Wired Up: The Fundamentals of Spark Plug Wiring

Accel plug wires pictureNot all spark plug wires are created equal. And because moving electricity to the plug to produce a spark is so critically important, using the wrong wires for your vehicle, damaged wires, or poor-quality wires will undoubtedly lead to problems down the road.

As electricity travels along the plug wires toward the plug so it can generate a spark, it’s also looking to do something else – escape. The electricity is looking for any opportunity to jump from the wire and instead head down the path of least resistance. When it finds the escape route it’s been searching for – usually in the form of missing or damaged wire insulation – the results can include engine misfire, poor fuel mileage, hard starts, rough idles and lack of power. Electricity also generates radios waves and if it escapes from the plug wires can interfere with a vehicle’s radio and other electronics.

The plug wires’ insulation is what keeps the electricity from escaping, and high-quality wires will have more insulation that’s made from durable components that are better able to resist wear from vibration and heat. Over time, the engine’s heat cycling takes its toll on even the best spark plug wires, which is why replacement is recommended by many manufacturers at 100,000 miles.

There are primarily three types of spark plug wires:

1. Distributed resistance wires are constructed of fiberglass-impregnated carbon. Also known as carbon core wires, they were the standard on about 95 percent of vehicles before 1980.

2. A shift to inductance or mag (magnetic resistance) wires accompanied the rising popularity of Asian vehicles. Featuring a spiral wound core of a copper nickel alloy, the material presents less resistance to the electricity flow, meaning less current is needed to generate the spark, and at the same time the winding pattern and materials help prevent any Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) from escaping.

3. Lastly, there are fixed resistor wires. These are often found on European vehicles and feature steel or copper wire and a resistor inside the plug boot to control interference.

If you think your vehicle might be having some issues caused by faulty plug wires, begin the diagnosis with a close inspection of the wires’ condition. Examine them for heat-induced cracks or abrasions caused by rubbing against other parts. Look for areas where they’ve been burned through because of contact with an exhaust manifold. Also try examining the engine in the dark, looking for visible sparks where the electricity is escaping along the wires, and also listen for an electrical ticking sound, similar to what you hear when you receive a big static electricity shock. Also measure the wire’s resistance with an ohmmeter. One plug wire with a resistance that’s significantly different than the other wires could indicate that’s the problem wire.spark plug wire set photo

When installing new wires, make sure you’re using wires specified for your vehicle. Characteristics such as the wire length or a boot that attaches using clips as compared to a thread-on boot matter when it comes to performance. Also avoid problems by routing new wires in the same manner that the previous wires were, and removing and replacing the wires one at a time.

Using the best spark plug in the world won’t make any difference to your engine if that plug can’t get the electricity it needs, so choose and install plug wires wisely.

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts has your car wiring needs covered. Buy online, pick up in-store, in 30 minutes.

The Triumph of Technology: 3 Ways Computers Make Cars Better


Knight Rider’s KITT interior. Photo by Tabercil.

Think about the muscle-car era, back in the ’60s and early ’70s. If you know anyone who grew up during that era, chances are that his or her father taught them how to wrench on engines from a young age (just like this ol’ wrencher). And you’ve probably heard them lament the fact that fathers just don’t teach their kids how to fix cars anymore.

But there’s a good reason for that: modern cars are as much about computers as they are about carburetors. Maybe more so.

To fix cars today, you often need a special computer just to diagnose the problem, and you may need advanced electrical knowledge to do the job. How about rebuilding a problematic part? If it’s connected to the car’s computer network, you better be an actual electrical engineer, or else you might just make things worse.

So that’s why kids don’t grow up with grease on their fingers anymore.

But they do grow up driving some truly incredible machines.

In this installment, I don’t want to bemoan the fact that times have changed. Even as a weathered, ahem, older car fan, I want to celebrate it. Because the truth is, technology has taken the automobile to heights that were scarcely imaginable 50 years ago.

Let’s look at three specific ways that the triumph of technology has changed cars for the better.

Better Handling

You may not think of suspensions as having much to do with computers, but when you take a closer look, you realize that they’ve got a lot to do with ones and zeros. Consider electric power steering, for example — back in the hydraulic days, we used to talk about the steering of a car as being “heavy” or “light,” but today you can buy a Hyundai or Kia for less than $20,000 that provides electronically adjustable steering effort. Want to move up the price ladder a little? Adaptive suspension dampers with selectable modes are proliferating across the industry, allowing drivers to choose a firm or compliant ride as conditions dictate. And then there are roll-resistant systems like Mercedes-Benz’s Active Body Control that keep the car eerily flat through fast corners. It’s hard to see these technologies as anything but a win for most drivers.

