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 to Clean Your Car Engine the Right Way

Source | Gerard McGovern/Flickr

Do you clean your vehicle? The answer’s probably yes. But do you know how to clean your car’s engine bay? If not, that’s like taking a shower but never brushing your teeth. Don’t be that person; wash your engine, too.

Now you might be thinking that no one sees your engine bay except you and the occasional mechanic, so who cares, right? Well, like with the rest of your vehicle, cleaning prevents damage and keeps resale value high. A car engine bay covered in oil and grit is allowing premature wear in the pulleys and bearings, or hiding serious issues like gasket leaks. A clean engine bay allows the engine to stay cooler, operate efficiently, and keep your value high.

Difficulty

Good for beginners — A new DIYer will be able to complete the project

Time Required

1 hour

What you’ll need

 

Step-by-step guide on how to clean an engine bay

Hose it down

A quick pre-rinse does several things. It knocks off any of the loose dust and grit, makes it easier for the engine degreaser to spread around, and prevents spots from the soap quickly drying out. In short, a pre-rinse is essential.

Step 1: Wait until the engine is cool. It doesn’t need to be cold though—you just don’t want to introduce a bunch of cold water to hot parts. Pop the hood and let it cool for an hour. This is when you’ll put down the drip pans and absorbent pads to stop the chemicals and gunk from going down the gutters.

Pro Tip: Find a local recycling center that accepts both the used pads and the oily water from the drip tray.

Step 2: Disconnect the negative battery terminal or cover the battery with a plastic bag. Water conducts electricity, and you don’t want it to connect and make new temporary circuits. If you have a classic ride, cover the alternator, carburetor, and distributor with plastic bags. On a modern ride, cover the alternator and go easy with the water around the coil packs and fuse box.

Pro Tip: If you are using a power washer, use the low-pressure setting and rinse everything in the engine bay. Low pressure is better than high pressure here, as you want to clean off the crud, not blast it into the small crevices between components.

Spray it up

Step 3: Now it’s time to spray a liberal application of engine degreaser. Why use a degreaser instead of regular car soap? Your average car-wash soap is fine for grit and dirt but just won’t cut it on oil and grime. Go heavy on the engine degreaser on the typically nasty parts, like the starter and oil pan and anything else oily. Follow the directions on the bottle, but usually you will let it sit for a few minutes to get the most grime-lifting action. You can use a wash brush here for the seriously filthy areas. It has soft bristles that won’t scratch the paint or plastic.

Step 4: Rinse with low-pressure water again and take a look at your progress. Some engines that have never been cleaned in 300,000 miles will need the degreaser again. If not, it’s time to get busy with the automotive soap.

Step 5: Use an automotive car-wash soap to finish cleaning the engine bay the same way you would clean the exterior. Use an automotive wash mitt, get it soapy in the bucket, and scrub up the engine bay just like you would a rear quarter panel, then rinse.

Sweat the details

Step 6: Rinse with low pressure again and remove the plastic bags over the sensitive parts. If they need cleaning, professional detailers will remove the plastic fuse box cover or distributor cap and clean it by hand, where the electronics won’t be affected. Once clean and dry, just bolt them back on.

Step 7: Use a dedicated plastic cleaner to polish out fine scratches and restore shine to the engine bay plastics. Apply with a terry cloth and wipe off with a clean microfiber cloth. For the metal bits, a metal polish will brighten them up. They are all a bit different, but in general, grind a bit into the metal surface until the polish starts to turn darker, then wipe off with a clean cloth.

There you go. That’s all you need to learn how to clean your car engine. Now step back and enjoy your work.

Any detailing experts around? Let us know your engine bay cleaning tips and tricks!

