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.

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.

How to Prepare for Your Motorcycle Road Trip

By Stephanie McDonald

Open road, highway

Source | Hogarth de la Plante/Unsplash

Hi, everyone! Stephanie here, aka the Blonde Bandit. Spring is coming soon, and that means it’s time for some long and exciting road trips. But before you set off, make sure you’re prepared. If you’ve been on a long trip before, you know the importance of having an emergency kit.

Recently, I took a four-hour ride through the mountains of Little Switzerland, NC. That’s not the longest trip I’ve ever taken solo, but I still packed some key items. During the journey a funny noise started coming from the chain of my motorcycle, a 2003 Suzuki Bandit 600 (get the nickname now?). I sprayed it with my emergency chain cleaner, and after inspecting my motorcycle, I noticed I was a little low on oil. So I topped that off too. Being prepared with the right essentials really saved me on that ride.

You may get into, or have already been in, a similar situation. There’s limited storage space on motorcycles, especially since your saddlebags are already loaded with personal items. So here’s the absolute essentials packing list.

Stephanie McDonald Motorcycle

Essential Motorcycle Packing List

Tire-repair kit & gauge

The gauge is a must to make sure you have the proper amount of air in your tires. The tire-repair kit comes in handy if you get a flat and need to get to the closest shop.

Emergency roadside kit

These kits are great to have on-hand in case you end up with a dead battery and need a quick jump to get going. Plus these roadside kits usually have first-aid items and flashlights, too.

Zip ties

When bolts rattle loose, minor accidents happen, and your fairing is flapping around, zip ties are a great quick fix. I also use them to secure my USB cable to the frame.

Bungee cords

You can never have enough bungee cords. I use them for extra support in holding my saddlebags, since I have the soft detachable kind.

Towels

It’s always great to have a few towels on hand in case you need to clean your visor or wipe down your bike before you enter it into a show.

You can also pick up:

Whether it’s a three-hour or 30-day road trip, it pays to be prepared.

Have any extra tips or motorcycle-trip stories to share? Leave a comment below!


Our Events in March:

12 Hours of Sebring

Want a free lunch? Speed Perks members attending the 12 Hours of Sebring on Saturday, March 10 will get one. Just bring a receipt from Advance Auto Parts showing a Mobil oil purchase to the Mobil tent at lunch time.

Daytona Bike Week

The Blonde Bandit herself will be at Destination Daytona to kick off our 2017 Restoration Tour with our friends at Mobil. Join us


ZDDP Motor Oil Additive: What You Need to Know to Protect Your Car

Source | Luke Jones

Engines wear out. It’s an unfortunate truth, but it’s not one you simply have to accept, even if you own a classic car. There are steps you can take to keep your engine from deteriorating for a long time, the most important of which is ensuring it’s properly lubricated and that the oil is changed regularly. But does your classic car’s engine want classic oil? Does it need supplements that aren’t found in modern oil, like ZDDP? Read on to find out.

What is ZDDP?

Zinc dialkyldithiophosphate, or ZDDP, was once a common and useful engine oil additive. It was inexpensive, highly effective metal-on-metal antiwear additive, and as a result, it was used widely in engine oils from the 1940s through the 1970s, and is still in use in some cases today. If your car was built during the peak period of use, chances are its intended motor oil included ZDDP. But in the past few decades, it has been phased out due to concerns over its toxicity.

How does ZDDP work?

As your engine runs, it generates heat and friction, especially at high-stress points like the cams, valves, and tappets, where metal-to-metal contact pressures can be extreme. As this heat and friction builds, the ZDDP breaks down into its chemical components, coating the metal with what’s called a tribofilm and taking the brunt of the load. This film forms at the atomic scale, helping to protect the metal in your engine, and reacts in a “smart” way, increasing the protection as the friction and pressure increases. By reducing direct metal-to-metal contact, the ZDDP provides a replenishable wear surface that prolongs the life of your engine. Studies of ZDDP have shown that it effectively provides a cushioning effect on the underlying metal, distributing the force upon it and, accordingly, the wear.

When does a car need ZDDP?

If you own a modern car, built in the 1990s or more recently, there’s no need to add ZDDP to your engine oil. Just ensure you use the oil specified by your manufacturer in your owner’s manual. Modern engines are designed around low- or no-ZDDP oils, and they often use lower valve spring rates, roller lifters, and other methods to reduce the metal-on-metal friction pressure, particularly in the valve train, that ZDDP was used to combat.

