The Ballad of CV Axle

Ballad of the CV axleIt’s definitely not my fault, despite what my wife would like you to believe.

Our farmhouse is old, really old, like 1800s old, and our winters are relatively cold because we live in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. An old, drafty house and cold winters equal a potentially high heating bill.

This isn’t a problem, usually, because we heat exclusively with wood, using one of those outdoor wood-burning furnaces that heat the water and pump it through the home’s baseboard radiators. It only becomes a problem if I run out of wood and have to search for some (or wood-derived products like last year’s Christmas tree, the pizza boxes from last night and scrap lumber). Such is the predicament I found myself in recently, and the blame lies squarely with my F150 and its CV axle, or specifically, its constant velocity joint.

I planned on cutting wood all day Saturday, getting plenty to see us through the coming weeks. That plan was replaced by a new plan, however, when my wife heard the awful sounds the truck was making thanks to the broken constant velocity joint. She insisted I fix it. Where first I was short on wood, I was now long on a laborious new task.

I had just enough CV axle knowledge to get started. And as I’m a quick study and pretty handy in the garage, I figured I could tackle it. I had extra incentive though — my wife and kids were cold. (Isn’t that what jackets are for?)

The first thing I discovered is that replacing a CV joint or CV axle can be a fairly labor-intensive job. A constant velocity joint’s function is to allow power to be transmitted from one shaft to another, through an angle, without any loss of power or a big increase in friction. They’re commonly found in front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, and four-wheel drive vehicles and allow the drive shaft to transfer all that power and torque to the wheels, no matter how they’re angled or turned. On a front-wheel drive vehicle, there’s an inner and outer CV axle. The inner connects the drive shaft to the transmission while the outer connects the driveshaft to the wheel.

CV joints typically last about 100,000 miles.  When they fail, they can’t be repaired. They need to be replaced. The CV joint is sealed and protected by a rubber boot that keeps the grease in the joint and contaminants, such as dirt and water, out. When the boot fails because of a tear or hole, the constant velocity joint will fail eventually too, just like mine did.

Now if you catch the broken boot soon enough, you can just replace the boot, which is a lot less expensive and troublesome than replacing the entire joint. If you hear a clicking or popping when turning, then it’s probably too late as that’s a symptom of a CV joint failure. On some vehicles, the CV joint isn’t separate and the entire CV axle needs to be replaced.

ToughOne_New CV Drive Axle_Box_Axle_SIn the end, it all worked out for me. I learned that hauling wood in a wheelbarrow is a GREAT workout. On top of that, I found and installed a ToughOne CV axle assembly and was soon back in business.

Here are a few other takeaways you might appreciate, at my expense:

  • If your front-wheel drive has been making some odd sounds lately – get it checked out.
  • Make sure your Saturday plan matches up to your significant other’s plans for you.
  • Have an emergency supply of whatever it is you can’t do without.
  • The Rzeppa joint is a type of CV joint invented by Alfred Rzeppa in the 1920s and still in use today – try that one out on your know-it-all-mechanical-genius friend!

Editor’s note: If you’re CV is SOL, then check out Advance Auto Parts and ToughONE, for a great solution at an even better value.

Guitar graphic courtesy of Taylor Guitars.

Think outside the
heart-shaped box

Valentines Day Gifts

Show you care for St. Valentine’s Day.

If your significant other is a car guy or girl—someone who loves their vehicle almost as much as they love you—then figuring out what to get them for St. Valentine’s Day should be a snap: something for their vehicle.

But what if you’re in a relationship with someone who just isn’t that into cars or trucks and sees them simply as a mode of transportation? (Yes, there really are people out there who think like that!) What then would be the appropriate Valentine’s Day gifts? Flowers? Chocolates? A mix tape? (Sorry, I was reliving my high school days for a moment.) Two of those three aren’t bad ideas, and are pretty safe as far as Valentine’s Day gifts are concerned, but how about thinking outside the heart-shaped box this year?

What? Have I lost my mind? Am I trying to singlehandedly destroy your relationship? To the contrary. I’m going to improve your relationship by helping you demonstrate to the love of your life that you’ve been listening, and by helping you show how much you care—even if they think you’re not and that you don’t.