Better Powertrains

We could devote a whole feature to this category alone. Seemingly every aspect of automotive power generation and delivery has been revolutionized. On the engine front, perhaps the biggest news is the rise of advanced computer-controlled turbocharging, enabling small-displacement engines to deliver strong, lag-free acceleration with little if any penalty at the pump. Transmissions have benefited, too, with advancements ranging from automatic rev-matched downshifts for manuals to launch control and adaptive shift programs for automatics. And then there’s the way the power gets to the pavement — increasingly, differentials are equipped with torque-vectoring technology that transfers power laterally to ensure that the tires with the best traction are getting the most oomph. There were certainly fast and capable cars back in the day, but the computer-enabled precision and efficiency we see today is simply unprecedented.

Better Interiors

This one’s really night-and-day. Cars used to be transportation devices with radios thrown in for your driving pleasure, but now they’re like rolling entertainment chambers. What’s interesting is that mass-market personal computers go back to the late ’70s, but it took another few decades for dashboard computer systems — or “infotainment systems,” in current parlance — to become commonplace. But in 2015, you can get an infotainment system with a high-resolution color display in virtually every economy car on the market. Who would argue that cars used to be better when all you had was AM and FM? Now you can enjoy satellite radio, USB connectivity, Bluetooth phone and audio, home theater-quality sound reproduction, mobile-app integration and even Wi-Fi hotspot capability. Nostalgia dies hard, but even hardcore classic-car devotees know the truth: there’s never been a better time to hang out in an automotive interior.

The Power of Change

As a longtime DIY’er and car enthusiast, I’ve done my share of grumbling about the effects of technology on the character and feel of modern cars. Still, I have to admit that cars today are astonishingly capable machines thanks to their computerized components. What are some of your favorite developments in automotive technology? Shout it out for us in the comments

Editor’s note: High tech or no tech, count on Advance Auto Parts for a large selection of parts, tools and accessories to get your projects done right. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Tech Garage TV review

Tech Garage studio photoRead our review of the Velocity Channel’s popular DIY show.

Do you look forward to seeing how big The Donald’s hair is this week while two celebrities engage in a boardroom battle? Do you enjoy watching “real” housewives fight one another? Are you still upset about Chris’ choice to receive the final rose?

If so, then it’s probably a safe assumption that you can’t get enough drama in your life, and that you love “reality” TV. If that’s the case, then I recommend you stick with what’s been working for you and not watch Tech Garage, one of the newest car TV shows on the Velocity Channel that just concluded its first season.

If, however, you love everything about cars – including how to fix them, coax more performance from them, how their various systems work, why they break and how to prevent failures, then you’re going to want to tune in to Tech Garage every weekend, or catch the episodes online. It could become one of the top car TV shows on YouTube.

Tech Garage features John Gardner, an ASE-certified master mechanic and automotive instructor at Chipola College in Marianna, Fla., explaining how cars and their various systems work. There’s no drama here, but there are plenty of key tips. Whether you’re a heavy DIY’er who can handle pretty much anything under the hood or a 15-year old dreaming about the day you can drive, you’re going to learn something new about vehicle mechanics from watching this car TV show.

On one of the show’s first episodes, Gardner explored the vehicle’s battery, charging and starting system. What makes the show unique is that he doesn’t just explain to viewers how the systems work and leave them with only a cursory understanding. He breaks the system down and provides an in-depth explanation of not just how it works but why, and he uses some pretty cool, functioning system displays that any gearhead would love to have taking up space in their garage or man cave.

For example, in that first episode Gardner goes under the hood to diagnose a lack of starting power in a Mustang. He provides detailed diagnostics using a voltmeter, and has an awesome cutaway of a vehicle battery and even the internal battery plates to show viewers exactly what a crumpled mess it looks like when they begin to fail. Sure, most of us who know about cars understand why batteries fail and how to prolong their lives and replace them, but it’s not often we see the inside of one that has failed to add to our understanding or that we receive an education about volts, amps and resistance.

Tech Garage AC show AC photo

Gardner employs a similar tactic with the full-scale working model of a starting system. He even has a couple starters – including a big field-coil starter – that he’s taken apart to show viewers how they work and why. On this episode, the biggest moment of drama between people is when Gardner asks his assistant to crank the Mustang with the headlights on, and it fails to start. As I said, if you’re looking for fights and name calling, you’re going to find them on this car TV show.

In addition to adding to your knowledge under the hood, Tech Garage provides some pretty cool factoids in every episode that can be used to impress your friends, or one-up a fellow heavy DIY’er who always seems to be a step ahead. Try these on for size. What was the first production vehicle to use an alternator? That would be the 1960 Chrysler Valiant. How about the fact that the first storage battery – called the voltaic pile – was invented in 1796 by Italian scientist Allesandro Volta? The volt is named in his honor. And finally, 99 percent of all new cars sold have air conditioning.

