Synthetic types of motor oil were first available for cars in the early 1970s. AMSOIL was the first with a product, in 1972, with Mobil Oil Company following suit three years later. By the early 1990s, most major oil companies had synthetic options in their product lines and now it seems as though there are new brands every year.
As the name suggests, synthetic oil is a lubricant that is artificially made from chemicals, rather than directly from crude oil, although some synthetics start with crude oil as its base. There are also synthetic blends that contain conventional oil along with no more than 30% man-made fluids.
Advantages and disadvantages of synthetic oils
Synthetic oils were originally created for use in jet planes with high-temperature engines. So, not surprisingly, this man-made oil flows better than conventional oil in extreme heat. It also operates better in extremely cold temperatures. These oils:
- have lower rates of evaporation, which means that less oil is consumed
- have less sludge buildup
- can help with fuel economy
- cause less wear on the engine and therefore help with engine longevity
Overall, a synthetic choice holds up better over a longer period of time; this is why some manufacturers state that users can go longer between oil changes. As a caution, pollutants build up in the engine with conventional OR synthetic motor oil and so it’s important to follow recommendations given in your car manual.
Synthetic motor oils are more expensive, typically twice as much as conventional oil, because of the added cost of the refinement process. If you don’t drive your car hard and/or in extreme conditions, and if you don’t tow heavy loads or supercharge your engine, and if you change your oil promptly on schedule, the price increase to switch from conventional oil may not be worth it to you.
Early synthetic motor oil offerings were known to leak, especially when people switched back and forth between conventional and synthetic, but that is no longer a problem.
Before you decide whether you should switch to synthetic, check your owner’s manual to get your car maker’s recommendations. Switching to a type of oil that goes against recommendations could affect your warranty.
Still have questions about the right motor oil for your vehicle?
Ask a Team Member at any of our 4000 auto parts stores across the country.
Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts offers great savings on motor oil, oil filters and more.
Having dirty headlights filled with buildup can dim your light brightness and place you at risk for accidents. You may even get ticketed by a highway patrolman if he feels your lights are dulled enough to warrant a risk to you or others on the road. Fortunately, cleaning your car headlight bulbs is simple, something you can get done on a Saturday afternoon.
Here you’ll find a couple home remedies, plus a few fast and easy solutions that are available at Advance Auto Parts.
A popular home remedy to clean car headlights is with toothpaste.
While you may find it to be an odd solution, toothpaste does work.
First, make sure you are using regular white toothpaste. Mint paste or those that are designed for whitening or other special purposes can actually damage your headlights.
Take the plain white toothpaste and squeeze it onto a soft dry cloth. Wipe your headlights in circular motions in small sections until the dulling grime is removed. Don’t try to cover a large area. Instead take on small portions of the bulbs and concentrate on them until you get a clean shine.
Rinse the area with water and wipe with a clean, wet cloth. You can then apply some polish specially designed for headlights if you wish.
You can also purchase sandpaper to clean headlight bulbs and do what is known as a “lasting clean” method.
This will not only clean your bulbs, but prevent them from becoming dirty again in the near future.
Start by purchasing three pieces of sandpaper:
- 400 grit
- 1200 grit
- 1500 grit
Clean your lenses twice with rubbing alcohol and then with either clean paper towels or a clean, dry cloth towel.
Use a spritzer bottle of water to wet sand your headlights. Do this thoroughly with the 400-grit sandpaper. You will likely begin to see the factory coating come off of the lights. Keep on sanding until the coating is completely removed.
Then, you will have to eliminate any scratches left behind by the 400-grit sandpaper by using the 1200- and 1500-grit paper. If your car headlight bulbs have an interior texture (you will know because you won’t be able to see the light bulb inside), then you can usually finish the job with the 1200-grit paper.
Finally, wipe them off with more dry paper towels or a clean, dry cloth.
Complete headlight restoration may require a little more than a home remedy can offer.
Over time, the plastic lens casing around your headlight can get cloudy and diminish your visibility. Why go to the dealer when you can do it yourself for a fraction of the cost? On top of that, most restorations can be done in about an hour.
For the ultimate headlight restoration kit, check out the 3M Headlight Lens Restoration System.
Editor’s note: with the days getting shorter, it’s important to always ensure your headlights are in top working order. Count on Advance Auto Parts to help you see clearly all season long.
One day in May 1978, Tom Boyer headed out to the dry cleaners, expecting to come home with a few pieces of newly cleaned clothes. He also arrived home, though, as the proud owner of a 1937 Cadillac LaSalle–much to the surprise of his wife, Jere.
It had started out, as many things do, innocently enough. All Tom had wanted to do was to pick up his shirts! But, when the dry cleaner’s owner, Wayne, asked him to check out the vintage cars stored in the garage, Tom couldn’t resist. “Classic cars have always been an interest of mine,” Tom said. “I appreciate their appearance, durability and nostalgic value.”
The cars included three gorgeous Packards–a 1941 coupe, a 1946 limo and a 1952 sedan–plus something large and lumpy that was all covered up. When Tom asked Wayne what was beneath that covering, Wayne shared that it was a LaSalle that needed rewiring, and he didn’t know when he’d ever get to the project.
Well, you already know the rest of the story. And, when Tom told Jere about his impending purchase, her reply was, “Honey, I think you’ve just been taken to the cleaners,” but she didn’t try to get him to change his mind.
Since then, the car has been rewired and the fuel pump rebuilt. There is also a new carburetor and new brakes, plus a new battery, springs and tires. The interior has been refurbished and, in 1987, Tom decided that a car as regal as his 1937 LaSalle needed a grander castle, so he built a newer and bigger garage, complete with heat and running water, to house his prized vehicle. He drives it frequently on sunny summer days and lovingly stores it away each winter.
It isn’t surprising that, on some nights, Tom and Jere have popped a bowl of popcorn, poured a couple of soft drinks and watched “All in the Family.” Their favorite part was when Archie sang and Edith warbled in the show intro that “Gee, our old LaSalle ran great . . .”
Birth of the “blood brother to the Cadillac”
The LaSalle was introduced in 1927 after General Motors determined that, for some people, even the lowest-priced Cadillac was out of their financial reach – and yet, many of these people could afford more than the highest-priced Buick. In other words, General Motors had uncovered an unfulfilled need and were eager to fill the gap. Moreover, 1927 was the 25th (silver) anniversary of the 1902-founded Cadillac, so the release of a new companion car that year would be perfect timing.
