What You Need to Know to Start Truck Camping

There is something both practical and adventurous about camping in your daily driver. You can go anywhere your four wheels take you, sleep at any place that looks suitable, and discard the strict schedules of airlines and hotel chains. Wake up to a scarlet sunrise, cool breeze blowing through open windows, miles of scenic nature stretched as far as the eye can see. Crack an egg into your cooktop pan, watching it smoke and sizzle while sipping on freshly brewed coffee. A bird sings you a song from the nearby shade tree. Life is good.

But it’s not all peace and relaxation. “Truck camping,” whether in your pickup, SUV, or even sedan, requires creative solutions and letting go of some creature comforts. Mainly practiced by outdoorsy people, like rock climbers, hikers, fishermen, and skiers, truck camping has grown in popularity as of late, with many DIYers joining the scene and the setups getting more and more sophisticated.

The concept starts simple—live and sleep in the back of your vehicle—and then you can customize it as far as you’d like. Some folks do it for a weekend trip, some for a two-week vacation, and others do it year-round or by the seasons. There’s no lease or contract!

Getting started

I tried truck camping last summer for a weekend beach trip, using our trusty Honda Element as a base camp and sleeping shelter for two. The only extra supplies I needed were mosquito netting and automotive tape to cover the windows. For my setup, we were able to easily remove the backseats (thank you, Honda designers), move up the front seats, and then lay out a thick comforter and blanket to sleep on. We opened the top half of the back hatch to let air in and it worked out great; we slept like babies.

This was a good setup for one weekend, but what about longer trips, when you need storage solutions, or if you have a pickup truck with a bare metal liner?

We brought in truck-camping expert Ryan from Desk to Dirtbag to share his tips on getting started. Ryan has been traveling the world for over three years—touring the American West all the way down to South America—driving a pickup truck that he modified with wood shelving and a sleeping platform in the back. Most importantly, he did it on a modest budget and DIY-style (with a little help from his friends).

Ryan’s truck-camping essentials

Ryan tells us about the few essentials that all truck campers need:

  • Canopy—You’ll
    need a roof over head first and foremost. If you are purchasing a
    new canopy, I would highly recommend getting an elevated canopy, which will
    allow you more headroom, but any canopy will work.
  • Sleeping and Storage—The second
    step is building out the back for both gear storage or
    organization and for sleeping. While some people build complex drawer systems, I recommend the “back-shelf” approach, where you organize gear along the back of the truck bed and stick your feet underneath the shelves for sleeping. Personally, I made a “transformer” setup, which allows either an elevated sleeping platform with gear underneath,
    or the back-shelf approach. About 99% of the time I use the back-shelf setup, but for quick
    overnighters I use the sleeping platform (which is simple but offers less
    living space).

  • Supplies and Cooking—Your best bet is to look toward the camping and
    backpacking world for these items since they’re designed to be portable and
    light.
    I use a foam mattress that rolls up, along with a nice down sleeping bag, and a
    household pillow for sleeping. For cooking I’ve got a dual-burner propane
    stove that allows me to cook almost anything. Then I keep a simple assortment of cooking
    supplies, a box of easily prepared foods (oatmeal, pastas, eggs,
    burritos, etc.), and a cooler to keep them fresh.
  • Creature Comforts—I highly recommend a nice
    foldable chair for hanging around at camp and maybe a hammock for stringing up
    between trees with a nice campfire going under the stars.


Truck
camping is as simple as that, but you will be well served with a few simple
additions, such as a dual-battery setup and isolator, which allows you to use
electronics in the back without worrying about killing your starter battery or
some simple internal lighting, either battery-operated or wired to your second
battery.”

Get out and start exploring

“The most important part is just getting out there on the road and having a good time, and truck camping is one of the absolute best ways to travel—whether for a weekend or for a year.

For me, truck camping was the perfect fit as I left my job and set my sights on a road trip of the American West. It’s comfortable, affordable, and allows me to travel almost anywhere thanks to 4WD.

I’ve spent nights up in below-freezing temps in the Canadian Rockies, camped out in Death Valley, and spent numerous nights in Walmart or casino parking lots. More recently, truck camping has led me to nights in front the roaring Pacific in Baja California or beside a beautiful remote lake in Costa Rica.

Truck camping has taken me all over the American West and all of Central America—and right now I’m embarking on a yearlong trip through all of South America, with my trusty truck as my home away from home.”

Thanks Ryan!

Ryan is behind the website Desk to Dirtbag, documenting his travels on the road and around the world after leaving his Washington, D.C., desk job. He is also the author of the book Big Travel, Small Budget, which talks about how he’s been able to travel so cheaply, for so long, including truck camping. You can currently find him driving and truck camping somewhere in South America. Follow Desk to Dirtbag on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter to see his adventures.

Have you ever truck-camped? Or are you planning to for the first time? Share your tips below.

How to Protect Your Car’s Interior in Summer

Convertible parked in the sunshine

Source | Christopher Windus

Summer is upon us, and the streets are heating up. That means it’s time to prep your car for the hottest time of year. Of course you should perform all the regular summer maintenance, including checking and swapping tires, changing fluids, and making sure your AC is ready to deal with climbing temperatures. But how should you prep the interior of your vehicle? Follow these steps, and your ride will be ready to take the heat.

