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

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

For comparison: car batteries

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

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

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

Marine batteries

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

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

Lawn batteries

lawn and garden battery

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

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

Farm batteries

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

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

Golf cart batteries

Golf cart battery

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

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

Power sport batteries

Power sport battery

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUV on the side of the road

Source | Jon Flobrant/Unsplash

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

The car won’t start…

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

A can of coke

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

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

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

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

Frozen bits and pieces…

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

Hand sanitizer

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

Cooking spray

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

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

Kitty litter

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

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

You’re stuck in a ditch…

Rope

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

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

Lit vehicle headlight

Source | Sai Kiran Anagani/Unsplash

Your headlights are foggy…

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

Toothpaste

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

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

A quick bumper hack…

Boiling water

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

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

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!

What Is Lead Substitute and Do You Need It?

Source | Clem Onojeghuo

If you own a classic car or have been thinking about getting one, chances are someone has told you that you need to use a lead substitute. But what is lead substitute, and why might you need it? Does it really work?

The theory behind lead substitute is that when the engine in your classic car was designed and built, gasoline had lead in it—more specifically, tetraethyl lead, or TEL. That lead served several functions. It boosted the octane rating, allowing for higher compression ratios; helped reduce knocking; and reduced wear on the valve seats. (It did so by helping to prevent “microwelds” from forming between the hot valve surfaces and the seats in the cylinder head as the valve closed.) The process of constant welding and subsequent tearing free when the valve opened again could wear the valve seats over time, requiring expensive repair.

Phasing out lead

A California ban on leaded fuel use went into effect in 1992, and the rest of the nation followed in 1996. The phase-out had already begun in the mid-1970s over concerns about the toxicity of lead and its interference with catalytic converters. Once lead was phased out of gasoline, carmakers began to make hardened valve seats and used different (higher-temperature) valve materials to eliminate the problem of microwelding and valve seat wear. Today, lead substitutes use a variety of proprietary formulas, often based on manganese, sodium, phosphate, or iron, rather than lead, to fulfill the function of lead without the toxic side effects and harm to catalytic converters.

Source | David Brodbeck

When you can skip the lead substitute

So the question arises: If your engine was made before hardened valve seats became common, does today’s unleaded fuel mean you need lead substitute to keep from causing damage to your valve seats? The answer is, frequently, no.

Many of the cars built even when leaded fuel was common have sufficiently hard valve seats to endure unleaded fuel use, especially if the car was made after the mid-1960s. You may want to use premium fuel, especially in higher-performance classic engines, to ensure you have sufficient octane and knock resistance, but the valve seats themselves are unlikely to suffer from unleaded fuel use.

That said, some engines definitely did have “soft” valve seats that were prone to damage from use of unleaded fuels. Some of these engines have been upgraded to harder valve seats over the years by their owners; if yours is among these, you can use unleaded fuel with impunity. If your car is currently running just fine, and has been running for the decades since leaded fuel was phased out, it is probably safe to continue running without lead substitute.

When lead substitute is a smart bet

Most of the cars that had problems with unleaded fuel suffered whatever damage they were going to suffer in the ’70s and ’80s, and have already been taken off the road. On the other hand, many classic-car owners argue that lead substitute can’t hurt your engine and may help reduce any risk of using unleaded fuel in an engine intended for leaded gasoline.

For many, the low cost and ease-of-use of lead substitute (typically a small amount is added to the gas tank at fill up) makes for cheap peace of mind. The bottom line? It’s up to you, but chances are good that you and your engine will get along just fine without any lead substitute, as long as you’re running the proper octane for your car.

Do you use a lead substitute? Tell us about your experience.

Are You Neglecting Your Windshield Wipers? Here’s How to Make Them Last

Windshield wipers are one of the most commonly replaced items on a car. Coincidentally, they’re also one of the most neglected parts as many DIYers are unsure when to change windshield wiper blades. Wiper blades come in numerous shapes and sizes, and while most vehicles have at least two wipers, many have three or even four.

The general recommendation is that you should replace them every six months—and that’s roughly how long windshield wipers last, but it’s not a rule. In order to maximize the life of your wiper blades, here are some guiding principles on what causes them to fail and how to avoid installation mistakes when it comes time to change them.

Take care in extreme temperatures

If you looked at a graph of when things break or fail on a car, you’d see an upward trend in the bell curve during the times of year when the temperatures are really hot and when they’re really cold.

In summer: Extended periods of extreme heat and exposure to the UV rays of the sun can cause the rubber in wiper blades to become brittle and crack. If you don’t keep an eye on their condition and neglect to change them before the rains come, you’ll get nothing but a blurry mess instead of that satisfying squeegee effect that leaves you with crisp and clear visibility.