No longer “any color as long as it’s black”
Okay, so Henry Ford never actually said that. But, the reality is that approximately 12 million of the 15 million Model Ts were black; plus, plenty others were of a darker hue that almost looked black. So, when the LaSalle was being brainstormed, individual styling within a particular vehicle model was almost non-existent.
Although pre-1920s cars are fascinating, they definitely weren’t streamlined in appearance; taken as a whole, they were pretty clunky. In fact, associate professor and chair of the history department at Dowling College, Yanek Mieczkowski, describes cars from the early 1900s as:
- “Tall, boxy and disjointed”
- having “parts that jutted out from its body, as if they had been welded on: headlights, fenders, a luggage rack, running boards, a spare tire, and a bulky radiator grille. The windshield, split into two panels, stood stiff and upright”
- “an arthritic ancestor of today’s sleek, speedy roadsters”
Early manufacturers, Mieczkowski says, “were much more concerned with function than form. Their cars were notoriously unreliable, so engineering refinements had to take precedence over aesthetic appeal.”
Enter Harley Earl. Harley was born in 1893 to a father who owned Earl Carriage Works in Los Angeles, California. At the shop, young Harley helped his father to build and repair horse-drawn carriages and wagons, hands-on training that would serve him well.
At the end of World War I, Don Lee Cadillac bought out Earl Carriage Works and Harley stayed on to help. So, in the 1920s, if you had enough dough, enough “clams,” or “moolah” or “rhino” or “spondulicks” – all synonyms for money during this self-indulgent decade – Harley could customize your Cadillac so that your car took on a distinctive appearance.
Harley catered to the impulses of the affluent Hollywood crowd during the era of flapper starlets, slick gangsters and cigar-chomping movie moguls, in the days when celebrities danced the Charleston and imbibed moonshine in smoke-filled speakeasies. One of his first customers was the popular and wealthy silent film star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, whose career abruptly ended after he was blamed – probably falsely – for causing the death of an aspiring actress.
Through his job, Harley met the president of General Motors (Alfred P. Sloan, Jr.) and the general manager of Cadillac (Lawrence Fisher); both were so dazzled by Harley’s artistic designs that they hired him to consult on the development of the LaSalle.
The result was a stylish, sporty vehicle that cost anywhere from $2,495 to $2,685, and it came in an astonishing variety of body styles: eleven of them, to be exact. Sales were significant and Harley was hired to head the newly created “art and colour” department for General Motors. Thus, automobile styling was born.
It wasn’t just the styling, though, that made the LaSalle unique. According to Walter M.P. McCall, author of 80 Years of Cadillac LaSalle, “The LaSalle was a totally-new car. It was powered by its very own 75-horsepower, 90-degree, L-head, V-type, eight cylinder engine of 303 cubic inch displacement and 3 1/8- inch bore and 4 15/16 inch stroke.”
If you love all of these details, here is a website that provides nuts and bolts info for the LaSalle by year and here is another excellent book: LaSalle: Cadillac’s Companion Car plus a gallery of LaSalle photos.
If you could go back into time, back to when the LaSalle was debuting, you’d find Herbert Hoover residing in the White House with the economy fairly stable. Yes, America had experienced a mild recession in 1927, but that was only because of the trouble with rising oil prices, plus Henry Ford’s six-month factory shutdown that took place so that he could retire the reliable but old-fashioned Model T and switch production to the brand spanking new Model A automobile.
The average income in the United States in 1927 was $5,496.73 (net was $5,294.21 after a pesky $202.52 was taken out in taxes), putting the LaSalle out of reach for the typical American. As a point of reference, the salary of the average Joe in 1927 would be comparable to an income of $70,047.76 today.
On the other hand, in an exclusive section of Park Avenue in New York City, the average income was $75,000 in 1927 (which works out to $915,192.22 annually today) and this demographic spent $280 million annually on luxuries, with $10 million of it earmarked for glamorous vehicles. This crowd, though, would be more likely to buy a full-fledged Cadillac or a Packard, rather than the more economically-priced LaSalle.
Approximately 60% of Americans drove some type of car by the latter part of the 20s decade, with nearly 70% of them choosing either a Ford or General Motors vehicle; as a third choice, people were intrigued by the newly created Chrysler company, while starting to turn away from Durant, Willys and Studebaker. Because so many people now had personalized transportation, fewer people rode the railroads and more people moved to the suburbs, since they had an easy way to commute to work in the city.
If you were buying a car in 1927, you’d probably be relieved to discover that state highway departments, in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture, had finally decided to have designated highways with numbers that stayed consistent from coast to coast. That way, officials figured, it would be easier to drive from one state to another without getting lost, a development that still felt new to many people. This endeavor was so successful that, by April 1927, there were 96,626 miles of these state routes (of course, today there are approximately 4 million miles of highway in the country, but who’s counting).
As you drove along one of these scenic highways, you’d see numbered route signs and names of villages, towns and cities welcoming you within their borders – and you might also see quirky signs with sing-song-y verses such as this:
So neat and trim
Red Riding Hood
Is chasing him
These mini-poems served as entertainment for travelers, and also as advertising for a struggling company that was attempting to sell a new product: a revolutionary shaving cream that no longer required brushing on. The product was named Burma-Shave. The owner of the company had a son named Allan Odell, who came up with the idea of these offbeat roadside advertisements and who bought $200 worth of lumber to turn them into reality. As a test, Allan built signs that appeared along the highways in southern Minnesota, since that was close to the family business. Early signs didn’t rhyme, though, and weren’t as catchy as the one quoted above.
As the verses got better, building and posting additional signs became more worthwhile; eventually signs were posted in sets of six, about 100 feet apart, on highways across the country. And, the company that had virtually no sales at the start of 1926 ultimately made $68,000 in sales by that year’s end. During the Depression, when money was extremely tight, sales exceeded $3 million – riches that would be the equivalent of $50 million in 2013.
