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!

Tools 101: Essential Tools for Basic DIYing

Tools

Source | Andy Jensen

If you’ve decided to tackle a vehicle repair by yourself for the first time, welcome to the DIY Club! It’s fun here, plus we’ve got awesome tools. Whether it’s your first repair, first car, or first garage, we’ll cover all the affordable and useful tools you’ll need to get the job done. Let’s get started with the obvious.

Air Pressure Gauge

Got $2? That can buy one of the most useful tools in your inventory: an air pressure gauge. This simple device does exactly what its name suggests, measuring the amount of air in your tires and displaying the reading of pressure in pounds per square inch. This is useful information, since underinflated tires cause decreased gas mileage, increased tire wear, and poor handling. Wielding this simple, inexpensive tool and adjusting your tire pressure to the proper level will save you money and make your vehicle drive properly. That’s quite a return on such a small investment.

Jack

Sure, your vehicle probably came with a jack, but have you looked at it? It’s likely a stamped steel hunk of junk with the build quality of a Cracker Jack box toy. A solid jack is cheap, well-built, and easy to use—making it safer all around. Floor jacks are large, but they roll easily, have a low profile for low vehicles, and can lift tons in just a few pumps of the handle. If you need something smaller for everyday carry, bottle jacks are conveniently small but offer incredible lifting power. There’s even some that can lift a ridiculous 20 tons, for our DIYers with an Abrams tank.

Jack Stands

Odds are that once the vehicle is in the air, you’ll want some backup support. Modern jacks are reliable, but sometimes you need both front wheels in the air or maybe even all four. In that case, you need jack stands. Think of them like a cell phone mount for your car; it’s cheap safety. These steel or aluminum devices keep the vehicle at the lifted height, allowing for easy and safe tire rotation, oil and transmission fluid changes, and swapping out brake pads.

Buying tip: save cash and get a kit offering jack and jack stands together.

Ratchet and Sockets

Yeah, wrenches are cool. But there’s nothing like the sound of a spinning ratchet that loudly and proudly announces, “I’m fixing my ride!” Rather than slowly working a bolt off with a wrench, a ratchet and sockets get the job done in less time. For small bolts, go with a 1/4-inch drive. For large bolts, like on heavy-duty trucks, buy a 1/2-inch drive socket. Or split the difference and get a 3/8-inch drive. Buy sockets, however, for that specific ratchet, as 1/2-inch sockets will leave you disappointed on your 1/4-inch drive ratchet. Like with the jack stands above, buying a ratchet/socket set is easier and cheaper than buying individually.

Multimeter

This tool is way more than just a battery tester. A basic multimeter can read the volts, current, and impedance of electrical systems, providing valuable troubleshooting assistance. Flip-up headlights being wonky on your Honda Prelude? Use a multimeter on the headlight relay. Thinking that your Ford Explorer’s coil packs might be going out? Make sure with a multimeter. It can also help around the home with installing that ceiling fan or troubleshooting Christmas tree lights, so it’s far more than just an automotive tool. And, yes, it will also be a great way to test your battery.

LED Lighting

Lighting isn’t a tool in the traditional sense. It won’t help you get that seized bolt unstuck or grease those bearings, but it certainly will help with both of those projects. Roadside emergencies seem to mainly happen at night, and it’s no fun changing a tire by the headlights of passing motorists. LED lights are long-lasting, compact, run cool, and can be very affordable. Options cover basic flashlights and headlamps for seeing into dark engine bays to large four-foot shop lighting systems that can turn garage darkness into daylight. A good first buy is a handheld unit with a magnet for attaching to metal surfaces. Everything is easier when you can see what you’re doing. Get some good lights.

Cleanup

Some of the most-used tools, and often most overlooked, are those involving cleaning up. For yourself, get clean with mechanic’s soap and stay clean with some disposable latex or tough safety gloves. For your ride, a degreaser is your best friend under the hood, while the top of the hood needs a good car wash soap. A shop vac is excellent at keeping the interior clean and can even power through the mess of your garage/workspace. PEAK offers a radiator cleaner among other fluids, and if you spill them, use your shop towels. Those cheapo things have a million uses.

Have any suggestions for the first-time wrencher? What would be a common and affordable tool that everyone needs? Add to this list in the comments.

