How Does a Turbo Work?

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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.

Mower Time: Getting Ready for Spring

 

lawn mower on grass

Source | Daniel Watson/Unsplash

Your lawn mower might not have a 450hp big block, but believe it or not, the same tune-up principles for your classic muscle car apply to your lawn and garden equipment. If it has an engine, it’s going to need a little bit of prep work to perform its best this spring. Here’s a guide to what needs replacing, what just needs attention, and some general mower maintenance advice.

Walk-behind mowers

Walk-behind push mowers have some of the simplest engines currently made. That makes them easy to work on for any skill level. If you’ve never done any kind of maintenance work before, give it a try with these super-simple tasks.

Oil change

Like with your car, you need to change the oil in your mower on time. This depends on the number of hours and how you use it. Usually most homeowners can get by with changing the oil once a season. Push mowers are cheap and easy to maintain; they don’t have an oil filter and only need one quart of oil. It’s definitely faster and easier than changing oil in your car: tip the mower on its side to drain the oil out the filler spout, then set it upright and refill with fresh oil. Remember to drop off the old oil for recycling.

Spark plug

Spark plugs wear out, too. Like with oil, it’s a good idea to change them at the start of each season. All it takes is a single wrench. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to buy lawn- and garden-equipment spark plugs at a power-equipment store. We stock your Honda’s BPR6 spark plug or your MTD’s RC12 at stores and online too.

Air filter

The air filter keeps dirt, grit, and grass out of the precision internal-engine components. Being down near the debris and spinning blades makes for one filthy air filter that decreases performance. Check the filter throughout the season and replace as needed, usually at least once a season.

Blades

Before you fire up the mower, check the condition of the blade(s). Clean off any excess grass clumps and check for cracks or large chips in the blade. If you find any, it’s time for a replacement. This is easier than it looks—use a wrench to remove the center bolt. If your blade is in good shape, it may only need sharpening. A sharpening kit is about the same price as a new blade but will save you money in the long run.

Ethanol-free gas

Most small engines prefer ethanol-free gas, so fuel up with that if it’s available in your area. Never use E15 or higher ethanol fuels in small equipment not rated for it.

riding lawn mower

Source | Gord Webster/Flickr

Riding mowers

If you’ve gotten this far, we’re guessing you don’t have a small lawn. Riding mowers are great for cutting large amounts of tall grass in a small amount of time, but they do need some extra work. All the above advice for push mowers also applies to riding mowers. The oil change needs a couple more quarts, and there’s oil and fuel filters to swap out, too. Here’s what else to look for.

Blade belt

Under the deck, check the condition of the blade belt and pulleys. A slack belt will cause excessive noise and lack of cutting, so adjust the tensioner and/or buy a new belt. Grease the pulleys to ensure they freely spin.

Battery

Pull out your multimeter and check the voltage of the battery. On a 12V battery, if it tests at less than 10.5V, trickle charge until full and give it a try. If it does not stay charged between mows, then it’s time for a new battery.

Tires

That rider has could’ve been sitting in the same spot all winter. That’s never good for the tires. Look for cracks, dry rot, or flat spots, then inflate to the recommended pressure listed on the side of the tire. If the tires are damaged or don’t hold air, replace them.

… And prep yourself

Safety comes first, so wear gloves when working near the blades. Eye protection is recommended while riding or using a side-discharge push mower. Small engines are disproportionately loud for their size, so remember to wear ear protection any time the mower is running.

Do it right and safe, so you can get your lawn done on the first pass. Spring and summer offer perfect car-show weather, so do your mowing, then get back to wrenching.

Share your lawn and garden tips and tricks with others in the comments below.

Tips on Towing for First-Timers

Source | Paul Townshend/Flickr

Last February alone, light-duty truck sales in the U.S. totaled over 800,000 units. Drivers are moving from traditional coupes and sedans to SUVs and pickups due to their safety, practicality and, in many cases, their ability to haul large and heavy objects. But though many utility vehicles are fully capable of towing, there’s more to it than simply connecting a hitch.