Optimism largely reigned. After all, because of the invention of talkie movies, people all over the world were watching American-made movies and listening to American voices. Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic, while Babe Ruth hit an historic number of home runs. America was at the forefront of the world “dominant in nearly every field – in popular culture, finance and banking, military might, invention and technology.”
So, in 1927, when the LaSalle first hit the highways, it was a great time to be an American – and a beautiful day to take a ride!
Subsequent LaSalle models
Three months after the launching of the LaSalle, William “Big Will” Rader, accompanied by renowned dirt track racer Gus Bell, drove a Series 303 LaSalle Roadster chassis for 950 miles during a 10-hour endurance event, travelling at an average of 95.3 miles per hour. The publicity over this accomplishment most likely helped to spur on sales of the LaSalle; 26,807 LaSalles were sold in the first two years of its existence, which were remarkable sales figures for the time.
Sales of the LaSalle remained steady in 1929, but the production of the LaSalle decreased in 1930, thanks to lowered demand after the stock market crash in October 1929, which ushered in the Great Depression. Cadillac’s big news in 1930 wasn’t related to the LaSalle; rather it was focused on their new V-16 engine Cadillac, manufactured to go head-to-head with Packard for the luxury market. Three thousand, two hundred and fifty one Cadillac V-16 cars sold that year, which made Packard executives nervous.
In 1931, Cadillac launched a V-12 engine vehicle and the LaSalle was now nearly a replica of the V-8 engine Cadillac, as far as mechanics went. But the newspaper headlines focused on the economy, which continued to worsen and to threaten the success of any luxury car dealer. The year of 1932 was the worst year for car manufacturers since 1918, which was at the heart of World War I; only 8,084 Cadillacs, including LaSalles, were sold, with the less expensive LaSalle outselling the more expensive Cadillacs. In 1933, the sales figures dropped to 6,655.
In 1934, it was said that Cadillac management planned to drop the LaSalle production altogether, but they were too impressed by Harley Earl’s planned design to follow through. Perhaps the most exciting feature was the new LaSalle engine, which was a 240 cubic-inch straight-8, 95-horsepower engine. This engine was used for three years in the LaSalle (1934-1936). Sales picked up, but Packard’s lower-priced 120 model was providing serious competition for the LaSalle.
Cadillac was happy with the sales of its restyled 1937 LaSalle; overall, Cadillac sold 46,152 cars that year – which was double its 1936 sales and quadruple its 1935 sales. If you search the Internet, you’ll find the following information listed verbatim in multiple places: 1937 - The Cadillac LaSalle V8 set a new speed and endurance record at the Indianapolis 500 with an average speed of 82 miles per hour.
This factoid doesn’t say exactly what speed and endurance record was set, so Advance Auto Parts decided to delve a little deeper. It did take a bit of digging, but what we found was this photo of the original news story from May 10, 1937, along with this caption:
Running under 3-A sanction, as the Indianapolis Speedway prepared for its 25th 500-mile race, a stock LaSalle V8 with case eclipsed the record of the first event. Back in 1911 an especially engineered racing car won the race at an average of 74.59 miles an hour. Ralph DePalma (upper right) who finished sixth in the original “500″ in 1911, drove the LaSalle the 500-mile distance. He is shown conferring with Stanley L. Reed, American Automobile Association observer, at the start of the run, which was designed to show the progress of passenger car manufacturing rather than to create new speed records.
For fun, here is the pre-LaSalle vehicle that DePalma drove in 1911.
The year 1938 saw disappointing LaSalle sales, as Packard was taking over more of the lower-end luxury market. By 1940, the decision was made to simply absorb the LaSalle in 1941 into the Cadillac line. From 1941 on, no more LaSalles were produced.
Honoring the LaSalle
Even though the LaSalle only existed for 14 years before being incorporated into the Cadillac line without the “LaSalle” designation, the passion for this gorgeous vehicle still burns strongly. “The appeal for the LaSalle,” says Alan Haas, “is its sportiness. This vehicle exemplifies the art deco design, draw and appeal.”
The early ones, he said, included “open touring cars. LaSalles also came as a convertible coupe with a golf bag door, as full sedans – and even as seven-passenger cars.”
Alan’s commitment to preserving the heritage of the LaSalle is significant. After working for Cadillac for 34 years, he “initiated the actions that resulted in the founding of the Cadillac Historical Collection, which is now part of the GM Heritage Center in Sterling Heights, Michigan.” The GM Heritage Center is wholly owned by GM. The Cadillac & Lasalle Club Museum & Research Center is a separate 501(C)(3) organization founded by the Cadillac & Lasalle Club. There is no connection between the two.” He served as the president of the Cadillac & LaSalle Club from 1993 to 1998 and is currently serving as the co-chair of the Cadillac & LaSalle Club Museum & Research Center Celebrating the Standard Capital campaign; in this campaign, they are raising $2 million for the construction of a new museum located in the Gilmore Car Museum.
“We just broke ground for the construction,” Alan says, “on Sunday, September 29, 2013. The museum is scheduled to be completed by July 1, 2014 and we’ll have a grand opening celebration at that time. The museum is patterned after General Motors’ dealerships of the 1940s. GM had suggested designs for their dealers and two of them in the 40s – Pemberton in Toledo, Ohio and Brogan Cadillac in New Jersey – built theirs almost exactly to those specifications. We have photos that helped us to use this same design for our museum.”
The LaSalle was, Alan says, “an entry level Caddy in all senses of the word” and the museum will house several LaSalle and non-LaSalle Cadillacs behind a plate glass showroom; there will also be a vehicle prep area and places to display artifacts, signs and other memorabilia. Vehicles displayed will include a 1937 LaSalle convertible sedan, a 1910 Cadillac, the 1957 Eldorado that Dan Ackroyd drove in the film, “Driving Miss Daisy,” an “exquisite” 1930 Cadillac, a 1941 60 special Cadillac and a 1948 60 special, which was the first year that the vehicle included fins; the fins on this particular car are described in more than one place online as “curious tail-fins.”
Alan remembers when General Motors planned to revive the LaSalle name in 1976, to the point that the LaSalle name appeared on the prototype’s dashboard. “Shortly before the car was introduced, though,” he reveals, “the name was changed to ‘Seville.’” The name was considered again for another model, but that never went anywhere.
Whatever happened to the LaSalle designer, Harley Earl?