Cracking the Code: Your Vehicle Identification Number

VIN code photoThe VIN (vehicle identification number) of your car has been described as its fingerprint – no other vehicle can have the exact same one, even if the other vehicle is close enough to yours to be its “twin.” It’s also been compared to your car’s social security number.

VINs first existed in 1954, but their length and code values were not yet standardized. That changed in 1981, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began requiring standardized VINs for any vehicle that took to the road.

As far as the number’s location in your vehicle, NHTSA says the VIN must be inside the vehicle, and visible through the windshield when you’re looking through the left windshield pillar. It must also – fairly enough – be readable.

The main purpose of the VIN is to definitively identify a specific vehicle, but its usage goes beyond that. According to DMV.org (a privately owned, non-governmental site), “deciphering these codes is a hobby for some car enthusiasts, including collectors who want to own one of the first or last cars to come off an assembly line.” Plus, of course, it’s a great way to understand the history of your vehicle – or the vehicle you’re thinking about buying.

So, you know how we are . . . curious minds want to know, and so we’ve decided to crack the code . . .

Truth – or urban myth?

Myth busting is fun and, if you look online, you’ll find plenty of places willing to tell you that a man named Steve Maxwell “invented” the VIN. Steve apparently didn’t fully understand the value of his invention, as he apparently wrote it down on the back of a bar napkin and sold the idea to a far shrewder tavern patron for $1,000. The VIN, we are assured, “soon evolved” into today’s system.

True or false? Unfortunately, we don’t know. Snopes had nothing to say on the matter and a search on Google patents didn’t shed any light, either. At some point, we knew we needed to cry uncle and get back to selling car parts – and so we did. But, if you know the answer about Steve Maxwell, we’d love to hear your info!

Back to the matter at hand . . .

Breakdown of the VIN

Not surprisingly, we found conflicting information online, but we were able to track down specifics from the authoritative source, NHSTA, along with other information-rich sites such as ResearchManiacs.com.

Today’s VIN contains 17 letters and numbers and is really a conglomerate of three sets of numbers:

  • World manufacturer identifier (WMI): characters 1 through 3
  • Vehicle descriptor section (VDS): characters 4 through 8
  • Vehicle identifier section (VIS): characters 9 through 17

World manufacturer identifier: WMI

The first letter or number reveals the continent where the vehicle was made:

• A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and H: Africa
• J, K, L, M, N, P, and R: Asia
• S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z: Europe
• 1, 2, 3, 4, 5: North America
• 6 and 7: Oceania
• 8 and 9: South America

The second letter or number identifies the country where the vehicle was made. As ResearchManiacs.com reminds us, though, “NOT all Japanese cars are made in Japan and NOT all GM cars are made in America and so on.” Here’s how you can decode that second letter or number in your VIN.

The third letter or number identifies the type of vehicle it is – a car or truck, for example, or a bus or motorcycle. Each manufacturer uses different codes – and, there’s good news and there’s bad news about that. The bad news is that it can be a bit of a hassle to track down your manufacturer’s coding system for that third digit. The good news is that it’s fairly unlikely that you don’t already know if you own a car or a truck, a bus or a motorcycle. (If you aren’t sure, ask a buddy.)Car VIN number

Note: If a vehicle is manufactured by a “low-volume” company – one that produces fewer than 1,000 of a particular vehicle per year – it will have the number 9 in the third character, as well as in the 12th, 13th and 14th placeholders.

Vehicle descriptor section: VDS

Letters and numbers in the VDS provide information about the vehicle model, engine type, body style and so forth. Again, each manufacturer devises its own codes. Fortunately, there are multiple VIN decoder sites such as this one that can decipher the meaning behind the characters. The one we’ve linked to works for cars manufactured by:

A-F H-K M-P R-V
Alfa Romeo Honda Mazda Renault
Audi Hyundai Mercedes Benz Seat
BMW Jeep Mitsubishi Subaru
Buick Kia Nissan Suzuki
Citroen Opel Skoda
Chevrolet Peugeot Toyota
Ford Pontiac Volkswagen
Fiat Porsche Volvo

 

Note: the character in position 9 is the VIN check digit that is used to determine if it is a correct VIN and to help prevent VIN fraud. It does not tell you anything specific about the actual vehicle.


Vehicle identifier section: VIS

Characters 10 through 17 get down to the nitty-gritty, sharing when a car was built, what options it has and more.