Even for someone who isn’t a vehicle enthusiast, there’s still probably something about their car or truck that bothers them, or that they’d at least like changed or fixed. Think about it. Has your partner ever mentioned to you that there’s something wrong with their vehicle or something that needs to be done? Perhaps it’s those squeaky brakes, or that darn interior smell. Or, do their wipers streak for days and is their car in need of an oil change?

Here’s your chance to shine by taking action that demonstrates how much you’ve been listening.

You’re going to solve their problems by taking care of the issues that have been annoying them. Based on a purely unscientific, informal survey of my friends’ significant others, here are the top issues that they’d like their Valentine to take care of now:

  • It’s really dirty. After a long winter, it’s probably filthy inside and out. Wash it. Wax it. Vacuum it. Just make it shine, inside and out.
  • It needs an oil change. The sticker in the window says it’s overdue and so does the owner’s manual. Do it yourself and save some money that you can spend instead on that nice evening out.
  • I can’t see when it rains. The windshield wipers aren’t doing their job because they’re too old. Get new ones, and get them installed for free with purchase.
  • The “Check Engine” light has been on forever. Not only is it annoying, it can also indicate a serious problem. Check it yourself with this diagnostic tool.
  • I need a new headlight or taillight. On most vehicles, this is a really easy fix. Even if the headlight isn’t burned out, if it’s old, consider replacing both of them anyway because new lights have technology that enable you to see further.


In addition to making their St. Valentine’s Day special, you just might make a car lover out of them! (There’s always hope!)


Editor’s note: Whether your significant other loves cars or not, you can still get a sweetheart deal on parts, tools, accessories and more at Advance Auto Parts

Trucks take flight: an expert look at lifted trucks

Lifted trucks

Photo courtesy of Super Trucks Plus.

“And she said, ‘Hey, boy, do you mind taking me home tonight, cuz’ I ain’t never see a country boy with tires on his truck this high.’”  Jake Owen. “Eight Second Ride.”

Out here, it seems like the only thing a lot of people like more than their trucks is the art of raising them up. Followed closely by a mud-bogging hole or field filled with red Virginia clay that’s just waiting to get torn up by those lifted trucks.

Now, I don’t say this from experience, as my workhorse consists of a highly functional but decidedly tame, un-lifted F150. Rather, I make that call based on the number of lifted trucks I see around here, and the fact that they’re often covered top to bottom, including windows, in mud.

Why do we have a love affair with lifted trucks, and why do we raise them up in the first place? For some insight, I turned to an expert in the field of lifting trucks – Chris Dye. He’s the store manager at Super Trucks Plus LLC in North Carolina, and describes it as “probably Raleigh’s only full custom shop.” Chris and his crew specialize in transforming ordinary vehicles into amazing lifted trucks.

“Most people lift trucks to achieve a higher ground clearance,” Chris explains. They do this to avoid bottoming out or getting stuck when driving off-road, and to allow for the fitment of larger tires.

Higher ground clearance? Sounds plausible, but my gut tells me there’s another, more common reason that people lift their trucks, and it didn’t take long for Chris to confirm my suspicions. “A lot of people lift ‘em just for looks these days. They’ll take a brand-new truck, lift it, and it’ll never go off-road.”

Chris said that one of the more common and popular requests when it comes to lifted trucks is a six-inch lift with 35’s, with “35” referring to the tire size. These suspension lift kits can start out at four inches of lift and go all the way to 12 inches, or higher. Chris then began explaining other vehicle parts that get involved with suspension lift kits, including independent front suspension, shocks versus struts, drop cradles, larger knuckles and steering geometry, and this was about the time that I realized that lifting a truck might be more involved than I realized.

He went on to explain that once you maxed out your lift with suspension lift kits, you can still go higher by choosing a body lift. With a body lift, the vehicle body has to be disconnected from every spot it’s mounted to, new spacers inserted, and then the body bolted back down to all its connecting points.

As for height, it seems like that’s more a matter of personal choice. Chris said the highest he’s ever lifted was 26 inches, and that was enough to clear a set of 54’s. In his opinion, the maximum comfortable lift he’d recommend for someone’s daily driver, as opposed to a show truck, is a 12-inch lift with 40-inch tires.