By the time that Harley had worked just one year for General Motors, he was overseeing a staff of fifty designers, supervising design and color choices for all Fisher Body-built products at General Motors. The longer he worked there, the more influential that he became.
“In the beginning, he shared control of design with the powerful Fisher Brothers,” reads an article found at the GM Heritage Center Site, “but eventually he would gain complete control of automotive styling, both exterior and interior as well as embracing the design of auto exhibits, experimental dream cars, streamlined trains, home appliances, batteries, radios, and all other products and accessories manufactured by General Motors.”
Although Harley struggled to compromise with engineers and although he created designs that failed, he had many more successes; he:
- Blended headlights and fenders into the overall car to create a smooth appearance
- Rid cars of their luggage rack and created the modern trunk
- Concealed the front radiator grille
- Eliminated running boards
- Lengthened and lowered formerly clunky car bodies
- Lowered the passenger compartment for a more comfortable ride
- Used modeling clay to create prototypes of cars so that he could easily make changes before working with metal
- Introduced the four-headlight system, two-tone paint and the one-piece-wrap-around windshield
- Designed the Cadillac Aero-Dynamic Coupe in1933, the first vehicle with a one-piece, all steel roof; previous cars roofs were made from wooden frames and a piece of canvas
- Designed the Buick Y-Job, called the world’s first concept car, intended to test advanced technologies and the public’s reaction to them, rather than for mass production; cutting edge features included fender extensions over the doors, headlamps that disappeared, flush door handles, a convertible top that was covered by metal and electric window regulators.
- Became a vice president at General Motors in 1940
- Incorporated tailfins in Cadillacs in 1948, after being inspired by the P-38 Lightning fighter plane used in World War II; fins continued to grow in both size and popularity on Caddies until 1959 and made appearances through the mid-1960s
- Focused on creating dream cars in the 1950s, which were unique cars that would be sent around the country, to show Americans the future of transportation; innovations during this decade include pillarless hardtops, the first true American sports car (1953 Chevrolet Corvette) and the Firebird gas turbine program
Harley retired in 1959 and moved to Florida. He once said that, “I dream automobiles” and, because of him, a car’s style became an important component of new launches.
Editor’s note: what do you think of the LaSalle? Of Harley Earl’s contribution to the world of automobile production? What other vintage cars would you like to see profiled in this blog? And while you’re pondering the classic curves of the Cadillac, visit Advance Auto Parts for the best in service, selection and price.
It’s never too early to teach someone the basics of auto maintenance, or to answer common auto repair questions.
But, you need to be careful where you begin.
Teaching a youngster (who may not even know how to open the hood!) about how to replace a timing belt isn’t a smart move. Your child can easily become overwhelmed, and feel that do it yourself auto repair projects are too difficult.
That’s the wrong message to convey.
On the other hand, if you start with a simple project, your child can gain some confidence, along with a sense of accomplishment. That’ll make your child more eager to learn the next lesson.
Try these “starter” auto maintenance projects.
- Test the condition of the wiper blades. Install new blades, if necessary.
- Check the air pressure of the tires, along with the tread depth. Point out signs of tire wear. Rotate the tires if it’s time.
- Inspect the air filter. Insert a new one if it’s clogged.
- Check the fluid levels–such as oil, brake, windshield wiper, coolant and transmission–and top them off.
- Complete an oil, lube and filter job.
- Demonstrate how to put on the spare tire. Check its tire pressure.
- Test your battery, and check its fluid levels.
- Inspect the belts for signs of fraying or cracking.
- Put together a car emergency kit.
- Perform a tune-up (a little more advanced task).
Continue your car maintenance 101 lesson at our stores.
Let’s say you checked the air filter as one of your teaching lessons. You find that it’s filthy.
Next, you could take your child to your nearby Advance Auto Parts store where you can get all your auto repair questions answered. Show your child how to look up the correct size air filter for your vehicle, select the right brand and bring the filter home. Then complete your lesson by replacing the old filter with the one you just bought.
Again, completing these relatively simple do it yourself auto repair projects can give your child some confidence–and spark a desire to take on more complicated tasks down the road. Plus, if your child or teen is part of a homeschooling group, you could give lessons to all of them, positively influencing an entire group of young people and teach them valuable real life skills.
Editor’s note: it’s also time to get schooled in the art of savings cash! Visit Advance Auto Parts for great deals on quality auto parts, accessories and more.
Graphic courtesy of MomTrends.com.
What happens when “Halloween meets gasoline?” Or, phrased another way, what do you get when you mix a sports car event with elements of All Hallow’s Eve – and then a dash or two of Mardi Gras?
The answer is . . . you get 24 Hours of LeMons, described as “endurance racing for $500 cars.” And, that’s “not just an oxymoron,” the race website reassures dubious site visitors. Instead, “it’s a breeding ground for morons.” You’ve probably heard of the oh-so-prestigious French 24 Hours of Le Mans race, right? If so, then set aside everything you know about that race – and traditional car racing in general – and prepare to immerse yourself into a whole ‘nother world.
Who came up with this idea, anyhow?
Well, you can credit – or blame – longtime car journalist John “Jay” Lamm who, around January 2000, suggested that a friend of his (Martin Swig) organize a car race in which the vehicles must cost no more than $500. Swig followed through and, in June 2000, this event debuted in California. In what became the Double 500 Motor Tour, participants would “race” for 500 miles in the Bay Area in cars that cost less than $500. And, in the year 2000, that amount of money didn’t buy a whole lot of car.
Therefore, entrants needed to lower their expectations about what their dream race car would look like. One participant, David Cammarano, came up with this guideline, published in the San Francisco Chronicle: “If I sat in it for 10 minutes, and it didn’t smell like somebody had lived there, then it was a contender.”
David had tough competition for that race, with seven other brave souls entering the fray – including Jay Lamm, who was able (at the very last minute!) to purchase a 1979 tan Alfetta sedan for his five hundred bucks. “It was the single worst car,” Jay laments, “that I’ve ever driven and, as you can imagine, that’s saying a lot. The gearbox froze every ten minutes. It overheated. The guibo was shot. The suspension was so floppy and woozy that halfway through the event my dog Conway barfed all over the back seat. The registration tag, on further inspection, had been hand-done in colored paper and Sharpie.”
