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 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.


• 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


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.

Crucial Cars: Winnebago Motorhome

Winnebago motor home 1From timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

In this installment, our man Gearhead pays tribute to an icon that’s revered in the RV sector: the Winnebago Motorhome.

Along with the warm weather, summertime brings a variety of killer road trip options. There’s everything from cruising the boulevard in a classic muscle machine, to unraveling a twisty road in an athletic sports car, to reaching that remote camping or kayaking spot via a rugged 4WD rig. And let’s not forget seeing the sights of America in a mobile condominium. The latter is more commonly referred to as an RV (Recreational Vehicle). Or, to use old-school parlance, a motorhome.

Like Apple and Nike, certain brands have a way of earning iconic status. And within the realm of motorhomes, so it is with Winnebago. Based in Iowa and debuting in 1958 as a maker of travel trailers, Winnebago started producing motorhomes in 1966. Thanks to its very efficient production methods, including an assembly line (unusual in this business), Winnebago was able to sell its motorhomes at much lower prices than its rivals. One doesn’t need an MBA to know that high quality and low pricing makes for a pretty sound business model. As a result, Winnebago quickly became the number one-selling name in motorhomes.Winnebago 1973 advertisement

Winnebagos, both old and new, remain very popular. As such, there are a number of enthusiast sites for them (which include their essentially identical Itasca sister brand). They include the WIT Club, this Winnebago Owners Forum and the nostalgic My Winnebago Story site.

Taking It With You As You Get Away From It All
For some folks, “camping out” doesn’t necessarily equate to “roughing it.” Indeed, with the swankier “Class A” (those motorhomes that resemble a rock star’s tour bus) models offered by Winnebago, luxuries such as a washer and dryer, retracting big screen TVs and even an electric fireplace are offered. These units typically also feature “slide-outs.” These sections of the motorhome slide out to increase the living space inside once you’ve arrived at your destination. Go all Will Smith and you can spend up to a half mill on the plushest and roomiest rig Winnebago offers, the Grand Tour diesel.

Still, Winnebago hasn’t forgotten those who don’t play sports or make movies for a living and so the company also offers more affordable options. The latter include the popular and well-equipped “Minnie Winnie” that starts at around $65,000. This is a Class C motorhome, the kind that has the front end (or “cab”) of a full-size van coupled to the living quarters behind.

Bring On The Brave
But what really made Winnebago as recognizable a brand name as Kleenex was the “Brave” model. Debuting in 1967, the Pug-nosed Brave sported an “eyebrow” of sorts that jutted out above the windshield and also featured a flying “W” down the motorhome’s ides. Those styling features made it easy to identify the iconic Brave, whether it was sitting at a campsite or sailing down the freeway, and they lasted for over 10 years during this model’s initial production run.
Winnie reintroduced the Brave for 2015, offering a modern interpretation of this classic. Paying tribute to the original Brave with its familiar silhouette and flying “W”, the new Brave is offered in 1960s song-inspired color schemes such as “Mellow Yellow,” “Crimson ‘n Clover” and “Aquarius.” MotorHome magazine checked out the new Brave and thought it was rather “groovy.”

A Brave With Serious Bravado
Presenting an awesome answer to a question nobody should ever ask, Ringbrothers revitalized a very tired 1972 Winnie Brave they bought at an auction. The Ring brothers are a couple of serious car guys who, along with their skilled crew, are known for turning out some of the finest resto-mod builds on the planet.

As this Boldride article shows, this Brave’s body was left pretty much alone while the interior received a mashup makeover that combined, of all things, World War II airplane and Tiki hut bar themes. The Brave sorely needed a new engine, so out came the Mopar 318 and in went a supercharged LS-series V8, cranking out about 900 hp. The brothers claim that their “Ringabago” can sprint to 60 mph in less than four seconds. If the idea of an old motorhome easily lighting them up and being capable of blowing the doors off a Ferrari F40 or Hemi Cuda doesn’t make you laugh, then probably nothing will.

Have You Ever Seen Anything as Absurd as This?

On the vehicular shock value meter, this “way out there” Winnie easily pegs the needle. Have you seen or heard about anything as crazy yet cool as this? If so, send us your brief comments on the beast.

Before you hit the road this summer, hit up Advance Auto Parts for all the best in savings and selection. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes. 