Clean your carpet and swap your floor mats

With heat comes baked-in smells. Wet carpeting can be a breeding ground for mold and mildew and lead to mystery stinks in the heat of the summer. That coffee you spilled in the winter? You can almost guarantee that you’ll be faced with a spoiled-milk odor come summer. So how do you battle it? It’s time to do a deep carpet cleaning and get that stuff out before it becomes entrenched. Pick up a carpet cleaner and go to town on those grimy footwells.

Your floor mats will also need a bit of love and attention. After all, they do more than catch the grime and dirt you cart in each time you get in and out. They protect the interior from getting wet and smelly, too. Clean off your mats and consider investing in some all-weather mats. These not only catch ice and snow in the winter but also capture sand, dirt, and rocks that accumulate after, say, a trip to the beach or a hike in the mountains. A pair of them can be picked up for under $60, and they will help keep the interior of your car much cleaner this summer.

Sun through the driver's window

Source | JD Weiher

Treat your seats

If you have leather or leatherette seats, you know the torture of sitting in a sunbaked chair inside a car that’s been parked in the sun. Your seats are just absorbing all those UV rays, and that can be incredibly damaging for prolonged periods.

Your best bet is to invest in some good leather cleaner and conditioner. The chemicals in these cleaners will help keep your leather and leatherette supple and soft, even in the heat. Think of it like sunscreen for your seats.

We also recommend that you invest in seat covers for those super-hot days. They’ll protect your seats from the sun and your posterior from the inevitable burn of flesh on hot leather. There are a variety of styles, colors, and fits, available.

Cover your dash

Even if you park your car inside a garage, you could benefit from investing in a UV blanket or sunscreen to cover your front and rear decks. The sun beats down on these two spots relentlessly and can eventually crack, fade, or damage the plastic or leather in both those spots in short order. It’s best to invest in a windshield shade to protect the front dash and seats when you park in a sunny spot. If you want to just focus on protecting the dash, check out dash covers. Each vehicle’s dash is different, so be sure to put your vehicle make and model into the search box to find the right one for your car.

Get it made in the shade

One of the best protections for the interior of your car is also the lowest-tech: Try to park in the shade when you can. This will help your vehicle avoid the sun’s harmful rays and keep things much cooler for when you climb back in.

What are your summer-car-care rituals? Tell us your tips in the comments.

The Difference Between Ceramic and Semi-Metallic Brake Pads

Source | William Clifford/Flickr

Brake pads are the unsung hero of modern motoring, able to stop your heavy vehicle by converting kinetic (motion) energy into heat. It’s simple, yet brilliant technology. The pads contact the brake rotor and create enough friction to slow down even a Dodge Demon.

Back in the 1950s, when discs started to replace drums, brake pads were made out of asbestos. The material was cheap, quiet, and worked well at dissipating heat, but the brake dust was linked to lung cancer. Fortunately for us all, there are now a lot of excellent affordable brakes that don’t have health implications. Here’s how to narrow down your options when shopping for new brake pads.

Going organic

Organic pads were the first to replace asbestos. Made of various organic compounds like carbon, glass, rubber, and even Kevlar, organic pads are quiet even when cold and quickly heat up to their ideal operating temperature. Still, they have several shortcomings (see below) and have been largely replaced.

Strengths:

  • Organic pads are inexpensive. Everyone likes saving money.
  • Silence. The compounds are soft, translating to a quiet contact with the rotor.
  • Fine for everyday driving.

Weaknesses:

  • Again, organic pads are soft, so they are quick to wear out. While they’re inexpensive, you will have to replace them more often, so organics might not actually save you money.
  • Soft compound translates to a squishy pedal feel.
  • Easily overheated, so these aren’t for performance driving or towing.

With all the drawbacks, you might be wondering why organic pads are still made. The truth is, they are similar to why we have brake drums on modern cars. Organic pads and brake drums are totally outclassed and a bit rare these days, but they still work well enough. The tooling was paid for long ago, making them incredibly cheap to manufacture and sell, with pad sets often priced under $20. If you need basic brakes for your commute in your Toyota Corolla, organic pads will work.

Heavy metal

Wearever semi-metallic brake pads

While organics will generally stop a car, their weaknesses are serious enough that engineers keep looking for better brakes. Semi-metallic pads were the answer, first appearing with the larger and more powerful cars of the ’60s. With iron, steel, copper, and graphite in the friction material, semi-metallic pads have more bite and can stand up to a wide range of temperatures.

Strengths:

  • Semi-metallic pads offer improved brake performance compared to organics.
  • The harder material gives firmer pedal feel.
  • A wider operating range means a more heat tolerant pad that can stand up to heavy-duty work.

Weaknesses:

  • Semi-metallic pads need a proper break-in process for best performance.
  • They are more expensive than organic pads.
  • The metal-on-metal contact means some unavoidable brake dust, and more noise versus organic.

Semi-metallic pads are a great all-around choice if you live in the mountains, regularly tow, see any kind of racing, or just want a solid pad for everyday driving. Yes, there is a very slight price increase over organics, but “you get what you pay for” certainly applies here.

Definitely not fine china

Wearever ceramic brake pads

Just because these pads are ceramic, don’t assume they are like your aunt’s delicate tea sets. First appearing in the 1980s, these pads are more of a hardcore ceramic, like the heat shields on the space shuttles. The inorganic, earthen elements offer some improvements over the semi-metallic design, but they aren’t for everyone.