On another episode, Gardner dives into a timely topic now that temperatures are starting to rise – a vehicle’s AC system. In addition to demonstrating how it works and how to quickly and easily recharge it using a canister of AC Pro, and how to identify the high side versus the low side, he has a full scale vehicle AC system, complete with condenser and evaporator – and it’s functioning. If you walk away not understanding more about vehicle AC and how the AC cycle works, you weren’t watching.

With insightful and timely show topics that include brakes and wheel bearings, fuel systems and turbo and supercharging, and engines and related emerging technologies, Tech Garage should quickly build a following of loyal viewers who want to learn vehicle mechanics from an ASE-certified pro.


Recap: Detroit Auto Show 2015

Our resident Gearhead recaps one of his all-time favorite events: The North American International Auto Show, in Detroit, Michigan.

Let me say this right upfront: It’s always a privilege for an old fart like me to attend a major automotive event like the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, or NAIAS, as it’s sometimes called. There’s nothing like that buzz in the air when a new car gets unveiled, or when the next automaker’s press conference is about to get underway.

But recently I’ve been feeling like there aren’t as many awesome rides at the auto shows as there used to be. With the internet, of course, you get all manner of “teasers” and information leaks on social media before the show, but the cars themselves just haven’t been doing it for me.

That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised by the action this year in Detroit. For once, the focus wasn’t on electric-powered this or hydrogen-powered that; there were simply a bunch of amazing cars that I’d love to own, and I got up close and personal with every one of ’em.

I’d have you here all day if I gave you the whole list, so tell you what, here are the three vehicles at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show that I liked the most.

1. Ford F-150 Raptor

Ford F-150 Raptor 2017 photo


The all-new, second-generation Raptor off-roader was love at first sight for me, and the more I learned about it, the more infatuated I got. Well, for the most part. To be honest with you, I wish the previous Raptor’s 411-horsepower, 6.2-liter V8 were still around. The newly standard 3.5-liter “EcoBoost” twin-turbo V6 is said to make even more power than the outgoing V8, but I promise you it won’t sound half as good when you’re on the throttle. Otherwise, though, the new Raptor is a home run, from its handsome, muscular styling to its beefed-up underpinnings that are even more capable than before. The specialized Fox Racing Shox have more travel, there’s a new terrain-management system with driver-selectable modes, and the transmission is a novel 10-speed automatic that’s being co-developed with General Motors. I’m not even a truck guy and I want an F-150 Raptor. Bad.

2. Ford GT

Ford GT picture

Ford managed to keep its next-generation supercar under wraps until the company press conference, and let’s just say everyone was shocked in the very best way when it broke cover. I mean, look at the thing — it’s gorgeous, but with a definite edge, like a Ferrari that went to finishing school in America. It’s even got Lambo-style scissor doors, trumping the previous Ford GT (sold in limited quantities a decade ago) with its conventional forward-hinged swingers. In the engine compartment, located behind the seats and beneath a clear window, the 3.5-liter EcoBoost takes up residency, relegating another fine V8 to the dustbin. But in this case I’m in a forgiving mood, because Ford has cranked the twin-turbo V6 up to more than 600 horsepower. Offered solely with a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission, the latest Ford GT figures to be a world-beater at the racetrack, yet the interior’s decked out with high-tech furnishings like a configurable TFT instrument panel and the SYNC touchscreen infotainment system. If there’s one car at this year’s show that’s bound to become an automotive icon, it’s the reinvented GT.

3. Acura NSX

Acura NSX picture

But for the Ford GT’s presence, the new NSX would have stolen the show. Like the GT, the NSX has had about a decade off since the previous generation bit the dust, and it’s been similarly rejuvenated with a twin-turbo V6 of its own and a nine-speed dual-clutch automated transmission. Unlike the Ford, however, the NSX also features an all-wheel-drive system with tri-motor hybrid assist (two motors for the front axle, one for the rear). Total output is estimated to be in excess of 600 hp. Beyond the numbers, the NSX looks great with cool LED headlights, massive wheels (19-in fronts, 20-in rears) and a body that actually takes some chances, at least by Honda/Acura standards. The interior looks beautiful, too. Audi and Porsche might want to check their rearviews, because Acura wants in on the premium sports-car business.

Let’s Talk

Come on, I know you were following the Auto Show at home. What were your favorites this year? Tell me why I should have picked yours in the comments.

Top Tailgating Essentials

Tailgate Party PhotosWhen it’s time to tailgate at the big game, I know as well as anyone that you’ve got to have the right gear. We’re huge sports fans in my house, and nothing will take the wind out of your sails like showing up without the proper tailgating accessories.

Now, you might think that you’ve already got all the gear you need, but let me tell you, times have changed. I remember when a tailgate party just meant some cans of your favorite beverage, but these days, folks have taken tailgating to a whole new level. My family always wants to have the coolest tailgate party in the parking lot, and that means keeping up with the latest innovations. If you do it right, trust me, you’ll end up having more fun at the party than ever before.