Hacks for Getting the Gross out of Your Ride

pile of pumpkins

If you find your car covered in blood and mysterious goo this month, don’t rush to call CSI. It’s the witching hour, or—ahem—Halloween ‘season,’ and that means your vehicle has seen some action as a creepy carriage for costumed critters or as a target for cloaked pranksters. As spooky as their appearance may be, the mess they leave can be even more disturbing. Here’s a look at how to remove the Halloween from your car.

The Sarcophagus (aka Car Exterior)

If you’re a dentist giving out toothbrushes instead of candy, you’ll be looking at how to remove egg yolk from your car’s exterior, which is no simple task if the yolk has dried. Ideally, you should fix the issue while the egg is still wet. This solution only requires water and mild soap. Spray the mess down, quickly scrub with soap, rinse, and you’re done. If the egg is as dry as a mummy, it is likely stuck to the paint. Use hot, soapy water to loosen the egg, and slowly attack it with a microfiber towel. Use an automotive soap, as it is mild but effective. Silly string and shaving cream also follow the same rules, so just try and get the majority cleaned off while still wet. And, next year, remember to give out the good candy.

Some pranksters take it a bit further, writing on the windows or tires with white shoe polish. This is water resistant, so you can’t just hose it off. Automotive soap is a good bet, but so are dedicated glass cleaners or tire wash. Follow the directions, and just one application should do it.

The Guts (aka Car Interior)

The interior of your ride may need a bit more work. First, start by removing any leftover trash the ghouls leave behind. Candy wrappers and crumbs can be removed by hand, but a vacuum makes the job much faster. Use a car vacuum or the small nozzle on a shop vac to get glitter out of the carpet and crevices in the dash and between seats. This is also a great option for wigs or fur left over from transporting witches, celebrities, and werewolves.

Your presidential candidates, zombies, and princesses could also get a little loose with the colored hairspray, fake blood, or makeup on the upholstery. Use a carpet and upholstery cleaner to spray the mess, let it sit for a few minutes, and wipe up using a damp cloth.

Adults are no better this time of year, as we overdress for fall weather and dump pumpkin spice into everything. When your friend spills his or her pumpkin-spice latte on your seats, it will probably leave a stain. Grab a dedicated upholstery cleaner and spray it, giving it several minutes to soak. Also use a cleaning agent with enzymes that breaks down food for the best results, and wipe with a clean cloth.

Then wrap up all your hard work with a new scented air freshener. Halloween is over, so it may be time for a winter theme.

Do you have any other tips on how to survive messy monsters? Let us know in the comments!

5 Reasons Why You Should Keep Your Engine Clean

Dirty car engine photo

If you’ve ever purchased a new or used vehicle from a dealer or prepped for a car show, you know just how clean an engine compartment can look. The metal gleams, the black hoses glisten, and you can touch any surface and not come away covered in dirt, grease or oil.

Conversely, every driver knows that it doesn’t stay that way long as things get nasty under there in a hurry—a fact we’re reminded of every time the hood’s popped to check fluids, do some work, or investigate a disturbing new noise, vibration, or smell.

Drivers clean their vehicles’ interiors and exteriors, but by and large tend to ignore the engine compartment, allowing grit and grime to accumulate over the years and miles. Whether you don’t clean under there because you don’t know how and are afraid you’ll damage something, or you’re a seasoned do-it-yourselfer but just don’t think it’s important, consider these thoughts and tips on engine cleaning.

Why do it?

Sure, a clean engine looks great, but that’s just one of the reasons for tackling this project. Here are some reasons you may not have thought of for cleaning your engine and engine compartment:

  1. It’s easier to spot potential trouble before it becomes a major problem. If your engine is filthy, you’re not going to know if that small fluid leak has been there forever, or if it just appeared. Clean engines make leaks, cracks and other problems easier to spot.
  2. Accumulated road salt and debris can lead to corrosion.
  3. Debris can cause hot spots to form on the engine and its components, shortening their lives.
  4. Cleaning prevents the buildup of combustible materials, such as leaves or oil, that are fire hazards on the road and in the garage.
  5. Clean engines are more enjoyable to work on and look at and have higher resale value.