In winter: Extreme cold often equals ice, which can really be tough on your blades, especially on those days when your car has been sitting out in the snow or freezing rain all day. If you don’t take the time to scrape your windshield before letting your wipers do the work, the ice can take chunks out of the rubber, which will leave streaks when clearing your field of vision. You wouldn’t be the only one to have had a blade long enough that the rubber part has actually separated from the frame and flaps in the wind like laundry on the line.

Use proper maintenance

The recommendation for changing blades may be every six months, but there are things you can do to get as much as a year or more of life out of your blade.

  • If possible, park in the shade or under cover. If your car is garage kept, it’s likely you’ll get more than six months out of your blades.
  • Clean your windshield regularly. Even if the weather in your area is moderate, a dirty windshield can take its toll on your blades. By keeping the surface clean, you spare the rubber blade from dirt, gravel, and other materials that can cause wear and tear.
  • Don’t use your wipers as ice scrapers. As we mentioned above, using your wipers to scrape your windshield clean is both ineffective and hard on your blades. Even when using de-icer, it will significantly reduce the lifespan of your blades. Keeping an ice scraper handy will help you maintain a clear field of vision and maximize the life of your wipers.

Tips for successful windshield-wiper installation

Installing wiper blades in the right way is just as important as keeping them in good wiping order. There are several types of windshield wipers out there, and some are so similar that you’d never know that you installed the wiper incorrectly until it flies off in the middle of a downpour. Oops.

  • J hooks: The most common wiper blade arm is the J hook. Most people, however, don’t realize that they come in two sizes. Wiper blades typically come with the J hook adapter already in place, but if you don’t have it flipped the right way it won’t stay on the hook for long. By taking the adapter of the blade itself, you can simply install it in reverse to match the other J hook size.
  • Pinch tabs: Pinch tabs come in three different flavors and are found on newer vehicles. Pinch tab wiper blades are typically sold to fit a specific set of vehicles and come with only that right attachment system in places (unless it’s a more universal wiper blade). These usually snap into place with a “heel to toe” motion.
  • Bayonet arms: Most cars with bayonet-type arms are pre-’90s. The bayonet arm is straight, with a small hole for the wiper to secure itself to. Installation is very straightforward, but it can be tough to get off because it gets frozen in place when the plastic gets old and brittle. When this happens, a small flathead pocket screwdriver will be your best friend.
  • Pin arms: Pin arms are similar to the bayonet arm, but instead of the arm having the hole, it’s the wiper blade.

Sometimes it’s nice to have hands-on help. If that’s more your speed, the folks at your local Advance Auto Parts can help you find the right wiper blades and even install them for you.

Do you install your own windshield wipers? Share your tips.

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.

How Often Should You Really Change That Engine Oil?

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You’ve heard that old advice countless times: “You should change your oil every three months, or 3,000 miles.” While commonly followed, is this rule still true today? How often should you really change your oil? Let’s take a look at the specifics of oil changes.

Why Change the Oil?

If you’re the DIY type who changes your own oil, you probably return the used oil back to the retailer for recycling. But that brings up a good question: if it can be recycled and used again, why even change it at all? It’s not that the oil goes bad, but the oil in your engine becomes contaminated and loses efficiency. You want clean oil lubricating your engine, not contaminants and grit.

The slight clearance between moving parts—say, between piston rings and cylinder walls—allows trace amounts of burned fuel to mix with the oil, contaminating it. Over time, these contaminants will turn your oil dark. The oil filter keeps a lot of that junk from circulating in your engine, but it has a limited capacity. When the filter can no longer keep the contaminants out of your oil, it’s time for an oil change. If you go too long without one, the contaminants build up and can cause costly sludge issues.

How Many Miles?

The 3,000-mile oil change guideline has likely been around longer than your parents have been driving. Many drivers still stand by it today. There are a lot of arguments here, as many of us have been rewarded with a reliable vehicle after religiously changing the oil at 3,000 miles.

Studies, however, show that might be a placebo effect. While a $50 oil and filter change is cheap preventative maintenance on a $30,000 vehicle, everyone from Edmunds to the New York Times agrees that the 3,000-mile oil change is no longer applicable in today’s vehicles. The rules have changed with the tech of the last 50 years. With the innovations in tighter build tolerances and higher-quality synthetic oils, many sources suggest a 5,000-mile to 10,000-mile oil change should be the new normal.

 Check Your Manual

Some of the discussion over proper oil-change intervals may come from your owner’s manual. Most manuals list two different recommended mileages for oil changes based on whether your driving routine is “normal” or “severe.” Normal driving is considered the usual daily commute. The more frequent “severe” service schedule should be followed for commercial vehicles, or when using your daily driver for towing, off-roading, or racing.