Strengths:

  • Ceramic pads are the longest-lasting pads you can buy.
  • They’re quieter than semi-metallic pads and offer better heat rejection.
  • Less brake dust than semi-metallic or organic, and the dust doesn’t stick to wheels.

Weaknesses:

  • The most expensive pad.
  • Some noise when cold, not the best choice for cold climates.
  • Not as heavy duty as semi-metallic, so not the choice for racing or towing.

Ceramic pads have become the standard OEM pad for modern cars, and it’s easy to see why. While they are typically the most expensive pad, drivers like the long life and lack of brake dust.

What to buy

When choosing between semi-metallic or ceramic, it’s best to stick with what the manufacturer put in the caliper. If it was semi-metallic in your Ford F-250, go with that option again. If your Honda Accord had ceramics from the factory, buy new ceramic pads.

When replacing organic pads, feel free to upgrade to either semi-metallic or ceramic, as they are both noticeable improvements in every measurable way.

Have a favorite type of brake pad? Let us know what stops you in your tracks in the comments below.

How Big Trucks Got Better Fuel Economy

2011 Ford F-150. Source | Creative Commons

It’s no secret that we Americans love our trucks, and that love is unlikely to dwindle any time soon. This love story has had its ups and downs though, with its intensity mostly affected by fluctuating gas prices. (See: 2005, when truck sales took a nosedive in light of spiking gas prices and many truck owners turned to more compact, fuel-efficient cars to save some money.)

But as soon as oil prices started to drop sharply, truck sales picked right back up. Still, automakers are well aware that gas won’t stay cheap forever, and that the minute it becomes substantially more expensive, they’ll see a new sales slump.

That realization, along with tightening federal fuel economy standards, has motivated manufacturers to produce pickup trucks that have much better gas mileage than they used to. So how are they managing to build more fuel-efficient trucks without sacrificing their size, strength, and performance? Here’s a look at the solutions they’ve put in place.

Turbocharging

One of the most effective measures has been the addition of turbocharged engines. Usually used in high-performance sports cars up until a few years ago, turbochargers can now be found in many pickup trucks and SUVs. Ford’s turbocharged EcoBoost engine in the F-150 is one of the most notable instances. When Ford first introduced the EcoBoost technology in the 2011 F-150, it brought the truck’s combined mpg from 16 mpg to 18, surpassing practically all of its competitors.

Turbochargers use the waste-exhaust energy from an engine to feed additional pressurized air into the engine’s combustion chambers, helping it burn more fuel. This means that turbochargers allow automakers to design an engine that will provide the same amount of power, or even more than naturally aspirated engines, without having to increase the engine’s size—the usual method for achieving a large power boost. Research shows that using a smaller, turbocharged engine to deliver the same performance as an engine without one cuts fuel consumption by up to six percent. (Here’s more about how turbos work.)

Start-stop systems

Another nifty piece of technology making it possible for people to drive large SUVs and pickup trucks without spending a fortune at the pump are start-stop systems. When manufacturers first introduced the technology, it was mainly used in hybrids. It’s now a common feature in internal combustion engine vehicles, including trucks.

Start-stop systems save fuel by automatically shutting a vehicle’s engine down when coming to a complete stop, such as at a red light. The system shuts off the engine when drivers release the gas pedal and fully depress the brake, and restarts it when drivers take their foot off the brake and press the gas pedal. The Ram 1500, for example, has this tech. Some estimates show that auto start-stop systems can boost fuel savings by three to five percent.

Variable valve timing and variable pumps

We expect manufacturers to continue exploring all sorts of technologies to improve the fuel economy of trucks, probably increasingly relying on variable valve timing, variable pumps, and, possibly, cylinder deactivation.

Whatever the solutions manufacturers opt for, those who love trucks can rest assured that their beloved large vehicles are only going to get more efficient.

Do you own a truck with some of these technologies? Let us know if they really help improve gas mileage in the comments below.

What’s the Difference Between Car, Marine, and Lawn-Mower Batteries?

There are few things worse than turning the key and hearing nothing but a loud click, click, click, as the gauge lights fade. Your battery is dead. It’s time for a new one, but when you start your search there are, well… let’s just say “a ton of options” would be an understatement. Not all batteries are equal, and different vehicles have different requirements. Here’s what you need to know before you hit the store for a new battery.

For comparison: car batteries

All of the batteries listed here work generally the same way: A positively charged metal plate with a negatively charged plate in an electrolyte solution create an electron flow that you know as a useful electrical voltage (potential) and amperage (capacity).

Modern cars run on 12-volt electrical systems, and auto batteries are designed to work with this voltage. Manufacturers design standard flooded automotive batteries to deliver a quick burst of energy to quickly start the vehicle. We measure this by the battery’s CCA rating. A Honda Fit 1.5L can get by with lower CCA than a big block Chevy Chevelle 7.4L, so pay attention to what your ride needs.

The energy storage is shown as reserve capacity, which is less important in a car, as running the lights, radio, and such are the job of the alternator. It seems obvious, but you should stick with a car battery for cars.

Marine batteries

Starting marine batteryYou may have seen a battery at the parts store that is the size of a car battery, but the label states it’s for marine use. So what is a marine battery? A marine starting battery is quite similar to a car battery, but the differences matter. A boat battery has thicker plates so they don’t shake apart and fail under heavy wave impacts.

