Wired Up: The Fundamentals of Spark Plug Wiring

spark plug wiring

Not 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.

Accel plug wires pictureThe 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.

Exclusive Coverage: DuPont Registry HQ Cars & Coffee

DuPont 4

The crisp morning air greets a diligent car fan on a Saturday morning when the garage opens at 6:14 AM. It’s time for DuPont Registry Headquarters Cars & Coffee in St. Petersburg, Florida. The early morning car fanatic pulls off a cover and backs the 1965 introductory-year Porsche 911 onto the driveway. A quick dust off and it’s ready to go. This car doesn’t see the light of day often but the roads are quiet and the crowds are calm, so there’s no better time than now.

What is the DuPont Registry Headquarters Cars & Coffee event? Let us set the scene.

The DuPont Registry website lists “highline luxury cars for sale by auto dealers and private owners. In addition, consumers can search for wheels, car accessories, tuning, racing schools, exotic car rentals, and a wide variety of products/services for the enthusiast.” On certain designated days – such as the Cars & Coffee event held most recently on Saturday, July 18, 2015 – you can visit the physical location and see luxury cars, up close and in person.

DuPont 9We attended that event and had a chat with the organizers of the ten-year-strong show. Its success and popularity originally came through word-of-mouth advertising. While an event now typically draws in a few hundred cars, DuPont Registry doesn’t charge admission – not even for parking. They also give back to the community, allowing a local church to join them to sell coffee and doughnuts to the crowd.

DuPont 18Popularity of the events, organizers tell us, definitely has seasonal cycles. Fall and spring are busy times, while the winter and dead of summer are for diehards only. During more well-attended events, organizers have their work cut out for them. Not only do the local law enforcement need to be on board, but fans have to behave appropriately.

The good news: Cars & Coffee at DuPont has no end in sight. As long as the fans keep the cars on the road and the sheriff is on board, the show will go on.

More Cars & CoffeeDuPont 3

Across the country, Cars & Coffee monthly car meets have been popping up at an incredible rate. In fact, some popular events have even outgrown their venues, including one of the most highly acclaimed Saturday morning shows, located in Irvine, California. As the event kept growing, it outgrew its humble location in 2015, becoming too massive to remain a calm and fun-for-everyone event.DuPont 20

Cars & Coffee events offer a unique atmosphere that is addicting for car lovers who want to see the rare and eclectic – and to talk to the owners of these uncommon cars (and bikes!) who truly treasure them. One of the bigger events is the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.

The best part of one of these shows: meeting new people and hearing the story about a car, where it came from, where’s it been. Give someone a good cup of coffee and a few doughnuts, and you’ll have that person talking in no time.DuPont 14

Looking towards the future

Coming up this fall, the DuPont Registry Headquarters will host another type of event because, when Mr. DuPont wants more shows, his team will deliver. You can count on that.

Here’s a hint … just think cars, stars, and a show fit for the big screen.

Editor’s note: So what if your daily driver isn’t as glamorous as the ones shown above. You can still ensure it rides right and looks good with parts and tools from Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

All About Karting Vehicles (some call them go karts!)

Go kart 2

Today’s go karts are anything but greasy kids stuff. Read on to discover what makes these these mechanically impressive machines tick.

Some people love go kart racing – simply called “karting” by the true blue fans – because of the competition. Others love it for the family atmosphere at events. Still others love it because of the vehicles themselves – and, if you’re a DIYer, you’ll probably want to know just how these racing machines are constructed.

Recreational participants sometimes construct their own vehicles, while competitive racers must purchase factory-made ones. It’s all about safety. Racers on big tracks reach speeds of up to 152 miles per hour in professional-grade karts that typically weigh 165 to 175 pounds (75 to 79 kilograms).

Here’s more…

Engines

“The TaG division,” says John Ferris, president of the World Karting Association, “is the most popular. TaG stands for ‘touch and go’ and its vehicles have an electric start, like a car, while the other divisions need an external starter, like Indy cars. TaG vehicles have water-cooled engines, while the rest have air-cooled ones.”

Typically, backyard / amusement park karts are powered by 4-stroke engines or electric motors, while racing karts use small 2-stroke or 4-stroke engines. “All classes of racing,” John says, “allow the owner to work on the engine – or to hire someone else to do so – by putting in new pistons or rings and the like. Some classes allow for rebuilding of engines that include modifications to make the kart go faster.”

The sport has evolved over the years and here is just one way in which that’s true. “Classes that allow modifications used to be the most popular,” John explains. “In these open classes, you could modify however you wanted – at least within certain limits. Local Saturday tracks, sometimes called outlaw tracks, still have those classes, but there is no tinkering in the big races. Those races are like NASCAR with strict specifications for engines.”

When people do modify engines, they typically take a factory built one and bring the specs up to the limits, perhaps by raising ports – or by lowering ports. “You can’t add extra ports,” John cautions, “because you need to use stock engines.”