Top 5 American Roads to Drive This Summer

No matter the scenery or driving challenge you’re up for this summer, there are countless places across the country to experience it all in four wheels. Here you’ll find a list of some of my all-time favorites. Although I could’ve included dozens more, this is a great place to start, especially if you’ve got the right vehicle. To generate the rankings, only roads that are spectacular for scenery or degree of driving challenge are included, different areas of the U.S. are represented, and road choices are geared to a range of vehicles – from motorcycles to four-wheel drives, and SUVs toting families. With that, here’s the list of top roads to drive in America.

Photo credit: Medhat Ibrahim

Photo credit: Medhat Ibrahim

1. State Route 1, California coast. Also known as the Pacific Coast Highway and designated as an All-American Road, some of this journey’s most spectacular scenery unfolds between Monterey, Calif., and Morro Bay, Calif., 123 miles south, even though Route 1 stretches further north and south beyond these two towns. Along the way, you’ll pass through redwood groves and quaint, historic towns, including Carmel-by-the-Sea, while easily accessed beaches contrast with granite cliffs and spectacular waves crashing into unforgiving rock formations. The single-span arched concrete structure known as Bixby Bridge will either terrify or excite drivers when they stop before crossing at turnouts on either end to admire this engineering marvel. No matter what type of vehicle you’re driving, this road will be remembered. If I were making the drive, however, I’d opt for an Audi Q7. It has plenty of room for friends and golf clubs, and with this level of style, we’ll have no trouble fitting right in with California’s car-conscious elite.

Skyline Drive photo2. Skyline Drive, Virginia Mountains. Located within Shenandoah National Park, part of the U.S. National Park System, Skyline Drive offers panoramic mountain views, cascading waterfalls, and observation of wildlife in their natural habitat via 75 overlooks spread throughout the Drive’s 105 miles. With a 35 mph speed limit that’s strictly enforced, don’t be in a rush or expecting high-performance thrills on this adventure. Rather, plan other activities to coincide with the drive, and save some money by visiting on days when the entrance fees are waived. If I’m in the mountains, the weather can be unpredictable and I might be tempted to explore an unpaved road or two. That’s why I’d pick a Subaru Outback for this trip, mainly for its all-wheel drive, comfort, and gas mileage.

White Rim Road photo3. White Rim Road, Canyonlands National Park, Utah. This road’s strictly for 4×4’s with high ground clearance, and some experience off-roading. So if you’re looking for a scenic yet moderately challenging place to put your $60,000 Land Rover LR4 through its paces and prove that, at 12.2 inches it really does offer the highest ground clearance of any 4×4 on the market today, this might be your destination, or not. In addition to astounding canyon views on this 100 mile loop, drivers may also encounter rapidly changing road conditions, as well as debris, impassable rivers, and even quicksand. The National Park Service recommends traveling in pairs of vehicles equipped with winches to aid in self-rescue as commercial towing services cost from $1,000 to over $2,000. Plan on spending two to three days to complete this drive, or as many as four days if you’re making the journey via mountain bike, which is another popular option. My choice on this demanding drive is the Ford F150 Raptor. It’s designed specifically to deliver the goods off-road, and looks tough doing it.

Florida Keys Scenic Highway photo4. Seven Mile Bridge, Florida Keys. If you’re not a fan of driving over bridges and open water for long stretches, you might want to avoid this road. But if you’re looking for a tranquil ocean views on one of the nation’s longest bridges, then this drive down US 1 is what memories are made of. While the whole journey from Miami to Key West can be completed in less than four hours, why would you want to? Drop the top, fire up the Harley, or simply roll down the windows to smell the salt air and take in stunning sunsets. The Seven Mile Bridge is one of many bridges on what is also known as The Overseas Highway, first completed in 1938. Today it offers 113 miles of pavement and 42 bridges waiting for exploration. I’d explore that pavement at a time of year when most of the country is cursing winter and in need of some Florida heat and sunshine – say late January – in a BMW 4 Series convertible. The removable hard top gives me a roof over my head when I need it, and sunshine when I don’t.

The Kancamagus Highway photo5. Kancamagus Highway, New Hampshire. The beauty and serenity associated with taking in New England’s spectacular fall foliage can be livened up by navigating New Hampshire’s Kancamagus Highway. Stretching more than 30 miles along northern New Hampshire’s Route 112, “The Kanc” as it’s called by locals, is designated an American Scenic Byway. Passing through the White Mountains, it challenges drivers with its sweeping turns and switchbacks, but the drive is well worth the effort because of the long-range views regardless of what you’re driving. Personally though, I’d like my fall foliage view to be as unobstructed as possible and to really feel like I’m close to nature. That’s why I’d tour The Kanc perched on a Honda Gold Wing. It’s big, comfortable and powerful, and the Gold Wing is the first bike to offer an airbag.

