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.

Writing off your car for business use

1040_tax_formWith tax time upon us, we thought we’d try to spread some positive news, especially as it relates to your car.

If you use your car for business, did you know you can write some of its costs off?

According to the IRS:

If you use your car in your job or business and you use it only for that purpose, you may deduct its entire cost of operation.

That’s a pretty good deal in our book. But we aware, if you use your car for personal use, you can only deduct the operation costs (gas, maintenance, etc.) for the portion dedicated to actual business use. (Sorry, taking the kids to soccer games doesn’t count–unless of course, you run the team!)

Get the full details on the IRS website…and best of luck getting those taxes done on time!

On another note, if you find yourself in the enviable position of getting a tax refund this year, you can maximize it by taking advantage of the great deals at Advance Auto Parts–to get all those projects done in 2014.



Top 5 Tuner Car Shows for 2014!

Import Tuner CarAfter what’s been a particularly long, hard winter for many parts of the country, there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not a train or another car. It’s the sun!

I’ve felt an increasingly strong urge these past several weeks to see the sun’s rays bouncing off gleaming metal, to feel the heat rise into my bones from the pavement below, and to spend the weekend at a car show, salivating over the latest creations and concoctions.

Here are the top five contenders on my tuner car show list.

Hot Import Nights – The show organizers describe it as “the largest consumer car show in the world with the hottest cars, models, music, gaming, technology and live entertainment.” What’s not to love about that? HIN is entering its 17th season, so they must be doing it right. There are still 18 U.S. East and West Coast and international show locations left on their schedule through the end of the year, including Orlando, Las Vegas and Santa Clara, Calif.

Import Face-off – They bill themselves as being “the most innovative import series in the U.S. with event activities that follow current market trends.” There are more than 30 U.S. show locations through the end of the year with stereo crank-it-up contests, drag racing, live concerts, dance battles, drift exhibitions, and plenty of cash prizes and trophies.

Tuner Evolution – The City of Brotherly Love hosts this big automotive lifestyle event – dubbed an “East Coast Takeover” August 2, 2014, at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center. Celebrities, bikinis, vendors, skating and BMX demos, and of course, hot customized cars will all be on tap.

DUB Show Tour – DUB magazine is all about car culture so you know the remaining four dates in their 2014 show tour are going to be popping. These shows are big on show cars, wheel and accessory exhibitors, video games, celebrities signing autographs, and big-name entertainment, including Ludacris, Ice Cube, and Wacka Flacka Fame performing at their previous auto shows.

WEKFEST – What started in San Francisco is now entering its fourth season of being a national, premiere automotive lifestyle event. There are two California auto shows – May 31 in Long Beach and August 10 in San Jose – and one each in Houston this fall and another in New Jersey on August 17, as well as in Japan May 11. WEKFEST’s focus is “to provide an upscale, organized event for the automotive community, a place where all enthusiasts can visit and share their common interest.”

I feel better already just thinking about car shows – that and the fact that it’s sunny and 75 today.


Editor’s note: Is there an import car show that you think is particularly hot this year? Let us know below!

Graphic courtesy of Import Tuner Magazine.

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.

The Scion Rock Fest Returns for Sixth Annual Festival

Scion Rock FestScion Audio Visual’s annual hard rock/metal festival, Scion Rock Fest, returns to Pomona, California on May 17, 2014 with an all-star line-up of hard rock and metal heroes.

In keeping with its rich tradition of cutting-edge car designs, Scion has curated a killer lineup of bands and artists for this one-of-a-kind music festival.


Headlining this year’s Scion Rock Fest, are heavy faves Machine Head and High On Fire. Other prominent artists appearing on the sixth installment of Scion Rock Fest are Red Fang, King Buzzo, Hot Lunch, Pins of Light and Windhand.

Since the 2009 debut of Scion Rock Fest, the annual outing has featured Mastodon, Down, Neurosis, Baroness, Morbid Angel and the Melvins. A rotating location has found the Fest in  Atlanta, Columbus, Tampa, Memphis as well as the 2011 event, which was also in Pomona. To RSVP, visit Scion Rock Fest.

Scion Rock Fest is one of the many music and cultural events curated by Scion Audio Visual, the entertainment division founded by Scion in 2003.

About Scion Audio Visual:

Scion Audio Visual (AV for short) is a creative enterprise of Scion devoted to the discovery, nurture, funding and distribution of compelling music and arts programming. Scion AV has created and championed projects for over 100 underground musical artists, supported tours and special events, created film documentaries, curated art installations, and produced a collection of ‘zines.

About Scion:

Scion, from Toyota Motor Sales was developed with a new generation of youthful buyers in mind. Scion’s mission is to provide distinctive products, the opportunity to personalize, and an innovative, consumer-driven process at the retail level. For more information, visit


Michael Paul Smith: Behind the Scenes of Elgin Park

All it takes is one look at Michael Paul Smith’s renderings of cars, created with colored pencils, to know that he has an artistic touch. Impressive as they are, though, Michael is known for something quite different: using his building-and-car-diorama-making and photography skills to create “Elgin Park,” a Midwest town that exists only in his mind. Yes. Elgin Park is an incredibly detailed historical rendering of a place that has never existed.