More specifically:

  • 4-stroke engines are typically air-cooled, with about 5 to 20 HP. Manufacturers include Briggs & Stratton, Tecumseh, Kohler, Robin and Honda.
  • More powerful 4-stroke engines are manufactured by Yamaha, TKM, Biland and Aixro (Wankel), offering up 15 to 48 HP.
  • 2-stroke engines are built by WTP, Comer, IAME (Parilla, Komet), TM, Vortex, Titan, REFO, TKM, PRD, Yamaha and Rotax, ranging from about 8 HP for a single-cylinder 60 cc unit to more than 90 HP for a twin 250 cc.
  • The most popular classes use TaG 125 cc units, which are electronically limited to 16,000 RPM.

Suspension

Karts do not come with any sort of suspension system. In fact, shock absorbers and springs are banned from the vehicles, according to John. “Instead,” he says, “the frame of the vehicle itself serves as suspension. A kart’s chrome tubing creates spring and flex, allowing the vehicle to spring and come back.”

Chassis

Although the chassis needs to be flexible enough to serve as suspension, as mentioned above, it must also be stiff enough not to break. In general, a stiffer chassis is preferable for dry conditions, while a more flexible chassis is preferable in wet and/or other poor traction conditions.

To find which chassis – and accompanying engine – is appropriate for World Karting Association events, see the chart at the bottom of this page.

Transmission

Because karts do not have a differential, the chassis is designed so that the inside rear tire lifts off the ground when cornering. “Karts are intentionally designed this way for speed,” John says, “so the inside tire doesn’t slow you down when you race. You may not notice as the tire lifts when you corner, but it does.”

Tires

Tires and wheels are significantly smaller than on a typical car, with Bridgestone, Dunlop and Maxxis making tires, along with kart-specific manufacturers such as MG, MOJO and Vega. Just like with cars, there are different types of tires for varying weather conditions. On a dry track, slicks are appropriate. Slicks range from very soft compositions that provide maximum grip to much harder ones that are longer lasting but provide less grip.

Rain tires are used in wet weather, and are also known as “wets.” These are narrower tires than slicks and are not permitted in all racing classes. John points out that many organizations specify how soft your tires are allowed to be.

MiscellaneousGo Kart

More sophisticated karts contain monitoring systems that keep track of RPM, lap timing, number of laps, best lap, cooling system temperature, exhaust gas temperature, g-force (lateral and longitudinal acceleration), throttle position, steering wheel position, brake pressure and more.

DIY

If you’re interested in building your own kart for recreational karting, Popular Mechanics offers advice. This article shares how you can build your own kart for $689.15 in just one day, offering sites that provide the materials and resources that you’ll need. Remember that, if you’re interested in more serious racing, homemade karts are not permitted.

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts has the tools and accessories for most moving vehicles–at great savings and values. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Photos courtesy of World Karting Association.

 

 

Mudding Anyone?

Truck mudding photoOur resident Gearhead gets down and dirty with the fine art of Mudding.

Remember when you were a little kid and the idea of playing in the mud outside after it rained got you hyped? Pushing your toy cars and trucks through the mud puddles while you did your best to enunciate the sound of a beefed-up engine was one of life’s simple joys. Well, now you’re a grown-up with a rugged four-wheel-drive rig and maybe you want to kick up some summer mud, albeit on a much grander and exciting scale. Here’s a video that gives you a taste of what a blast this sub-category of off-roading can be.

Jeep_Wrangler  photoChoose your weapon
To probably nobody’s surprise, the most popular mud tamer is the modern-day Jeep Wrangler and its very similar old-school forebears, Jeep’s CJ-5 and CJ-7. Compact dimensions, plenty of ground clearance, stout four-wheel-drive components and room in the wheel wells for large off-road tires are key reasons these iconic Jeeps reign supreme.

But they are far from the only good choices. Older Toyota Land Cruisers (the more basic four-door SUV styles as well as the Jeep-like FJ40) are very capable and durable rigs, as are the first- and second-generation Ford Broncos. Of course, 4WD pickup trucks are solid picks too, though the massive, full-size ones can sometimes prove too bulky in off-road environments with narrow trails. As such, we favor compact, more maneuverable pickups such as the Ford Ranger, Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. One might also consider a Land Rover Defender, though aces off road, they tend to be rather pricey.1988_Toyota_Land_Cruiser photo

Mudding 101
Depending on the scenario, simply popping your truck into 4WD and driving on through the muck as if you’re on pavement may not be sufficient. As with any type of challenge, there are proper techniques that separate the hackers from those that know what they’re doing. As such, thanks to the pros at off-road.com, fourwheeler.com and allstate.com, we’ve come up with a six-pack of tips to make sure that you move through the mud.