What I want to do today is share with you what I’ve learned over the years, because I think our household has figured out all the vital pieces of the modern tailgate-party puzzle. Here are my top tailgating essentials that make every game a win for your crew.


Need I say more? Cold beverages are the foundation of any great tailgate party, and you’ve got to keep them cold for the whole game. Plus, you need to bring more than enough for everyone involved. So get a big old cooler, fill it with ice, and keep it stocked with your favorite libations. That’s Job No. 1.


Arguably just as important as the cooler — well, let’s go with “almost” — is the portable grill. You can get all sorts of newfangled grills nowdays, but if you ask me, why mess with success? Just pick up a standard portable grill and a bag of charcoal, and you’ll get great taste and reliable performance, time after time.


This one’s for when you’re ready to take your tailgating game to the highest level. Anyone can bring a cooler and a grill, but it takes true dedication to bring your own portable generator, too. With a generator, you can power all sorts of handy appliances (including the final two items on this list), and some of the newer ones even have USB connectivity for recharging electronics. You’re in the tailgating big leagues when you show up with one of these.


If you don’t want to go with a full-blown generator, consider an inverter, which (if you haven’t heard) is a nifty device that uses your car’s battery power to provide auxiliary power with household-style three-prong outlets. The downside is that if you don’t turn your engine on, you’ll drain your battery after a while — and if you do turn your engine on, the tailgaters might take a bit too much exhaust smoke to the face. But if you think you’ll only need electrical current occasionally at your tailgate parties, an inverter could be a perfect solution. It’s tiny relative to a generator, and it’s just the thing if partiers may need to plug in for short periods.


The bottles and cans in your cooler are all well and good, but imagine the possibilities if you had a blender, too. You’ve already got ice in the cooler, after all; how about some margaritas for the adults and smoothies for the kids? Plug it into your generator/inverter and you’re good to go. Warning: you might get some unwanted attention from neighboring parties wishing they had a blender of their own.

Wi-Fi Hotspot

Can you imagine a tailgate party without the Internet? I can, of course, because that’s the only kind we used to have! But I know we’re all spoiled today with our phones and iPads and what-have-you, and the best way to ensure that everyone can connect is to bring along a portable wi-fi hotspot. You can find a nice selection at Best Buy, for example, and they’re more or less giving them away if you sign up for a monthly plan. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to have a smartphone that doubles as a hotspot (check with your provider), you’ve already got a solution in your pocket.


You’re potentially solving two problems with this generator/inverter-powered machine. First, the games aren’t always exciting from start to finish, so napping partygoers can be a common sight. A cup of joe could be just the thing to help them stay alert. Second, tailgating season stretches through the winter months, and not everyone comes prepared with their subzero jackets and gloves. If you’re not already the most popular tailgater in town, you’re going to be when your friends find out you’re serving piping hot coffee on demand.

Your Turn

I know I’m not the only seasoned tailgater around these parts. What are your top tailgating essentials that I didn’t mention? Let’s hear about them in the comments.

Editor’s note: Visit Advance Auto Parts for a top selection of generators and inverters, plus the essential parts to help get you to the game.

Top 10 Winter Prep Tips for Your Vehicle

Windshield WipersUse this checklist to avoid getting left out in the cold.

Don’t make winter any harder than it has to be – on yourself or your vehicle. To keep your car running reliably this winter, spend a little time on preventive maintenance before that chill in the air turns into a polar vortex.

Here’s a checklist of 10 important maintenance items to take care of now, so your vehicle can take care of you later. While you may be familiar with several, there may be some surprises on the list.

1. Radiator cap – while it’s a simple and inexpensive part, the radiator cap plays a critically important role in your heating and cooling system – not the least of which is keeping the antifreeze in your vehicle, where it should be. A leaking radiator cap can cause the engine to overheat and allow antifreeze to leak, neither of which are good scenarios for winter-weather driving. Take a close look around the radiator cap for signs of leaking fluid. To be on the safe side, if the vehicle radiator cap is several years old, replace it with a new one. The five or six bucks you may invest are well worth the peace of mind and performance you get in return. There is a lot more information available about a radiator cap’s importance.

2. Thermostat – another inexpensive, yet critically important component of your vehicle heating and cooling system is the thermostat. If it’s not functioning properly, you might find yourself without heat. That’s because thermostats can fail, particularly if the coolant hasn’t been changed regularly and corrosion has appeared. Change the thermostat, and change your odds having a warm interior all winter long.

3. Undercar – your vehicle ground clearance could decrease this winter, but only because the road surface might be rising up to meet you in the form of snow drifts or boulder-like chunks of snow and ice. Take a quick look under your car and search for any loose plastic panels related to aerodynamics that might have come loose and are dangling, as well as any exhaust system parts that look like they’re hanging particularly low.

