Road trips…and what to get the niece who has everything

Advance Auto PartsIt’s in the air this time of year. The heat that justifies an air conditioner set on high. That urge to go driving in the summer. That desire to tie the knot.

Lucky for our family, we’ll be indulging in them all, thanks largely to our niece. Yes, the perennially engaged niece, at long last, is getting married in a couple weeks at an outdoor resort—the kind that attracts lovestruck vacationers who love to go driving in the summer, whether it’s early, late, whenever. This destination wedding and newfound vacation spot is the perfect way for us to celebrate before sending our kids back to school.

While I love my niece to pieces, I have to admit, she’s gone a little crazy with her gift requests. Seems like the couple has all of their many bases covered except for one: cars. And it’s not hard to see why. I seriously doubt that either of them has ever completed an oil change or has even checked their own tire pressure. With that, my husband and I have resolved to buying them a ratchet set and roadside safety kit for their new life together, as we agreed that those would be good places to start.

As for us, we’re going to treat our four-wheeled baby to a few things for the trip. Towing products plus A/C accessories and parts to be specific. Driving in the summer for this wedding requires these essentials. The air conditioner will protect us from the heat, the towing products will enable us to create our home away from home.

We’ll be loading up our gear, provisions and wedding gifts into our caravan: the SUV and diesel crew cab truck (borrowed from our business that my partner and I will be shuttering for two weeks; she’ll be on vacation too and won’t be doing much driving, or have need for an air conditioner or towing products: she’s sailing on an Alaskan cruise!)

Hooked to work’s truck will be those towing products. These lifelines will be securing the travel trailer. By investing in this rental, a few towing products, and a space at a great RV campground and resort (complete with hook-ups and dump stations, thankfully) that’s also close to the wedding/reception site, our vacation is set.

Couple that with seeing relatives again, bonding with my own family, and attending the wedding of a delightful couple who will finally discover all the wonders of being married. And to think that towing products, a fully functioning air conditioner and a ritual of driving in the summer all have the power to make me feel complete. 

As summer winds down, do you have any travel plans? Let us know here.

Editor’s note: If you’ve got a road trip in your future, check out this handy infographic for helpful tips.


Movies, motors and McQueen (Steve McQueen, that is)

Steve McQueenBetween all the multi-tasking that my husband and I do — you know, those responsibilities and obligations to our jobs, our kids, our families, our pets, our activities, our home and our vehicles — there is actually one thing that does remove the sting from the whole too-much-going-on-at-the-same-time dilemma. What is it? Making time to take in a movie. Or two when time luxuriously allows.

It’s a commitment. And one we’d never trade in for the world. It’s a simple way to carve out time together, just us two.

The latest movie titles embarrassingly escape us, and it’s no use trying to remember the numerous TV commercials for the latest crop of movies. So we head online to see what’s playing locally. Out of the handful that we barely recognize, the lone standout falls into the car movies category. I think you know the one: where today’s generation of fast and famous film cars share top billing alongside current Hollywood heavies (all of whom surely must derive some form or level of inspiration from Steve McQueen.) Fast cars, all furiously zooming around, driven by hot actors and pretty actresses, all engaging in tons of car-racing action and adrenaline-pumping rescues, fueled by a nonstop thumping soundtrack . . . and a heavy sigh from me and the hubby.

Not necessarily our style of film, but it’s how we now quell the craving for car movies. Truthfully, our style leans more toward the car movies (and their famous film cars which are now icons) from decades ago. Give us those car movies with Steve McQueen tearing around the streets of San Francisco, or Gene Hackman using the streets of New York as a high-speed obstacle course for four wheels, or, heck, even Lightning McQueen re-paving the streets of Radiator Springs for that matter, and we’ll be there with our bucket of popcorn in hand. Certain car movies are the greatest!