Also, you’ll notice the battery is rated in MCA. This is Marine Cranking Amps, which is the same as CCA, but at 32 degrees. Boat batteries have to act like a car battery for engine starting but also need to be able to provide “deep cycle” capacity for running that radio, GPS, or fish finder with the engine off. So, depending on need, there are specific starting batteries and deep cycle batteries.

Lawn batteries

lawn and garden battery

Lawn and garden batteries are, again, a different item. A battery for a riding mower doesn’t need to take on pounding waves, so it’s built more like a car battery. So how long does a lawn mower battery last? When properly maintained during the off seasons, the lawn mower battery last years, even with inconsistent use.

Lawn mower batteries are usually 12-volt. You’ll also notice they’re considerably smaller than car batteries, and tend to be cheaper, too. Lawn mower batteries often have one-third the CCA of a car battery, due to the heavier duty starter required for cars versus mowers.

Farm batteries

Farm batteries are deep cycle batteries with a CCA comparable to a car. This is because tractor engines have roughly the same electrical need at startup compared to your car or truck. On the other hand, the deep cycle is needed here due to the tractor usually running at idle or just off idle.

The tractor’s alternator can’t quite charge the battery at low engine speeds, so the battery needs to have a large reserve capacity. Farm batteries are also heavier duty than car batteries, due to the need to stand up to more bumps, ruts, and off-road work. You can use a farm battery in a car if you have to, but a car battery in a tractor won’t last long.

Golf cart batteries

Golf cart battery

Golf carts vary significantly between manufacturers and models, so the batteries vary, too. Golf carts operate on 36V or 48V electrical systems, with a set of batteries running usually 6, 8 or 12 volts. Definitely read the label before buying. With that said, they also differ in being true deep cycle batteries with a huge rating for amp hours. This is the ability to provide low power for a long time.

Unlike marine batteries that can start engines and provide deep cycle, a golf cart doesn’t have to deal with starting a large engine, so CCA isn’t a factor here. The golf cart needs reliable power for an extended period of time because the battery is the only source of power. Flooded GC batteries aren’t maintenance free. They need to be properly charged after use and electrolyte level must be checked regularly. Top off the electrolyte level in the batteries by adding distilled, deionized or demineralized water to the proper fill level. When the battery finally needs replacing, go with the same voltage as the factory batteries. For example, if your 48V cart has six 8V batteries, buy those six again rather than trying to upgrade to 12V. And don’t try to use a golf cart battery in your car, or vice versa.

Power sport batteries

Power sport battery

Your Jet Ski, snow machine, and ATV run power sport batteries that are specific to the demands of those machines. Most power sport batteries are 12-volt, like your car. That’s about where the similarities end. Smaller engines mean easier starting and thus lower CCA, so you probably wouldn’t want to run your Jet Ski battery in your F-250.

You’ll notice a bunch of different technologies in power sports, as well as some labeled “AGM.” That stands for Absorbed Glass Mat, which is a construction technique where fiberglass separators fully absorb the electrolyte and then are compressed during insertion. These batteries are highly vibration resistant, but AGM does not mean deep cycle.

AGM powersport batteries are not all the same. There are two different types: Dry Charge AGM and Factory Activated AGM. Factory Activated AGM power sport batteries allow you to take the battery off the shelf and use it immediately. Dry Charge AGM is still an AGM battery, but you have to fill the battery with acid and then charge 8-12 hours before you can use the battery.

Charging a Jet Ski battery is similar to charging a car battery, with the exception of using only the slow charge setting here, as most powersports batteries won’t like a 125V engine start setting.When it comes to batteries, the lesson of the day is: use the right battery for the right application. The batteries are internally different and will serve you well in the right vehicle. Remember, like anything else, maintenance is key. Keep it charged with a decent battery charger, and you’ll have a reliable battery that lasts for years.

How do you extend the life of your batteries? Let us know in the comments.

In a Vehicle Emergency? These Household Items Can Save the Day

SUV on the side of the road

Source | Jon Flobrant/Unsplash

We all face car trouble eventually. Whether it’s a vehicle that won’t start or a door that’s been frozen shut, issues crop up. Proper maintenance can prevent a lot of problems, but if you end up in a sticky situation, it’s important to know what you can and can’t use to get unstuck. Here are some simple hacks all drivers should know.

The car won’t start…

We’ve all been there—stranded in a parking lot far from home. Whether it’s because of poor battery maintenance, cold weather, or simply a dead or low battery, it can be a real headache. Luckily, there are a few things you can do on your own to help get things going again, before you go looking for a jumpstart.

A can of coke

First, pop your hood and take a look at the battery. If the terminals are really corroded you can use a can of Coke to clean them. Seriously. Coke. The reason? It’s got a relatively low pH, carbonic acid, citric acid, and phosphoric acid, as well as carbonation. When combined, they can break down the corrosion (as well as rust, tarnish, and, if you aren’t careful, your car’s paint). It will make things a bit sticky, but it will remove the corrosion and help make a better connection between the terminals and the battery clamps. Remember, this is only a temporary fix. You should invest in the right tools to clean your battery terminals, including battery cleaner spray and a wire brush.

Once you’ve cleaned the terminals, check the battery connections. More often than not the terminals have come loose and need to be readjusted. Tread carefully when doing this, though. A crossed wire can cause a fire or worse, an explosion.