4. Tire Pressure – temperatures aren’t the only thing going down in winter. For every 10-degree drop in air pressure, it’s estimated that tire pressure decreases by one pound. In a tire that’s only supposed to hold 35 pounds of pressure, colder temperatures can translate to a significant tire-pressure deficit. Underinflated tires wear faster, hurt fuel economy, and can reduce handling and traction. Check them with a tire pressure gauge.

5. Headlights – even if they haven’t burned out, it may be time to replace them. Did you know that headlight bulbs dim over time? Couple that with the haze that may have developed on your plastic headlight covers and you could be driving with significantly less light, and reduced down road vision. Change your headlights and restore your headlight covers, and see further.

6. Oil – if you’re not using synthetic oil, consider switching. It flows more freely at lower temperatures, making for easier starts and less engine wear.

7. Tire Tread Depth – tires that are showing their age with the telltale sign of little to no remaining tread depth aren’t a good way to head into winter. Tires are your first line of defense when it comes to gaining traction in snow and ice, and worn tires make that job harder. Take a minute to measure your tire tread depth.

8. Windshield deicer – decrease the amount of time you’re out in the cold, trying to scrape your windshield, and increase your visibility with windshield deicer. To see clearly, you need an ice-free windshield, and this is the quickest way to get it.

9. Antifreeze – not only will it help prevent heating and cooling system corrosion in every season, antifreeze also protects your engine in frigid temperatures, if it’s at the proper level and strength. And that’s not all. Having the proper level of antifreeze is a must have if you want the level of heat you’ve come to expect.

10. Emergency Kit – even a new or well-maintained vehicle can experience trouble, and if it does let you down, you should be prepared with an emergency kit to help see you through in case you’re stranded for a few minutes or even a few hours.

As an experienced driver and quite possibly someone who’s pretty seasoned at working on their own vehicle, you’re probably already familiar with the usual suspects that can cause winter driving problems. Even so, it doesn’t hurt for a quick review of your battery and  windshield wipers as the final step in your winter driving preparation checklist.

Chances are, you and your vehicle will get through winter just fine. All it takes is a little time and commitment in the garage now, instead of wishing you had later on.

Editor’s note: Drive safe and warm this winter with parts and accessories from Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in store, in 30 minutes.

The End of the Honda VTEC Era

2001 red Honda PreludeI gotta admit, I’m biased when it comes to DOHC VTEC Hondas, because I’ve owned two of the best. I got my first taste with a 1995 Acura Integra GS-R, and I still can’t get the sound of that little 1.8-liter motor with the 8,100-rpm redline out of my head. Then I moved on to the “luxury coupe,” a 2001 Honda Prelude, which redlined at a comparatively meek 7,400 rpm but had other stuff going for it that the Integra lacked. These were great, great cars — stylish, fun and relentlessly reliable.

And we’ll never see the likes of them again, because Honda has turned its back on that whole scene. The Prelude was quietly put out to pasture in 2001, having become too refined and expensive for its own good. The Integra kept kicking for a while as the Acura RSX (it was still called “Integra” in other markets), but 2006 marked the end of the line. For a few more years, the Honda Civic Si carried the torch with its sweet 2.0-liter motor, a high-revving marvel that reminded me very much of the Integra GS-R’s 1.8. But these days the Civic Si uses a warmed-over Accord engine. FAIL.

The Honda VTEC era is gone, and it’s not coming back.

But we can still remember the good times, right?

Ride along with me as I reflect on what made my DOHC VTEC cars so special.

1994 Acura Integra GS-R

1994 Acura Integra GS-RFirst of all, as soon as the second-generation GS-R came out in ’94, I remember lusting after those shiny five-spoke wheels. Man, Honda knew how to do alloy wheels back in the day, didn’t they? Admittedly, the rest of the car’s looking a bit dated. It’s got that bubbly 1990s look going on from some angles. But I actually dig the four round headlights, even though a lot of owners swapped them out for the JDM lenses. And from the back, the GS-R still looks pretty purposeful with its standard spoiler and wide taillights.

Inside, my GS-R had flawless leather buckets, but let’s face it: this car wasn’t about creature comforts. The road noise at speed was literally deafening, at least temporarily — I’d be a little hard of hearing when I got out after a long trip. As for the ride quality, a friend of mine once called it “skateboard-like.” Really, the best thing about the interior was the hatchback trunk; you could fold those rear seatbacks down and fit your whole life in there if you had to.

VTEC Acura IntegraBottom line, the Integra GS-R was all about what was under the hood. The dual-overhead cam (“DOHC”) 1.8-liter inline-4 was rated at 170 horsepower, falling just short of the magical 100 hp/L threshold. Torque was a paltry 127 pound-feet, and that was always the knock against the DOHC VTEC motors, but let me tell you, it didn’t matter in this car. The power ramped up steadily all the way to 8,100 rpm, with the VTEC crossover at 4,400 rpm producing a growl that gave way to a motorcycle-like scream toward to the end. Known to fans by the internal code “B18C1,” the GS-R’s engine was only offered with an incredibly precise five-speed manual transmission, and they were a perfect pairing — the short gears helped keep the revs high, and the pedals were ideally placed for heel-toe downshifts.