Famous film cars themselves will always have our attention, too. Surely, you can picture them as well. In the cool department, there’s no mistaking that 1968 moss-green 390 V8 Ford Mustang GT that has Steve McQueen written all over it. In the campy department, nothing can take the place of that late-1950s Cadillac stretch ambulance conversion that was vital in helping keep ghosts and their slimy green ectoplasm in check. And who says famous film cars have to be limited to cars? With another nod to Steve McQueen, there’s no forgetting the TT Special 650 Triumph motorcycle he used in that classic WWII escape scene.Steve McQueen

What about you? Which car movies starring your favorite and famous film cars rank as your go-to choices? Maybe it was that first R-rated movie you saw. Or that memorable drive-in movie that truly had you engrossed in what was happening on screen. There’s a story behind them all. Whether it involved Steve McQueen or any of those famous film cars, share it! Start confessing in our Comments section down below.


Editor’s note: As you pine for Steve McQueen and the classic car films of yore, visit Advance Auto Parts for to maintain a cinema-quality car of your own. Mustang photo courtesy of The Mustang Source.

Must . . . wipe . . . out . . . Smell in Car . . .

Advance Auto PartsDoes it seem like I’m gasping for air? My kids say they are whenever I suggest that we pile into the truck instead of our other vehicles. “Mom, we’re not going in until you get the odor out!!!”

My auto interior needed a serious scrub down. I’m up for troubleshooting moving-part problems, but I’m still a work-in-progress with keeping it clean inside and out. Since I get engrossed with any car-related matter once I learn more about it, then keeping my crew cab truck immaculate should be no different. Because I spend more time in an auto interior as opposed to its exterior, I started inside.

Once in, it’s the first thing that assaults the senses. My kids have christened it Smell in Car. What got the odor in? Leftover smells from gorgonzola-and-onion tarts, curry-chicken empanadas, and deep-fried Italian rice balls — our catering company’s top-selling appetizers! We deliver all week to local cafes and other small eateries. Delish to devour, but when aromas mix and mingle, they become a stale, stagnant bouquet that lingers in an auto interior. My kids refused to get anywhere near the truck until I chased the odor out.

So it was me against this villainous Smell in Car. I needed expert advice on getting the odor out so I checked and other trusty auto-care sites for tips on getting the odor out. Learned about the latest odors remover products that’ll keep the car interior upholstery looking and smelling good, too. After all, it’s the car interior upholstery that absorbs and becomes home to that notorious nuisance, Smell in Car.

To get the odor out, you need the right tools to usher out any fiendish Smell in Car from your car interior upholstery, like:

  • Baking soda — use it the way you use it at home to deodorize your carpet: sprinkle some on, let it set for a few hours, then vacuum
  • AC filter — if you haven’t changed it lately, install a new one and let it circulate and clarify the auto interior air
  • Handheld steam cleaner — the natural power of high-pressure steam tackles odors without harsh chemicals

As for those latest auto interior odors remover products, they range from new, organic/environmentally-friendly formulations, to the tried-and-true names we grew up with that’re now amped up with added deodorizing muscle. All are safe for most car interior upholstery types. I liked:

As a result, that scandalous Smell in Car has been lifted from my auto interior. I think I could like this concept of keeping a car clean and the odor out. And my kids will enjoy this nice breath of fresh air.

Editor’s Note: Advance Auto Parts can help you prevail in the fight against foul odors.Text “Spring” to 36898 to save now. Up to 5 messages per month; message & data rates may apply

Photo courtesy of Approved Gas Masks.

Wash? Wax? Why bother.

Advance Auto PartsWouldn’t you know it? At long last, I not only washed but also detailed, to the best of my ability, the car this past sunny weekend.

Not even a couple of days pass before the inevitable happens. Rain. All last night. And this morning.

Serves me right. The Wash Your Car Now gods are getting back at me for waiting too long. (Pity, the billions of bugs that met their fate on my front bumper. Alas, the caked-on muck and sludge atop the once proud clear coat.) Apparently, I haven’t sacrificed enough personal time in order to surround myself with car wash products to appease the auto overlords.

What can I say? I HATE when it’s time to wash my car, and don’t get me started on waxing. There, I said it, even though I love and value cars and I’m always on top of the maintenance part of ownership.

But looks-wise, I’ve no problem and no shame driving around with, not the cute little “Wash Me” message, but the far more serious command of “Wash Your Car” menacingly hand-scrawled on my back windows by some neat-freak.