1) Don’t go it alone. Having at least one other person with a truck and recovery gear (such as a powerful winch) provides peace of mind, as well as a helping hand (and truck) should you get stuck.

2) Air down your tires. Lowering your tires’ pressure increases surface area and allows the tires to flex and grab traction better than when they’re fully-aired up for on-road use. Dropping down to 18 to 20 psi should be about right.

3) If it looks like a rather deep mud puddle / bog you’re attempting to negotiate, you might want to hop out and go on recon first. Grab a long stick and check it out on foot, poking the stick in various spots to get an idea of the mud’s consistency, its depth and if there are any large rocks or tree roots lying below in wait.

4) Take the proper line. If others are also having fun in the muddy playground, watch and take note of the line they’re taking as they work their way through. Usually going straight is best, but there may be some obstructions or stickier points that may dictate using a different, more traction-friendly line that somebody else has demonstrated.

5) If your vehicle has a low range, then start out in 4WD low. This will obviously maximize your traction and torque at the low speeds you’ll be using to make your way through the mud.

6) Take it easy. Throwing up 15-foot high rooster tails of muddy water at higher speed may look cool in commercials, but you could lose control and end up doing some damage or stalling out your engine. It’s slow and steady that wins this race. As the experts say and as with other types of off-roading, you should go as slow as possible but as fast as necessary to keep moving forward. Momentum, not speed, is your best friend here.

2004_Ford_Ranger photoMuddy buddies
So you’ve discovered that you really dig playing in the mud. Fortunately, so do a lot of other off-road enthusiasts. Reading the various online forums for tips on where to go, how to set up your vehicle and how to improve your skills will help you enjoy your mucked up adventures even more. We suggest also checking out enthusiast sites such as mudtrails.com and offroadworld.net, which are also great for finding new friends that share this dirty passion.

Editor’s note: After you’ve gotten your fill of summer mudding, be sure to hit up Advance Auto Parts for a wide selection of wash and wax products.

 

Crucial Cars: Eagle Talon

1990 eagle talon tsi photoFrom timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

In this installment, Street Talk puts the spotlight on a rare but desirable bird in the sport compact segment – the Eagle Talon

One of a set of automotive triplets, the Eagle Talon is a rather rare bird in the sport compact car arena. Indeed, can you remember the last time you saw an Eagle Talon flying down the road? Yet this product of American and Japanese parents was one of the more interesting choices in its segment. Along with its aggressive, head-turning styling it offered available turbocharged power and all-wheel drive, the latter two features giving it a wheel or two up on the more popular kids in this class, the Honda Civic, Acura Integra and Nissan 240 SX.

The Eagle has hatched
Debuting for 1990 along with its Plymouth Laser and Mitsubishi Eclipse triplet siblings, the Eagle Talon was a product of a joint venture between Chrysler and Mitsubishi. All built in the U.S. at the “Diamond Star Motors” plant located in Normal, Illinois, these three cars shared similar sporty hatchback styling and Mitsubishi mechanicals. The base Eagle Talon came with a 2.0-liter, 16-valve four with 135 horsepower, while the TSi and TSi AWD versions packed a turbocharged 2.0-liter sporting 190 and 195 horses, respectively. Transmission choices consisted of a five-speed manual and four-speed automatic. Initially at least, unlike the Laser and Eclipse, the Talon didn’t sully its image with a price-leading, 92-hp stripper version. With 135 hp, even that base Talon provided peppy performance, but we know you’re probably thinking: “Yeah, that’s great, but tell me about the turbo!”

In 1990, squeezing nearly 200 horsepower from a four-cylinder turbocharged engine was big news. And thanks to the stout low- and mid-range grunt that a turbo provides, this meant blowing off less-muscular rivals from Honda, Toyota and Nissan was a breeze. Capable of sprinting to 60 mph in less than 7 seconds and running down the quarter mile in the low-15-second range, a Talon TSi was a genuine thrill ride back in the early ‘90s.1993 eagle talon tsi photo

Offering all-wheel drive to more effectively put that power to the pavement provided an edge in handling, especially in foul weather conditions. The AWD version of the TSi also featured a more sophisticated rear suspension (multi-link versus torsion beam) as well as limited-slip center and rear differentials. Outfitted with a set of Bridgestone Blizzaks and a ski rack, a Talon TSi AWD was a skier’s or snowboarder’s dream.

Changes from 1990 through 1994 were mostly minimal. Notable highlights included, for 1992, slightly revised front- and rear-end styling and a switch from pop-up headlights to exposed units. The following year saw the debut of a declawed Talon. Dubbed the DL, this downgraded version shared its 92-hp engine and sparse standard features list with its entry-level Diamond Star siblings. The previous “base” Talon essentially continued as a new “ES” trim level.