Try the car again. If it doesn’t start, it’s time to think about getting a jump. You should always have jumper cables, like these from Energizer, or even a small, portable jump starter. If you do decide you need a jump, be sure to follow instructions on your jump starter, exactly. If you’re jumping a car using a fellow good samaritan’s car, follow these steps to stay safe.

The best option, as always, is to be prepared and have the right tools for the job. Do proper battery maintenance (especially if you live in a place with harsh winters) and make sure that your battery is fully charged before long road trips.

Frozen bits and pieces…

If you live anywhere in the snowbelt, you know how troublesome ice and cold weather can be. Whether you have frozen locks, doors, or get stuck on an icy patch, there are a few small hacks you can use to get sorted.

Hand sanitizer

For frozen locks, hand sanitizer is your answer. Apply a small amount on the troublesome locks, and the rubbing alcohol in it will melt the ice. Be careful around rubber seals, plastic trim, and paint, as the rubbing alcohol can affect these items.

Cooking spray

If your doors freeze shut, you probably have a small leak somewhere along your door seals or gaskets. It’s best to troubleshoot the issue before it becomes a problem. You can pick up replacement gaskets and seals at your local Advance Auto Parts store.

That said, the hack-y way to prevent doors from freezing shut when you can’t make it to Advance is to use cooking spray on the gasket. Spray down the entire ring of the doors that you want to keep from freezing and then wipe down with a paper towel. When the icy weather comes your doors should easily open.

Kitty litter

If you find yourself stuck in an icy patch and unable to move, there are a few options you have before asking someone to tow you out. First, turn off the traction control. While it seems counterintuitive, traction control tends to cut power to wheels that slip. When you’re stuck on ice, your wheels are slipping, so you need to shut it off. If that doesn’t help get you out, you can also resort to using kitty litter under your wheels. Be sure not to use the lightweight stuff, as it’s often made of paper and it won’t do much for your grip situation. The heavy, standard stuff is a better option. Pour a bit of kitty litter under your wheels in the direction you’ll be heading out. The little bit of grit should help you get some grip and get out of your icy jail.

In all these wintry situations it pays to be prepared. Always have items like an ice and snow scraper on hand to clear your car on snowy days. If you live in a place that is particularly snowy, it may even make sense to have a small snow shovel on hand.

You’re stuck in a ditch…

Rope

If you get stuck in a ditch or snow bank, it makes sense to know a little bit about physics, according to a recent story over at Wired.

Have a rope handy, and tie your car to a nearby tree. By pulling on the rope at a perpendicular angle, halfway between the car and the tree, you can exert enough leverage to pull your car out of a ditch. The story explains the fascinating physics of it in depth, if you’re interested in the why.

Lit vehicle headlight

Source | Sai Kiran Anagani/Unsplash

Your headlights are foggy…

Say you’re driving home late one night and you realize that while your headlights are on, you can’t see a thing. It’s time for a quick hack to clean those foggy lamps up.

Toothpaste

Grab a tube of toothpaste, an old towel or rag, and a bit of water to rinse. Put some toothpaste on the towel or rag, and put your elbow grease to work. Be careful not to scratch the chrome or the paint around the lights and stick to the headlight housing. Rinse and repeat if necessary!

Toothpaste is just a temporary fix. To clean your headlights the proper way, pick up a headlight-restoration kit. The cleaning agents will do a better job of defogging your headlights and, in general, are less messy than toothpaste.

A quick bumper hack…

Boiling water

Plastic bumpers that have just been pushed in can be fixed by pouring boiling water over the dent. The heat will expand the plastic and pop the dent out. It won’t always be perfect, but it will be a lot better than it was.

Got any hacks we don’t know about it? Share the knowledge and leave a comment! And remember: Hacks can be a life-saver, but they’re only temporary. Proper maintenance and the right tools are essential when you do get stuck. As always, it’s crucial to have an emergency roadside kit on hand, just in case.

How Does a Turbo Work?

7466411586_5cf5422c98_k

Source | Dave_7/Flickr

Auto manufacturers have almost exclusively used turbochargers in sports cars or race cars in the last couple of decades. Considering their main purpose is to provide a large boost in power, that does make a lot of sense. Now that automakers need to improve the fuel economy in vehicles across their lineups, they’ve started using turbocharged engines in daily drivers too.

This rise in popularity is mainly because turbochargers make engines work more efficiently. And when engines don’t have to work as hard, they use less fuel. Fuel-cost savings are among the top benefits of a turbocharger, along with the power output surge it provides.

Despite more widespread use of turbochargers in recent years, there are still a lot of questions about what they do and how a turbo works. We’re going to take a look at the technology behind turbochargers. We’ll also look at how they’ve evolved since they first appeared in a production vehicle back in 1962.

What is a turbo and how does a turbo work?

To understand how a turbo works, you first need to know its components and what each of them does. The two fundamental parts are a compressor and a turbine, forming what is essentially an air pump. The compressor consists of a wheel, a housing, and a diffuser. The turbine, for its part, has a wheel and a housing.

The main goal of a turbocharger is to boost the power output of an engine, without having to increase the engine’s size. Here’s how a turbo provides power:

  1. It takes in exhaust gasses from the engine through its turbine wheel.
  2. This process causes the turbine wheel to start spinning. A shaft connects the turbine wheel to the compressor wheel, causing it to rotate as well.
  3. Once the compressor wheel begins to spin, it takes in ambient air and compresses it.
  4. From there, it sends the compressed air through the compressor housing over to the chambers of the engine.
  5. The compressed air enters the engine’s combustion chambers, providing the engine with more power and torque.