Even a single manufacturer can have different mileage recommendations based on the engine type and recommended motor oil. For example, Toyota uses 5W-20 in the Rav4, and recommends changing the oil every 5,000 miles. On the other hand, Toyota also recommends lighter 0W-20 in the new Prius, which it says is good for 10,000 miles (if you periodically monitor the oil level). Then there’s the Tundra, which needs a 2,500-mile service when using E-85 fuel. For peace of mind, read the manual.

When in Doubt, Send It Out

If you want to geek out over this and know exactly when to change your oil, science can help you out there. Blackstone Labs is one service that analyzes the chemical makeup of used oil, and can offer fascinating insight into what is happening with your oil, and your engine, as the miles add up. If the analysis shows unusual engine wear, there are additives that can resolve the issue, giving you many more years of problem-free driving.

While the recommended oil-change interval has increased over the years, one thing that remains constant is the need to change your oil.

Do you stick with 3,000 miles or follow the manual? Tell us in the comments.

Drive Belts 101: The Different Types (And How to Replace Them)

Drive belts are a regular vehicle maintenance item. Loud squeals, poor battery charging, and even overheating are symptoms that should lead you to investigate the drive belts on your engine and potentially replace them. But before you begin the diagnostic process, make sure you know what kind of belts your car has.

The Different Types of Drive Belt

Serpentine Belt

Source |  Matthew Davis

Serpentine Belt

The serpentine belt is probably the most commonly used belt today and likely what you’ll find under the hood of your car if you drive anything newer than a 1990 model. Need to change it? It’s pretty simple. The belt snakes its way through multiple accessories, the crank pulley, an idler pulley or two, and a tensioner. Grab a socket and pull on the tensioner pulley to loosen the belt to remove it. Serpentine belts are easy to replace, but if they break, you’re guaranteed to be on the side of the road since they run everything from your alternator to your power steering.

You’ll know they need to be replaced if they begin to look heavily cracked or if the depth of the grooves becomes too shallow. A good rule of thumb is to check them around 60,000 miles and replace them by 90,000 miles. You can purchase an easy-to-use and inexpensive belt-wear gauge to check belt wear for a more scientific inspection.

Drive Belts & V-Belts

Drive belts are usually found on older vehicles, but they do have advantages. Running off of the crank pulley, they go through one or two accessories but usually not more than that. On a car with all the bells and whistles, there will be several individual belts for power steering, air conditioning, and then the essentials like the alternator, water pump, and radiator fan. Break one of these, and depending on what it was driving, you may still be able to get home. Drive belts are also called V-belts because of the way their rubber teeth are tapered. The disadvantages to individual drive belts are the fact that there are multiple to change, they are a bit trickier to get to the right tension, and they can rotate on the pulley under hard load.

V-Belt

Source | Matthew Davis

Loose drive belts will squeal and could cause your alternator to charge improperly and could possibly cause your car to overheat. A good way to test tension is to push down on the belt in the middle of its longest point. You should be able to depress it about half an inch. Any more than that and it’s too loose; any less, and it’s too tight. A belt that’s too tight will put strain on the alternator and could ruin the bearings on the water pump. You’ll know the belt needs replacing if it looks cracked or if tightening to the proper tension does not remedy the squeal.

Timing Belts

Most cars have interference engines, which means the clearance between the moving parts is so small that if they get out of time, they’ll run into each other. The timing belt connects the crankshaft and camshaft, keeping them in sync. You’ll likely not see the timing belt on your car because it’s hidden behind the timing cover. Nevertheless, the timing belt can be your nemesis; ignore it, and you’ll have a very expensive engine rebuild on your hands. Usually, these should be replaced every 60,000 to 90,000 miles. Like any belt, miles and time will cause them to crack like the one pictured here, and you’ll have a very bad day if it breaks. Many cars have timing chains instead of belts, which are designed to last for the engine’s lifespan.

Cracked Timing Belt

Source | Matthew Davis

Like anything on a car, extreme temperature ranges are the killers of longevity. It’s always a good idea to inspect your belts at the beginning and end of winter and summer.

If you have experience dealing with belts, let us know. Leave your stories in the comments.

Avoid Common Marine Engine Maintenance Mistakes

Small motorboat docking at the marina with sunset in Phuket ThailandFor boat owners there’s nothing worse than having an engine that won’t start. Especially when you have a boat full of expectant skiers. Or a long line behind you at the ramp. Fortunately, there are a few maintenance tasks you can do to keep your marine engine and its working parts in ship shape.

Marine engine flushing

During boating season, it’s important to flush your boat’s engine after each use. You do this by supplying fresh water from a hose to your engine while it’s running in neutral. This prevents buildup of sand or silt that can decrease the life and performance of your engine. Several flushing methods exist. Which one you use depends on your outboard motor’s design. Some outboard engines supply built-in hose attachments. If not, you can also use a pair of flush “muffs.” The muffs are a v-shaped device with ear-muff-looking cups that slip over the water intakes (located behind the propeller). Another option is using a collapsible flush bag that supplies the water intakes with a fresh pool of water. To find the right tools and method for your boat, check with an Advance Team Member or consult your owner’s manual.