First things first: The lingo

Before you think of towing along that RV across the country during summer vacation, you’ll want get the terminology down pat and heed a few easy tips first. Learn the lingo. Nobody likes acronyms, and unfortunately, the world of towing is full of them.

No need to memorize them all, but ones you will undoubtedly run into:

  • GVWR: gross vehicle weight rating
  • GVM: gross vehicle mass. This refers to the manufacturer-specified maximum amount of weight/mass the vehicle is rated for, including all passengers, fuel, and cargo, and does not change.
  • TW: tongue weight. This—the weight placed on the hitch by the trailer’s attachment—also factors into the above maximum allotment, so you would remove it from a vehicle’s overall GVWR while calculating how much stuff you can carry.
  • GCWR: gross combined weight rating. Again determined by the automaker, is the maximum allowable weight of both vehicle and trailer together.
  • GTW: gross trailer weight. It’s the accumulated weight of trailer and whatever contents are inside.

Get hitched

Hitches come in many shapes and sizes. Typically, when someone thinks of hitch, they think of a ball mount and trailer ball fastened underneath the rear bumper. This style is one of the most common, and it requires a receiver hitch.

Curt Class 3 Fusion Mount

Curt Ball Mount, Source | Curt

Essentially, a receiver hitch is a metal apparatus that bolts onto the frame of the tow vehicle, and provides a square tube to accept a ball mount like the one shown above.  This provides the direct link to the trailer, shouldering the load of the trailer via its tongue weight. Another benefit of a receiver hitch is that you can change out the mounts depending on what you’re towing. Curt class 3 trailer hitch

Curt Class 3 Multi-Fit Trailer Hitch, Source | Curt

You can optionally add on extra parts to turn a receiver hitch into a weight-distributing hitch (or WD hitch). A WD hitch is so called because it helps spread the tongue weight between the towing vehicle and the trailer.

Curt Weight Distribution Hitch

Curt Weight Distribution Hitch, Source | Curt

When the towing gets serious, there are fifth-wheel hitches, typically used for towing an RV or travel trailer. Installed onto the truck bed, they can handle higher capacities.

Your local Advance Auto Parts store should have in stock the equipment needed for the job. If not, they can always special order parts you need.

How to find the right hitch for your vehicle:

  1. Use your vehicle year, make and model to find a compatible hitch
  2. Look up the gross trailer weight (GTW) of your tow item (remember, that’s the accumulated weight of trailer and contents inside)
  3. Check the towing capacity of the vehicle and all towing components to make it’s safe to tow. Never exceed the lowest-rated towing component.

Hooking up

Regardless of whether your first towing experience involves a U-Haul box on wheels or pulling a boat or snowmobile on a trailer, the steps for basic jobs are pretty much the same. After checking your vehicle’s towing capacity and hitch weight rating for compatibility, you will then:

  1. Back up the tow vehicle so the hitch ball lines up with the coupler on the trailer
  2. Lower the coupler until it completely covers the hitch ball
  3. Close the latch and insert the retaining pin
  4. Cross the trailer’s right safety chain under the tongue and connect to the left side of the tow vehicle’s hitch (making sure there is enough, but not too much, slack for turning around corners), and repeat the process with the opposite chain
  5. Plug in the lighting—which leads us to…

Get electrical

Before you get out there on the main roads, there is a legal requirement to have the built-in lights (tail, brake and turn signals) on a trailer working in tandem with those on the tow vehicle. This will allow you to avoid trouble with law enforcement and help communicate your actions to other drivers for safety reasons.

Some newer vehicles come with a plug-and-play connector to accept the wiring harness from the trailer, while others may need a more custom approach. Again, we sell a variety of kits, and a quick conversation with a staff member may be all you need to get the job done.