Yet, it’s so real that it has:

  • Triggered long-buried memories in Alzheimer patients that they shared with their doctors
  • Soothed and calmed two children with autism so that they could sleep
  • Caused people to cry in a cathartic and uplifting manner
  • Allowed small children to connect with their grandparents in a brand new way

What is Elgin Park? It is comprised of a series of photos, uploaded to Flickr, that appear to be genuine photographs from the 1920s to 1960s. In reality, though, Michael has used forced perspective to allow the eye to perceive small die cast cars and models of buildings as full-sized ones.

A scene from the fictional Elgin Park. Photo credit: Michael Paul Smith.

A scene from the fictional Elgin Park.
Photo credit: Michael Paul Smith.


A photo that reveals the "secret" behind the scene. Photo credit: Michael Paul Smith.

The “secret” behind the scene.
Photo credit: Michael Paul Smith.

This Yahoo video does a great job of providing a visual overview of Elgin Park – and it’s been appreciated, Michael points out, by an incredible number of people, as the 55-million-plus view mark indicates. “The photos,” he says, “clearly touch a very deep chord from all walks of life and cultures.”

Although Elgin Park is based on Michael’s hometown of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, it isn’t a replica of the town. Confusing? In an interview with the Internet Craftsmanship Museum, he defines the crux, scope and the appeal of Elgin Park: “For me, it conjures up the essence of ‘Small Town.’ It also says stability; a bit isolated but not desolate. Family. Unlocked doors. Home. Sewickley itself is only one square mile and touches the Ohio River. Granted, every town has its secrets and skeletons, but when you walk down those tree-lined streets and hear the train whistles echoing off the hills along the river, everything seems OK. It’s that Ok-ness I try to capture in my models and photographs.”

Although the pictures are amazing, what’s even more amazing is that Michael is not a professional photographer (although he clearly is a skilled photographer). Nor does he use Photoshop or any other computer software to add anything to his compelling illusions (more about Photoshop later).

Thanks to an interview with Michael, (along with a written document of his life’s journey that he graciously provided to Advance Auto Parks), we can share how Elgin Park came to be.

A look back in time

Michael Paul Smith was born in Sewickley, a small town about seven miles north of Pittsburgh, in 1950 and he grew up with four siblings. “My childhood,” Michael shares, “was pleasant and loving but, due to my extreme shyness, I kept to myself using my imagination to draw and build things.” By the time he was in grade school, he collected cigar boxes to “create interiors out of found objects. Miniatures, dollhouses, dioramas, train layouts and the like had and still have a mesmerizing effect on me.” To feed this hobby, he started going to flea markets and yard sales (and he also picked trash!) at the age of ten.

By the time Michael was that age, he also began noticing his father’s curiosity about the houses they passed – and that trait was clearly passed on to Michael. At the age of twelve, he assembled his first model car: a 1963 Chevy Impala, with working headlights, no less! He entered this model in the annual Fisher Body Craftsman Guild car design competition, held by General Motors for boys ages 11 to 19. Now, if this were a movie, Michael would win the competition at the very last second – or the contest would otherwise be a life-altering event. In reality, he never heard back from the contest organizers about his first entry – or about any of the other entries that he sent over the next few years. C’est la vie.

When he was sixteen, the family moved to Worcester, Massachusetts. Ironically enough, his high school counselor told Michael that he had “no apparent creative talent that could be used for employment” and recommended that he skip college and work in the steel mills that formed the heart of Pittsburgh’s economy. (This is an especially odd response from the counselor given that Michael had won more than one art contest in high school and, one year, someone apparently loved his painting so much that he stole it.)

Fortunately, Michael ignored his counselor’s advice. He completed The School of Worcester Art Museum’s three-year program, a “well known school” where he learned how to “stretch canvas, make pigments” and more.

He went on to become an advertising art director (that “produced a heart attack at 33. Clearly this was a sign to get out of that profession”). Afterwards, he applied to be a model maker. At the time, this was a good field to enter; a model maker would take a 2-D drawing created by an architect and craft a 3-D version so that the architect could see how it would look. Sometimes, a model maker fleshed out only one section of a building; other times, the entire building.

The first place where he applied for a model maker’s job wasn’t too impressed with his lack of experience. Undeterred, Michael kept applying until one shop that operated out a basement let him work on a one-week trial basis – and then hired him full time. “The owner,” Michael remembers, “didn’t even know my last name when he wrote me my first paycheck.

Later, Michael worked at an international firm as a model maker, working there for 18 years. However, this industry has taken some “serious economic hits over the years. What used to be a thriving business has now been reduced to freelance nomads. The age of computer generated graphics, overseas production and automated 3D model making machines has all but eliminated the field.”