In classic engines with high-pressure friction points, however, ZDDP is still a useful ingredient in preserving the performance and extending the life of your car. Today’s oils often contain some level of ZDDP, though the latest ones often contain only trace amounts—enough to help newer cars with minor wear issues but not enough to prevent newly rebuilt or broken-in classic car engines from wearing at much higher rates than intended. While the debate is still raging among enthusiasts, there’s good evidence that classic-car owners should ensure their engines are getting adequate amounts of ZDDP.

Should you add ZDDP to your oil?

Exactly how to ensure your engine is getting enough ZDDP is another question. Some oils sold in auto parts shops, like Advance Auto Parts, still include ZDDP in their formulation. Some of these are only for racing or off-road use, however, and some are not widely available in all regions. None of the oils that still include some quantity of ZDDP indicate on the bottle just how much they contain, or how that compares to the oil originally specified for your car. You can, of course, call the company that makes the oil and find out for yourself with some digging—but that can be a slow and frustrating process.

Fortunately, there are ZDDP additives available on the shelves at your local Advance Auto Parts (or online). These additives are easy to use and economical, so it’s a cheap and simple way to provide your engine with some solid insurance against premature wear. All you have to do is follow the instructions on the bottle, which typically involve pouring some or all of a container into the engine oil fill port. Don’t exceed the recommended amount; it won’t increase your protection and will only waste the additive (and your money) and put more of the harmful zinc and phosphate components of the compound into the environment than necessary.

Which ZDDP additive should you buy?

As great as ZDDP is for protecting your engine, and as many amazing smart-material behaviors as it exhibits at the molecular level, it isn’t a mysterious, proprietary chemical. It has been used and tested for more than 70 years. In other words, just about any ZDDP additive you’ll find will work great in your engine. Some brands of ZDDP additive may be designed to work with the same brand’s engine oil, so those seeking the ultimate in peace of mind might want to team them together. Otherwise, just grab a bottle of your preferred brand and use as directed to give your classic-car engine the protection and longevity it deserves.

Do you have experience with ZDDP? Let us know.

How to Choose Windshield Wipers

Behind the wheel in rainy weather

Source | Jaromír Kavan/Unsplash

When it comes time to choose windshield wipers, the number of options available might surprise you. While wiper blades all share the same function, they don’t all do it in the same way, for the same price, or to the same level of performance. In order to help you choose the best wipers for your budget or circumstance, we’ve highlighted the three main types of windshield wiper blades below, how much you can expect to spend on them, and when they’ll perform the best.

Types of Windshield Wipers

traditional wiper blade

Traditional Wiper Blade:

The traditional wiper blade has been around for decades and is constructed of a steel frame and rubber blade. The frame itself is what attaches to the wiper arm of the vehicle and has pivoting suspension points that help keep the blade planted to the windshield.

Traditional blades can be found on most new cars and are reasonably priced—at under $10 per blade—when it comes time to replace them. Most wiper-blade manufacturers recommend replacing these blades every six months.

Beam wiper blade

Beam Wiper Blades:

If you’re looking to up your window-clearing game, you’ll want to check out the beam blade section. Most wiper-blade manufacturers offer a beam-blade option, and they certainly have their perks. Rather than having a metal structure like a traditional wiper blade, beam blades are made of a solid piece of rubber. This comes in handy when the weather gets nasty. Where snow and ice can clog up the frame and freeze a traditional wiper blade, you can simply slap a beam blade against the windshield to clear it of debris. Beam wiper blades also have a fin or spoiler along the spine of the blade that help keep the wiper placed firmly against the windshield for maximum contact, even at freeway speeds.

The price for this kind of windshield wiper is higher than traditional blades—between $15 and $30 per blade, but they generally last quite a bit longer.

Hybrid Wiper Blades:

If you like the cost savings of the traditional wiper blade but want to have the all-weather prowess of a beam blade, you’ll want to look into getting yourself a set of hybrid wiper blades. Hybrid blades are constructed like a traditional blade with a steel frame and pivoting suspension points but also have a plastic or rubber protective coating over the frame. This helps keep the cost down and provides protection against the more harsh winter elements. The cost of these blades will usually be right between that of a beam and traditional blade.

All three types of wiper blades are relatively easy to install, but your local Advance Auto Parts store will do it for you for free.

Got any wiper tips? 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.