Ways to make it shine

Ask ten different DIYers how to clean an engine and you’ll get 10 different answers. It’s not rocket science, but it’s also not something you should dive into without possessing some knowledge. Back in the day, the preferred method of cleaning an engine was to steam clean it. Cheap, easy, and it got the job done. Times change, as do engines, and steam cleaning isn’t the best option any longer because of the sensitive electronics in the engine compartment. Fortunately, there’s an alternative today – engine cleaners.

First, browse the various engine cleaning and degreasing products available. There’s water-based, solvent-based, gel, foam, spray bottles, aerosol cans–you name it. Solvent-based cleaners cut through grease and grime better than water-based ones, which translates to less effort and elbow grease when trying to scrub away stubborn dirt. Many people like gel-based engine cleaners because they like the way they stick to vertical surfaces, giving the cleaner’s scrubbing action more time to work on the surface.

In addition to choosing a cleaner/degreaser, you’ll also want to pick up a drip pan and some absorbent pads. Why? A lot of oil and other chemicals will be rolling off your engine when you clean it and this hazardous cocktail shouldn’t be going onto your driveway, into a stormwater drain, or seeping throughout the ground. Instead, capture the dirty fluids on the pads and drip pan, allow the pads to sit in the sun until the water evaporates, and then find a local recycling center that accepts both the used pads and the oily water from the drip tray.

Time to get cleaning

Once you have all your supplies, you’ll want to check out this handy link on how to clean your car’s engine bay. Once your engine is clean and shiny, stand back and ask yourself why you waited so long?

Why do you clean your engine bay and how do you keep it looking new? Leave us a comment.

How to Fix a Dent on Your Car and More Small Body Repairs

 

minor car body damage photoIt’s not a question of if it’s going to happen, but rather when. In a parking lot. In the driveway. On the road. Even from within the safe confines of your garage. Your vehicle is going to get scratched or dented, and in all likelihood more than just once over the course of its lifetime. And because the damage is minor, it’s probably not worth filing a claim with your insurance company considering you’ll have to pay the deductible first and possibly be penalized later with higher rates.

Good News. Minor body damage can often be fixed by drivers with no previous body repair experience, saving time, money and the inconvenience of being without a car while repairs are made.

Body shop professionals are skilled craftsmen and true artists when it comes to repairing collision damage or restoring a classic vehicle. But if the damage is minor or superficial, most body shops are so busy they probably won’t be heartbroken if you try repairing the damage on your own, saving them for the complex jobs.

Metal hoods, doors, roofs, fenders, and plastic bumpers are all going to dent when impacted with enough force, with shopping carts, hail, another vehicle’s door, and even kids playing baseball often to blame. But these tools could help lessen the damage to both your vehicle and wallet.

Suction

For the first dent removal tool no further than your bathroom. Try using a common household toilet plunger, preferably a clean one. Wet the plunger’s end, stick it on the dent, and gently pull to see if the dent will pop out.

If the plunger doesn’t work, upgrade to a tool that works using the same principle but is designed specifically for the task–a suction cup-type dent puller. Available wherever auto parts are sold, this tool can feature just one suction cup or have several on multiple heads for extra pulling power.

Repair kits

There are also several kits available that use the similar pulling-force theory to repair minor dents, but instead of relying on a suction cup they employ an adhesive to attach the tool to the vehicle body.

Home grown science

One homegrown dent-removal procedure popular online involves a hair dryer and can of compressed air. Heat the dent for several minutes using a hair dryer on the hottest setting. Don’t use a heat gun as this could damage the paint. Then take a can of compressed air commonly used to clean off computer keyboards, hold it upside down and spray the area just heated. Minor dents will correct themselves.

The science behind this experiment is that the sudden change in temperature extremes causes the metal to expand and contract, popping the dent out and returning the metal to its undamaged state. It seems to work better at removing dents from a large expanse of flat metal, such as a hood, trunk or fender.