What do you think? Are you driving a lifted truck? If so, let me know your lift height and tire size, and what you think is the optimal set up.

Lifted Truck 2

Photo courtesy of Super Trucks Plus.

“It’s all about personal preference. If you’re building a show truck, the sky’s the limit,” Chris adds.

As for my truck, if I were to do anything, I’d be inclined to start with Chris’ recommendation of just a leveling kit. “It’s your most basic kind of lift,” Chris explains. “That’s going to take most trucks and lift the front up about two inches so that the front height equals the height of the rear. This will allow you to go up one tire size from factory specs and gives you essentially two inches of lift.”

Cost is another consideration when deciding how high to lift because the two seem to rise in unison. Chris said that a ballpark cost for a six-inch lift on 35’s is about $5,000 to $6,000, but that he’s done lift jobs that total over $20,000.

If you’re looking for ideas on what others have done with their lifts, Chris recommends Mud Life and Four Wheel & Off-Road, as well as the online forum at Lifted Trucks USA. And, of course, you can always check out some projects that he and Super Trucks Plus have performed.

As for me, what do think I should do to it? Stick with the leveling kit? Go a little bigger and get a six-inch lift? Maybe just switch to bigger tires? Leave me a comment, and please include thoughts on how I can sell the idea to my significant other. Chances are, she’s going to be less than pleased instead of asking me to take her home tonight because she’s impressed with my truck’s tire height!

Editor’s note: If there’s a lift or an off-road adventure in your truck’s future, make your first stop Advance Auto Parts, for all the best in parts, tools and accessories at a great price. Buy online, pick up in store.  


Spark plugs, a comic book and a smoke bomb

Rural Tales Photo -- NGK_Laser Iridium_Spark Plug_SThe ad in my 1977 comic book promised a smoke bomb that would deliver “surprise as smoke pours from under the hood.” At 13 years old, I thought I knew a lot about cars. My sister would soon pay the price for both misconceptions.

It had been three years since my last ill-conceived prank involving a vehicle. That one hadn’t ended well either. Crab apples littering the ground in woods along the country road, a lone, old pickup driving slowly by, and a dare that I couldn’t hit it helped me learn just how fast an angry adult can chase you down when you mess with their vehicle.

The smoke bomb arrived in the mail, addressed to me and discreetly packaged, as promised. At five inches long, it looked a little like a thin cigar and was wrapped in red, white, and blue paper with two copper wires protruding from the end. The instructions were simple – attach the wires to the vehicle’s spark plugs and watch as panic overtakes the driver when smoke pours from the engine compartment at start up.

I knew how to change spark plugs, or so I thought, so installing the smoke bomb on my sister’s 1974 Ford LTD Country Squire Station Wagon was a snap. When it was time for her to leave for work, I hid in the pine trees, barely able to contain my excitement as I watched the door close and heard the engine start. This was it! Smoke would soon pour from the engine compartment. She’s putting the car in reverse. She’s backing down the driveway. She shifts to drive. Uh-oh. There she goes. No smoke. No one screaming “the car’s on fire!” Nothing, except a letdown, and regret that I didn’t order the “keep on trucking” t-shirt with the big red tongue instead of a stupid smoke bomb that didn’t work. What could possibly have gone wrong?

I removed the smoke bomb from her car the next afternoon and tossed it into my dresser drawer along with other discarded treasures. Little did I know, the fun was just starting. See, I had no idea that it actually mattered which spark plugs were connected to which wires. In the course of installing and removing the smoke bomb, I’m sure I had removed all eight wires and reconnected them in no particular order – something my sister found out later that day, sitting on the side of the road, wondering why the car was running so poorly.

Luckily, she actually knew something about cars, unlike me, and figured out that the plug wires were connected wrong. She fixed them and was on her way. When she came home she asked me about it I confessed to the whole scheme, in part to prevent her from telling my dad and seeing smoke pour from under his lid! That’s when she gave me an education about how to change spark plugs, and that spark plugs, wires and cylinders had to be connected to the proper distributor terminal.