Eagle Talon Version 2.0
As with the Eclipse, the Talon was redesigned for 1995 (the Laser was dropped after 1994). The two cars looked even more similar than before. One might argue that the Talon had more handsome styling, with a larger set of tail lights that helped minimize the heavy, “loaded diaper” rear bumper look of its Mitsu relative.

More importantly, performance was boosted via a pair of more powerful engines. Seen in the new entry-level “ESi” trim, the 2.0-liter non-turbo four now made 140 horsepower, while the turbocharged versions seen in the TSi and TSi AWD made 210 hp (205 with the automatic transmission). As such, acceleration times were a few tenths or so quicker, meaning a TSi AWD could hit 60 in about 6.3 seconds and rip through the quarter mile in the high 14-second range.

1995 eagle talon tsi photoSadly, the Eagle Talon, and indeed the Eagle brand itself, would soar no more after 1998, having been discontinued after that model year. The biggest changes for these second-generation models took place for 1997, when once again Eagle debuted a stripped-out base model that deleted the ESi’s rear spoiler, audio system and intermittent wipers. Thankfully, this entry-level version did not substitute a weaker engine as it had in the past. That year also saw rear drum brakes replace the previously standard rear discs in non-turbo models, while the TSi AWD version got larger (17-inch versus previous 16-inch) alloy wheels. A larger front badge and rear spoiler are the more notable visual clues to these later second-gen Talons.

Endangered species
Should you be a fan of these exciting Eagles and want to capture one, you’ll likely find that task fairly difficult given that they were last produced nearly two decades ago. Still, that doesn’t mean impossible. Checking out the enthusiasts sites, such as DSMtalk and DSMtuners can provide a wealth of information, such as the most effective and economical mods, as well as classified ads for the cars themselves. And there’s always craigslist, eBay and bringatrailer.com, where your chances of finding an unmodified example are likely much greater than doing so on the dedicated sites.

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts is here to help in the care and feeding of your Eagle Talon, or otherwise. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

The Future is Now: Artificial Intelligence and Driverless Cars

Robotic cars photo“Self-steering will become a fringe taste – like baking from scratch and riding horses – but regarded as dangerous and socially irresponsible. It will be left to young men who are prone to high-risk behavior, a few type-A personalities with control issues, and some old people who just don’t like to change.” (D.C. Innes)

As of June 2015, there are 77 public-street permits in California for driverless cars, also called autonomous or self-driving cars. Not surprisingly, 48 of them are licensed to the Internet giant Google (up from just 23 in May 2015), with Tesla coming in second with 12 permits – and Mercedes-Benz having two. Google plans to test its 25 added permits on a new fleet of cars on private roads, transferring them to public roads later this summer.

Reasons for the push for driverless cars include that these vehicles are expected to:

• Reduce accidents

• Eventually eliminate most traffic congestion

• Decrease the need for highway expansion because these cars operate bumper-to-bumper at higher speeds, reducing fuel consumption and emissions

Currently, there are 306 people who are licensed to operate autonomous cars – and 202 of them are associated with Google. Sound like something you’d like to do? Here are guidelines for California drivers who’d like to be licensed for driverless cars.

Six accident reports have been filed with these driverless cars so far, five of which with Google’s vehicles. Google had already disclosed four of those accidents, stating that they happened because of human error, either the one in control of the driverless car or by another driver. The fifth accident happened in June and, since Google has committed to reporting these accidents, information will likely be forthcoming about that incident soon. Here are more specifics.

Drive via your smartphone — and much more

Take a look at this quote (and be prepared for some British spellings): “It SOUNDS like a scene from a James Bond film. BMW has revealed a car that can drive itself around a multistorey car park and then manoeuvre itself into a bay – all at the touch of a smartwatch. When the owner returns, weighed down with bags of shopping, the car will come and meet them.”

BMW calls this feature “remote valet parking” and they did the big reveal at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year. Meanwhile, here is a demonstration of the current park assist feature available from BMW, which is still cool all by itself.

Another feature revealed by BMW at the Consumer Electronics Show involves a camera that’s embedded in the headline between the driver and passenger. And, if a phone call comes in, point a finger and move it towards the screen to answer the call. Move your finger to the right – and you’ve declined the call. If the screen is in music mode, you can adjust the volume by making a finger circle. Lost? Point two fingers at the screen to get directions home.

Robotic cars 3Sitting in the rear? You really can become a back-seat driver through your Samsung tablet. You can adjust the car’s temperature, the music or movie that’s playing or your seat’s position with just a few quick clicks.

Also revealed at the show was Driver Assist technology, in development by Hyundai. This technology tells drivers how to reach a destination, but “also displays upcoming street signs, warns the driver of other vehicles that are likely to cut them off, and helps them navigate difficult turns and exits with easy-to-follow arrows on the monitor. It also has a warning system that alerts the driver of pedestrians and animals in the car’s path and will automatically brake if they are too close.”