But . . . you know what? Michael is definitely not a one-note song! He has many other talents as his employment history demonstrates.

Other jobs have included:

• Wallpaper hanger (which he “really enjoyed”)
• Interior house painting (“another interesting job especially when I got to work with the client in choosing color and detail”)
• Editorial artist
• Illustrator for a textbook publisher
• House renovator
• Mailman

“And,” he concludes, “the list goes on. The best job was being part of a team that designed displays for museums such as the Smithsonian Institute and the Museum of Natural History at Harvard. All of these occupations have given me a solid foundation for my dioramas.”

Here’s what else gave Michael an advantage when it came time to create his first car diorama. From his jaunts to flea markets and yard sales, he “literally had thousands of pieces of the past.” He also collected die cast models of cars. “It dawned on me,” he says, “that I could build miniature versions of American life by creating scaled down buildings that would incorporate my die cast vehicles. Plus utilize all of the knowledge I had acquired by collecting and studying the 20th century. These scenes could be authentic down to the last detail. It was an Ah-Ha! moment.”

Behind the scenes

Michael initially sketches out the structure that will appear in a diorama. “If the building is too unusual,” he says, “it will overwhelm the photograph; therefore a prototypical style of a certain era is chosen.”

A glimpse at materials used.  Photo credit: Michael Paul Smith.

A glimpse at materials used.
Photo credit: Michael Paul Smith.


He uses gatorboard for the walls; this material is a piece of thin film surrounded by two sheets of resin-coated paper. He likes this material because it’s lightweight and durable, simple to cut with a knife and easily sanded and painted. He then refines the buildings to add clapboard, brick, stucco and trim. He uses the following tools: an X-acto knife, a sanding block, a ruler and a “few other assorted hand held tools.”

“Improving,” Michael continues, “is the name of the game for me. A model maker I used to work for gave me some sage advice: If you can’t make it convincingly, then don’t make it at all, because it will stick out like a sore thumb.”

So, he takes his time choosing just the right materials and uses snow as an example to demonstrate his process. Michael had experimented with numerous products until he found exactly the right one: baking soda. “It was the correct scale,” he says, “it drifted convincingly and had a bit of sparkle to it. Baby powder, flour, salt, sugar . . . they just didn’t pass the test.”

Here are other strategies that he uses to recreate a sense of realism:

• He rolls car tires in the baking soda for a snowy effect.
• To add dirt to roads, he vacuums his rugs and then filters what’s been collected until it’s just right.
• He can also make something dirtier in appearance by adding powered chalk.
• He includes water in his scenes with milk trucks, as the early ones carried blocks of ice and left puddles of water wherever they

Here is what Michael had to say about how he backlights his night-time projects:

• All of the lighting is done with 40 or 60 watts bulbs.
• Also, white or orange Christmas tree lights work well to illuminate the interiors of the models.
• LED lights add another level of interest to lighting the scenes.
• “I’m not a technical person, so having strobes, umbrella reflectors and light meters are lost on me. I can barely figure out my
camera.” (We at Advance Auto Parts are having a hard time believing the last statement but . . . that’s what he said, so we’re
sharing it with all of you.)

Here’s more about the camera: “What has become a joke is the fact that I have no special equipment at all. My first camera was a 3 mega pixel digital Sony. I’ve since upgraded to a 6 mega pixel and then to a 14 mega pixel Canon, because some of my work is being enlarged and printed. It’s a technical thing and not the desire to use something fancy. A dear friend of mine actually gave me an incredibly expensive camera which took extraordinary images. But they were too good for what I was trying to accomplish. To achieve a look and feel of the past, I’ve found that a camera with a lens that blurs is the way to go. Too much information in a photo defeats the retro look of Elgin Park.”

And, once, a French fashion photographer wanted more information about the lens used by Michael. When he described his simple set up, the Frenchman replied with only two words and never contacted Michael again. Those two words? “You lie.”


Inspiration for a photo, he shares, “usually comes out of the blue. An image in a book, a song or a random thought will trigger the urge to create something.”

He then digs through the model vehicles that he has stored away and envisions the rest of the scene to share the story that emerges in his creative mind. Sometimes, the correct era, day and/or season come to him within an hour; other times, it takes days and then he reviews books and catalogues to make sure that what he creates is accurate for the era.

“I can spend a few days or a week soaking up all of the information,” he says, ”studying wallpaper samples, paint chips, and fabric designs, listening to music of a particular era or going through old photo albums might seem like mindless activities but they lay a concrete foundation for my work.”

Other times, the more than 300 die cast car models inspire him, with features such as the tailfin, “bulbous fenders, swooping roof lines, two tone color combinations or running boards” setting his creativity into motion. For example, the running board directs his focus to the Victorian or Edwardian type of architecture, where streets may or may not have been paved, and where electricity may or may not have been available.