Paint repairs

These methods will work if your vehicle is dented, but what if your paint is chipped, dinged, or otherwise damaged? What’s a frustrated car owner to do? You have several repair options.

First, try a scratch-repair product. Most vehicles on the road today come from the factory with several layers of paint topped by a clear coat for added protection. If the scratch isn’t so deep that it penetrates down to bare metal, you might be able to repair it with a scratch-repair product that hides and blends the scratch with the surrounding surface while improving the finish’s appearance.

Chipped paint from a stone or other mishap needs to be fixed before the exposed metal reacts with the environment and rust forms. Fortunately, touch-up paint can easily hide small blemishes in the finish. The paint is available as an exact match for many vehicle paint schemes and finishes. Depending on the size of the repair, it’s applied as an aerosol spray or brushed on using a small applicator.

Road paint removal

A vehicle’s finish can also be damaged by substances inadvertently added to it. Yellow and white paint used to line roads are two common culprits. If you accidentally drive through wet road line paint, follow these steps to remove it before it dries and damages the finish.

First, drive to a car wash and use the pressure wash wand wherever the paint has accumulated. Unless it’s been on there for more than a day, most of the paint should come off. If the paint has already dried or if any remains after the washing, spray WD-40 on the paint and leave it there for a couple hours. The WD-40 will soften the paint, making it easier to remove. For really heavy paint accumulations or paint that’s dried for several days, coat the paint with petroleum jelly, leave it on for eight to 12 hours, and then pressure wash, repeating as needed until all the road paint is gone.

Removing environmental build up

Tree sap, bird droppings, berries, tape residue, and old bumper stickers can also damage a vehicle’s finish if they’re not removed promptly. To prevent further damage from aggressive removal procedures, use a cleaner designed specifically for vehicles. They soften and break down the substance, making it easier to remove without damaging the vehicle’s finish.

Body damage also occurs frequently to vehicle lights, exterior mirrors, door handles and other plastic components. You can clean your headlight lenses with a couple of simple methods. Oftentimes though the easiest and most economical method for repairing actual damage, particularly in the case of light assemblies, is simply to replace the damaged part with a new or salvaged one from an auto parts store or other supplier. For example, the hole in the Subaru tail light assembly pictured here could eventually lead to more serious damage for the vehicle’s electrical system because of water exposure. The broken tail light can be replaced with one costing less than $100 following an easy procedure that takes less than 15 minutes. broken tail light picture

Since the vehicle’s body has already been damaged, drivers don’t have much to lose when it comes to trying to repair minor damage themselves, and the rewards of a better-looking vehicle and money saved make the effort worthwhile.

Note: Always consult your owner’s manual before performing repairs. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure warranties are not voided.

What simple fixes have worked for removing dents and scratches on your vehicle? Leave us a comment.

Top Projects To Do While Your Car’s In Winter Storage

Classic car in a garageIt’s hard to put your pride and joy into winter storage. You know how it goes—you spend all winter waiting to drive the thing, and then it’s winter again before you know it. But winter car storage doesn’t have to mean total separation. The car’s right outside in the garage, you know; it’s not like you’ve sent it off to Siberia.

In fact, winter’s a great time to catch up on all the little projects you haven’t found the time for yet. Here are a few of our favorites.

1. Paintless Dent Removal

Paintless dent removal guys really are artists, and they don’t close up shop just because there’s snow on the ground. Since your car’s sitting around all day anyway, why not do an inventory of all the dings and dents on the door and body panels, then have your local dent specialist come by and pop them out? If you take action now, a few hundred bucks at the most will buy you peace of mind come spring.

2. Full Hand Wash and Polish

This is definitely a DIY, and for some it’s an annual tradition. When it’s time to store the car, hose it down in the driveway to get the surface stuff off, and then roll up your sleeves and get down to business. All you need is a jug of Turtle Wax Car Wash solution, a nice big sponge and a lot of elbow grease.