I decided then and there that it would be the end of my car capers—a declaration helped by the impending arrival of Sea Monkeys and Mexican Jumping Beans on yet another order from the back of the comic book.

Now that I know how to replace spark plugs, and that the different types of spark plug metal—such as copper, iridium, and platinum—actually matter, I always think about the smoke bomb that wasn’t…whenever I’m showing someone else how to replace spark plugs.

Editor’s note: Put the comic book down and head on over to Advance Auto Parts for all the best in spark plugs, batteries, brakes and more. Buy online, pick up in store.Gag gifts


A road trip and Dad’s fuel efficiency (or lack thereof)

Advance Auto PartsWith summer almost over, it’s time to reflect. When you’re a kid, those long, hot lazy days are seemingly endless, full of promise, adventure, fun and freedom. Until one hot June day, just as summer break is getting cranked up, your dad comes home from work all excited and drops a bomb.

“Kids, this summer, we’re spending three weeks on the road, driving from New Jersey to the Grand Canyon, towing the camper behind us! The six of us will spend a lot of time together! It’ll be great!”

Uh, no it won’t. For a 13-year-old just starting to plan his summer, have there ever been more terrifying words? I think not. My plan was to spend the summer riding my bike and hanging with friends, not being trapped in a Dodge Ram conversion van with my three siblings and parents on an epic cross-country journey, living in a pop-up camper for three weeks.

This was not going to be good, or so I thought. For one thing, the old man was obsessed with fuel mileage. Always tracking the miles driven and gallons pumped at each fill up, and having a conniption whenever he forgot to record either. As obsessive as he was about the fuel efficiency, however, he didn’t give a hoot about vehicle maintenance. Tire pressure? Air filter? Oil change? A/C tune up? Nah, who needs them. We just hit the road, letting the pieces (hopefully not from our vehicle) fall where they may.

I’m pretty sure that if he had realized the impact a few simple maintenance items have on fuel mileage, not to mention vehicle reliability before a long road trip, he would have been sure to address them before our road trip.

According to, the official U.S. government source for fuel economy information, you can take three steps right now to improve your fuel economy.

  • Keep your vehicle properly tuned and increase mileage by as much as four percent. Fixing a seriously out-of-tune engine, like one with a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve mileage up to 40 percent.
  • Keep your tires at the inflation pressure recommended by the vehicle manufacturer and improve fuel mileage by more than three percent.
  • Use the recommended grade of oil for a one to two percent increase.
  • And here’s a statistic that just might surprise you, as well as your friends. On newer cars with fuel injection and computer-controlled engines, the air filter does impact acceleration but it has no impact on fuel mileage. The air filter does impact fuel mileage on older vehicles without that technology. Either way, check your air filter to see if it’s time for a change.

Somewhere between South Dakota’s legendary Corn Palace and the Grand Canyon, I came to the somewhat surprising, albeit gradual, realization that maybe this trip wasn’t such a bad idea after all. We were seeing some really cool things. Don’t get me wrong, this surly teenager found plenty of reasons to complain, like getting in trouble for “sleeping through all the scenery” or nursing frequent bloody noses thanks to the West’s incredibly low humidity levels. But all in all, it was a truly memorable vacation, even if my dad didn’t get the gas mileage he wanted and we all scattered like jackrabbits, including my parents, the second we returned home.

Editor’s note: If you’re planning an epic, end-of-summer road trip, either with your family or to get away from them, make your first stop  Advance Auto Parts for preventive maintenance items and a roadside emergency kit.  



We Like to Tow

Trailer towingIn the country, we like towing things as much as we enjoy getting towed. Whether we’re the ones being towed out of the woods after getting stuck during a night of mud bogging, or we’re towing a gooseneck stacked high and tight with 200 hay bales, it doesn’t matter. For work or just plain fun, we tow it all.

When there’s minor flooding or a good snowstorm around here, the lifted, four-wheel-drive pickups come out to play, and to help. You’ll see us driving back and forth over these mud- or snow-covered country roads, but not because we’re going anywhere in particular. No, we’re looking for someone who’s slid off the road into a ditch or needs a little assistance climbing a slippery hill. With a tow-strap or even dad’s old logging chains that are always in the pickup, we’ll get you out and back on your way, and we’ll love every minute of it. And if there isn’t someone to tow, we’ll tow something instead.