Another retro scene from Elgin Park. Photo credit: Michael Paul Smith.

Another retro scene from Elgin Park.
Photo credit: Michael Paul Smith.

However long it takes, once he can picture his scene, he plays around with vehicles and buildings (on his kitchen table!) to get the best setup. Again, all may come together quickly or it may need to “percolate” for a few days.

For daylight shots, he then searches for the correct outside site for the official setup and photos. This has become increasing more difficult as more and older buildings are torn down by his home.

But, once he spends about an hour to set up the scene, keeping the set as simple as possible to preserve his own energy and to allow viewers to fill in missing details – he then starts taking pictures. He typically takes 20 to 30 photographs and then chooses the best two or three to become part of Elgin Park.

Back to the subject of Photoshop

Michael will use this software tool to remove any signs that or people who get into the photo. In fact, he makes it a practice to never include people in any of his Elgin Park pictures to keep the work “universal” and to allow each viewer to insert himself or herself into a “painting, film, photography or story.” His car diorama then becomes, he explains, a “mirror for your own life.”

He’s also used Photoshop to:

• Eliminate dents and scrapes from his models
• To de-saturate the color or add a tint to create a final look

But, again, he never adds anything to the picture.

Tips to make models look “real”

Michael shares these strategies:

• Keep everything in scale. From the thickness of the shingles down to the wallpaper design and door knobs, everything must be in
the proper relationship to each other.
• Keep the camera at the eye level of the imaginary person walking around in the scene. This gives the viewer the sense that they
are in the picture.
• Movies have given us newer ways of seeing the world, such as the bird’s eye view or the low to the ground angle, so this can s
sometimes be used in diorama photography. But it must be used sparingly and for the right reason; otherwise the reality of the
shot will be compromised. Our eye is very sensitive to ‘things not looking quite right.’

He tells his stories in simple and subtle ways. For example, he might leave a car door open, or light one store while keeping the others dark. He finds inspiration for these “one frame stories” from his own experiences. “Yet,” he adds, “as personal as they might be to me, there is also room for other people to see their own meaning in the photographs.”

News of Elgin Park spreads

For years, Michael took these pictures without sharing his “odd” hobby with others. But, he eventually decided that, if he posted pictures on Flickr, he’d just be one of millions doing the same thing – so he took the plunge. For the first year or so, he got few visitors, but then British Sports Car magazine ran a short article about Michael’s work with some of his photographs in their February 2010 issue. After that, Michael says, “the viewing counter on the Flickr site started to spin. After the first million hits, I thought there might be something wrong with the counter but it still continued. Within a month, it had reached 10 million views with comments and e-mails flooding in from all over the world.”

When asked how it felt to get all of this attention, Michael says that he hadn’t expected to get recognition but, the first time someone tracked him down by phone to compliment him about his work, he “sobbed.”

“I was remembering,” Michael says, “how my counselor had said I had no talent and I had carried that around with me. Not as a ‘poor me; thing but, still. I had carried it with me.”

Here’s another experience, post-fame. “Two years ago,” he says, “a reporter called me and wanted an exclusive. He said that if I didn’t cooperate, I’d never get an interview again, that he’d make sure of that. As far as I was concerned, I was a nobody before and I would be again after my 15 minutes of fame ended, so I didn’t take what he said seriously.

“Once you get your name and work out there,” he continues, “people want a piece of you. Not in a malicious way, mind you; they just do. What really fills my heart, though, is when people write and say ‘I want to learn from you. What can you teach me?’ I answer every email and I love it when someone takes a photograph and sends it to me. That means that I clearly inspired someone to just go out there and do it.”

When asked if there are critics of his work, he replies that he occasionally gets criticism. “If someone says something derogatory, I don’t respond. I just let it hang there, hang around their own necks. Fortunately, if someone says something negative about my work online, my fans get all over them in a delightfully rabid way.”

One of his best experiences involved being asked to exhibit his work at a prestigious international show at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City. “I asked, ’why me?’ and the director said, ‘Because nobody else does what you do.’”

For this show, Michael broke his standard rule about not using actual buildings from his hometown and he recreated his childhood home from photos that his brother had saved (the actual home had been torn down). In an interview with The Culture Trip, Michael says the following about his experience: “’building your childhood home is the best form of therapy one could hope for. The memories, both good and bad, just start to flow without any safety valves.’” The four month project was “an exhausting process both physically and mentally that helped assist with several ‘buried psychological issues by the time it was completed.’ Whilst Elgin Park has never physically existed, it has become a visual treasure chest of emotions and memories – a distillation of what has already passed.”

Although shy, Michael decided to attend the premiere of the exhibit. “I was surrounded by New York celebrities,” he remembers, “wondering if I was dressed well enough and how I’d ever work the crowd. But, then my ten-year-old self emerged and I thought, ‘I can do this!’” The show was so successful that his work also appeared in Lille, France at a month-long citywide carnival.