Nowadays, turbocharged fours are all the rage because of their supposed fuel-economy benefits, but did I mention that I got 37 mpg on the highway in my GS-R?

Throw in legendary reliability and low maintenance costs, and you’ve got an all-time great. There’ll never be another car like it.

2001 Honda Prelude

2001 Honda PreludeThe angular, understated Prelude was a different beast — a gentleman’s  sport compact. With its long nose and short deck, the 2001 ‘Lude could almost pass for rear-wheel-drive, its extended front overhang being the only real giveaway. It was a classy car, especially with the beautiful alloy wheels shown here. With the Integra, you expected a kid to be driving it, and it was normal to see an enormous spoiler tacked on the back. But the ‘Lude appealed to everyone. I’ve seen a handful of white-haired old guys driving bone-stock models, and that doesn’t surprise me one bit.

Inside, the fifth-gen Prelude served up an inviting mix of quality materials and subtle, ergonomic design. You had all the controls you needed, and no more. People used to say Honda was the Japanese BMW (hard to believe today, right?), and this dashboard is a case in point. Everything was right where it needed to be, and the simple layout aged really well — I never felt like I was driving an old car, even when it was an old car.

VTEC Honda PreludeOn the road, the Prelude was significantly quieter than the GS-R, though I wouldn’t exactly call it quiet per se. The general comfort level was a lot higher. Really good stereo, too — so much better than the Integra’s clock-radio-quality sound. But it still handled great, albeit with slightly slower reflexes. I wish I’d been able to find a suitable Type SH with its torque-transfer system, because my base car understeered a lot if I entered a corner too hot. But I always had a blast on twisty roads nonetheless.

The fifth-gen Prelude’s engine was a torque monster by DOHC VTEC standards, cranking out 156 lb-ft along with a healthy 200 hp. To be honest, I liked the GS-R’s engine better. The ‘Lude’s 2.2-liter four-cylinder, a.k.a. “H22A4,” had a Jekyll and Hyde character, coming on real strong all of a sudden at 5,200 rpm. I preferred the way the GS-R’s motor smoothed the VTEC transition out. But the H22 made a great snarl, and the five-speed shifter was lighter than the GS-R’s, gliding friction-free from gate to gate.

If you wanted genuine Honda performance without the boy-racer looks, the fifth-gen Prelude was the ultimate solution.


Honda VTECs used to rule the street, and for good reason. It’s sad to me that those days are never coming back. Did you ever have a DOHC VTEC car? I know we’d all love to hear your story in the comments.

Editor’s note: If you’ve got a street import in your driveway, hit up Advance Auto Parts for the best values and selection. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

It’s coming…Google’s driverless car

Google driverless car

Photo credit: John Green

If you’re a Sci-fi fan, the concept of the driverless car is nothing new. But, seeing it actually happen in real-time is a completely different thing.

It turns out that Google’s driverless vehicles have now logged close to 700,000 miles in autonomous driving. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and has probably saved the company at least a few thousand dollars in coffee and caffeine pills alone. But there are many other potential benefits to be had.

Mercury News reporter Gary Richards had this to say about his recent test drive:

“Google’s grand experiment picked me up at home in West San Jose and ferried me to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. Later other cars took me and numerous other media types on a 25-minute tour of city streets.

There were two Google workers along for each trip, but for the most part, there were no hands on the steering wheel.

Got that? No hands. The car made a few abrupt moves into left-turn lanes. And once it shuddered at another turn when a nearby bus seemed to confuse the onboard computers.”

Safety is a primary concern and selling point of the vehicles. “We actually haven’t had any at-fault accidents while the car is in self-driving mode,” said Google spokeswoman Katelin Jabbari. “The only at-fault accident was caused while a driver was in control.”

To tackle that, Google has packed these vehicles with $150K in specialized equipment, which includes a radar system with a price tag of $70K alone. All these gadgets enable the car to generate a 3-D map of its surroundings and can detect other vehicles, pedestrians and other things that lay in its path.

Per that, we still don’t know how much these cars are going to cost, but one can imagine. Stay tuned for more on that aspect.

For now, check out Gary Richards’ full review.



Kickstart my heart: one man’s rocky relationship with his vehicle’s starter

Toughone_Starter_SStarterThe starter and I have long had an uneasy relationship. We hit rock bottom a few years ago, but since then we’ve patched up our differences and things have been going pretty well. At least up until last week. But that’s ok. Every relationship is going to have its ups and downs, right?