Drive mindfully

Piloting any automobile with a big payload at the rear requires some extra-careful attention on the road. Here are a few tips for managing a larger load:

  • Do everything more slowly than normal, such as making turns or changing lanes, and ensure there’s enough room to maneuver.
  • Coming to a stop will take more time, so allot for that at lights and stop signs.
  • Hills can be tricky—climbing steep inclines may be more difficult, so if that’s the case, pull to the right and flash your hazards to alert other drivers. Shifting down a gear and using the engine to help brake can make descents easier.

Above all, always employ common sense. Happy towing!

Got any more tips for towing newbies? Leave ’em in the comments!

Fast Fixes for Foggy, Leaky, or Cracked Windshields and Windows

frosted windshield on a car

Source | Steinar Engeland/Unsplash

A small crack, a rock chip, a tiny leak around the edge of the door, a foggy scene when things get steamy—we’ve all been faced with a windshield issue at the most inopportune time. But when it happens, don’t panic. In an effort to make troubleshooting your misbehaving windshield as easy as possible, we’ve put together a short list of things you can pick up at your local Advance Auto Parts store to quickly and affordably get back on your way.

What to do when your windshield has a chip or crack

As far as problems go, a chipped windshield may seem like a small one. Usually these things happen when you’re on a long-haul road trip and have been riding behind a big semi-truck or a seemingly empty pick-up truck. It can happen when you’re driving under an overpass, too, or in bad weather when maintenance crews are laying down sand and gravel. Windshield chips are pretty much inevitable, but they can be a real problem if left alone.

The rule of thumb when dealing with these sometimes-nasty little buggers is, if a dollar bill can cover it, it can be repaired. Anything larger than that, and you are likely going to need to have the entire windshield replaced by professionals. The same goes if there are three or more cracks in the windshield or the chip or crack is in the driver’s direct line of sight. On average, calling in the professionals to fix a windshield crack is going to cost you upward of $100, not to mention time with your insurance company.

If your chip or crack, uh, fits the bill, and you want to save the cash, the best thing to do is to head to your auto store. For as little as $15, you can pick up a do-it-yourself windshield-repair kit that will make airtight repairs on most laminated windshields. It cures in daylight and doesn’t require any mixing, so the fix will be quick and easy to do. Better yet, it can help prevent a small crack from spreading further and becoming an even more expensive problem down the road.

What to do when your windshield (or rear window) won’t defrost

There’s a basic rule of thumb for successful defrosting of a windshield or windows—bring the humidity down and bring the temperature inside the car more in line with the temperature outside of the car.

For a quick fix to those foggy windows in cold weather:

Crack a window or direct cold air toward your windshield. Don’t turn on the heat, as it will cause the windows to fog. If, however, you want to stay warm while defrosting your windshield, blow warm air at the window, while turning off the recirculate function in your car (it’s often the button with arrows flowing in a circle). That way the system will draw in dry external air and keep the foggy situation to a minimum.

If it’s warm out and you’re faced with a fogged windshield:

Use the wipers to get the condensation off the outside and the heat to get the inside of the car to warm up closer to the outside temperature. The same rule applies for the recirculation function—keep it turned off.

A few more ideas:

The other trick to keeping your windows clear is to keep them clean both inside and out. Part of that task comes down to having the right tools. Items like squeegees and sponges are helpful. It also pays to invest in the right cleaners for your environment. You can check out a few, here.

Also, be sure to get the right windshield-washing fluid based on where you live. Some have additives that help keep them liquid in really cold weather, others help with ice melting, and some help get the bugs off.

It’s also really vital to be sure you have the right windshield wipers installed on your vehicle. For a quick reminder, check out our article on the topic.

If these fixes don’t help and your defroster appears to be busted:

It’s time to take it a step further. There are two kinds of defrosting systems in most cars. One system directs air off the HVAC system to the windshield, while others use small wires embedded in the glass to remove the fog. Which one you’re dealing with can affect how you troubleshoot. It pays to Google your car and see what common issues might come up. You can also consult your owners manual. More often than not, you can fix them yourself .