This car can also monitor drivers’ heart rates and pull itself over and call for emergency help if the driver suffers signs of a heart attack. For more on that subject, see our previous blog post titled Cars of the Future: Personalized Ambulances.

To put its money where its mouth is, Audi had its A7 Piloted Driving concept car drive to the Las Vegas Convention Center from Palo Alto, California, traveling for more than 550 miles without the human in the driver’s seat taking charge. The car safely changed lanes and passed other vehicles. The car can recognize SUVs, trucks and police cars, distinguishing them from more ordinary cars, and can spot pedestrians, even those partially blocked by parked cars.

All of this technology takes real computer power, so Audi invested in the Tegra X1 superchip that allows a car to “learn” how to drive via the computer’s training algorithm. Although the Tegra X1 is only the size of a thumbnail, it’s said to have the power of a room-sized supercomputer from only ten years ago.

 Mercedes-Benz displayed the F 015 Luxury in Motion concept, where passengers can rotate bucket seats to face one another while the car automatically drives, a seating arrangement not available since the days of horse and buggy. Door panel touchscreens allow passengers to make video calls, surf the web and post on social media. LED lighting on the outside of the vehicle tells pedestrians whether the car is being driven by a person (white lights) or autonomously (blue lights). Plus, the car can project a virtual crosswalk to let pedestrians know how to safely cross the street when near the vehicle.

All of this new technology can seem exciting – or scary. To calm fears, journalists were taken on a ride with a Volkswagen Passat with Cruise4U technology, which allows for autopilot steering, accelerating and braking.

What does the future hold for driverless cars?

Ford Motor Company is predicting that vehicles will have “fully autonomous navigation and parking” after 2025. Ford already has its own automated research vehicle, released at the end of 2013 in an experiment with State Farm Insurance and the University of Michigan to develop ways for cars to “’communicate with each other and the world around them to make driving safer’ and reduce congestion.”

This vehicle contains sensors that scan up to 200 feet of roadway, “using light in the same way that a bat or dolphin uses sound waves.” Meanwhile, some Ford cars can already send a signal when another vehicle has entered a driver’s blind spot, and the steering wheel vibrates when the driver is veering out of his or her lane.

IHS Automotive agrees that self-driving cars will debut for the average person around 2025, and predicts that, in the first year, about 2/10 of 1% of sales will be self-drivers. That would be about 230,000 cars of the projected 115 million car sales anticipated for that year. Within twenty years of their debut, IHS expects that driverless cars will account for about nine percent of car sales.

So, how are you feeling about all of this? Excited? Anxious to own a self-driver? Or, do you like driving too much?

About a year and a half ago, Advance Auto Parts talked to experts about automated vehicles, including Phil Floraday, senior web editor of Automobile Magazine. Phil open admitted that he wasn’t thrilled about the trend, saying that, “I want people to have the driving experience. Face it, at Automobile, we still like manual transmissions. We believe in man-machine interaction because of the amount of joy you can get from really good transmission, from really good brakes. You blend into the car and become like one.”

Fast forward to today. On June 22, 2015, WorldMag.com published an article by D.C. Innes, who is an associate professor of politics at The King’s College, titled The car of the future and our future in cars. Innes believes that, “Despite our love for the wheel, we may be drawn inexorably into going driverless.” He blames insurance companies, saying that carriers will most likely charge high premiums to people who want to steer their own vehicles.

The good news? It’s likely that people who do own driverless cars will see a significant reduction in their insurance premiums. Less likelihood of accidents = lower premiums.Robotic cars 1

Time of transition

The transition to driverless cars will be – and has already been – gradual. In 2013, we’d talked to Steve Garfink of Seer Communication. Steve consults with companies, research groups and governmental agencies that are focusing on the transition from human driving to autonomous driving. He shared a rating system where the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) lists five levels, some of which have already taken place:

• Level 0: no automation, with the driver needing to be in complete control of steering, braking and the like at all times

•Level 1: function-specific automation, where vehicles have at least one automated feature, such as adaptive cruise control, electronic stability control or pre-charged brakes, which help a driver brake more quickly

• Level 2: the combination of two or more autonomous technologies, such as adaptive cruise control and lane centering; in this level, a driver must be prepared to take manual control of his or her vehicle back at any time. Some of these technologies may only be workable in highway driving, in favorable weather conditions and the like.

• Level 3: in this level, drivers will not need to constantly monitor road conditions; rather, he or she will be given a reasonable amount of time to transition from the autonomous driving experience to the more traditional manual driving; in theory, a driver of a level 3 car would, according to Steve, presumably “be free to talk on the phone, text, read the paper, or do whatever else they want knowing they will have plenty of reaction time before they have to pay attention to the road.” When this type of driving becomes available, a long trip could become a productive time, without the “tension of navigating among the big rigs plying” the highway.