The problem is that for a while there, the starter was letting me down, consistently. I couldn’t count on it when I needed it most, and that kind of behavior will put a serious damper on any relationship in a heartbeat. If I want this relationship to work, I know I need to look ahead and stop dwelling on the past injustices starters have inflicted upon me, but someone needs to hear my side of the story.

There was the time before the 18-inch snowstorm. We were going on three winters without measurable snow, and I was itching for a big one so I could go out and plow my driveway, my neighbors’ driveways, the roads in the neighborhood, and pretty much any other flat, snow-covered surface that would give me an excuse to keep plowing, and playing. The old Massey Ferguson 65 tractor had its tank filled with off-road diesel, battery charged, and the block heater plugged in. In the morning, I’d be ready to push some snow. Unfortunately, my tractor starter had other ideas. That’s the time it picked to fail. After I finished clearing the driveway, by hand, I removed that tractor starter and found it filled with an oily, watery mess. No surprise it had stopped working.

Then there was the time I was selling my riding lawn mower at our moving sale. It was well on its way to being sold, until the prospective buyer went to start it. Yep, you guessed it. The tractor starter failed and needed to be replaced before he’d complete the sale. The nerve!

How about the Valentine’s Day dinner in the city that never was because the car starter on the old ’85 Chevy Caprice that grandma was kind enough to pass on to us newlyweds picked that night to die. Not feeling the love.

And finally, there was the long-running battle of three consecutive truck starter failures, each about nine months apart, on my ’99 F150. Turns out my neighbor really didn’t know how to rebuild a truck starter. Once I wised up an replaced it with a quality truck starter, the problem was solved.

If there’s a silver lining to these experiences, it’s that the starter and I are still together (like I have a choice), I now know how to replace a starter; I know the importance of buying a good replacement starter, and I can usually hear when a starter is getting ready to check out of a relationship. Oh yeah, and I can usually get a malfunctioning car starter to work a couple more times simply by banging on it with a hammer.

If the starter in your life is giving you grief, here’s some relationship advice.

  • The end may be near. If you hear an odd metallic grinding sound from under the hood, or if there is just a clicking sound when turning the key before the engine finally cranks, your car starter could be on its last legs.
  • Diagnose the problem. If you suspect the starter might be bad, get it tested. Stop by your local Advance Auto Parts store for free testing. If the vehicle won’t start, just bring in the starter instead.
  • Bang on it. If the starter has indeed failed and left you stranded, try banging on it with a hammer. Oftentimes this will get it working again, but it’s not a trick you should rely on more than once. Instead, make a note that reads “replace starter” and put it somewhere you’ll see it.
  • Replace it. Swapping out a malfunctioning starter with a new one isn’t rocket science. First, check out this video for some quick tips. While this procedure can vary depending on the vehicle year, make and model, here are the starter-replacement steps, in a nutshell:
    1. Locate your starter.
    2. Disconnect the negative battery cable.
    3. Label and disconnect the wires on the starter.
    4. Unbolt the car starter, being careful not to drop it as it may be heavy.
    5. Install the new starter.
    6. Reconnect the wires.
    7. Reconnect the negative battery cable.
    8. Start the vehicle.

Since I started purchasing quality replacement starters,  instead of asking my neighbor to try and rebuild them for me, the starter and I have had a much better relationship. I’m hoping it stays that way, and not just because they’re calling for 12 to 14 inches tonight.

Editor’s note: If you and your starter are going through a bit of a rough patch in your relationship, Advance Auto Parts can help. Buy online, pick up in store–in 30 minutes.

If you’re an automotive obsessive…read on!

What does it take to own one of the finest performance automobile collections in the world? We sat down with Ken Lingenfelter to find out.

Photo credit: The Lingenfelter Collection.

Photo credit: The Lingenfelter Collection.

Many of you will recognize the name Ken Lingenfelter from the bonkers twin turbo Corvettes bearing his surname and family legacy that have dominated drag strips and track events for more than 25 years. But what you may not know is that he is the owner of one of the most comprehensive collections of performance automotive engineering in existence–The Lingenfelter Collection.

Ken Lingenfelter was–in his own words–“destined to be a car guy.” Today he owns more than 225 of the world’s most awe-inspiring cars, from a Bugatti Veyron to a Ferrari Enzo and from a Lamborghini Reventón to much, much more.

So, it’s hard to dispute his destiny. But, we at Advance Auto Parts wanted to delve into that statement a little more deeply–and here’s what we found out.

It all started with Matchbox cars

“By the time I was four or five,” Ken tells us, “I knew the make and model of every car that drove by and I may have had more Matchbox cars than any other kid in the country.”

His father was an executive at General Motors. He would come for dinner and then, afterwards, Ken would go back to the factory with him, where he absorbed the atmosphere of car development and testing.

“And then,” Ken says in a reverent voice. “And then, when I was ten years old, I saw a ’63 split window Corvette. If I wasn’t a 100% car guy before that, I sure was then.”