“The entire experience was thrilling,” he sums up. “A dream come true. Yet, it didn’t change who I am and didn’t cause me to think I was someone fabulous.”

More about Michael

Michael’s early work appears in a book, Elgin Park: An Ideal American Town (2010).

“It sold well,” Michael says. He was recently contacted by someone in Germany with an interest in a second volume – and he is definitely interested – so we may be learning even more about Michael and his work. Can’t wait!

Editor’s note: Building your own work of art on four wheels requires having the best parts and tools on hand. Count on Advance Auto Parts to help keep your dream machine running right all year long. Buy online, pick up in store.





Studebakers: from a $68 investment to the Studebaker National Museum

Photo credit: Studebaker National Museum.

Photo credit: Studebaker National Museum.

Although it’s been a long time since you could purchase a brand new Studebaker, this brand once dominated the country, even before “horseless carriages” were available.

The Studebaker National Museum, located in South Bend, Indiana, contains more than 120 of these vehicles–meaning both cars and wagons–some dating back to the late 1880s. Typically, there are 70 vehicles or so on display at any one time. Vehicles include four presidential carriages, the first and last cars built in South Bend, the last Studebaker ever built, anywhere, and many other iconic vehicles.

But, the history of Studebaker begins more than twenty years before 1880. Here’s more.

History of Studebaker Company

Imagine yourself as a blacksmith in 1852. You decide to partner with your brother to open up a blacksmith shop, say, at the corner of Michigan and Jefferson Streets in South Bend, Indiana of February 16th of that year. You might expect to spend your days in front of an immensely hot forge filled with burning coals, putting bars of metal into the heat and then shaping them into axes or nails, or pots and pans, or door hinges or plow blades.

If you were Henry and Clement Studebaker, though, your business would develop a niche specialty, much like businesses do today, and it didn’t fit the typical blacksmithing mold. By the time their company morphed from H & C Studebaker into the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company, they were in fact the world’s largest manufacturer of farm wagons and horse-drawn buggies.

Henry and Clement began making metal parts for freight wagons in 1852, with start-up capital of only $68 (equal to slightly more than $2,000 of today’s dollars). Freight wagons were railway cars, non-powered, that transported cargo.

On their first day of business, they had exactly one customer–a man who needed a shoe changed on his horse. Later that year, though, they were able to charge a customer $175 (comparable to about $5,300 in 2014 dollars and more than twice as much as all of their startup funding) to build a farm wagon. They painted the wagon green and red and boldly added “Studebaker” in yellow lettering, the first time a vehicle boasted their name.

Photo credit: Studebaker National Museum.

Photo credit: Studebaker National Museum.

In 1853, Henry’s and Clement’s younger brother John Mohler decided to head out west to find gold, something countless men of his generation were doing. A wagon train would take him along without charging a fee as long as the brothers donated a wagon to the cause. The family agreed and, with $65 in his pocket, John sought out his fortune. Although he didn’t find the riches he desired, his talents as a wagon maker earned him regular work and allowed him to save up $8,000.

In Indiana, Henry and Clement continued their blacksmithing work, but also built about a dozen wagons per year. To get more into mass production, they needed more funds. Fortunately, John had those funds and, in 1858, he returned home, bought out Henry’s share in the business, and became part of the family business.

The previous year–1857–they’d also expanded their horizons by building and selling a carriage. According to A Century on Wheels: The Story of Studebaker, “Fancy, hand-worked iron trim, the kind of courting buggy any boy and girl would be proud to be seen in.” By 1860, their brother Peter Everst Studebaker was showing the family wares in Goshen, Indiana, the first of the Studebaker showrooms, albeit one that looked more like a shed. A fifth brother, Jacob Franklin, also ended up joining the company.

When the Civil War started, there was a huge need for wagons and so Clement, Peter and John shipped their wagons to the Union Army by train and steamship. In 1868, they formed the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company, which ultimately became the “largest vehicle house in the world” despite two massive fires destroying their buildings. By 1877, annual sales exceeded $1 million and Clement traveled to Europe to find more markets for the company. The following year, their wagons won awards at the prestigious Paris Exposition.

They even sold a $20,000 version of their vehicle (figure $445,000 in today’s dollars, comparable to a Lamborghini Aventador), which could seat a dozen passengers. In the late 1880s, the family also bought out companies manufacturing the Lafayette and Lincoln carriages, further increasing their market share.

Era of the Horseless Carriage

Photo credit: Studebaker National Museum.

Photo credit: Studebaker National Museum.

In 1895, John’s son in law, Frederick Fish, began pushing for a horseless carriage to add to their product line. In 1897, Fred became the chairman of the executive committee and the company began actively working on an electric motor. Meanwhile, their wagon division continued to be strong as, in 1898, the company supplied wagons for the Spanish American War. Plus, the American Red Cross bought six yellow and blue ambulances and sent them to Cuba; each ambulance carried four stretchers, the bottom two hinged to be moved for sitting patients or medical personnel.