• Level 4: the vehicle can handle all “safety-critical driving functions,” and can simply provide destination/navigation information; this vehicle could be occupied or unoccupied.

Steve gave a couple more predictions:

• In California – and perhaps other places – there will be no new regulations until a vehicle reaches level 2.

• Drivers may treat level 2 vehicles, where a driver must be prepared to take back control at any time, as level 3, where more transition time from driverless to driver-controlled exists. It will be interesting, Steve says, to see the effects of that on road safety.

Editor’s note: What are your thoughts about driverless cars? Share them in the comments below! And know that, as cars evolve, Advance Auto Parts will keep providing you with what you need to maintain and upgrade your vehicles.

Open-Air Driving: It’s What’s Hot for Summer

Ford Skyliner photoIn a couple of ways, cars that offer open air motoring are like ice cream. Most everyone likes them and they come in a lot of different flavors. Whether you’re cruising along an ocean boulevard in a classic drop top, chasing apexes in a modern sports car, or exploring rugged trails in an opened-up Jeep, these vehicles offer plenty of enjoyment no matter what your tastes are. And like a visit to Baskin Robbins, there’s bound to be a flavor you can’t resist. To this rusty ol’ Gearhead, it’s salted caramel every time.

Within the realm of the classics you’ll find a wide array of choices. There’s plenty here to move you, literally and figuratively. It might be a 1965 GTO ragtop with a 389 V8, a 4-speed stick and rumbling side-splitter exhausts that does it for you. Or, from the same era, maybe a Jaguar XKE roadster or Lincoln Continental convertible, with the former offering sexy styling wrapped around two seats and a sonorous straight six, and the latter boasting four “suicide” style doors, a magic carpet ride and room for five of your biggest friends.car power moonroof

But as you’ll soon realize, your options further range from taking just sips of air and sunshine overhead to fully gorging oneself via environmental exposure that’s second only to a motorcycle’s.

Just a breath of fresh air, please.
A sliding sunroof provides a taste of the outdoors via a panel in the roof that slides back, either manually (as in some older cars) or via power control. If the panel is made of glass, it is usually called a “moonroof” as it ostensibly allows one to view the moon and the stars at night even while closed. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, pop-up/removable sunroofs were a popular aftermarket installation.

Traditional (and not) convertible tops
And then there is the traditional soft top convertible, which when down leaves the whole upper portion of the car’s interior exposed, allowing its passengers to more fully enjoy the sun’s rays. These are usually power operated as well. Soft convertible tops (typically made of canvas or vinyl) have been around since the early days of the automobile.

Ford Mustang convertibleMore recently, retractable hardtops have become popular. Just as the name implies, this design offers the added comfort and security of a hardtop when the top is up. Lowered, it provides the same full top-down experience that a traditional folding soft top does. For those al fresco fans residing in the more inclement areas of the country, a retractable hardtop is great to have. The BMW Z4 roadster and newer 3 Series (which later became the 4 Series) convertibles both offer retracting hardtops, as do the Mercedes-Benz SLK and SL, and outgoing (2015) Mazda Miata.

And yet, this “best of both worlds” idea is not as new as one may think. Back in 1957 Ford brought out its Fairlane 500 Skyliner power retractable hardtop, while Peugeot beat it by some 20 years with its aerodynamic but somewhat grimly named 402BL Eclipse Decapotable in the 1930s. Unlike the Ford’s more complex, folding power top, that Peugeot model featured a simple one-piece top that manually dropped down into the trunk.

Take it all offJeep Wrangler photo
Easy there, we’re talking about full exposure here of the vehicular kind. And nobody does it better than Jeep with its Wrangler model. Like its CJ-series precursors, the Wrangler is usually the model one thinks of when the word Jeep is mentioned. Sure you can fold the soft top down (a rather involved and potentially nail-busting affair), or unbolt the unwieldy hard top (if that’s what your Wrangler is wearing) and leave it in the garage or back yard. But that only gives you standard top-down experience. Detach the doors and flip down the windshield and you’ll enjoy the thrill of maximum exposure that’s second only to that of a motorcycle.

Trans am bandit car photoThe ‘tweeners
Existing somewhere in the middle of all these are the T-roof and Targa-topped vehicles. The T-top (which consists of a pair of removable roof panels) debuted in the U.S. with the 1968 Corvette coupe. In the late 1970s and through the early 2000s, various Camaros, Firebirds and Mustangs offered a T-roof option, while the Japanese car makers joined the party in the ’80s and ’90s with the Toyota MR2 and Datsun/Nissan 280ZX/300ZX, among others.

Similar to the T-top in that it could quickly be manually removed and stowed within the car, the Targa top instead provided a one-piece removable roof panel (no center “T” bar) which ran the full width of the car, providing even more of a true convertible feel than the T-roof. Past and present cars that offer a Targa top include the Porsche 911 and 914, the Honda Civic del Sol, the Toyota Supra, Acura NSX, the current Corvette and various Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren models.