When it comes to rural living, towing is just a fact of life. Since we are always towing, it only makes sense that early on in our driving careers we get into the habit of doing what needs to be done to help ensure a trouble-free, time-saving experience hauling the heavy stuff.

Your first consideration should be your vehicle’s towing capacity – how much weight it is designed to tow without overloading mechanical systems and causing damage. Towing capacity can be found in your vehicle owner’s manual. Your vehicle also needs to be equipped with a hitch that’s rated for the amount of weight you’re towing.

If trailer towing is in your future, and you’re an inexperienced hauler, spend some time in the driveway practicing backing up the trailer. It’s is a lot tougher than the big-rig drivers make it look, particularly when you’re holding up a line of traffic and all eyes are on you. Here’s an old tip truckers use when backing a trailer – grab the bottom of the steering wheel, and turn the steering wheel in the direction you want the trailer to go.

What’s your best towing tip or worst towing horror story? Let’s see hear about it and see some photos when you share in the comments section below.

Because we typically don’t put as many miles on a trailer as we do the vehicles towing them, trailer tires often wear out from dry rot and age instead of highway miles. Every tire manufactured since 2000 has a DOT alphanumeric code on its sidewall. The last four numbers tell the date of manufacturer. For example, 5107 tells you tire was manufactured in the 51st week of 2007. Tires that are five or more years old need to be inspected for signs of possible age-related failure.

Before your trailer towing begins, have a helper stand behind the trailer while you run through a test of the brake, turn signal and marker lights. You might want to consider switching to LED trailer lights as they’re more durable, maintenance-free, and waterproof and feature a quicker response time.

Other items to pay attention to before you start trailer towing include your hitch ball, the wiring harness, and if it has them, the trailer’s brakes.Advance Auto Parts

If, however, you find yourself on the receiving end of the tow, just remember to give us a smile when our pickup or tractor pulls you out, and maybe a little beer money.

What types of towing endeavors have you been involved with recently?

Editor’s note: Need some trailer accessories before your next big adventure? Tow it on over to Advance Auto Parts for parts and advice. Just make sure you know how to back it up before you get here! 

Get summer-ready…and the latest NASCAR news?

Advance Auto PartsAn abundance of acorns. Wooly caterpillars that are all black. The number of foggy August mornings. All of the preceding are old wives’ tales that supposedly predict winter’s severity. While I put some stock in weather lore, I always wonder why there’s no similar “forecasting” for what summer is going to be like. Here’s my strategy for predicting whether it will be a blistering hot summer – I plan on it. That way, if the summer is mild, I’m pleasantly surprised, and if it’s crazy hot, I’m already prepared.

Everyone around here always talks about getting “winter-ready” but you never hear people making plans to be “summer-ready.”  Our local old timers say we haven’t had any “real” winters since the ‘50s and ‘60s. Back then, the snows were so deep they’d chain half a dozen farm tractors together in a line to try and bust through the drifts and clear the dirt roads. Winter or summer, I like to be ready for anything Mother Nature might throw my way. And for me, being ready starts with my family’s vehicles – particularly the 4×4 truck and tractor. Without them, I’m not going anywhere or getting anything done.

One of my favorite things to do on a beautiful spring Sunday afternoon is a car tune up while I listen to a race on the radio because I follow the NASCAR standings pretty closely. This is a way I can do both – keep track of my favorite NASCAR teams and drivers while getting get a jump on summer’s heat. My spring car tune up includes an auto battery testing and gives me peace of mind that my vehicles are going to perform when I need them.  I’m not talking anything too complicated for most do-it-yourselfers. Here’s my list of tune up “must do’s” before summer.

While it’s still early in the season, even if my favorite driver doesn’t end the year on top of the NASCAR standings, at least these vehicle preparations give me the confidence I need going into summer driving.

Editor’s note: Summer’s heat is tough on car batteries. Make it easy on yourself by having Advance Auto Parts test your battery for free. We also offer free battery and wiper installation with purchase. Most vehicles, most locations.

Ooooh that smell…

“Ooooh that smell. Can’t you smell that smell.”