What’s your favorite driving experience and the best vehicle to experience it with? Let me know in the comments below.

Editor’s note: Before you hit the road this summer, hit up Advance Auto Parts for quality auto parts, tools and accessories. Buy online, pick up in store, in 30 minutes.

Prepping for Car Shows

Car Show photo

Photo credit: Erik Baeumlisberger.

Our resident Gearhead reminisces about his glory-filled car show days, and how nobody preps a car better than…you.


I don’t know much, but I’ll tell you one thing that’s for certain:

You’re not gonna win a car show if your car’s not squeaky clean.

Cleaning your car before the show starts is a way to show the judges that you really care. On the other hand, leaving dust, fingerprints and grime on the car is a clear signal that you’re not in it to win it.

So let’s talk about a few simple steps you can take to get your car spic and span once you arrive. I’ve been going to car shows for more years than I’d care to admit, and this is what works for me.

Self-Service Car WashCar wash pic

Okay, this one might involve a little nostalgia on my part. But I can’t help it. I grew up in a time when you didn’t trust your car to anyone else; you washed the thing yourself. And the best way to do that is still at a good old fashioned self-service car wash.

You know the drill. Pull into a stall, get your stack of quarters, feed ’em into the slot and select your cycle. I’m partial to the power-washer nozzle myself, because you just can’t get that kind of precision and control in an automated car wash. It’s especially useful for the wheels — you can really blast away and get into the nooks and crannies. When you start with the self-serve wash, you know that all your car will need afterward is fine-tuning.

Waterless Car Wash and Rags

Another indispensable weapon in my arsenal is waterless car wash. I literally never leave home without a spray bottle of Meguiar’s Ultimate Wash and Wax Anywhere in the trunk. Don’t forget that you’ll need a few microfiber towels, too.

In a pinch, this combo can give you a decent shine even without water (hence the name). You can use one towel to get the surface grime off and another to go back over the metal and polish it. But you do run the risk of rubbing some of that grime into your finish, and in any case, you obviously need to get yourself to water if you want to win a car show.

So here’s what I do: I start with the self-serve wash, and then I go over every surface with a fine-toothed comb, looking for spots that the high-pressure stream didn’t take care of. Whenever I see one, I spray a little Meguiar’s on there and rub it out. Simple as that.

Car show picture

Photo credit: Erik Baeumlisberger.

If you follow these two steps, your exterior’s going to be ready for prime time.

Interior Shine

But what about the cabin? Other than dusting and de-smudging as required, I mostly focus on the upholstery, and that means keeping it in the family with Meguiar’s Gold Class Rich Leather Cleaner. Take another one of those microfiber rags and rub this stuff in nice and deep on the seats, door panels, even the dashboard if it’s covered in leather or vinyl. The Meguiar’s formula isn’t greasy or shiny; it just gives the surfaces a really refined luster. Let me tell you, not all of the guys at the show will go this far to make their interiors sparkle, and that could be the difference between first and second place.

How Do You Keep It Clean?

I know I’m not the only one here with decades of car shows under my belt. What are your quick tips for cleaning up your act before the show? Let us know in the comments.

Editor’s note: Find all of the appearance products and accessories you need for car show prep at Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Hydrographics: the new face of car customization

Car hydrographic engine

Graphic courtesy of

It wasn’t that long ago that custom paint jobs and decals were considered top-shelf customization. Sure those were a vast improvement from the days when more than 50% of the cars on the road were black, but customization has come a long ways in a short time, including:

  • Engine mods
  • Coilovers or air bags
  • Car wraps
  • And, of course, hydrographics

Hydrographics is also known as immersion printing, water transfer printing, water transfer imaging, hydro dipping and cubic printing. You may have even heard it called camo dipping, decorative transferring, fluid imaging or aqua printing. But, each term describes the same basic process.

In hydrographics, printed designs are applied to three-dimensional surfaces, including the exterior panels of vehicles, plus the interior and dash trim, the engine bay and wheels. This process can be used on metal, fiberglass, ceramics, plastic, glass, certain types of wood and more – in fact, on just about any surface that can be painted. You can even match the hydrographics on your motorcycle and/or ATV with the helmets you wear.