Propeller check

Single engine motorboat in a marinaYou should also regularly inspect your marine engine’s propeller. First, remove the propeller and check the prop shaft for debris, such as fishing wire from the big one that got away. Fishing wire tangled in your propeller can create big problems like gear case leaks. Clean the propeller, if necessary. Then apply an appropriate lubricant to prevent the propeller from “freezing” in place, and replace the propeller securely on the shaft. While you’re at it, examine the propeller for nicks, cracks and dents. Even a small defect can decrease your engine’s performance. If you find damage, get it to a prop shop right away.

Winterization

Some boaters are lucky enough to live where the sun always shines and the boating season never ends. The rest of us have to suffer through winter, and so do our boats. Winterizing (which we’d recommend doing in the fall) ensures a great boating season the following spring. Basic winterization includes topping off the fuel lines to avoid condensation and adding a stabilizer, such as our favorite, Sea Foam. These tasks prevent corrosion and eliminate moisture. Left untreated, condensation can freeze and cause serious damage to a boat’s engine.

This is also a great time to tackle any deferred maintenance issues, as well as change the oil, water, and fuel filters. You can hire a professional or do it yourself. Our DIY video, Outboard Engine Maintenance, can get you started. For a complete list of winterizing tasks, consult your dealer, owner’s manual, or check with an Advance Team Member.

Proper boat storage

Once a boat is winterized, it’s time to think about storage. Many options exist, including dry-stacking in a climate-controlled warehouse, shrink-wrapping, or using a heavy-duty tarp. Your choice will likely depend on your individual boat and budget. Whichever option you choose, aim to keep your boat (and therefore its engine) dry and reasonably protected from the elements until spring.

mature man driving speedboat

Proper care and maintenance prolongs the life of your boat’s engine. It also ensures that you spend more time on the water than in the repair shop.

So how long has your outboard motor been kickin’? What maintenance do you perform to keep it running smooth? Leave us a comment below.

So, What Is a Trickle Charger?

trickle charger

Trickle chargers, also called battery maintainers, can come in handy if you have a struggling car battery or when it’s time to dust off the long-garaged cars or recreational vehicles like boats, jet skis, RVs, motorcycles, and golf carts. Even though you may be ready to hit the road (or water), it doesn’t mean your vehicle’s battery is.

There’s an easy way to prevent battery failure when you’re storing vehicles for a while, however. Read on for some expert advice about battery maintenance and how these trickle chargers work.

First, about your batteries

All batteries self-discharge, which is a decrease in power over time. Motorcycle batteries, for example, self-discharge 1% every day, even when not in use. The same goes for car batteries: keep a car stored in the garage for a couple months and you might not have enough battery juice to start it. A car’s alternator does the job of maintaining a healthy battery, but it won’t recharge a dead battery. That’s where a trickle charger comes into play. Basically, trickle chargers help the battery maintain power and stop self-discharge.

Even when not in use, a battery still gradually loses power.

How trickle chargers workhow a trickle charger works

Trickle chargers use electricity to replenish batteries at the same rate as the self-discharge. The energy is transferred in a “trickle,” thus the name. We recommend that you use a trickle charger that shuts off automatically, or goes in “float” mode, when your battery is fully charged; otherwise, you need to monitor your battery and unplug the charger when you have enough power. A trickle charger can overcharge and damage your battery if you leave it on for too long, so don’t forget about it!

The “low and slow” method provided by a trickle charger results in a more thorough, reliable charge and longer battery life.

Low and slow wins the race

A quick jump charge from your neighbor or tow station may get your vehicle running, but it comes at a high cost to your battery by prematurely wearing it out. The “low and slow” method provided by a trickle charger results in a more thorough, reliable charge and longer battery life.

trickle charger for atvs

Battery storage and maintenance tips

A trickle charger is just one tool you can use to maintain your vehicle’s battery life. To ensure you don’t end up stranded on the road or lake, you can also follow these steps:

  • Store your battery or vehicle in a cool location protected from extreme temperatures and changes.
  • Use a battery with the correct amperage needed for your vehicle. Consult your owner’s manual.
  • Reduce vibrations by tightening the battery’s hold-down clamps when in use.
  • Accidents happen, but try to avoid deep-discharging, aka “killing/draining,” your battery (by leaving on your vehicle’s lights for example).
  • Never keep a battery dead for long periods of time.
  • Keep your battery fully charged as often as possible.

So, do you use a trickle charger to help with keeping your battery powered? Let us know in the comments.