You’ll want to go over every inch of the sheet metal with that sponge. Try to make it cleaner than it was on the first day of spring. Then wipe all the moisture off with a non-scratching water blade to avert streaks and water spots. For the grand finale, get a hold of an orbital polisher and some high-quality Meguiar’s polish. A whole winter is a long time for a car to sit still; it’s only proper to put it to bed with that like-new shine.

Pro Tip: Consider a one-step sealant to help prevent rust.

3. Clean and Deodorize Interior

There are countless approaches to cleaning your car’s interior, but when it’s time for winter storage, focus on two aspects: upholstery and odors. For upholstery, start with Lexol leather cleaning spray if you have leather seats. Let it dry for an hour, and then finish with plenty of conditioner. If you do that every year, your leather should be good till kingdom come.

As for odors, look, even if you’re careful about keeping food out of the car, things just start smelling musty over time. You can get in front of this problem by treating your interior with Eagle One E1 odor eliminator. They say the stuff actually changes the chemistry of odor molecules. However the science works, it keeps cars smelling fresh all winter long, and that’s all you need to know.

Pro Tip: Place a few dryer sheets in the cabin, and under the hood. This helps prevent mice from making their way into your car or engine bay and building nests over the winter.

4. Check your cooling system

Check your vehicle’s antifreeze to make sure it protects against even the coldest evenings. To help with this, pick up an antifreeze tester to ensure that your car’s cooling system does not freeze solid.  A cheap antifreeze tester may be the key to a smooth ride next spring.

5. Fix What Needs Fixing (and maybe some other stuff, too)      

Last but definitely not least, winter is the perfect time to bust out your tool kit and get your hands dirty. Hey, it’s not like you’re going to be busy driving the car, right? Think about all the time you’re saving by not getting behind the wheel—and devote a few of those hours here and there to DIY projects of your choosing.

Preventative maintenance

For instance, a lot of folks might put off replacing their spark plugs because the car’s running fine, but why wait for it to start getting rough? Get yourself one of these handy magnetic swivel sockets, if you don’t have one already, and give your engine a new spark for the spring. For those of you who have room to get a floor jack under there and raise your car up, there’s a bunch of sensible preventive maintenance you can do while you’re on your back, including fuel-filter replacement and retorquing all your suspension bolts to factory spec with a quality torque wrench.

Upholstery repair

A couple other projects worth considering are upholstery repair and chrome upkeep. For the upholstery repair, you’re gonna have to be handy with a sewing machine, but it’s not a terribly difficult job if you’ve got the time. Plan on spending a few days, though, if you have to remove the seat covers for re-stitching—and plan on rejuvenating the foam underneath, too, because if you’ve got rips, you’ve also got cushion compression from years of butts.

Make it shine

As for chrome upkeep, whether you’re talking about wheels, bumpers and tailpipes or headers and such under the hood, you’re gonna want a bottle of Mothers California Gold. Go after any tarnished surfaces with that stuff first. If they don’t get shiny enough for you, I would consider calling in a professional, but you can also get a DIY chrome kit and try to do the job yourself. Be careful, though, because the process involves an acid bath and some pretty freaky chemicals. It’s one you can definitely brag about to the boys if you pull it off.

Pro Tip: At the end of the day, you know better than anyone what kind of mechanical TLC your car could use this winter, and now’s the time to do those nagging repairs you’ve been putting off. Our suggestion? Make a list of priorities, and check ’em off one by one until it’s driving season again. Your future self will thank you next year when the car’s performing better than ever.

Spring’s around the corner!

Don’t let the chilly season get you down, my friends. Pass the time with some targeted DIY projects, and before you know it, it’ll be time to hit the road again. When you’re ready, here’s how to bring your car out of storage.

Any suggestions for some good projects this winter, by the way? Let us know in the comments.