At its simplest, this is the process. The material to be printed is pre-treated. Then a pre-printed film with the design of choice is placed into a tub of water. Activating chemicals are sprayed on the film to dissolve it and serve as a bonding agent. The material to be printed is lowered into the tub, being dipped in one continuous motion. The ink wraps around the material and sticks to it. After the object being printed is removed from the tub, the chemicals are rinsed off.

Pinterest shows a variety of creative ways in which the process has been used to customize vehicles.

See the process in action

One of the more well-publicized uses of hydrographics was when American Chopper learned the process to create a one-of-a-kind camo bike.

High Tech Corvette shows a more detailed look at the process, from dipping to rinsing and from clear coating to drying, on a Camaro front splitter. This pattern gives the Camaro a cool carbon fiber look.

Besides a wide variety of camo and carbon fiber patterns in films used for hydrographics, films come in wood grain, metal, marble and other stone looks, along with designer films that print images of flames, flags, flowers, money, offbeat patterns and more.

Creation of hydrographics process

Although there is debate about the evolution of the process, the first hydrographic patent is one by Motoyasu Nakanishi of Kabushiki Kaisha Cubic Engineering on July 26, 1982 (4436571 A). Here is its description:

“printing apparatus provided with a structure which supplies a transcription film into a transcription tub containing a liquid so that the transcription film is kept afloat on the liquid, a structure which makes the liquid flow in a direction in which the film is supplied, and a structure which slantingly immerses an article to be printed into the liquid in the transcription tub from an upstream position to a downstream position of the liquid.”

This process has allowed countless vehicles to customize their rides – and hydrographics can be combined with custom paint jobs to create looks that are truly one of a kind.

Editor’s note: How about you? Are you thinking about using hydrographics to customize your vehicles? If so, what are your ideas? Share them in the comments.



Crucial Cars: Ford Super Duty F-250

2011 Ford F-250 Super Duty photoFrom timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

In this installment, the Mechanic Next Door explores the unstoppable beast that is the Ford Super Duty F-250.

When it comes to geography and trucks, bigger is always better. Just ask the people of Texas, or Ford Super Duty F250 owners.

The Ford F150 pickup is enough muscle for most weekend warriors towing the occasional camper, horse trailer, or boat for a weekend getaway. The same holds true for drivers hauling a bed full of hay bales, mulch for the flower beds or a relative’s furniture.

But when the game shifts to towing bigger, heavier loads more frequently, that’s when truck drivers opt for the big guns – the Ford Super Duty F-250.

Super Duty – it wasn’t a truck first

Ford Super Duty F-250 photoThe Ford Super Duty F-250 debuted in 1998 with the ’99 model year. Those early models featured distinct styling – including unique headlamps and grilles – with countless Ford Super Duty F-250 accessories available today that help them stand out from their less powerful F-150 brethren. That first 250 featured a 5.4 liter V-8 delivering 255 horsepower and 350 pounds of torque, with available options including a 6.8 liter V-10 or a 7.3 liter turbodiesel.

Fittingly, since the 250’s branding and performance focus on power, the Super Duty moniker first appeared on the scene in 1958 not as a truck but rather as a big, weighty engine producing high torque at low RPMs. And this engine was never designed for the light-duty tasks of transporting kids to a Saturday morning soccer game or hauling a couple of bags of potting soil and some plants. No, this beast of an engine worked and was usually found only in industrial-type vehicles such as buses, dump trucks, garbage trucks and cement mixers.

Forty years later, the first Ford Super Duty F-250 model would seem a fitting way to honor an engine similarly designed for heavy lifting and hard work.

Towing capacity is what matters

Ford says, “90 percent of all Super duty trucks are purchased by customers who tow often.” That’s the main reason truck marketing, and particularly Ford Heavy Duty ads, emphasize towing capacity. But just how much can they tow? 12,500 pounds – and that’s just for starters.

Pretty much across the board, any 2015 Super Duty F250 sporting a 6.2 liter, gas, V-8 and a 3.73 gear ratio can tow 12,500 pounds using a standard hitch and ball setup, regardless of cab configuration . The only exceptions being the Super Cab 4×4 and Crew Cab 4×4 which max out at 12,400 pounds and 12,200 pounds, respectively.

Jump up to a 6.7 liter, Power Stroke Turbo Diesel V-8, however, and that towing capacity increases to 14,000 pounds for both the Super Cab and Crew Cab configurations. Add a 5th wheel gooseneck towing configuration and towing capacities climb higher still, topping out at 16,600 pounds for the Power Stroke Diesel, 4×2 with a 3.31 axle ratio.