Besides that, the seller of this Alfetta beauty drove an even harder bargain. He’d sell this car for $500 ONLY if Jay also carted away his crappy old dune buggy. The fee to enter the first Double 500 race wasn’t high – just “your dignity” – and this fairly cheap but nevertheless incredible experience sparked in Jay the impetus for 24 Hours of Lemons.
Fast forward to 2006
That year, Lamm, along with two of his car show buddies, Nick Pon and Jeff Glenn, decided to introduce the 24 Hours of LeMons to the world. In this event, participants were once more limited to $500 in their car purchase; this time, though, the competition would take place on a racetrack.
The next year, three events were held; the year after that, seven. Three years later, even more events were being held in multiple locales across the country, making race organizing and management a full-time job for its three founders. In fact, co-founder Nick Pons points out that, “in California, every race is full and we now need to turn people away.”
Nuts and bolts
For every car on the track, there are 4 to 6 people who take turns driving that particular vehicle around the track. Typically, one driver will race for 90 to 120 minutes, and then stop to fuel up. At that point, teams usually switch drivers. At the end of the race, whichever team has completed the most laps (minus whatever penalties they received) is the winner.
Nick estimates that about 9,000 people have participated in LeMons racing, with a good percentage of them participating frequently. From younger to older, racers are both men and women, with males predominating. “Lots of teams,” Nick explains, “are made up of a guy and three golf buddies who have no idea what they’re doing. And, on the other hand, there are also a fair number of accomplished racers.” The atmosphere is family friendly, with relatives often on the same racing teams, including father/daughter and brother/sister matchups.
Judges classify the cars as A, B or C – or, as Nick says, as the “good, the bad and the ugly”:
- Class A: the fastest cars, ones that were good cars when new, such as a Miata or BMW
- Class B: originally decent cars, but never sporty, such as an Accord or any Saturn
- Class C: “cars that were awful from the get go, such as a Pinto or Chevette”
Drivers need to be careful on the track, because parts tend to fall off the cars and they often need to eat the rust, rather than the dust, from the cars that pass them. Then there are the hard lemons that spectators throw at the vehicles and all the havoc that they can wreak. Winners get paid – but in hundreds of pounds of nickles, coins that will probably be tossed through the cars’ broken windows.
“Somehow,” Nick continues,” racing cars as an activity has become super serious. Every other hobby has a pro version and a fun version. Bowling, for example, has professionals, and then there’s the guy with a pot belly. And now, people have a choice with racing, too. At LeMons, we simply bring a bunch of junk cars together and then sit back to see what happens.”
Stuff you need to know
The rules, according to Nick, are elegantly simple: you can spend up to $500 buying a car for the race, and money spent to fix any non-safety items – including work on the transmission and/or engine – goes towards the $500 cap. Funds put towards wheels, brakes, a roll cage, fire extinguisher and safety harnesses, though, are not included in the $500, because safety is paramount.
“The car just needs to be in good enough shape to get to the track,” Nick explains, “where each car gets a safety check, which is the only part of the event that is taken seriously. During this BS inspection, each driver gets to tell his or her story, while a judging panel tests the veracity of claims.”
Although the race operates on a word of honor system, drivers beware. Judging is based on gut feelings, with the judges empowered to assign a penalty lap for each $10 they believe was spent on a car that exceeds the $500 cap.
The long, strong arm of the law
Also known as Judge Phil, or the Residual Value Sage or the Chief Justice of LeMons Supreme Court, we bring you . . . Phil Greden of Denver, Colorado.
As the chief judge of LeMons, Phil is responsible for choosing the other judges for each race; these other judges are typically people involved in LeMons who live in the vicinity of the locale of the current race (which is a fancy way of saying that the other judges at a California race are likely to be from California, and so forth).
These judges have, according to Phil, two main responsibilities:
- To inspect and enforce the $500 build-cost limit during the pre-race inspections
- To keep order during the race itself
Phil also lets drivers know how much money they can spend between races to fix or upgrade their cars. Overall, he says, “I’m trying to ensure that as many racers as possible have as good a time as possible, while at the same time trying to keep them from getting obliterated in fiery crashes or crushed beneath falling transmissions.”
Easy job, right, Phil? He disagrees.
“If I let a cheated-up car get through the inspection and that team stomps everyone else, the other teams are sad,” he explains, “but if I bring the hammer down on a legit car that smells cheaty, that team is sad. I’ve had to learn to combine the good-cop and bad-cop roles.” Later on, you’ll hear more about some of the creative penalties imposed by Phil and his posse.
When asked what type of racers thrives at LeMons, Phil describes them this way:
- One is the group of good friends who enjoy solving problems together, eating those big plastic barrels of Orange Dye #312 Cheez Puffs together, making junkyard runs together, and so on.
- The other is the kind of person who has always built weird projects in the garage and has finally found a venue in which his or her achievements are met with admiration instead of nervous, edging-away-in-discomfort glances.
- And, really, for guys who just want seat time in a fiercely competitive wheel-to-wheel road-race series, it’s a chance to race without the irritating cliquishness of the more “respectable” race series.
Takin’ it to the streets
Advance Auto Parts decided to ask race participants what they thought of the event. That includes racing enthusiast Ray Muratore from New York City, who points out that the judges aren’t above a little bit of bribery.
Bribery! What kind of bribery, you wonder? Well, according to Ray, anything from “lemon cookies to steamed lobsters.” Of course, Ray points out, because bribery is so widespread, the judges might typically receive nourishment from 100 different teams, giving them enough to feed all the workers – which gives the skullduggery a useful edge. “These bribes are practical, yes, and also in the right spirit for LeMons,” Ray says, “which is tongue in cheek.” To get a better sense of the type of humor displayed on race day, check out this YouTube video (you gotta love the pink jacket on the big guy pushing the car!).
Only one race in 2013 will actually be 24 hours, non-stop, and that’s on September 28th-29th in Houston, Texas. Other races feature a long session on Saturday and another long one on Sunday – but are not literally non-stop. And, let’s face it. How many cars worth $500 or less could drive 24 hours straight, anyhow?