Let’s look at character #10, which is the model year (not the year manufactured). If it’s A, then your car is from 1980 or 2010. To determine this (although it’s probably pretty obvious which one it is), look at character #7. If it’s a number, then your car is pre-2010 (and is therefore 1980). If it’s a letter, then it’s a 2010.

Letter B: It’s either 1981 or 2011; look at character #7 to tell

Letter C: It’s either 1982 or 2012; look at character #7 to tell

You get the pattern. The letter “Z” is not used in this cycle. Instead, once you get to the 2001/2030 option, the tenth character is the numerical 1 (and it goes through the numerical 9). Confused? Use a VIN decoder!

Then, characters 11 through 17 are used in unique ways by each manufacturer to record info, such as the assembly plant, options on the vehicle and so forth. So, track down the coding for your specific manufacturer. (Or use a VIN decoder!)

Useful fact: If a VIN contains the letters I, O or Q, then it’s not a real VIN. That’s because it’s too easy to confuse those letters with the numerical 0 and 1, and so they are avoided. And, character ten cannot be the letters U and Z or the numerical 0. You can use this info to dazzle your friends and/or to identify false VINs. Or to make yourself feel better if you needed to ask your buddy if you rode a motorcycle or drove a bus (to help figure out character 3 of your VIN).

For more information

There is plenty of (dry) reading material available at the NHTSA site. There is also an article at Wikipedia that cites credible sources for its reporting.

What questions do you have about your VIN? What scoop can you share about the Steve Maxwell mystery? Please share in the comments below!

VIN graphic courtesy of Edmunds.

Braking Fundamentals: Brake Pads, Rotors and Fluid

 

Wearever gold brake pads

You know something’s wrong with your brakes. Maybe it’s a grinding or scraping noise, pulling to one side when you slow down, or even a spongy brake pedal. The first step in diagnosing the source of the problem is understanding the main parts of a brake system and how they work together.

Brake pads and shims

When you push on the pedal for your car brakes, calipers clamp the brake pads onto the rotors to reduce speed and then stop the vehicle. Brake pads get the glory as the main component in stopping, but equally important are the rotors. Helping to reduce noise and vibration are the brake pad shims. Shims are made of metal or rubber and found on the back of brake pads, in between the pads and the calipers. In addition to reducing noise and vibration, shims manufactured from titanium also protect calipers and fluids from damage caused by excessive heat.

Troubleshooting brake pads

To do their job effectively, the pads must be able to absorb enough energy and heat. When there is too much wear or heat, brake pad efficiency is reduced, along with your stopping power. Car brake pad indicators are designed to emit a scraping sound when the pads are worn out. If you hear this or a grinding sound when you apply your brakes, the pads need replacing. Brake pads should be replaced in pairs.

Learn how to choose the right brake pads for your vehicle and how to replace brake pads yourself.

Brake rotors

Car brakesWhen you press the brake pedal, the calipers cause the brake pads to clamp down on the rotors (also called brake discs). When pressure is applied to the brake rotors, it prevents the wheel from spinning, which means that your brake rotors are as important as the pads when it comes to safety.

Most rotors are made from cast iron—more specifically, gray iron—because it disperses heat well, which is important to avoid overheating and brake fade. High performance vehicles use ceramic rotors, which are lighter and more stable at high speeds and all temperatures. They are, however, more expensive. Some rotors also come ‘painted‘ with a special, rust-inhibiting coating. This ensures that the rotors look good and last longer.

Troubleshooting brake rotors

Rotors will need to be replaced by 70,000 miles on most vehicles, but it depends on use. Rotors, like brake pads, should be replaced in pairs for even stopping performance. Your rotors may need to be replaced if you see or hear any of these signs:

  • Grooves worn into the rotor by the brake pads
  • Squealing, squeaking, or grinding sounds when braking
  • Vibration or wobbling when braking.

Learn how to choose rotors and how to replace rotors yourself.

Brake fluid

brake fluid designation sign

Source | Brian Snelson/Flickr

Brake fluid is “incompressible,” so that when the brake pedal is pushed, the fluid forces brake parts to work together to slow the wheel. Brake fluid also lubricates parts in the braking system. In the United States, there are four designations of brake fluid: DOT 3, DOT 4, DOT 5, and DOT 5.1. Each contains a mixture of chemicals with specified dry and wet boiling points. When your brake fluid has just been replaced, this is called the “dry” boiling point temperature. As water finds its way into the system, the “wet” boiling temperature is the benchmark you should use. To choose the best brake fluid for your vehicle, consult your owner’s manual.

