, because as I said above, they do tend to be more powerful than your factory units. It’s a simple and cost-effective solution that might be all you’ll ever need.

Another option is to check your headlight lenses to make sure they’re not cloudy or yellow with age. If your lenses are dirty, it doesn’t matter how nice your bulbs are–you’re still going to have illumination issues. Especially if your car is on the older side, it wouldn’t hurt to pick up a reasonably priced headlight restoration kit and clean up those lenses.

But if you really want the latest and greatest in headlight technology, xenons are the only way to go. They’re the ones with the distinctive white or bluish-white glow, and they’re increasingly prevalent on new cars nowadays, even non-luxury models. You’ll need a xenon conversion kit to do it right, and installing it yourself could take a couple hours–not to mention the fact that these xenon conversion kits can run into the hundreds of dollars for the parts alone. But the difference in illumination can be dramatic, and the kids seem to think they look cool, too.

How about you folks, have you replaced your headlight bulbs recently? Any tips for those who are starting down that road? Tell us about it in the comments, and maybe we can all learn a thing or two from your experience.

Editor’s note: Can you see clearly? If not, visit Advance Auto Parts for the best in headlights, wipers and more.

Storing Your Car for the Winter

Advance Auto PartsAre the winters warm where you live? If so, you’re among the lucky few, because most of us have to deal with freezing temperatures, snowstorms, salted roads and the rest of it. That’s why it makes sense for snow-belt residents to store nonessential vehicles for the winter. You’ll still need your daily driver to get around, of course, but it’s best not to tackle winter roads in your weekend cruiser, whether it’s a classic convertible or a contemporary sports car.

So when you’re ready to put your pride and joy away till spring, check out my five essential tips for winter car storage. As long as you follow these five steps, your ride should fire right up when you’re reunited in the spring. Did I forget anything? Go ahead and tell me in a comment if you think I left out an important step.

1. Fill the gas tank and add fuel stabilizer

This may seem counterintuitive, since the car won’t be going anywhere for months. But if you store a car for the winter with a partially or mostly empty gas tank, condensation can form inside the tank, and you also run the risk of drying out the seals. So fill up that tank before you park it, and here’s another winter car care tip: don’t forget to add a fuel stabilizer like Sta-Bil so that the gas will stay fresh.

2. Connect your battery to a trickle charger

Your battery will inevitably go dead during winter car storage if you just leave it the way it is, and cold temperatures might knock it out for good, so you’ll need to take preemptive action. Some mechanics suggest taking the battery out altogether, but I’m not a fan of that; you lose all your electronic settings, for one thing, and for another, who knows what computer system you might mess up if it’s a modern car? What I recommend for winter car battery maintenance is picking up a “trickle charger” and making sure you run it at regular intervals to keep the battery charged. This lets you keep the battery hooked up in the car without any risk that it’ll wear itself out.

3. Overinflate your tires or remove the wheels altogether

If you let your car sit in the same spot for three or four months without preparing the tires, you’re bound to get flat spots. So here’s the deal: if you’ve got modern radial tires, add an extra 5-10psi of air for the winter–and if you’ve got old-school bias ply tires, put the car on jack stands, take the wheels off and stack them in a corner. For full protection, consider doing the same with radials, too. Hey, you’ll thank me come spring when you’re the only one who doesn’t need a replacement set of tires.

4. Keep the parking brake off

Here’s a little thing that a lot of people forget about. If you park a car for months with the emergency brake engaged, the e-brake could get stuck to the rotors and warp them, wreaking havoc on your braking performance. Just get some wheel chocks instead and stick one behind each wheel–problem solved.

5. Drive it ASAP!

I know I’m getting ahead of myself here, but seriously, don’t wait a minute longer than you have to. Cars like to be driven, and months of solitary confinement isn’t their idea of a good time. I’m not talking about a little trip around the block, either; when you drive a car that’s been in winter car storage, you’ll want to mix in plenty of highway driving to get the operating temperature up and circulate those fluids through the engine. Speaking of fluids, you’ll definitely want to get an oil change as soon as you take your car out of hibernation, but I’ll have more to say about that when I revisit this topic in the spring.

How about you–what are you planning to do when you store your car for the winter? Let me know; I always like to hear about what other mechanics next door are up to.

Editor’s note: visit Advance Auto Parts for a wide selection of quality auto parts and accessories. Buy online, pick up in store.

Graphic courtesy of Carpediem Mag.

Spark Plugs 101

Advance Auto PartsA lot of people come to me for car advice, and here’s one thing I’ve noticed: everyone thinks they know about spark plugs, but almost no one really does. So I decided to make this column all about spark plugs, because trust me, your engine relies on them every day–which means you do, too. That’s why I want you to get familiar with these little buggers. Let’s dive right in with a little Q&A.

What do spark plugs do?

Here’s a fun fact about your engine: unless you’re driving an electric car, in which case this article definitely isn’t for you, you’ve got what’s known as an ICE, which stands for “internal combustion engine.” Now, combustion requires a spark, doesn’t it. See where I’m going with this? Spark plugs are a crucial part of your engine because they’re what makes that combustion happen, both at ignition and while the engine moves through each combustion cycle during operation. When the plugs aren’t doing their job, your engine’s not getting the full combustion benefit, so everything from acceleration and fuel economy to engine smoothness is going to be negatively affected.

How do I know when to replace spark plugs?

My rule of thumb is that if something seems funny about your engine, you should check the spark plugs first. If you’re a hands-off kind of car owner, of course, you’ll just take it to your mechanic and get it diagnosed. But if you want to inspect the plugs yourself, it’s a pretty easy job. Check your owner’s manual to find out where the plugs are located, and then pop the hood and have a look. If the plugs appear dirty, that could mean you’ve got an oil leak or excessive carbon deposits–and if they look damaged, your engine might be running too hot or misfiring.

Keep in mind, though, that even if they look fine, they might be past their prime. Consult your owner’s manual for when to replace spark plugs, too, and if you think you’re past due, I’d recommend replacing them, just to be safe.

Can I replace my own spark plugs?

Now, I said you could check them, but I didn’t say you should try to replace them! Truth is, for a seasoned backyard mechanic, popping the old plugs out and putting new ones in is pretty straightforward. But if you haven’t done it before, you should probably have someone like me looking over your shoulder the first time through. I know the internet’s full of DIY guides on how to change spark plugs, but there’s some serious wrenching going on here–literally. You need a socket wrench, and you may need a specific spark-plug socket and other accessories as well. Plus, there’s a fairly advanced technique called “gapping” that may or may not be required, depending on your vehicle’s age and other factors.

Promise me this: if you do try one of those tutorials on how to change spark plugs, please, wait for the engine to cool off first. I’m talking four hours, minimum. Those plugs are responsible for combustion, remember? Better safe than scalded!

What about cleaning spark plugs?

Here’s where I differ from a lot of DIY-ers. You’ll find various folk remedies for cleaning spark plugs, but for peace of mind, I say just swap ‘em out if they’re that dirty. Because how much money are you really saving, right? Twenty bucks? Fifty? Spark plugs are a car owner’s dream, really, because they’re that rare important engine part that’s also inexpensive. If it’s my car, I believe my engine’s worth that kind of investment, every day of the week. Give it the shiny new plugs it deserves.

What do you think?

I’ve seen a few spark plugs in my day, but I’ll be the first to admit, this article isn’t the last word on the subject. Got anything to contribute? See things differently? Chime in with a comment, and help me and everyone else here understand where you’re coming from.


Editor’s note: For more info on these DIY essentials, check out the Resources & Video section at Advance Auto Parts.