Which one of these is not like the others?

The Ford Super Duty F250 differs from its truck family members on both ends of the scale mainly in towing capacity. For example, the 2015 F150 has a maximum towing capacity of 12,200 pounds, while a diesel F350 or 450 can tow north of 26,000 pounds or 31,000 pounds, respectively, as compared to the F250 topping out at close to 17,000 pounds.

The F250’s distinct chrome-bar style grille featuring a huge Ford emblem, big telescoping mirrors, available roof clearance lights also give the Ford Super Duty F250 a look that helps further distinguish it from its less-powerful sibling.Ford Super Duty F-250 2

This might not be the truck for you.

The Ford Super Duty F250 isn’t necessarily the right choice for every pickup truck driver out there. Its main attraction is power – for both towing and hauling. Before you make a purchase decision based solely on that enticing “more power” characteristic, make sure you actually need all the horsepower that comes with an F250. Maybe you, and your wallet, would be happier with an F150? Whatever you decide, know that you’re not going to be disappointed by the best-selling truck in America.

Editor’s note: If you’re searching for Ford Super Duty F250 parts or accessories, stop by Advance Auto Parts for everything your truck needs. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.




The Art of Rechroming

Car chrome grille pictureNext time you’re checking out all the hot rides at a car show, ask yourself this question:

What makes these cars look so amazing?

Of course, a lot of it has to do with inherent styling excellence. Any Porsche 911’s going to turn some heads based on its iconic sheet metal alone; ditto the C2 Chevrolet Corvette and countless other models I could mention.

But if you take a closer look, you’ll see there’s a pretty common denominator:


Perfectly smooth, impeccably polished chrome.

You’ll see it shining under the hoods of all those old American muscle cars. Check out the bumpers, too, and you’ll see mirror finishes front and back. Bottom line? You’re not gonna win any prizes if your chrome’s not correct. And for me, it’s just a point of pride in general — when I look at my car in the garage, I want to see that chrome shining right back.

If you’re with me on that, then you’re gonna want to fix up your chrome from time to time. The process is called re-chroming, and it’s something every classic-car buff needs to know about. So let’s run through a quick Rechroming 101 course together, whether it’s an introduction for you or just a refresher.

How Do They Do It?

© Copyright General Motors

© Copyright General Motors

Chroming, or technically chrome plating, is just a particular way of finishing a surface. The craftsman starts by cleaning the part’s existing surface thoroughly, and then he “dips” the part in a chrome-plating vat that’s filled with a chromium-based solution. Through a process known as electroplating, electrical current is used to dissolve the chromium atoms and “plate” them onto the surface. The thickness of the plating is determined by how long the craftsman leaves the part in the vat. Once the desired thickness has been achieved, boom — you’ve got your re-chromed surface. Hey, I’m no scientist, but in a nutshell, that’s more or less how it works.

Popular Cars and Car Parts for Re-Chroming

Chrome Tail pipe photoAlthough chrome continues to be featured on some modern cars, it’s more common among the older cars you tend to see at the shows. Chrome bumpers, for example, are pretty much dead and gone these days, unless you count a handful of pickup trucks. And good luck finding chrome headers under the hood; you’re more likely to see a bunch of molded plastic engine covers. When I think of cars that are candidates for re-chroming, I think of the classics — Mustangs, Corvettes, Chevelles, and certainly European luminaries like Ferraris and Lamborghinis if your budget allows.

As far as specific car parts go, you’ve got the bumpers and headers that I already pointed out, but it doesn’t stop there. Wheels are a big one, of course, and since they’re so close to the road with all its dust and debris, they’re gonna need more frequent attention than other parts. Chrome grilles, too, are in a vulnerable spot; you’ll often see pitting and tarnishing up there.

But more broadly, just think about that C2 Corvette I mentioned, for example — there’s chrome everywhere! You’ve got those iconic side-exit exhaust pipes, the fuel flap on the rear deck and various other exterior parts, not to mention all the chrome switches and knobs inside. Back in the day, chrome was a much more significant part of car styling, so if you want to make your classic car tip-top, you might have a real laundry list of parts that need to be re-chromed.

Have You Had Any Car-Parts Rechromed?

You know I’m always looking for people’s real-world experience with the stuff I write about. Have you re-chromed any of your car parts before? Tell us any tips you have in the comments.

Editor’s note: Check out Advance Auto Parts for a wide selection of chrome parts and accessories. Buy online, pick up in-store.