Troubleshooting brake fluids

Because brake fluid is also hygroscopic (attracts water) it starts degrading the moment the bottle is opened, so it should be replaced every two years. A sure sign that your brake fluid is degrading is a ‘spongy’ brake pedal, or a pedal that continually creeps toward the floor. When this happens, it’s time to look at replacing your brake fluid, or bleeding air from the brake fluid lines.

Learn more about how to change brake fluids and how to bleed brake fluids.

For information about the brake parts offered by Advance Auto Parts, check out our buying guide. Are you diagnosing your own brake needs? Tell us about your brake project in the comments.

101 Series: Top 5 DIY Projects to Tackle Yourself

When major things go wrong with our cars, most of us bite the bullet and consult a trusted mechanic. But there are many car problems you can fix on your own, which saves you money. Sometimes the hardest part is just getting started. Read on for five simple ways to get that DIY ball rolling.

father_son_work_under_hood

1. Headlight Restoration

If your car is more than a few years old, chances are its headlight lenses could use some TLC, particularly if you deal with inclement weather on a regular basis. You’ll notice cloudiness on the plastic lens surface and maybe some yellowing. Fortunately, a number of reputable brands sell headlight restoration kits that can make those lenses look new again. Don’t get intimidated if your kit requires a power drill, by the way. That’s just because you may need more power to get that crud off than a human arm can muster. The job may take an hour or two to do properly, but there’s nothing tricky about it. Check out this video to get started.

For an even less expensive option that’s as easy as brushing your teeth, try this easy home remedy.

2. Headlight Replacement

Repair jobs under the hood don’t get much simpler than this one. Consult your owner’s manual or speak to an Advance Auto Parts Team Member to locate the correct headlight replacement parts. Then, take a look at this handy, step-by-step tutorial and this video.

As with any job that involves disassembly or removal, remember the order in which you take things apart. If you have to remove your headlight assembly, for example, you may end up unscrewing and pulling out a number of pieces. Remember how to put everything back together.

3. Replace Your Wipers

This is actually a simpler job than headlight replacement, because you don’t even have to pop the hood. Windshield wiper blades typically just snap into place. Replacing them is as easy as flipping the wiper shafts up off the windshield, popping the old blades off, and snapping the new ones on. Your owner’s manual should have specific information about the removal and replacement process. For help choosing new wiper blades talk to your Advance Auto Parts Team Member.

4. Replenish Your Fluids

Fluids are the lifeblood of an internal combustion engine. Without enough motor oil, the engine will wear down more quickly and may even seize. Without enough power steering fluid, the pump, bearings and other parts are in imminent danger. Without enough brake fluid…well, you get the point. Bottom line, it’s crucial to make sure that all fluids are always up to spec. To do it yourself, just check your owner’s manual for the location of each fluid reservoir or dipstick, and make a habit of inspecting those fluid levels. You can also read these handy guides to maintaining your vehicle’s motor oil and other essential fluids.

5. Wash and Wax Your Ride

Ever find yourself shaking your head at the price of a car wash? It definitely costs more than you’d pay to do it yourself. So why not get up close and personal with your car’s finish? There’s a whole world of at-home detailing products to explore. With the money you save, you can spend time doing something you really enjoy.

You may have to spend a little time to conquer these five projects. In the end, however, you save money and possibly the time and hassle of having your vehicle at the shop. Plus, you’ve gained the confidence to tackle the next project and a fuller knowledge of your vehicle’s maintenance.

What basic DIY projects do you tackle on your vehicle? Share your experience with us by leaving a comment.

Three Good Reasons to Change Your Own Oil

Life is busy. So you’ll be forgiven for thinking that a discussion about changing your own motor oil seems about as appealing as a lecture from your dentist about flossing more regularly. Why should you take precious time, a limited resource, and spend it changing your own oil? Here are three reasons.

motor oil

1. It’s cheaper

Money is a precious resource for many of us. So, it’s enticing to know that changing your own oil saves you green. Typical cars require four to five quarts of motor oil. You’ll also need a new oil filter to finish the job. Guess how much these items cost at an auto parts store. $40? $50? Good news—you can get out the door for around $20-30 bucks, especially if you take advantage of the regular oil change specials. Cheaper than you thought, right?