And, in 1902 the Studebakers debuted their first electric car. This was a year later than the Oldsmobile’s version and less complex than the Thomas B. Jeffrey Company’s 1902 entry of a gas-powered model, the Rambler. Thomas B. Jeffrey sold 1,500 Ramblers that years, compared to Studebaker’s 20 electric cars. More competition was right around the corner, too, thanks to Henry Ford, as well as the Overland, the precursor of the Jeep. Nevertheless, the purchaser of the second Studebaker electric car carried some real clout: a guy named Thomas Edison.

Although electric cars are certainly a 21st-century buzzword, there was a flaw in them in 1902: too many places simply didn’t have electricity, so where could you recharge your car? You certainly couldn’t lug along a can or two of emergency electricity like you could fuel, so electric car owners often saw their vehicles towed home by horses, which surely seemed a step back in technology.

The future, at least for the next century, was therefore a much smellier, less elegant option. Or as John “Wheelbarrow Johnny” Studebaker called gasoline-based cars, “clumsy, noisy, dangerous brutes [that] stink to high heaven, break down at the worst possible moment and are a public nuisance.”

Birth of the gas-powered Studebaker

Photo credit: Studebaker National Museum.

Photo credit: Studebaker National Museum.

The company began making gasoline-powered cars in 1904 in partnership with the Garford Company of Elyria, Ohio, located near Cleveland. What a confusing job it must have been to market Studebakers in this era, when they still sold horse-drawn carriages for the traditionalists, electric cars for drivers willing to stick close to home and max out at about 13 miles an hour, and gasoline vehicles “for wide-radius touring.”

By 1908, Studebaker had bought a majority interest in the Garford Company, but their cars were expensive–$2,500 to $4,500, and sometimes even more–and fewer than 2,500 were likely built during the entire 8-year partnership. Moreover, in 1908, Ford introduced Model Ts that sold for only $825-850, manufacturing more than 10,000 in just one year.

The year 1911 saw the end of Studebaker electric vehicle production as well as the demise of the partnership with Garford, although various other collaborations were tried for the gas-powered models. In 1914, Studebaker started supplying Britain, France and Russia with wagons for World War I, the last major war that relied heavily upon wagons. Later, they also supplied the United States in their war effort.

In May 1920, the company stopped production of horse-drawn carriages, liquidating their product line while they could still get reasonable prices for the vehicles. All told, they lost more than $700,000 in this move, but losses surely would have been greater had they waited. Ready to cringe, though? That figure translates into more than an $8 million loss today.

From this point on, the Studebaker company would flourish–or stumble–based on automobiles alone. Highlights of the next couple of decades include:

  • The company struggled during the Great Depression, as many others did, even going into receivership from 1933 through 1935.
  • The 1939 Champion is considered one of Studebaker’s most iconic cars.
  • In 1939, the company began building a small quantity of 6 x 6 military trucks for the French forces in World War II. Later, they provided B-17 Flying Fortress engines and the M29 and M29C amphibious Weasel personnel carrier.
  • After the war, Studebaker emerged with the first new design for a post-war car (production for personal cars halted in 1942 so that more efforts could be given to support the war).
  • The 1947 Starlight Coupe is another of Studebaker’s most well-known vehicles.
  • In 1948, production became multi-national once again with a production facility in Hamilton, Ontario in Canada. Studebaker had begun building cars in Canada in 1910, but stopped from 1936-1947.
  • In 1950, the bullet nose design was introduced.
  • The following year, the Studebaker V-8 was unveiled.
  • The 1963 Avanti is considered one of Studebaker’s most iconic cars.

Also in 1963: more than 110 years after Henry and Clement first set up shop, the US production of Studebaker vehicles stopped. On March 17, 1966, the final Studebaker produced anywhere in the world rolled out in Canada.

Studebaker National Museum

Fortunately, the Studebaker National Museum has preserved a significant amount of the company’s history. “The museum,” says archivist Andrew Beckman, “began with 37 vehicles. We are one of only three car museums with the American Alliance of Museum accreditation, which is sort of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for museums.” The other two, he says, are the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan and the Auburn Cord Duesenberg in Auburn, Indiana.

Photo credit: Studebaker National Museum.

Photo credit: Studebaker National Museum.