Editor’s note: Whether you drive an airy convertible or tinted limousine, count on Advance Auto Parts to keep your projects humming along all summer.

Top Aftermarket Accessories for Cooling Your Engine This Summer

Electric Car Fan photoThere’s one sure-fire way to ruin your day, engine, reputation under the hood, and road trip this summer. It’s fast, requires virtually no effort or planning, and happens to countless drivers every day. All you have to do is let your engine overheat because of insufficient cooling.

In this instance, I’m not talking about the more common, run-of-the-mill catastrophes usually behind a cooling system failure, including broken hoses or belts, insufficient coolant level, water pump or thermostat failure, or foreign object piercing the radiator.

Less dramatic, but equally effective at causing an engine to overheat, are scenarios in which a vehicle’s cooling system can’t dissipate enough heat fast enough to prevent an overheated engine. In most cases, it’s the result of an efficiency issue, even when everything on the cooling system is working properly. In other situations, modifications designed to coax more horsepower from the engine might also require changes to the cooling system because more horsepower usually equates to more heat generated.

Here’s a look at several add-on solutions to prevent engine overheating.

Performance radiator

There’s a reason copper and brass have historically been materials of choice in vehicle radiators. Copper is great when it comes to thermal conductivity, performing 50 percent better than radiator fins made from aluminum. And brass is durable. So why are aluminum radiators becoming all the rage in high-performance engines and even among vehicle manufacturers? Weight. Aluminum radiators weigh 10 to 15 pounds less than traditional radiators. And they compensate for the reduction in their material’s thermal conductivity with increased radiator surface area and coolant capacity, design, fin spacing and even tube size.

The larger the radiator’s surface area translates to greater airflow reaching more coolant which means improved cooling capability. The limiting factor here is the amount of space you have or can create in which to shoehorn in a larger radiator.Car radiator photo

Most radiators utilize a single-pass design – hot coolant comes in one side of the radiator, passes through, and exits out the opposite side. For increased cooling capacity, look at a dual-pass, horizontal-flow radiator. With this design, coolant passes through one half of the radiator, but instead of exiting, it then passes through the other half of the radiator, essentially making two passes instead of one.

Moving to a dual-pass radiator will probably also require a water pump upgrade because this radiator design places more demand on the pump. Which brings us to the topic of coolant speed. An aluminum radiator with larger diameter tubes is going to require an increase in the speed at which the water pump is moving coolant through the system. Your muscle car’s pulley-pump speed might have been sufficient when everything was stock from the factory, but any modifications made might now require changes to that speed and ratio.

In addition to tube size, high-performance aluminum radiators also have more fins, spaced closer together, for increased heat transfer from the coolant to the atmosphere.

Electric fans

Engine-driven fans can get the job done when you’re tooling down the highway at cruising speeds, but when you’re idling or fighting stop-and-go traffic – not so much. For increased cooling capacity, consider installing an electric fan, or two.

Unlike an engine-driven fan, an electric fan is going to generate enough airflow to sufficiently help cool the engine, regardless of engine RPMs or traveling speed. In addition to consistent airflow, electric fans can also net you more horsepower. It’s estimated that engine-driven fans steal about 35 horsepower and clutch-driven fans about half that amount while electric fans only take about one horsepower.

Installing a dual-fan set up enables the entire radiator surface to be covered with cooling air flow. Another option is to use a two-fan system, but with one fan stationed in front of the radiator, pushing air to it, and a second fan behind the radiator, pulling air to it – remembering that pulling is always more efficient than pushing.

As for fan blade style, that depends on what’s more important to you – cooling or noise levels. Curved-bladed fans are quieter than straight-blade fans, but they don’t move as much air.

And in what’s probably beginning to sound like a reoccurring theme, a changeover from an engine-drive fan to an electric one might also require some beefing up of the vehicle’s electrical system to ensure it’s up to the task and increased loads.Car fan photo

Fan shroud

If you’re making the effort of adding an electric fan, make sure you go all the way and include an aluminum fan shroud. The right fan shroud can maximize the fan’s heat-reduction capacity by delivering cooling air to nearly every square inch of the radiator surface, while choosing aluminum helps deliver further weight reduction.

Type of Coolant

When it comes to the liquid flowing through the radiator, nothing’s better at heat transfer than plain old water. Unfortunately nothing also beats water when it comes to freezing in winter and destroying your engine, and corroding the radiator and inflicting a similar level of carnage there. If you are running straight water for coolant – some racing series require this – be sure to also include an anti-corrosion additive to the mix, and to take the necessary steps to prevent freezing before lower temperatures arrive. You’ll also need to research the benefits of using softened water if this is the somewhat risky route you choose to go. If, however, you choose to play it safe by using traditional antifreeze, also consider an additive, such as Red Line’s Water Wetter that prevents bubbles or vapor pockets from forming and helps bring temperatures down.