Now, you may see a $19.99 oil change advertised at the local quick-lube station, but there are a few problems with that.

  1. First, they tend to use generic, one-size-fits-all motor oil that may not be the best quality. One of the great things about DIY is that you get to buy whatever kind of oil you want.
  2. Second, that cheap oil change and convenience comes at a cost—the hard-sell on all sorts of other services that may be a waste of your money and time.
  3. Third, no one cares about your car more than you do. You’ll do a great job because it matters to you.

In short, you’ll save money changing your own oil and gain peace of mind.

 

Check out oil change specials for deals on the oil and oil filter to save some cash.

2. It’s easier—and faster—than you think

You can change your own oil using a few basic tools. We can help you choose the best oil for your vehicle and even recycle your used oil. As for time—how much time do you already spend waiting in a crowded lobby for someone else to change your oil? With a little experience, you’ll be able to change your own oil in far less time, without ever leaving home.

3. It helps you avoid larger repairs

Changing your own oil can be just the beginning. While you’re changing your oil and filter, for example, it’s also easy to check the drive and accessory belts, air filter, and spark plugs. That way you can catch simple maintenance issues before they become major repairs or problems. DIYing can be addictive, in the best way. So give the oil change a shot, feel pride in your knowledge, and see if the experience turns into a bridge to more exciting projects down the line.

Have you changed your own oil? Do you have tips to share for making it an even easier project? Share your experience with new DIYers.

What You Need to Know About Auto Battery Recycling

Man in garage holding a car battery

When it’s time to replace your auto battery, it’s important to recycle your old one. That’s because auto batteries are basically made from three elements: acid, plastic, and lead. Improper disposal of batteries can have dangerous consequences for people’s health and the environment alike. Chemicals and heavy metals found in batteries can seep into soil and contaminate groundwater, streams, and lakes. When batteries are burned, noxious substances pollute the air. Because of these dangers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency passed the Battery Act in May 1996 to encourage recycling of old batteries.

Fortunately, it’s easy to be green. We have a recycling program here at Advance Auto Parts. Simply drop off your old battery at any of our stores (most vehicles, most locations, unless prohibited by law) and we’ll take care of the rest. For additional recycling facilities that will take your automotive batteries, check out earth911.com.

How car batteries recycling works

According to Battery Council International, the first step recycling companies take when they recycle an auto battery is putting it through a hammermill, which effectively breaks the battery into countless small pieces. Those pieces flow into a container, with the heavier materials, including lead, falling to the bottom and the plastic remaining on top. The plastic is removed and the liquids siphoned.

The recycler then melts the plastic pieces and extrudes them into pellets which are then sold to manufacturers who use them to make new batteries. The lead pieces are smelted and poured into ingots, which are also sent to manufacturers for use in new batteries. The acid becomes neutralized with the addition of an industrial product that turns it into water; the water is treated before being released into sewer systems. The acid can also be turned into sodium sulfate that can be used in multiple ways, including glass and textile manufacturing, or in the manufacture of new auto batteries.

This is considered a closed loop system because it can be repeated over and over again, allowing new products to be made from the old.

Reasons auto battery recycling is a good idea

Auto battery recycling is a great move for the environment, but it’s also smart from a legal sense. Many states have passed legislation that makes it illegal to dispose of car batteries by just throwing them in the trash.

And if you need another reason to choose the recycling route for your auto battery disposal, consider this: you’ll get paid for recycling your battery. Many auto parts purchases include what’s known as a core charge. On new parts that contain a component that is recyclable—such as a battery or a starter—a core charge deposit is charged at the time of purchase. When the old part is returned to the store, the core charge is refunded. Even if you’re not purchasing a new battery you can still drop off your old one at most Advance Auto Parts stores where you’ll receive money back in the form of store credit.

Automotive oil recycling

We also recycle used motor oil for free. And, according to the American Petroleum Institute and quoted by the Environmental Protection Agency, “Recycling just 2 gallons of used oil can generate enough electricity to run the average household for almost 24 hours.”

Learn more about how to recycle motor oil. And share your recycling tips in the comments.