Ken’s love of vehicles continued through high school, when he was suspended for drag racing in front of the building (true story) and where he loved tearing down engines and rebuilding them in shop class. And, once that kind of passion hits, you just can’t, as Ken puts it, “shed it.”

From a few cars in a garage to a car collection

Some of the earliest cars that he owned include a ’77 Corvette Coupe and a 1969 Jaguar XKE (the latter of which is now gone to make room for other spectacular vehicles).  Before he knew it, he had 25 cars that he stored in a warehouse.

“I had a pretty successful business,” he says, “and I sold it in 2003. I then bought Lingenfelter Performance Engineering [in 2008] and that gave me the opportunity to do much more and I ramped up collecting at that point.”

Lingenfelter Performance Engineering was previously owned by a distant cousin of Ken’s, John Lingenfelter–who won 13 NHRA national titles before dying of race-related injuries.

At the same time that Ken was purchasing Lingenfelter Performance Engineering , he decided he wanted a venue to help raise funds for charity, so he added to the warehouse, going straight back, so that the 12,000 square foot space was now 40,000 square feet. “My goal was to have a space big enough that we’d never have to move one car to get another one out,” Ken says. “But, that didn’t last long.”

Not 150 cars, 225 cars (but who’s counting?)

Although many sources online state that Ken owns approximately 150 cars in his car collection, he says that is inaccurate. In fact, he has more than 225 world-class vehicles; perhaps the confusion arises because only 160 to 170 of these cars can fit into the main warehouse during non-profit events. The rest need stored in an overflow facility located down the street.

Photo credit: The Lingenfelter Collection.

Photo credit: The Lingenfelter Collection.


“There are themes in my collection,” Ken says. “For example, I like GM products. I’m a GM guy. So that’s one theme. Approximately 30% of my vehicles are muscle cars and 30% are exotics. I love Corvettes and Lingenfelter race cars, especially ones that set records. We currently have two drag cars that attract a lot of attention. When people come to our place for charity events, they’ll say that those cars look familiar–and they should, since they’ve been out at the drag strips.”

Because he owns more cars than can fit comfortably into the main building during an event, he can customize which ones appear at a particular get-together. “We’re looking to display cars that will attract people, so if a Corvette group is having an event, as just one example, we’ll show more Corvettes.”

Did we say 225 cars? We meant 225+ cars (and growing!)

So, is Ken done buying? The short answer is “no.” The longer answer is as follows: “I’m going to keep going. I’m always looking, always trying to find something unique, such as one-off cars, something that’s a little wild in styling or a car that raced and set records. Because of that, eBay is tough to stay off of.”

One car in particular that has his eye, at the time of writing this post, is the 1988 Callaway Sledgehammer Corvette that his cousin John drove to set a world record in speed for a street driven, street legal car: 254.76 miles per hour. “John put his life on the line to set that record,” Ken says, “so I’d really like it. But it may go for more at auction than I’m willing to pay. We’ll see.”

The Callaway Sledgehammer is up for auction by Mecum Auctions in Kissimmee, Florida.

Using the car collection for good

“I’ve seen a lot of need in my life,” Ken says, explaining why he decided to build a venue that could be opened up for charitable events, “and now we have a venue where charities can hold fun events. I’m pleasantly surprised that all has worked out so well. We often focus on kids’ charities and hold major holiday events. Overall, these events range from black tie affairs to a Saturday night car club hangout.”

During one event that lasted from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., approximately 4,000 people filed through to ooh and aah over the cars. “That was pretty overwhelming,” Ken admits, “and a little scary at times. Fortunately the group kept moving through and now we know to limit the number of people.”

So, what does Ken do while these events go on? He helps, of course, however he can–and then does one more thing. “Since I’m a car geek,” he admits, “I like to look at people’s cars as they come in.”

Sometimes he sends cars to showcase at events, such as local car shows and charity events. “I get asked quite a bit,” he says, “and it’s hard to say no. Plus, you can’t just have cars sit. It can ruin them.”

What are Ken Lingenfelter’s favorites?


Photo credit: The Lingenfelter Collection.

Photo credit: The Lingenfelter Collection.


Ken loves Ferraris (the Ferrari Enzo is “truly” one of his favorites), he loves Corvettes, he loves the Porsche. “There is a car called LaFerrari that is coming out this year that will be a supercar. Ferrari selected people to sell them to and I was on the short list. In fact, I was one of the first 20 people to be picked so I’ve got one coming. It’s the ultimate in supercars.”

The LaFerrari is not just another supercar. It’s a hybrid 963 horsepower hypercar limited to only 499 planned production models. Looks like Mr. Lingenfelter’s car collection just even got more bonkers.

Editor’s note: What types of cars do you (or would you) collect? Let us know in the comments below. Also, visit Advance Auto Parts for the best tools and parts to keep your ride running right–whatever it may be.