Defroster systems can be tricky. Depending on the year make and model of your car, you’ll find spare parts and replacement systems at your local store. Be sure to put in your car’s details so you’re getting the right pieces, as each year, make, and model may require different parts. As always, someone at Advance can help if you get stuck.

What to do when your window seals leak

Nobody likes to get dripped on while they’re in their car, and water inside can lead to plenty of strange smells and mildew problems down the road. There are some great, easy-to-use options on the market to fix those leaky windows.

Simple sealers work well, until you can get a better fix in place. These products come in tape or gel form. Be sure to read all the instructions before performing the fix yourself, as they can be messy. You’ll also have to wait until the car is dry, since they won’t stick to wet surfaces.

A leak can also be the result of a door seal gone bad. Sometimes chasing down a bad seal can be tricky, but once you have it narrowed down, it’s simple to replace.

Follow these tips, and you’re sure to find quick, affordable ways to repair your troublesome windshield without spending a lot of dough.

Do you have a windshield-fix story? Feel free to let us know in the comments!

How Does a Code Reader Work?

car speedometer with the check engine light illuminated

Source | Chris Isherwood/Flickr

When that “check engine” light comes on, many drivers start thinking about their bank accounts. They wonder if they need to immediately pull over and have it towed for an expensive repair, or if the issue is something minor that can wait a few days. The light sure gets your attention, even if you’re an expert DIYer. But what does it mean?

There’s a way to find out. Code readers are affordable DIY tools that provide valuable information about the state of your vehicle and, potentially, a solution to the problem.

Wait, why even have computers in cars?

Story time. Volkswagen and Bosch created the first electronic fuel injection system in 1968, but computer controls didn’t really catch on in the US until the late 1970s. With increasingly strict emissions standards, plus a couple of gas shortages, the new engine control unit (ECU) would reduce the car’s emissions and improve fuel economy. These initial computers were connected to just a few sensors. They could read the incoming data, compare that info against tables stored in permanent memory, and adjust the controls as needed for the ideal result.

It worked. Air pollution improved, fuel economy increased, and basic ECUs picked up more and more sensors. This was the first era of on-board diagnostics computers, later called OBD1.

Problems popped up when you tried to take your fancy new 1980 Ford Escort LX to your favorite local mechanics. They didn’t have the tools to diagnose your new ride, because they didn’t want to buy a $5,000 diagnostic tool just for Fords. See, each manufacturer built computers according to their own specifications, so a Ford diagnostic tool wasn’t going to work on a Dodge, and small shops couldn’t afford to buy a tool to service every brand.

Fortunately, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) got together with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to come up with industry-standardized diagnostics and connectors. Starting Jan. 1, 1996, OBDII became standard.

OBD-II engine code reader

OBDII Code Reader, Source | Flickr

How a code reader works

When an automotive sensor fails, its specific outputs change. For example, let’s say the air intake temperature sensor gets corroded over time and eventually fails to work. The ECU is looking for a specific signal range from that sensor, and will throw up a “check engine” light and store a code “P0113″ or similar if that signal fails to register to the ECU. When the ECU doesn’t receive a signal within normal operating tolerances, the ECU illuminates the “check engine” light to get your attention. In short, the “check engine” light alerts you to a problem, and the stored code tells you what the problem is.

The code reader connects to your 16-pin OBDII port, usually located under the steering column. The code reader and ECU use the same programming language and are able to communicate, so the reader understands that “P0113″ is a failed air intake temperature sensor and puts this on the display screen. With this knowledge you can take a quick trip to the auto-parts store and replace the sensor. If the code is still stored after replacement and starting the engine, you can manually clear the error code by setting the code reader to erase it from memory.


Pro Tip: To help you diagnose a vehicle problem, Advance offers free code reading at most store locations (see store for details).


How code readers help you

With industry-standard connection and software, the formerly expensive mechanic’s equipment quickly became affordable for the average motorist. The simplest and cheapest readers will only display the error code. Something like “P0300″ will show in the display window. Then it’s up to you and Google to decode it—in this case a misfire not tied to any specific cylinder.