Spark Plug Basics: Your Questions Answered

Your engine relies on spark plugs every day—which means you do, too. So it’s about time we get familiar with these key maintenance parts. You might be wondering how often you need to change your spark plugs, what sort of spark plugs you should use, or whether you need to upgrade your spark-plug wires or other ignition components. Fortunately, these questions are easy to answer. Read on to learn about spark plugs.

Spark Plugs

What do spark plugs do?

Unless you’re driving an electric car, in which case this article definitely isn’t for you, you’ve got what’s known as an ICE or “internal combustion engine.” Now, combustion requires a spark. Spark plugs are a crucial part of your engine because they’re what makes that combustion happen, both at ignition and while the engine moves through each combustion cycle during operation. When the plugs aren’t doing their job, your engine’s not getting the full combustion benefit. Everything from acceleration and fuel economy to engine smoothness is going to be negatively affected.

How do I know when to replace spark plugs?

Your spark plugs should be changed at the interval given in your owner’s manual, typically every 30,000 miles. If no interval is given, or if you recently bought the car and aren’t sure when the spark plugs were last replaced, or if your car is showing symptoms of failing spark plugs or ignition issues (trouble starting, misfires, or rough idle), you’ll want to replace them. Replace them every 20,000 to 40,000 miles in the future, depending on your vehicle type and your use case.

If you have a high-performance sports car that regularly sees high revs, you will want to change your spark plugs more often. If you drive at moderate speeds and under moderate acceleration, your plugs may last 40,000 miles or more while still operating efficiently. Because spark plugs are cheap, however, and easy to replace, it’s good insurance to change them sooner than later, no matter what vehicle you own or how you use it.

How can I check to see if the spark plugs need replacing?

As a general rule of thumb, if something seems funny about your engine, you should check the spark plugs first. If you’re a hands-off kind of car owner, of course, you’ll just take it to your mechanic and get it diagnosed. But if you want to inspect the plugs yourself, it’s a pretty easy job.

Check your owner’s manual to find out where the plugs are located, and then pop the hood and have a look. If the plugs appear dirty, that could mean you’ve got an oil leak or excessive carbon deposits. And if they look damaged, your engine might be running too hot or misfiring.

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

Can I replace my own spark plugs?

Although you can check them, you may want to have someone else replace them. Truth is, for a seasoned backyard mechanic, popping the old plugs out and putting new ones in is pretty straightforward. But if you haven’t done it before, you should probably have someone looking over your shoulder the first time through.

There’s some serious wrenching going on here—literally. You’ll need a number of tools to complete the job. You need a socket wrench, and you may need a specific spark-plug socket and other accessories as well. Plus, there’s a fairly advanced technique called “gapping” that may or may not be required, depending on your vehicle’s age and other factors.

Wait for the engine to cool off first before attempting any replacement. We’re talking four hours, minimum. Those plugs are responsible for combustion, remember? Better safe than scalded.

What spark plugs do I need?

As for which type of spark plugs you’ll need, most folks will want to stick with the plugs recommended in their owner’s manual. For more info, here’s a ton of detail on the different types of spark plugs.

What about cleaning spark plugs?

You’ll find various home remedies for cleaning spark plugs, but for peace of mind, we recommend just swapping them out if they’re that dirty. But it’s your call on that front. From a money perspective, spark plugs are a car owner’s dream, because they’re an essential engine part that’s also inexpensive.

Do I need to change the spark plug wires?

Short answer: Yep. Find out how to troubleshoot spark plug wire problems and check out how to replace spark plug wires.

Do you change your own spark plugs and wires? Share your tips and tricks. Leave us a comment.

How to Stay Safe on Winter Roads

car stranded on side of road in winter

Winter brings cold, snow, and long, dark nights—the perfect recipe for messy road conditions. While the best advice in the worst of weather is to stay home by the fire and drink some hot chocolate, we know that isn’t always possible. If, you know, you have to get to work or buy groceries, here are a few simple guidelines to make sure you’re safely driving in snow.