“Well,” Nick admits with a laugh. “Some teams do have problems.” When asked to quantify, he estimated that “75 to 80% of cars that enter the race end up with some issue.” One car, Nick remembers, ran reasonably well for five hours before it stalled out. So, the racing team spent the next five hours fixing the vehicle – but, as the clock chimed the eleventh hour, that car was back in the thick of things. Another car, Nick says, didn’t even start until three hours before the race was completely over. “So, a totally flawless race, mechanically speaking?” he muses. “The odds of that happening are . . . let’s say: really low.”
“I was totally alive! I was in a whole different world . . . and so . . . so focused. “
Remember Ray Muratore from New York City? You know, the guy who gave us the inside scoop about how to bribe the judges?
Well, Ray had initially heard about the 24 Hours of LeMons in 2006, when the first race took place. He’d thought it was cool, but then forgot about it. In 2012, though, he saw news about a quirky race in England and recalled hearing about LeMons. Doing a bit of research, he discovered that it had grown substantially, so he and his brother-in-law committed to one another that they’d participate.
Real life interfered when the brother-in-law found out his wife was pregnant, and so he needed to back out of the race. Ray therefore “trolled on forums” and attended a LeMons race to check out the atmosphere. Then, in October 2012, Ray joined a team and raced in a New Hampshire event. Prior to this competition, Ray had only raced in go carts; so, on the first day, he was understandably nervous.
On the second day, though, magic sparked. “I’d come out of a corner and made a right-hand turn that was really hot. I was drifting off, but was able to keep on the track.” The next thing you know, Ray bought his own LeMons-appropriate car – a 1968 Ford Cortina – and signed up for multiple 2013 races. “I’ve already raced four times this year,” Ray says, “and will race again in October.”
Ray believes that it’s the camaraderie that makes this race so appealing. “What’s amazing,” he says, “are the friendships that develop among the teams. If something unfortunate happens to a car, then everyone chips in and helps out – like what happened to a 1969 Rolls Royce. Before the owner of the car got his time driving in the race, someone crashed into the car and damaged it. Next thing you know, at least thirty people were by the car, asking if someone needed a welder and offering the use of their tools. They knew the owner hadn’t had a turn to drive yet, and so they wanted to get the car back on track.”
Ray names something else that makes this race so special – and that’s how participants use this fun activity to do good in the world. When, for example, people purchase lemonade at the race, funds go towards Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation to fight against childhood cancers; thousands of dollars are donated to this charity throughout the year, through lemonade purchases, outright donations – and in a third way, which Ray describes.
“Let’s say that a driver drove off the track and the judges throw a black flag,” he explains. “They – the judges – may give the driver a choice of a penalty: to strap himself to the roof of his car and tell everyone what he did – or to give $100 to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. Chances are good that he’ll donate to the charity.”
Ray takes his generosity a step further. “Any time,” he says, “that someone pays to drive with me, I donate part of that money to fight leukodystrophy. If I win any money, all of that goes to the charity for leukodystrophy, too.” [a disease that attacks the white matter of the brain]
“So,” he concludes. “At 24 Hours of LeMons, we’re doing more than racing. We’re also giving back to the world.”
“Most endearing are the personalities, remarkable people with whom you can’t help but feel a weird sense of community, because they are as strange as you are.”
Eric Rood from Chicago first heard about LeMons in 2010, when he met a friend at a party who knew about the race. Before the night ended, the friend had talked Eric into looking for a car in which to compete. “Now,” Eric says, giving context, “I played video racing games, but I wasn’t too handy with a wrench. Fortunately, LeMons is very open to new people, new racers and new fabricators. Very inclusive. You’ll meet someone who didn’t know a metric set from a standard socket and, one year later, that same person can swap out brake calipers in ten minutes under race conditions. It’s definitely on the job training, like immersion therapy. You get your hands dirty and then it’s ready, set go!”
Eric then raced in two 24 Hours of LeMons races before coming to two realizations:
- He loved the atmosphere and the people
- As a family man, he couldn’t afford it
“It’s the cheapest way possible to race,” he concedes, “but you still need to buy the car and have money left over for fuel and entry feels – and for, let’s face it . . . towing.” 24 Hours of LeMons was in his blood, though, so he started blogging about the events to “get a vicarious fix,” attending the races in the Midwest and using the Internet to gather information about races further from his home. He’s also served as a BS judge at a couple of races.
“These races are intriguing,” he says. “You can’t even call them a sport. They are just their own thing. On the one hand, it involves real endurance racing with all sorts of compelling stuff that goes on. There are people who take the racing very seriously; others who take it seriously but also have fun; and still others who just want to have fun.”
Eric points out that, with such as diverse group of participants, you can take whatever you want from the racing experience. Some, he says:
- Want to improve as a club-type race car driver – and you can do that at LeMons with cheap seat time
- Want to have an adventure because they’re never done anything like racing before; again, cheap seats
- Want to use the event as a canvas for their creativity, whether mechanical or for otherwise making a car look ridiculous
- Want to go to a party, cook up 60 pounds of bacon, drink beer – and then eventually notice, “Oh, wow. There are cars here!”
“What’s cool,” he says, “is that all of this is okay.”
Eric recently provided a preview of a California race that took place over the September 14-15th weekend, making his predictions for the winners of each class. Advance Auto Parts was actually interviewing Eric while the race was ongoing, so we couldn’t ask how closely his predictions matched reality, but Eric was able to confirm that this was the biggest LeMons race to date, with “184 cars on the track at some point, and nearly 1,000 drivers participating over the weekend.”
Reading the comments on his blog provides insight into the prep work that goes into racing, such as this one: “Speaking of which, Resident Crazy-Man MDHarrell hit the road this morning. He’s flat-towing said Racing Saab all the way down here from Seattle behind his nearly identical support/spare-parts-bin OTHER Saab 96. The goal is to get as far as he can before one blows up, then jump into the other to finish the trek. Worry about getting home after the checkered flag.”
Fingers crossed that he did.
“LeMons is amazing. The most fun I’ve ever had in a car! It was like being in a video game and it exceeded my expectations ten-fold.”
So says Mike Romano, member of the Awesome Joe Racing team. He’s from Delaware, with other members of the team living just outside of Philly. And, yes. These are the guys who bribed the judges with lobsters – and they’re promising another culinary delight, details highly classified, for next year’s race.