Going up slightly in price, more advanced code readers usually have large display screens. These readers can display the error in plain language, or offer the ability to read and reset ABS brake codes or the SRS airbag light. Instead of just the displayed error code, you might see something like “oxygen sensor 1, bank 1.” And instead of spending time digging through Google’s search results, you can go buy the oxygen sensor and install it. This saves you time and hassle, and probably money, too. You can skip the dealership service bay and the aggressive upsell on services.

While more complex, these advanced code readers are still easy to use. If you can download and install a smartphone app, you have the technical skill level to use a code reader. People sometimes get intimidated by any product with the word “diagnostics” in the name, but this might be the easiest tool you can use on a vehicle. Literally, you just plug it in.

Skirting the system

Now, don’t just buy a code reader to clear your check engine light so you can pass the emissions test or safety inspection. It doesn’t work like that. Inspections technicians have advanced code readers that can detect when there is still an issue with your vehicle. Remember, turning out the light doesn’t make the issue go away. The fuel injector or oxygen sensor that triggered the check engine light is still malfunctioning, even if you temporarily cleared the code. The code-erase function should be used after the repair to validate that the issue is fixed.

Have any advice on using a code reader? Let others know in the comments below.

7 Tips to Help Your Vehicle Reach 200,000 Miles

the odometer of a vehicle at rest

Source | Peter Stevens/Flickr

Now it’s easier than ever to keep your car running smoothly for thousands of miles. If your vehicle has less than 50,000 miles on it today, chances are it still has 75 percent of its driving life ahead of it. That’s good news if you’re like the majority of Americans who are holding onto their vehicles longer than ever before.

It wasn’t that long ago that hitting the 100,000-mile mark on the odometer was a major milestone. Today, vehicles are built to last. With proper maintenance and attention, there’s no reason you shouldn’t expect to see that odometer roll right past 200,000 and keep on going. Here’s how to make it happen.

1. Read your owner’s manual

In addition to informing you on the basics, like what those buttons on the dash actually do, the owner’s manual contains vital information for your vehicle. You’ll find specifics about the various components that need to be monitored and replaced, when that needs to happen, and how owners can perform the checks.

Following the owner’s manual also helps prolong your vehicle’s life, because it specifies which fluids work best and provides vehicle-operation instructions that prevent damage and reduce wear.

2. Avoid short trips

The difference between driving short distances and longer distances is that the engine never has a chance to reach its optimal operating temperature on short trips. Here’s why that’s a problem. Water is a byproduct of combustion. When the engine is nice and hot and operating at its most efficient temperature, the water turns to vapor and is ventilated out of the engine. But on short trips, the engine never gets up to that optimal temperature. As a result, water can remain in the engine, collect in the oil, and settle in the exhaust system, where it causes excessive wear and tear.

a mechanic lays underneath a car during a routine maintenance check

Source | Mark Ittleman/Flickr

3. Find a mechanic you trust and like

Given the choice, DIYers would rather work on their own vehicles. We get that. Sometimes, though, having a mechanic you trust is worth its weight in platinum brake pads. Mechanics you get along with—who you believe have your best interests at heart—will give you the right advice and won’t BS you. They’ll be a partner in your quest to reach that magical 200,000 milestone, not interested only in selling you an expensive repair and never seeing you again. If they’re experienced, accustomed to working on the type of vehicle you drive, and convenient to your work or home, it could be the start of a beautiful relationship.

4. Follow the recommended vehicle-maintenance schedule

If you hate your vehicle and don’t want it to last through the next block let alone make it to 200,000 miles, then this is the one category you want to ignore. Nothing shortens a vehicle’s life faster than a lack of maintenance. Remember your friendly mechanic and the stimulating reading found between the pages of your owner’s manual? They’re both instrumental in knowing when to perform routine vehicle maintenance, based on either mileage or time increments, or both.