The lyrics from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s timeless classic “That Smell” are right on the money when it comes to my minivan’s interior these days.

Advance Auto PartsWith two dogs, two little boys, a farm built on red Virginia clay, and a wife who rides horses, one of the most frequently asked questions when anyone gets in the van is, “What’s that smell?” Invariably, it’s a different odor each time, depending on who, or what, was in there last. As a result, I’ve had a lot of practice exorcising our vehicles of offending odors. I am our family’s smell eliminator. Here’s how I do it.

Getting rid of odor isn’t that daunting. The first place I start—and many drivers may not even realize they have one—is the cabin air filter. Located inside the vehicle, usually on the passenger side, between the floor and the dash or glove box, the cabin air filter traps dust, mold, pollen and other contaminants and prevents them from entering the interior. Like any filter, it needs to be changed regularly, particularly if you’re noticing some funky smells. Look how easy it is to change one.

While I have that air filter out, I vacuum the filter compartment. You might be surprised at what you find! Next, I remove the floor mats and give the interior, including seats, compartments, cup holders and floor, a thorough vacuuming to remove the dirt, food, dog hair and occasional horse manure that have collected. It doesn’t take long for these foreign substances to join forces, particularly in warm weather, and change that “new-car smell” into “eww that smell.”

Next, I wipe down all the interior surfaces. I like Griot’s interior cleaner sprayed on some micro-fiber sponges to get this job done. I work from the top down, so that any dirt I wipe off the headrests or sun visors will fall down onto a still-dirty surface that I haven’t hit yet. And because every vehicle has hard-to-reach nooks and crannies, I use an interior detail brush to pry out the remnants of last months’ egg and cheese biscuit from the cup holder, seat creases and wherever else it might be hiding. Remember, my goal here is to be the smell eliminator, and by getting rid of this debris, I am getting rid of odor.

Finally, I use an air freshening product to give the interior a fresh, clean smell. It’s my secret weapon—a “smell eliminator” if you will. And because there are so many scent choices, this might actually prove to be the toughest step for you. First, you have to decide if you want an air freshener that you place in your vehicle’s vents, or one that a lot of drivers hang from a rear-view mirror, or even a little tub of freshener that emits scents based on how much you open the lid. New car, cherry, outdoor breeze, rain, jasmine or fresh linen? You can have it all. Have some fun and experiment—that’s what I do, because let’s face it, when it comes to getting rid of odor, anything is better than a wet-dog, mildew, bottom-of-the-shoe, old Happy Meal smell greeting you every time you open the car door.


Editor’s note: If your car’s interior aroma leaves something to be desired, hit up Advance Auto Parts for a wide selection of air fresheners and vehicle interior cleaning supplies.

I love the smell of diesel in the morning

Advance Auto PartsThe scent of diesel exhaust on a clear, crisp morning always reminds me of New York City. Whether waiting on a corner or on a train platform, the city’s ever-present buses, delivery trucks and locomotives were invariably powered by diesel fuel back then, and I came to associate their exhaust with memories of the city.

Fast forward 20 years, and diesel exhaust now triggers a personal memory at the opposite end of the spectrum – country living. Out here, diesel engines are just as common as they are in the city, and maybe even more so, because of farm tractors, pickups, and big diesel-powered trucks hauling grain or manure .

A diesel engine is efficient, both in terms of the fuel economy it delivers and the amount of power it generates from diesel fuel, as compared to a gasoline engine. But like any other mechanical device, diesel engines require some TLC, and perhaps even some modifications, if you want them to work for you.

First up – glow plugs. I learned the hard way about glow plugs’ importance, and that they do eventually need to be replaced. It was a classic January morning on the farm – cold and dark.  I needed to use the old diesel tractor to clear the driveway of snow in order to get to work on time. Before I could do that, however, I needed the tractor to start. It didn’t, but did get going later that evening once I replaced the glow plugs.

Glow plugs heat the combustion chambers in a diesel engine, making cold-weather or even cool-morning starts easier. You’ll know it might be time for new ones if you’re having trouble with cold starts, or if it sounds like the engine isn’t firing on all cylinders.