Nowadays, automakers factory-install or offer as aftermarket parts a few different types of turbos. Beyond the basic type of turbo configuration—the single turbo—there are parallel twin turbo configurations, sequential turbos, and quad turbos.

1962 Oldsmobile Cutlass/F85

1962 Oldsmobile Cutlass/F85, Source | Greg Gjerdingen

From the ’62 Oldsmobile Cutlass and Chevrolet Corvair, to Ford’s EcoBoost

The first production car to feature a turbocharged engine was the 1962 Oldsmobile Cutlass. This classic car was powered by a 3.5-liter aluminum V8 engine, with a power output of 215 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. That same year, Chevrolet rolled out a turbocharged Corvair. Both became trendsetters for turbocharged cars. In 1975, Porsche introduced its first turbocharged model: the 911 Turbo, helping make the technology famous around the globe.

For the past few years most global automakers launched models that use a turbocharged engine, with Ford’s EcoBoost technology arguably leading the way. Ford includes EcoBoost engines across most of its lineup, including the F-150, sports cars, family sedans, and SUVs. Its main turbo-engine competitors include Audi, Chevrolet, and Volvo. The market should continue to grow—many European and US automakers say they plan to invest in this technology for years to come. (Japanese manufacturers have focused more on hybrids and electric vehicles.)

Lower fuel consumption, higher power output—but at a cost

Like with most vehicle technologies, turbochargers have their drawbacks. To create power, the turbocharger supplies the engine with more condensed air by using the exhaust energy from the engine, which would otherwise be wasted. Turbocharged engines deliver the same amount of power as non-turbocharged engines twice their size. Because of that, automakers don’t have to install larger engines.

But there’s a reason why turbos have yet to become a staple in every single car. Turbocharged engines are more expensive to build than their naturally aspirated counterparts. Creating an efficient and durable turbo is a complicated engineering process. That’s why they were usually found in luxury, high-performance cars. Only recently have cost reductions helped get them into more mainstream models.

Aside from high production costs, there are also a couple of downsides to turbos. One of the biggest drawbacks from a consumer perspective is turbo lag. Turbo lag is the time it takes for a turbocharger to start supplying the engine with an increased pressure and, consequently, a power boost. A turbocharger only provides a boost after it reaches a certain RPM threshold. Turbo lag is the time it takes an engine to reach that threshold after idling, or from a low speed.

Reaching the threshold for a power boost can lead to another downside of using a turbocharger. Once it reaches the threshold, the turbo speedily delivers an increase in power. That power boost can make the car difficult to control, which makes turbos potentially dangerous if a driver doesn’t know what to expect.

Sticking around

Even with the pitfalls, the consensus in the automotive industry seems to be that turbos are here to stay, and they’ll continue to get more popular in the near future. Automakers face strict fuel economy standards in many markets around the globe, prompting them to invest in fuel-saving technologies like turbochargers. Good thing we think they’re pretty fun.

What about you? Are you a fan of turbos? Share your tips and experience in the comments.

 

The Story of Grip Clean: How Bryce Hudson Made a Product We Love

Bryce Hudson standing behind his motorcycle

Bryce Hudson

Need to get your hands clean after working in the lawn and garden? Or worse, that nasty grease from working on the rear differential? If only there were an effective product that didn’t dry out your hands. Actually, there is one: Grip Clean hand soap, created by a pro motocross rider, using dirt as a primary ingredient. And, no, this is not an ad. I first saw it on “Shark Tank” and had ordered it before the segment ended. The stuff works.

Hard work = filthy hands

Bryce Hudson knows a thing or two about being dirty. Riding any kind of motorcycle off-road will get you filthy, but ripping around a motocross course at the X Games makes for award-winning grime. Hudson took gold in his first X Games and was the youngest competitor in his class for all four of his appearances. It’s not all trophies and medals, though. In 2013, he missed a landing in competition and suffered multiple fractures to his left tibia. He missed eight weeks of competition but was still able to wrench.

“Throughout my career of being a professional motocross athlete, I always had to do my own mechanic work on my machines,” says Hudson. “And that led to having constantly dirty, greasy, sticky—you name it—kind of hands. I have always used the products that are on the market, but they would cause my skin to dry and crack or even break out in rashes.”

Hudson wanted a heavy-duty but all-natural product, but he couldn’t find one in stores. While working with chemicals all day, the last thing he wanted to put on his hands was more harsh chemicals and abrasive detergents. Synthetic cleaners were not the answer. Then he noticed something about dirt.

Bottle of Grip Clean in a garage

The big idea

“I used to use handfuls of dirt to spread onto oil spills in my garage when I made a mess. It always absorbed all the oils with ease.” Dirt is a natural exfoliant, which is why high-end salons use mud masks and baths to get their clients clean. Hudson used this same approach to develop Grip Clean as a vegetable-based blend with a dirt additive. But don’t look to your backyard for effective soap, as Grip Clean’s “dirt” is a cosmetic-grade pumice.

“This allows the dirt to go deep into the cracks of your hand to latch on hard to remove grease that would normally remain. I tried this theory in many of our test batches, and lo and behold, the product worked better at removing grease than any chemical soap on the market.”

Hudson says he tested small batches for two years to get the formulation right. “And then I gave some samples out to some fellow race teams I knew. The feedback I got back from everyone was phenomenal and everyone wanted more of the product. Suddenly I became known as the ‘soap boy,’ and the rest is history!”