While you should keep up on all maintenance items, the most important step is far and away the oil change. In addition to lubricating vital engine parts, oil traps contaminants and prevents them from harming your engine. Changing the oil gets rid of all that gunk. Oil also breaks down over time, so it’s necessary to replace it at regular intervals.

Of course, don’t forget about these items as well:

  • Coolant, brake, power steering, and transmission fluids
  • Filters
  • Belts
  • Brakes
  • Windshield wipers

Follow your owner’s manual to develop and stick with a maintenance schedule.

5. Pay attention to your vehicle

We’re not talking about a date night or a conversation around hopes and aspirations, but rather an increased awareness as to how your vehicle looks, sounds, smells, and feels. Don’t just get in it and go, or park it and leave. Pay attention to anything new or out of the ordinary when it comes to your vehicle’s characteristics like:

  • Vibrations, rattles, or squeaks
  • Unusual smells
  • Fluid leaks under the hood or underneath the vehicle

Look at the dashboard gauges and indicator lights for signs of trouble. By paying attention to how your vehicle operates normally, you’ll notice when a mechanical problem is causing something out of the ordinary to happen, enabling your mechanic to make a minor repair before it becomes a major, vehicle-ending problem.

6. Follow up on manufacturer recalls

Don’t ignore vehicle-manufacturer-recall notifications, no matter how minor you think they seem. Manufacturers don’t issue recall notices on a whim. It has to be a serious, important issue that affects vehicle performance and/or driver and passenger safety, which means it’s something you want to take care of. Be wary of any upsells when you take your car in, though. It makes sense to do your research before blindly agreeing to any potentially costly repairs.

7. Make it shine

There are several reasons to keep your vehicle clean inside and out, aside from the most obvious one of looking good when you’re behind the wheel. A regular wash and wax will protect the finish and prevent the vehicle body and components from rusting, corroding, and decaying.

The same is true inside the vehicle where dirt and other foreign materials accumulate, increasing fabric, vinyl, and leather wear. Regular cleaning also gets you up close and personal with it, so you’re more likely to notice broken or missing parts or other maintenance items that need attention.

And as long as you’re at it, don’t forget to clean the engine bay.

It’s a long way to 200,000 miles. Another 38,000 beyond that, and you’ll have equaled Earth’s average distance from the moon. Not every vehicle will make it to that impressive milestone, but by being an attentive vehicle owner, you can increase the likelihood that yours will.

Have you already reached 200,000 miles? Share your tips in the comments.

Thawing Out Your Toys: How to De-Winterize Motorcycles, ATVs, and More

Source | Allar Tammik/Flickr

Spring hasn’t sprung in many parts of the U.S., but it has started its slow and steady ascent from the south. That means sunnier days, warmer weather, and, more importantly, that it’s time to pull those toys out of winter storage and get them ready for action again. This guide will cover the steps you should take to ensure your motorcycles, ATVs, side-by-sides, Jet Skis, and other powersports equipment will be operating in tip-top shape when you head back out this spring.

First and foremost, the key to easy de-winterizing is good winterizing. If you put your toys away properly, they’re much easier to get back in good shape when warmer temperatures arrive. But even if you didn’t do everything you should have to pack your toys away last winter, this guide will help get your gear into proper running order.

1. Perform a thorough visual inspection

Don’t just glance at the oily bits and assume all is well. Rodents love to crawl into tight spaces and tear up wires and other material to make nests. Grab a flashlight and take a serious look around your equipment to ensure there have been no critter incursions that might compromise your vehicle’s function. Check behind any body panels, inside luggage or storage areas, inside fenders, and inside mufflers and air inlets.

Also have a close look for leaks, both under the machine and around seals and plugs on the drivetrain equipment and at the suspension dampers. Also check the brake-fluid reservoir, the brake levers or pedals, and the brake calipers or drums themselves.

If you winterized well, you may have covered all of the potential problem areas with plastic bags or other covers. Good for you! You can move on to the next step once you’ve inspected for all other mechanical points of failure.