He points out that the 1950 and 1951 Bullet Nose vehicles are among the car museum’s most popular for visitors. Other vehicles of interest include the presidential ones, which include:

  • Ulysses S. Grant’s vehicle used during his presidential term from 1873 until 1877, which he continued to use until his death in 1885. Visitors who rode in this landau-style carriage included:
    • President Rutherford B. Hayes
    • President Chester A. Arthur
    • Civil War General William T. Sherman
    • Civil War General Phil Sheridan
    • King Kalakua of the Hawaiian Islands
    • Viceroy Li Hung Chang from the Chinese Empire
    • One of Benjamin Harrison’s five carriages used during his presidential term; altogether, these carriages cost $7,075 and were considered less pretentious than other choices (in keeping with Harrison’s personality) because they were “simple in design with silver and ebony trimmings rather than fancier gilt, and they bore no formal insignias.” Harrison continued to buy Studebaker carriages until his death in 1901.
    • Abraham Lincoln’s carriage that transported him (and his wife) to Ford Theater on the night of his assassination on April 15, 1865. This carriage has six springs, along with solid silver lamps, door handles and hubcaps. Because the steps connect to the doors, they lowered and rose as the doors opened and closed.
    • William McKinley’s carriage, one that boasted rubber tires for summer use and a removable extension top, along with springs and cushions in the seats. Like Lincoln, McKinley traveled in this carriage on the day of his assassination in September 1901.
Photo credit: Studebaker National Museum.

Photo credit: Studebaker National Museum.

When asked why there is still such interest in Studebakers, nearly 50 years after production stopped, Beckman points out the longevity of the company. “This was the only company,” he says, “that successfully transitioned from the wagon business to the car business.” And, as author Patrick Foster points out in his book, Studebaker: The Complete History, “For many years, Studebaker held the proud claim as the vehicle owned by more Americans than any other brand. No mere local or regional phenomenon, Studebaker vehicles were known and respected around the world. An argument could be made that Studebaker was the first truly global vehicle brand. Studebaker was the natural choice of princes, kings and presidents.”

As proof of the continuing fascination with the Studebaker, Beckman shares that, even on the date of this interview, the blizzard of March 12, 2014, people figured out a way to get to the museum to see a presentation about the vehicle. Overall, approximately 40,000 people visit the museum each year, although the number increases once every five years when the international Studebaker meet takes place in South Bend. The museum has also witnessed an increase in moms with strollers, ever since they added an interactive children’s exhibit area about one and a half years ago. People also actively participate in Studebaker car clubs. In fact, Beckman says, “it’s the largest single mark auto club in existence.”

Editor’s note: Have you been to this car museum? If so, what did you think? If not, which car museums would you like to visit? And, be sure to let us know what your favorite vintage cars are.

Three Good Reasons to Change Your Own Oil

Oil changeSometimes, handing your kids over to another caregiver is something you can’t avoid. You need a babysitter if you’re ever going to have a night out, right? Parents can’t be parents all the time; they’re going to need some help along the way.

Still, ask any parent, and I think they’ll agree: it’s always a little nerve-wracking to entrust your kids’ welfare to someone else.

Many of us car-lovers feel the same way about our beloved vehicles. And when it comes to things you can do yourself, one of the best examples is changing your own oil.

Here are my three reasons to start changing your own oil. Think about it: if you decide to DIY from now on, you’ll never be left wondering if your baby’s been in good hands or not.


1. It’s Cheaper

Typical cars take 4-5 quarts of oil, and you’ll also need a new oil filter to finish the job. Guess how much these items cost at an auto parts store. $30? $40? Actually, you can get out the door for barely 20 bucks, especially if you take advantage of the “oil change specials” that always seem to be running. Cheaper than you thought, right?

Now, you may see a $19.99 oil change advertised at the local Quickie Lube or what have you, but there are a few problems with that. First, they tend to use generic, one-size-fits-all motor oil that leaves you with no choice in the matter. One of the great things about DIY is that you get to buy whatever kind of oil you want. Second, they’ll try to hard-sell you on all sorts of “important” services that are really just a waste of your money and time. And third, can you really trust those guys to do conscientious work for $19.99 a pop? Won’t you be a lot more conscientious yourself?

In short, you’re going to save money changing your own oil, and you’re also going to gain a lot of peace of mind.


2. It’s Not As Hard As You Think

Let me explain the two possible scenarios as far as actually changing your oil is concerned. Number one is the old-fashioned way: you actually get under your car and do the dirty work. Even this procedure is very straightforward; in fact, we’ve got a handy dandy little video on how to change your own oil that walks you through every step. It’s fun, because you feel like you’re getting to know your car like never before.

But if you go with number two, you may even be able to stay on your feet. I’m talking about using an extractor, which is a simple device that sucks the old oil out of the top of the engine, letting you simply pour the new stuff in afterward. There are plenty available on the Advance Auto Parts website, and if you make this investment upfront, you’ll still save money in the long run. The only thing to be mindful of is the location of your oil filter — if it’s on the bottom of the engine, you’ll have to get under the car to remove the oil filter, though it’s a lot less messy without all that hot oil in the tank just waiting to spill out!