Well, not quite history, as Hudson still had to learn how to do everything, from getting the formula right in larger batches to making labels and proper packaging. Initially, he made batches in his garage with a 5-gallon bucket. A Kickstarter campaign found 195 backers and proved the marketability. But it was still mainly a one-man operation at home. Since Hudson didn’t yet have the capacity to sell on a national level, he had to find an investor.

Bryce Hudson on the set of Shark Tank

Bryce Hudson appearing on Shark Tank

Shark bait

“Getting onto the TV show ‘Shark Tank’ was hands-down one of the most fun, hardest, and scariest things I’ve done in my life.” Hudson stood in line before dawn with 4,000 other people to pitch their creations to the producers. He thought his odds of being picked were low, but a few months later, Hudson was pitching Grip Clean to a nationwide audience.

“I rode my motorcycle in with my helmet on. I took my helmet off and began to give my sales pitch. Suddenly, Mark Cuban and the Sharks were laughing and interrupted me mid-speech. Little did I know I had a serious case of “helmet hair,” where my hair was completely messed up and sticking straight up.” The hair and makeup crew helped him out, and then the pitch went as planned.

Besides that quick fix, he says the pitch went pretty much as aired. Shark Lori Greiner said that the product should really be sold in stores but believed in its product enough to invest. Grip Clean took off from there.

Hitting it big

“We got a ton of orders the night of airing and sold out of product within minutes,” says Hudson. “I was ecstatic but also bummed I didn’t have more product to sell! We were approached by many large retailers all interested in carrying the product, Advance Auto Parts being one of them.

“Partnering with Advance Auto Parts is truly a dream come true. Anyone starting a company or product always has their sights set on getting it into big box retailers and stores. Little did I know how much work it takes to be ready for that moment. Advance believes in our product.”

Freestyle motocross still has Hudson’s heart, but he says he’s found a new passion in his company. Grip Clean is industrial strength but won’t dry out your hands. It’s all-natural, biodegradable, doesn’t leave a smelly residue, and it’s made in the USA. In short, it’s a gold-medal winner.

Have you used Grip Clean? Share what you think about it in the comments.

Everything You Need to Know About Tie Rod Ends

tie rod end of a vehicle

Source | Craig Howell/Flickr

You might be thinking it’s time to replace your tie rod ends, or maybe your mechanic laid down the law. Either way, it’s time to first understand the basics, like what is a tie rod end, as well as the symptoms of a failing tie rod end. While failing tie rods can be a serious issue, there are some easy solutions to the troubles you may have with them. Here’s a complete look at everything you need to know about tie rod ends.

What is a tie rod end, and what does it do

Tie rod ends are simple parts that connect the steering rack to the steering knuckle on each front wheel. An adjusting sleeve sits between the inner and outer tire rod ends. When you turn the steering wheel, it transmits that movement through various steering components until the tie rod ends push or pull the wheel and make the wheels turn. Having the ability to turn corners is pretty important, so tie rod ends play a large role in any vehicle’s safety.

Deceptively simple looking, the outer tie rod end hides some internal parts. Here’s a breakdown of the different pieces:

  • The long shaft body passes steering movement to the ball stud
  • The rounded part houses several bearings that give you proper steering movement even while compensating for bumpy roads
  • There’s usually a grease fitting on the back allowing the bearings to spin freely inside the housing
  • The bushing is there to keep road grit out of sensitive internal parts
  • The threaded bolt end goes into the steering knuckle
  • The inner tie rod end straight body connects to a bearing housing. It’s all covered by a rubber protective dust boot
Outer_tie_rod_end

Outer tie rod end, Source | MOOG

 

Inner_tie_rod_end

Inner tie rod end, Source | MOOG

 

Symptoms of failing tie rod ends

  • Uneven tire wear. If the inside or outside tread of your front tires are wearing early compared to the rest of the tread, it can be a sign that the wheel camber is incorrect.
  • Squealing sound from the front when turning. This sounds different from the squeal/groan the power steering makes when low on fluid. A failing tie rod end has more of a brief, high-pitched shriek. This could just be a bad ball joint, so take a look to be sure.
  • Loose steering feel. Also described as clunky or shaky steering, this will feel like a slight disconnect between steering movement and the associated movement in the wheel/tire.
  • Tie rod failure. This is the most severe sign. A broken tie rod causes steering loss, which could lead to an accident. This is why manufacturers take these components seriously and recall a vehicle if there’s a chance they were misassembled at the factory.

How to tell if tie rods are bad

Fortunately, it’s simple to check if the tie rods are bad. Jack up the front of vehicle, using an appropriate weight jack and rated jack stands. Once the wheel is entirely off the ground, check for play by placing your hands at nine o’clock and three o’clock positions (the midpoint of the left and right sides of the tire). Press with left, then right, alternating a push/pull movement on each side. If there is play or slop, it’s worth investigating further. The front is already jacked up, so take off the wheel and have a look underneath.

Right behind the brake rotor and hub, you should be able to see the tie rod end. Inspect it for any damage. If the bushing is torn, odds are road grit has accumulated inside and destroyed it, so you will need to replace the tie rod. If the bushing is solid, reach up and grasp the outer tie rod firmly, and give it a good shake. If it easily moves from side to side, it’s time for replacement.