2. Change the oil

Even if you put new oil in before winterizing your machines, you’ll want to swap the engine oil and, where applicable, transmission fluid before you get down and dirty this summer. Why? Because even when sitting unused, the oils and fluids in your engine and gearbox can separate or become waxy, especially in extreme temperatures, which can dramatically reduce their effectiveness in protecting your machine from wear. This is definitely a case where a few quarts of prevention are worth an entire barrel of cure.

3. Check and/or change the battery

If you put your battery on a float charger over the winter, you’ll still want to check its health with a good battery tester to ensure the battery has enough life left to get you through the fun season. If you didn’t keep your battery charged over the winter, chances are good that it has gone completely flat and may need replacement.

You’ll also want to check the battery for any visual signs of malfunction, like fluid leaking out and corrosion on nearby parts and the battery terminals. With wet cell batteries, you’ll want to make sure electrolyte levels are properly topped up with distilled water.

When dealing with batteries, it’s important to remember that battery acid is corrosive and toxic, so you should always wear gloves and safety glasses.

Once you’ve determined the health of your battery, go ahead and charge it if it isn’t already fully charged.

4. Check all other fluid levels

Engine and transmission lubrication are important, but coolant and brake fluid are, too. Be sure all fluids are at their proper levels, and if any are especially low, go back over your inspection list to see if a leak is responsible. Consider draining and replacing the fluid entirely, especially if it shows signs of wear or if you haven’t replaced it in the past few seasons. This is especially true of brake fluid, which absorbs moisture from the air and loses effectiveness over time.

While you’re at it, double-check the oil level, even though you just replaced the oil in Step 2. It never hurts to be sure.

5. Pull the spark plugs, and check or replace

Removing the spark plugs to check for rust or corrosion can give you some warning as to more serious problems inside the engine that may have developed over the winter. If you do find rust on the spark plug, use a borescope to look inside the cylinder to verify the condition inside the engine before starting it. Chances are, however, that your engine will be fine—but your spark plugs may not be.

If you notice lots of dark fouling, you could clean and re-install your spark plugs, but they’re inexpensive, so replacing them with the proper type (consult your owner’s manual and read more about how to tell when they need replacing ) is a cheap and easy way to ensure your equipment will start easily and run well all summer long.

6. Check your tires and all rubber components

Even if your toys have been shielded from the cold of winter, the sheer time they’ve spent sitting can cause rubber parts of all types to develop cracks, flat spots, or other issues. This includes your tires, hoses, and even handlebar grips.

Once you’ve made sure everything is in proper condition and replaced anything that seems dry, misshapen, or otherwise bad, make sure your tires are inflated to the proper pressure—most tires will lose pressure as they sit, and all tires will vary in pressure based on ambient temperature. Don’t just assume that because they were fine when you packed it away that they’ll be fine when you pull them out of the garage after a few months!

Source | Robert Thigpen/Flickr

7. Fire it up!

Starting the engine in your powersports toy after a long winter is one of the most satisfying activities for an enthusiast. But don’t get too enthusiastic out of the gate—let the engine idle until thoroughly warm. Don’t go zipping around the neighborhood or brapping the engine up to high revs right away.

For fuel-injected machines, this first cold-start after the winter will (likely) be easy. For carbureted machines, it may take some more work. Assuming your carb and choke were properly adjusted at the end of the season (and no critters have fouled the situation), it should start right up with the fuel that’s in it—provided, of course, you used fuel stabilizer. You did, didn’t you?

If you own a carbureted machine and, as part of the winterizing process, you drained the carb’s float bowl, you’ll want to follow your manufacturer’s procedure for priming the carburetor (letting fuel back into the float bowl) before attempting to start the engine.

If you followed these steps (and properly winterized your hardware in the first place) you should be up and running, ready to achieve full weekend-warrior status. If you’ve run into some stumbling blocks, however, be sure to consult our other how-to and DIY guides for your specific problem.

Got any other tips for de-winterizing or any triumphant stories of spring’s first ride? Let us know in the comments.