Defensive driving

Studies have shown that fatal crashes are 14 percent more likely to occur right after the first major snowstorm of the season. That’s because drivers are re-learning how to drive in snow and slush. Even if you’ve lived in the snow belt your entire life, other motorists on the road with you may be experiencing a learning curve. So it’s still a good idea to to remind yourself of these tips before getting behind the wheel:

  • Slow down and go easy on the brakes. Quick or panic braking may cause the wheels to lock, causing a skid. Gentle on-and-off use of brakes allows the tires to grip.
  • Stay alert
  • Use your headlights. Even if you can see just fine, it’s more important that other drivers can see you.
  • Keep a safe distance. Leave room between your car and the vehicle ahead of you.
  • Use the middle lane. You’ll avoid slush on the roadside
  • Follow tracks. Take advantage of the tracks in the snow made by other vehicles
  • Take care on bridges. They freeze faster than roadways and can be icy.

Finally, use extra caution at nighttime. Forty-nine-percent of fatal accidents occur after dark.

De-icing and snow removal

Visibility is always important, especially in bad weather. Sheets of snow and ice on your car can break loose as your vehicle warms, obscuring your view. So take the time to remove accumulation from your vehicle’s hood, roof, windshield, and windows before you hit the road. If you don’t have the luxury of parking your vehicle in a garage, here a few tried-and-true methods for removing snow and ice:

  • I’m-in-no-hurry method: Turn front and rear defrosters on high. After 10-15 minutes, use a snow brush or other snow removal tool to remove snow and ice.
  • I’m-running-late method: After turning on your defrosters, use a de-icer product like the Prestone Windshield De-Icer with Scraper. This product melts ice much faster than just a defroster, and helps reduce dangerous refreeze. This is a great product because it also contains a built-in ice-scraper to clear icy windshields and headlights.
  • I-need-to-be-there-yesterday method: The night before snow is predicted, cover your windshield with a towel, tarp, or sturdy sheet of cardboard. All you have to do is simply remove the cover and store it for next time. Or park with your windshield facing into the sun, and hope for a bright day.

Windshield wipers and fluid upkeep

View of winter road through a windshield

Source | Oliur Rahman, Unsplash

Once your windshield is defrosted and clean, you’ll need to keep it that way so the road ahead is clearly visible. Swap out your windshield fluid for an all-weather windshield washer fluid that resists freezing and helps clear road spray more easily. You’ll also want to check your front and rear windshield wipers. At the first signs of cracking, splitting, or streaking, replace them with a new pair.

New, clean headlights

In addition to driving with more awareness during the evening hours, headlights can go a long way in helping you avoid accidents. Changing out your old halogen headlights for newer models can provide 30 percent brighter light and up to 25 percent more down-road visibility. You’ll spot obstacles or hazardous road conditions more quickly, which gives you more time to react and improves your odds of avoiding an accident.

You can replace your headlights in less than an hour. If, however, you find that your headlights or taillights are still foggy or dim, you may also want to consider cleaning your headlights with one of a few simple methods.

Tire options

Tires are where the rubber meets the road when it comes to avoiding accidents in winter. Pay attention to tread depth with this handy tool and replace your tires as needed. Here are a few options for improving traction on wintry roads.

Snow tires

If you live in an area that sees frequent or heavy snow fall, then you probably already own a set of snow tires. Tire makers optimize their tire and tread compounds based on what type of tire they’re building. With snow tires, the tire’s rubber and chemical compounds are designed for maximum performance in freezing temperatures and on ice and snow. In addition to rubber compounds that are designed for winter performance, these winter or snow tires also feature tread designs that maximize stopping and steering ability on snow, slush, and ice. Snow tires are more expensive than regular tires, and, more often than not, the manufacturers recommend mounting them on separate rims.

Snow tires with studs

For areas where ice-covered roads or packed-snow conditions dominate the winter travel season, drivers might want to consider using snow tires with studs. The studs are metal pins that protrude from the surface of the snow tires and “bite” into ice and packed snow. Studs are noisy on dry roads, however, and performance and handling can suffer.

Tire chains

If snow is an occasional happening in your area and you frequently see ice, consider investing in a pair of tire chains. Sized to fit your vehicle’s tires, you install tire chains without raising the vehicle or even moving it, making them an excellent resource to keep in the vehicle and install when bad weather strikes. Remove tire chains as soon as you’re out of the snow and ice, as they limit your top speed and can damage the road surface.

 

Perhaps the best advice of all for driving during winter weather is to slow down. Clean windshields and snow tires are not an excuse for driving too fast on bad roads. So take your time. The hot cocoa will be waiting when you get back.

Do you have winter driving tips to share? Leave a comment.