Preventative maintenance is key

At every oil change, grease the tie rod ends. Look for a grease fitting on the outer edge by the bushing. Clean it off, and use a grease gun filled with the proper grease. The new grease pushes out the old, as well as any collected contaminants and road grit. Sure, it’s an extra step when changing the oil, but tie rod maintenance will delay the need for a tie rod replacement.

If it’s time to replace your tie rods, there is some good news. Since they are wear items that are meant to be replaced, they are easy to find online or in your local Advance Auto Parts store, and they’re affordable and easy to replace. You’d probably want adjustable tie rod ends in your souped-up classic, but the standard replacement parts are rock solid for daily driver duty.

Have any additional tips on tie rod ends? Drop a comment below.

No Truck? No Problem! How to Tow with Your Car

1955 Ford_airstream

1955 Ford Ranch Wagon towing an Airstream, Source | Flickr

A truck is great for getting work done, but what if you don’t have one? Fear not—you can still make things happen. If you have a car, van, or crossover, odds are your vehicle has a tow rating. As long as you follow common sense when towing, you can probably get the job done with your car. Here’s how.

All show, no tow?

Check if towing is even possible in your vehicle by looking in your owner’s manual. In the cargo and towing section it might state something along the lines of, “Manufacturer does not recommend towing with your vehicle.” At this point, it’s time to look into a truck rental. But if the manual lists a certain towing capacity of “x” pounds, this is the manufacturer’s weight limit for towed loads. If you don’t have your owner’s manual, you can find many vehicles’ tow ratings online.

Don’t base your opinion of towing success on looks or power, as there are several cars that can tow surprising loads. The current Ford Mustang GT, with a 5.0L V8 making 400 lb/ft of torque, has a tow rating of 1,000 pounds. Oddly, the small 10th-generation Toyota Corolla, equipped with a 2.4L four cylinder, has a 1,500-pound tow rating. If you have a Honda Odyssey with a 3.5L V6, you can tow up to an impressive 3,500 pounds.

You may be wondering why these tow figures are so low compared to modern full-size trucks. The short answer is safety. The Mustang GT has the torque to theoretically tow a space shuttle. The issue is, it can’t do it safely on public roads for an extended amount of time.

Let’s say you have that Mustang with its tow rating of 1,000 pounds. A buddy asks you to dramatically exceed that and tow his or her 3,000-pound Ford Focus across town. It can be done… badly. The Mustang could physically tow the Focus, but it would do so with dramatically increased drivetrain wear and potential serious damage to the chassis. The brakes would be inadequate for the increased weight, and the trailer or towed car will sway on the highway as it tries to match the movements of the tow vehicle. In short, it would be a scary and damaging drive, so in the real world don’t ever exceed the tow ratings.

Get hitched

To connect that trailer to your tow vehicle, you’ll need a hitch. A tow hitch attaches to the chassis of the vehicle to create the strongest point to connect a trailer or camper. Most hitches bolt onto the vehicle with basic tools and take less than an hour to install. Like with vehicles, don’t go by looks alone, as similar-looking hitches can have wildly different tow ratings. The two main points you will need to look at are the class rating and the receiver opening.

Class I hitches are rated up to 2,000 pounds gross trailer weight, with a 200-pound maximum trailer tongue weight. The tongue weight is simply the force exerted on the hitch from the trailer. For a real-world example, this means if you have a 400-pound light trailer hauling a 560-pound Harley-Davidson Sportster, you’re plenty safe with this hitch. The Corolla mentioned above would have no problem towing 960 pounds out of its 1,500-pound tow rating, if the tongue weight stayed under 200 pounds. Set the Harley above the trailer axle for a neutral load on the trailer tongue. This Class I hitch usually has a 1-1/4″ square receiver opening. This size accepts ball mounts but can also take bike racks, cargo carriers, or other accessories.

Class II hitches are medium duty, rated for up to 3,500 pounds of trailer weight and 300 pounds of max tongue weight. Class III are even heavier duty, with a trailer weight of 6,000 pounds and tongue weight of 600 pounds. Keep in mind, it’s the hitch that can handle that, not your Corolla.

For more details about tow hitches and getting geared up for towing, check out our tips for first-time towers.

Going the extra mile

For a single trip towing across town, no extra equipment is required. If it looks like you may need to tow more often, here are some additions that can help make it easier and safer.

  • Towing mirrors help you see past the trailer. Since rear visibility takes a huge hit while towing, these extended mirrors let you see around it. Other motorists will appreciate that you can see them.
  • Trailer wiring kits make it easy to stay safe and legal out on the road. Most passenger cars don’t have trailer wiring from the factory, so getting the brake lights and turn signals to work can mean splicing wires. Trailer wiring kits are plug-and-play.
  • Transmission coolers keep the temperatures down in one of your vehicle’s critical drivetrain components. Heavy loads make your vehicle work harder, increasing heat, which can damage a transmission. These affordable add-ons reduce the potential for expensive damage from towing.
  • Larger rotors with heavier duty pads will allow you to safely stop that heavy load. The factory brakes were meant to stop just the vehicle’s weight, so they can overheat when trying to stop additional weight.
  • Hitch covers look cool. Technically they offer some protection from the elements so the receiver doesn’t rust, but mainly they offer a unique way to customize your ride.

You can tow without a truck, but you have to do it the right way to stay safe. Ever towed something with a car? Share your towing tips in the comments.