(P.S. to Mike and other potential race entrants. Judge Phil gave us this inside scoop about his favorite bribes: “I just got a Jeep Tornado valve cover at the last race. That is going right up on my garage wall. I’ve also received some good tools as bribes, from guys that work at Snap-On and Mac Tools.”)
Back to Mike. As he shares in a blog post, here is how he became involved in LeMons: the owner of the racing team attended an event in 2012; he was so impressed that he headed out to find a “$450 BMW 325e with 266,000 miles on the odometer. It was ugly, rusty, and smelled funny. So essentially it was the perfect car to compete in such an event. A true hunk ‘o junk.”
As his blog post details, it took his team right up until the deadline to turn this “hunk ‘o junk” into something safe and drive-able while staying within the LeMons guidelines.
And, what amazed Mike was this contrast: on the one hand, LeMons was a “big party that was super relaxed and comical.” On the other hand, though, the event was “incredibly well organized. From the registration system to driver signs up, logistics are a breeze. It’s well run. It’s fabulous. What’s great is that, while the organizers take safety seriously, they don’t take themselves seriously and are all smiles.”
After the first day of racing . . . well, that’s when everyone really got to let their hair down. “I was in hysterics the whole time,” Mike says, “as we danced into the night.” Danced, that is, alongside other racers who were dressed in bikini bathing suits and, ah, interesting wigs; or pink bunny suits; or as prisoners or pirates – or whatever else their creative minds had conjured up.
Equally as imaginative are the penalties dreamed up by the judges, who go by this golden rule: if something happened, then it’s all your fault. Someone hits your car? Well, then! Why were you there in the first place? “Two guys,” Mike remembers, “crashed twice, so the judges duct taped the guys together and required them to walk around telling everyone that they were bad drivers. It’s a fun way to enforce that, at LeMons, there needs to be super safe driving.”
He also recalls a poignant event, when a team drove a mid-80s Rolls Royce. “This car was slow,” Mike says. “It was lethargic. It didn’t belong in the race at all. Therefore, it did belong and, out of respect, everyone slowed down when going around this unique car.”
LeMons going legit?
The New York Times reported on this phenomenon in July 2013, highlighting the Homer Simpson car and mentioning a few other creative designs, such as the ‘A-Team’ van, a few ‘Animal House’ Deathmobiles and even a plane-car loosely based on the Spirit of St. Louis (if Charles Lindbergh had been an underachieving ground-dweller with low expectations about where he was going in life).”
The Washington Post chimed in that same month, sharing what four dreamers with LeMons stars in their eyes packed for their first race: “a loaded RV, a cargo van, a U-Haul trailer, a pickup truck, a spare motor, an engine crane, a jackstand, a full set of $150 high-performance racing tires (plus two spares), four fireproof racing suits and helmets, assorted power tools, a couple of laptop computers, a WiFi hotspot, a barbecue grill and a cooler full of steaks, chicken, eggs and thick-cut bacon.”
If it’s you, then here are answers to frequently asked questions about the 24 Hours of LeMons. There isn’t a whole lot of 2013 season left, but there is enough time if you’re willing to put the pedal to the metal:
- September 28-29, MSR Houston
- October 26-27, New Hampshire Motor Speedway
- November 2-3, Road America
- December 7-8, Sonoma Raceway
If you’ve already participated in a LeMons race – or plan to – please leave us a comment below. Thanks!
That’s right. October 2, 2013 is National Name Your Car Day. No one seems to know how this holiday got started–which means that you can’t really celebrate it in the wrong way. (Now, that’s my kind of holiday!)
History of vehicle naming
People have been naming their vehicles for thousands of years, with the oldest known example the formal-sounding Praise of the Two Lands, which was the name of an Egyptian ship in 2,613 BCE. Meanwhile, ancient Romans preferred ship names such as Mars, Hercules and Victoria.
And, as soon as cars began being manufactured for mass consumption, the manufacturers began brainstorming catchy names for different models. These names ranged from the Curved Dash Olds to the Model T, and from the Benz Velo to the Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.
Popular car names
A statistic floating around online says that 61% of people name their cars. If you surf around, you’ll even find advice from a self-proclaimed “automobile psychologist” suggesting that you wait to understand your car’s personality (and know its gender!) before choosing a name.
People in Great Britain have apparently taken to car naming with great enthusiasm, with Confused.com listing the top 10 favorite names for male cars and the top 10 for female cars. Here is the entire list, with “Charlie” winning the jackpot for males and “Ruby” for females.
The site also offers another fun feature, whether you already have a name for your car or not:
- If you don’t, use this car naming generator that asks you a few simple questions before giving you a name and then select the option to print out a birth certificate.
- If you have already named your vehicle, then you simply enter in the name and print out your car’s birth certificate.
Cars that are featured in movies and television shows are often named, including:
- General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard
- KITT from Knight Rider
- Batmobile from Batman
- Bumblebee from Transformers
- Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters
- Christine from the Stephen King horror film of the same name
- Herbie from The Love Bug
Editor’s note: What about your car names? Share the most creative ones in the comments below.
Graphic courtesey of Carstache.com.
Check out this amazing infographic on car engines by artist and car enthusiast Jacob O’Neal.
When asked about his inspiration, Jacob gave us the following background info:
“I believe car engines are works of art, and thus, [make] the perfect subject matter. I designed this graphic to satisfy a deep need to produce something amazing and totally different from what’s currently out there in image-based infographics.”
We appreciate Jacob’s sense of creativity and keen knowledge on how car engines work. Feel free to share this page with friends!
While no one “invented” electricity, geniuses such as Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla made amazing strides in harnessing it for human use and convenience. In fact, much of your car’s operation relies upon electricity, which includes your battery, starter and alternator–and much frustration occurs when any of these systems don’t have enough power.
Avoid the frustration through free electrical testing at Advance Auto Parts stores.
Auto battery testing
We’ve all heard horror stories about dead batteries, often in miserably cold (or hot!) weather and/or at a time when the driver needed to be somewhere, stat. Maybe it’s happened to you.
To prevent such scenarios, have your battery tested at Advance Auto Parts. It’s fast and it’s free, and will help to save you from being stranded.