3. It’s a Gateway to Further Exploration

If you’re like me, changing your own oil could just be the beginning. I used to be scared of working on engines, as if they were these nasty creatures just waiting to bite my hand off. But the truth is, they’re just machines, and the more you know about them, the more you’ll be able to catch little problems before they turn into big ones. While you’re changing your oil, for example, it’s easy to check the drive and accessory belts, so why not learn about those, too? Maybe your spark plugs are overdue for replacement; why not get some basic tools and do it yourself? DIY’ing can be addictive in the best way, so give the oil change a shot, and see if it turns into a bridge to more exciting projects down the line.

Have You Changed Your Own Oil?

Tell us about your experiences! What would your advice be to a first-time oil change DIY’er? If you’re a first-timer yourself, got any questions for those of us who’ve been there before?

Editor’s note: Save more when you do it yourself! Advance Auto Parts offers Oil Change Specials to help you tackle your maintenance projects—and save. We’ll even recycle your used oil, too.

The Ballad of CV Axle

Ballad of the CV axleIt’s definitely not my fault, despite what my wife would like you to believe.

Our farmhouse is old, really old, like 1800s old, and our winters are relatively cold because we live in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. An old, drafty house and cold winters equal a potentially high heating bill.

This isn’t a problem, usually, because we heat exclusively with wood, using one of those outdoor wood-burning furnaces that heat the water and pump it through the home’s baseboard radiators. It only becomes a problem if I run out of wood and have to search for some (or wood-derived products like last year’s Christmas tree, the pizza boxes from last night and scrap lumber).  Such is the predicament I found myself in recently, and the blame lies squarely with my F150 and its CV axle, or specifically, its constant velocity joint.

I planned on cutting wood all day Saturday, getting plenty to see us through the coming weeks. That plan was replaced by a new plan, however, when my wife heard the awful sounds the truck was making thanks to the broken constant velocity joint. She insisted I fix it. Where first I was short on wood, I was now long on a laborious new task.

I had just enough CV axle knowledge to get started. And as I’m a quick study and pretty handy in the garage, I figured I could tackle it. I had extra incentive though — my wife and kids were cold. (Isn’t that what jackets are for?)

The first thing I discovered is that replacing a CV joint or CV axle can be a fairly labor-intensive job. A constant velocity joint’s function is to allow power to be transmitted from one shaft to another, through an angle, without any loss of power or a big increase in friction. They’re commonly found in front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, and four-wheel drive vehicles and allow the drive shaft to transfer all that power and torque to the wheels, no matter how they’re angled or turned. On a front-wheel drive vehicle, there’s an inner and outer CV axle. The inner connects the drive shaft to the transmission while the outer connects the driveshaft to the wheel.

CV joints typically last about 100,000 miles.  When they fail, they can’t be repaired. They need to be replaced. The CV joint is sealed and protected by a rubber boot that keeps the grease in the joint and contaminants, such as dirt and water, out. When the boot fails because of a tear or hole, the constant velocity joint will fail eventually too, just like mine did.

Now if you catch the broken boot soon enough, you can just replace the boot, which is a lot less expensive and troublesome than replacing the entire joint. If you hear a clicking or popping when turning, then it’s probably too late as that’s a symptom of a CV joint failure. On some vehicles, the CV joint isn’t separate and the entire CV axle needs to be replaced.

ToughOne_New CV Drive Axle_Box_Axle_SIn the end, it all worked out for me. I learned that hauling wood in a wheelbarrow is a GREAT workout. On top of that, I found and installed a ToughOne CV axle assembly and was soon back in business.

Here are a few other takeaways you might appreciate, at my expense:

  • If your front-wheel drive has been making some odd sounds lately – get it checked out.
  • Make sure your Saturday plan matches up to your significant other’s plans for you.
  • Have an emergency supply of whatever it is you can’t do without.
  • The Rzeppa joint is a type of CV joint invented by Alfred Rzeppa in the 1920s and still in use today – try that one out on your know-it-all-mechanical-genius friend!

Editor’s note: If you’re CV is SOL, then check out Advance Auto Parts and ToughONE, for a great solution at an even better value.

Guitar graphic courtesy of Taylor Guitars.

Rock Legends The Moody Blues to Raffle Custom “Moody Cooper”

Moody Cooper carOne of the hottest tickets in entertainment these days is the “Concert Cruise,” where bands and fans set sail for a few days of rock ‘n’ roll bliss on the high seas.

The Moody Blues Cruise II–-the second annual fan cruise from The Moody Blues (“Nights in White Satin”), sailing the Caribbean April 2-7, 2014 aboard the MSC Divina–-have collaborated with The Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund (, a non-profit charitable fund formed in honor of the legendary rock singer Ronnie James Dio, who lost his life to stomach cancer in 2010.

Moody Cooper 2In support of the charity, the cruise will raffle a 2013 Mini Cooper, featuring customized cruise graphics, plus a permanent plaque and certificate of authenticity signed by The Moody Blues. Hoisted aboard the MSC Divina with a 20-story crane, the Moody Cooper will be displayed on the pool deck throughout the cruise.

To find out more about the cruise, the charity and this ultra-cool car, visit Moodies Cruise.