When it comes to summer driving, just remember – keeping your cool begins with your engine.

Editor’s note: Don’t blow your top…or your radiator cap this summer. Visit Advance Auto Parts for everything your engine needs to stay cool. Buy online, pick up in store, in 30 minutes.

Formula Drift 2015: rocking the Orlando race

Formula Drift  car picture

A new track, a new city . . . with the same tough challenges. Formula DRIFT has hit tracks from Long Beach to Fuji, year after year bringing head to head battles to loyal fans – and now the famous race descends on Orlando. Advance was there—check out our exclusive coverage and photos.

Formula Drift photo

On June 5th and 6th, the Sunshine State welcomed a noisy, fire-breathing visitor. Formula DRIFT, the prominent stateside series, took to Orlando Speedworld (OSW) bringing out drivers – ranging from amateurs to top tier pros – to the oval circus for a long weekend of racing madness. Fans and drivers alike called it reminiscent of New Jersey tracks back in Formula DRIFT’s heritage days.

Formula Drift 2015 photo

Pro and Pro 2 series competitors brought in crazy attendance numbers to the classic small town oval (with a figure eight cross to boot!) and Mother Nature attended in full force, as well, bringing rain in swaths along with sweltering temperatures for every single second of the day.

Formula Drift car race photo

Pro series drivers battled it out on Friday to qualify for Saturday’s main event. And, when the local hero Pat Goodin suffered mechanical troubles, the veteran stepped down to leave the playing field WIDE open.

Saturday morning dawns

The track felt empty but, in the paddock, teams were alive and well, getting their drift missiles ready for the Top 32 bracket competition just hours away.

Formula Drift 2015 photo

Come on . . . picture the scene . . .

OSW offers one way on and one way off the track. Drivers pull onto the track and straight onto the burnout bank as the last two hooligans exit through the single lane chute back into the hot pit area. After a few tears up and down the burnout bank, drivers stage on the back half of the oval waiting for the all clear.

Formula Drift 55 race picture

On green, the lead driver launches through his chicane and down the back straight, the following car tight on the rear right, waiting for the lead to dive into the corner at “Initiation Point.” With a flick, both cars put the hammer down and power the entire corner keeping as close to the wall and as close to each other as they possibly can.

Formula Drift 49 race photo

The more fluidity, the more points, the more pizazz . . . the greater the score.

This first corner is on the high bank, making the drivers’ next move a teeth-clenching drop from the bank to the figure eight crossover. Both drivers smack the front air dams as they come off the bank slowly, preparing to flip from right-angled to left-angled slides.

Formula Drift 44 photo

If the harsh transition from high bank to flat oval wasn’t enough of an obstacle, drivers were thrown over a jump as they finish the transition and try to initiate the second sweeping oval turn. Mustangs and Matias alike caught the slightest air coming sideways over this bump, unloading and loading the car suspensions right as drivers tried to slam the power on to get proper speed for the upcoming left-hand sweeper.

Formula Drift 15 photo

The final corner crosses back past the burnout bank and the starting grid, but stays low on the flat section. After holding the slide for the entire top of the figure eight, the cars bolt through the finish line, billowing that gorgeous white smoke, letting the audience know that those tires have been thoroughly disciplined.

Mother Nature ups the ante

Weather conditions transformed this track into a low-lying above-ground swamp for a few hours every day, with Pro and Pro 2 racers alike seeing plenty of rain during battle. Saturday night, the classic Florida evening showers greeted fans with a welcomed cool down, but also with an unwelcomed torrential downpour.

Formula Drift 45

Racers pushed on through the storm, though, and conditions really tested the drivers’ abilities – and it’s always awesome to see who succeeds when the going gets tough. Everyone sets up for dry weather and, when the weather changes, it’s equally a handicap for each of the drivers. A lack of smoke was disheartening for spectators, but the massive rooster tails were enthralling to watch as the cars barreled through the flooded infield.

Formula Drift 16 photo

The bottom line; drivers with true grit garner their experience and determination to make a spectacular full pull happen.

Results

• Scion had a killer weekend and nears a manufacturer championship as FR-S drivers Ryan Tuerck and Kenshiro Gushi take 1st and 3rd, respectively.

• While Chris Forsberg, 2nd place, beat out Gushi, all Tuerck had to do to secure the win over Forsberg and his 370z was complete a full pull unopposed. Forsberg suffered mechanical issues, though, and Tuerck walked away with his first round win since 2009.

Formula Drift 55 photo

Here is the full 2015 Formula DRIFT race schedule.

The Triumph of Technology: 3 Ways Computers Make Cars Better

KITT_Interior

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.