Another helpful tool for cool-weather starts is an engine heater. There are several varieties out there. I’ve used an electric heather that attached to my Massey-Ferguson 65 tractor’s oil pan via a powerful magnet. It kept the oil warm on cold Ohio nights and made starting the tractor easier. There are also heaters that insert into the oil dipstick tube, diesel fuel heaters, and circulation tank heaters that keep the engine’s coolant warm (I know, sounds funny), making for easier starts in low temperatures. If you’ve  seen diesel-powered trucks or school buses parked overnight with what appears to be an electric cord sticking out the front, it’s probably for the heater .

With the advent of  computer-controlled diesel engines comes the increasing popularity of diesel engine programmers – frequently used for diesel-powered trucks – that enable users to change the engine’s factory-programmed settings in order to increase horsepower and/or fuel efficiency. There are a variety of options out there , depending on your vehicle make and model. Given the heavier loads I’m towing and what seems like steadily-rising diesel fuel prices, I’m considering trying one out on my F-150 to see if I can achieve some improvements.

Another consideration, even for diesel-engine cars, is a diesel fuel additive. Many are approved for use in all diesel fuels, and have a wide range of benefits, including: preventing fuel from gelling in cold temperatures, keeping injectors clean, providing lubricants that protect the engine, and boosting cetane (a measurement of combustion quality) for faster cold starts.

By following a planned diesel-engine preventive maintenance schedule, I’m hoping that any new diesel-scented memories I make don’t involve vehicles refusing to start.

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts carries a wide selection of parts, additives and accessories for diesel-engine cars, trucks, tractors and more.

Why we love our toys

Advance Auto Parts Whether it’s a four wheeler equipped with ATV accessories, a compact tractor, snow blower, chainsaw, boat, or dirt bike, these “tools” for work often double as toys. Growing up in the country, we lived at the end of Pine Bluff Lane—a quarter-mile of dirt and dust in the summer, a muddy, ravine-filled goat path in the spring, and in winter, a beast that my father and two neighbors eagerly tried to tame.

Since it was a private lane, maintaining it fell to my family and the neighbors, which wasn’t usually a lot of work, until winter. This was the ’70s and early ’80s—an era of big snows and rear-wheel drive cars. Even a smaller snowfall, when coupled with wind whipping across open fields, was enough to form road-closing drifts. Yes, winter was when the real work, or fun—depending on who you ask—began.

Today, compact farm tractors, gas or electric snow blowers, atvs and atv accessories—such as a snow plow—are more commonplace.  Back then, no one I knew used ATVs and I don’t think an ATV for kids was even invented, but my dad and the neighbors each did have a garden tractor, which was essentially not much more than a glorified, beefier lawn mower.

Every fall, I’d watch him remove the mowing deck from that Sears Suburban 14-HP tractor, periodically cursing a belt that wouldn’t budge, or his bleeding knuckles. Then he’d bolt on cement weights to the rear wheels and add tire chains. Next, came the four-foot snow plow mounted to the front. Finally, he made sure the tractor had fresh gas, an oil change, a new air filter, strong battery and new spark plug. Then, he and the neighbors would wait.

When a “big one” was forecast, Dad was just as excited as us kids about the prospect of a snow day. Oh sure, he’d lament about having to go out in the cold or at night to “open the road” as he put it, but we all knew that he secretly relished the challenge. When night fell and the snow flew and we saw him strap on his rubber galoshes, we knew it was playtime.

He wasn’t alone, as it was often a race between he and the neighbors to see who was going to start plowing first. We’d watch from our bedroom window as the tiny headlights bounced up and down the lane all night. If only they had small tractors or ATVs for kids back then. I could have plowed snow with my dad, instead of running behind him with a snow shovel, trying to help every time he got stuck. Oh, how much faster the job would have gone if he and the neighbors could have only used ATVs or today’s four-wheel drive trucks. Looking back, however, I now realize that they weren’t necessarily interested in getting the “job” done faster, simply because they were having too much fun. It was an excuse to work hard and play hard, and one of the reasons why we love our toys—the ones often disguised as tools.

Editor’s note: When it comes to powering and maintaining your toys, Advance Auto Parts is your best resource. Buy online, pick up in store.