If your engine is turning too slowly when you’re trying to start your vehicle and/or if it’s making some scary noises–or if you just want to be proactive about your electrical testing–stop by Advance Auto Parts today.
As far back as 1952, Popular Mechanics recognized the starter as a car’s “nervous system” and acknowledged that it’s the system that’s “most taken for granted” in a vehicle. Don’t make that mistake. Request starter testing at Advance Auto Parts today.
The alternator transforms mechanical energy into electrical energy and works with the battery to power areas of a vehicle that rely upon electricity. It’s possible that your car will continue to run for a short amount of time, even after the alternator goes bad–that is, until the power stored in the battery is used up.
So, when your battery “dies,” it may in fact be an alternator problem. Ask for alternator testing at your local Advance Auto Parts store to keep track of this vital car part.
Get peace of mind by having alternator, starter and battery testing done on your vehicle today.
Find the Advance Auto Parts store closest to you now.
*Free services available for most automotive vehicles, most locations, unless prohibited by law. Free installation with purchase only. Visit your local Advance Auto Parts store for complete details.
When it’s time to replace your battery, it’s important to recycle your old one. That’s because auto batteries are basically made from three elements: acid, plastic and lead – and, when they are improperly disposed of, the chemicals and heavy metals found within them can seep into soil and contaminate groundwater, streams and lakes. If burned, these noxious substances pollute the air.
These chemicals and heavy metals can have dangerous consequences for people’s health and the environment alike. Because of these dangers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency helped to pass the Battery Act in May 1996 to encourage recycling of old batteries.
Fortunately, it’s easy to be green: you can simply drop your old battery off at the local Advance Auto Parts store (most vehicles, most locations, unless prohibited by law) and we’ll take care of the rest.
The battery recycling process
According to the Battery Council International, the first step in recycling auto batteries is smashing them to smithereens using a device called, appropriately enough, a hammermill. The pieces of the batteries go into a container, with the heavier materials, including lead, falling to the bottom and the plastic staying at the top. The plastic is removed and liquids siphoned.
A recycler then melts the plastic pieces and extrudes them into pellets. The pellets are sold to manufacturers who make new batteries out of them. Lead pieces are smelted and then poured into ingots, which are also sent to manufacturers for use in new batteries. The acid becomes neutralized with the addition of an industrial product that turns it into water; the water is treated before being released into sewer systems. The acid can also be turned into sodium sulfate that can be used in multiple ways, including glass and textile manufacturing, or in the making of new auto batteries.
This is considered a closed loop system, because it can be repeated over and over again, allowing new products to be made from the old.
Auto battery recycling is a great move for the environment, but it’s also smart from a legal sense. Thirty states, according to National Geographic’s Green Living site, ban people from throwing away lead batteries in their trash.
Automotive oil recycling
Advance Auto Parts also recycles used motor oil. And, according to the American Petroleum Institute and quoted by the Environmental Protection Agency (AAP), “Recycling just 2 gallons of used oil can generate enough electricity to run the average household for almost 24 hours.”
Sarah Lee Marks—also known as “MyCarLady”—has a grandfather who used to sell auto parts. Her other grandfather was in the oil business, so it makes sense that cars are in her blood–and not surprising that she grew up to create a consulting business (Automotive Business Services, Inc.) where she helps people buy or sell their cars at the best possible price, addresses their service issues, and advocates for them when problems arise.
And, in 2001, she wrote a book that discussed using the Internet as part of the car-buying process. “Nobody knew what info online was valid,” Sarah said, “or how to process that info.”
The book, The Complete Internet Car Buying Guide (previously titled The MYCARLADY Car Buying Guide: Everything You Need to Know but Didn’t Know to Ask), has been updated five times, the last of which in an e-book form. Today’s she will be sharing current car buying trends and advice with Advance Auto Parts readers.
Car trends by MyCarLady
“The biggest trend,” Sarah says, “is that consumers are coming back into the car-buying market after an extended period of time, two to four years longer than they used to, and are shocked to find out there is less negotiation going on.”
That’s because, Sarah explains, there is less inventory. With less selection, the process becomes more of a “take it or leave it” situation; where once a buyer could negotiate a price down by $2,000-$3,000, he or she may only successfully negotiate the price down by $500 in today’s market.
As a tip, Sarah says that, if you have a choice between a rebate or zero percent financing, take the latter, as that will save you more money, unless you can pay off the car quickly. Zero (or very low percentage) financing is typically only offered to people with outstanding credit who can pay off their loans in 60 or fewer months. “Interest rates go up, by automatic default, if the loan will last for 72 months,” she explains. “And, nowadays, it’s very difficult to get a decent car loan if you’ve foreclosed or defaulted on a house. Banks are showing their muscle about being serious about credit.”
“Here’s a strange trend,” she continues. “Lately, I’ve noticed that people decide on a color for a particular car and pass up good deals because the color wasn’t right. The reality is that, in these uncertain economic times, manufacturers aren’t making extra cars, so you may need to go to multiple dealers to find the color you want–and, by that time, the incentives you were offered the first time might have expired. Do you really want to be inflexible about a color?”
When asked about finding quality car information online, Sarah warns that there is in fact a tremendous amount of DISinformation about car buying online. “Many times, a source borrows from another source who borrows from another, and then you don’t know who to trust or how to analyze the data.”
Then, there are the dreaded typos. “CarFax and AutoCheck, to use two examples,” Sarah says, “get some information from the vehicle registration processes, some from factories and so forth. But it is entirely up to the factories whether or not they will provide the info–and I’ve seen typos, including when a car with 8,000 miles was advertised to have 80,000 miles on the odometer. With incorrect info, buyers are negotiating from the wrong place. So, a huge trend is that people rely on online info as gospel without reading between the lines, and that can be dangerous.”
When asked for one more example of a trend, Sarah talks about buying American, which many people in the United States want to do. “It’s getting harder and harder, though, to define what buying American really means,” she says. “Do you want to buy cars that have their parts manufactured in the United States? that are assembled here? that come from companies that are wholly owned by Americans? that have plants that employ Americans?”
That’s a lot to think about. Let us know your thoughts on buying American, or any other car issue on your mind.
Editor’s note: As you’re pondering the latest in car trends, visit Advance Auto Parts for a wide selection of quality auto parts, tools and accessories. Buy online, pick up in store.