101 Series: Top 5 DIY Projects to Tackle Yourself

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

father_son_work_under_hood

1. Headlight Restoration

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

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

2. Headlight Replacement

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

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

3. Replace Your Wipers

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

4. Replenish Your Fluids

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

5. Wash and Wax Your Ride

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

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

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

Spark Plug Basics: Your Questions Answered

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

Spark Plugs

What do spark plugs do?

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

How do I know when to replace spark plugs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can I replace my own spark plugs?

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

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

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

What spark plugs do I need?

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

What about cleaning spark plugs?

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

Do I need to change the spark plug wires?

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

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

Pee-Yoo! Get Rid of Those Bad Smells from Your Car

Clean car interior

Source | Sean DuBois/Unsplash

Something’s not right inside your car and you know it. You can try to blame the funky smell in your car on neighborhood pranksters. Or maybe you’ve convinced yourself that it’s temporary. It’s more likely, however, that the odor originates from a combination of dirt, pets, and stray food wrappers. And, sorry, but it’s sticking around until you deal with it. Luckily, you have a number of options for getting rid of that car smell. You can:

  1. Send your kids to boarding school (pets too, for that matter)
  2. Invest in gas masks
  3. Roll up your sleeves and get to work

You probably want to keep your kids and pets around a while longer. And you should save your gas masks for a real emergency, like a zombie apocalypse. So, let’s take a closer look at Option 3: Roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Cabin air filter

When it comes to eliminating interior odors, the best place to start is the cabin air filter. The cabin filter is located inside the vehicle, usually on the passenger side, between the floor and the dash or glove box. The filter traps dust, mold, pollen, and other contaminants, and prevents them from entering the interior. Like any filter, it needs to be changed on a regular basis—every year or 12,000 to 15,000 miles. Changing your cabin air filter is simple. While you have your cabin air filter out, vacuum the filter compartment. You may be surprised at what you find. Or not.

Floors

Remove the floor mats. Ten points to Gryffindor if you’ve installed rubber floor mats to protect your carpeting. Hose them off (maybe with a little scrub to release any sticky residue) and allow them to dry. To clean the floor mats that come standard with most vehicles, vacuum up excess debris, then scrub them gently with a mild detergent, hose them off, and let them air dry.

Next, sprinkle baking soda on the floor carpet to deodorize smells. Let it set for a few hours. Meanwhile, use an interior detail brush to pry out the remnants of last month’s egg and cheese biscuit from the cup holder, seat creases, and wherever else it might be hiding.

Finally, give the entire interior, including seats, compartments, and cup holders, a thorough vacuuming.

Seats

Cleaning your upholstered seats may be a little trickier than the floors. That’s because sweat, soil, and food stains on fabric can be difficult to treat if they’ve been left too long. A light sweep with a hand-held steam cleaner can make a big difference (same goes for the floors once you’ve vacuumed up any baking soda).

You can also use one of a number of effective cleaning products designed to make your seats look like new. Follow the directions carefully for best results. To clean and protect leather upholstery, use a cleaning agent specific to that purpose.

As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cheese fries, so if you really want to keep your seats looking and smelling fresh, get yourself a set of seat protectors.

Odor eating options

If you car still doesn’t have that new car smell (let’s face it, that ship may have sailed), you can also turn to car deodorizers. Decide if you want an air freshener that you spray, place in your vehicle’s vents, hang from a rear-view mirror, or even a little tub of freshener that emits scents based on how much you open the lid. As far as scents go, the sky’s the limit—”new car,” cherry, outdoor breeze, rain, jasmine, vanilla, and fresh linen. Or all of the above if you’re not ready to give up on eating meals in your car. The choice is yours.

Have you had to banish a bad smell?  Tell us about it, and share a weird thing you’ve found when cleaning out your car. (We found a perfectly intact snail shell. …what happened to that snail!?)