Evidently, my family could no longer stand the embarrassment either. So on Mother’s Day (yes, last year), they presented me with a gift bucket filled with car wash products. For washing your car, drying your car, waxing your car, buffing your car, deodorizing your car. Yet not even one promise from my kids to help me put these Wash Your Car wonders into use. I looked with hope at my husband who gleefully said, “Waxing your car builds character,” and who also quickly ducked as I threw my new microfiber sponge at him.

Back to this past weekend: I unearthed my 2012 Mother’s Day gift. Prepared to defunk and degunk, my new car wash products were the arsenal at my side.

Mission “Wash Your Car – Waxing Your Car” was officially under way. The hardest part? Convincing myself that I know how to wash a car, and that waxing your car is a cinch. Not an easy feat when one’s past cleaning method didn’t even require car wash products. All I did was:

  1. Take the hose to it
  2. Then drive off

So I headed to the Advance Auto Parts Wash & Wax section of their website. I already had the car wash products. I just needed some tips. After a quick read on how to wash a car, waxing your car and more, my confidence grew. I transformed my old 2-step How To Wash A Car method into this better one:

  1. Wash and dry
  2. Surface prep
  3. Wax and shine
  4. Wheel and tire
  5. Interior

When I was done, it was a beautiful sight. All clean and looking sharp for those couple of days. Next time I get the urge to reach for my car wash products, I’ll be sure to glance at the weather report first.

Editor’s note: Text “Spring” to 36898 for great wash & wax deals now! Up to 5 messages per month; message & data rates may apply.

Diesel fuel and our kind of food truck

Advance Auto PartsMy business partner and I have officially graduated from using each of our family’s minivans for our deliveries. She and I have put them through the roadway ringer and they now deserve to be reserved for family-friendly ventures once again. We loaded lots of food trays and logged lots of miles on the minis since our catering business really picked up. Weekday orders have increased and are now rivaling our weekend business–and we haven’t stopped smiling! Naturally, we’re now thinking diesel. Not diesel cars, but diesel powered trucks.

Why have they topped our list? Easy. Gone are the days of diesel cars and trucks being annoyingly noisy and irritatingly smelly, especially those behemoth trucks favored by large industrial businesses. High-tech advances have transformed them into easily accessible vehicles for the likes of us. In our case, small-business owners who are drawn to how modern diesel powered trucks have tempted us with:

  • Awesomely impressive power (looking ahead, we’re thinking of adding a massive traveling barbecue grill that we can tow to most any event location, multiplying our menu-offering possibilities)
  • Incredible fuel economy (we were impressed by how they, like diesel cars, are traditionally less thirsty for diesel fuel than gasoline powered truck options)
  • The spaciousness of the flatbed (just right for our trays of edibles, chafing dishes, serve ware, folding tables, linens, the occasional ice sculpture)

Of course, we also needed to ensure the cab area was equally spacious. In addition to the eats, drinks and accessories we’re transporting, we sometimes recruit a few of our family and friends as banquet servers at our larger events. Having the extra room for them eliminates extra cars (and gets us into the carpool/HOV lanes!) After taking a look at various diesel powered trucks, it was easy to choose a crew cab model that seats six.

Another clincher that steered us to diesel powered trucks are the relatively low operating costs, thanks to their great fuel economy (must be why there are a lot of diesel cars on the road today). Though the diesel fuel price-per-gallon is generally higher than that of gasoline, diesel fuel offers an excellent miles-per-gallon ratio that more than makes up for what we’ll be paying for diesel fuel at the pump.

Safety factors are at the forefront of all moms who are behind the wheel. We are no exception. Today’s diesel powered trucks (and to be fair, diesel cars) are equipped with all the same modern-day safety features, as well as convenient and indulgent upgrades, found in minivans, SUVs and cars that aren’t powered by diesel fuel:

  • Anti-lock brakes
  • Air bags all around
  • Stability control
  • Rear-view cameras
  • Parking sensors

With these great features now part of today’s diesel powered trucks (and diesel cars), we’ve been wondering if a driverless option could not be far off. While en route to our delivery destinations, it’d be nice to be freed up to do other tasks. Like taking turns with catching up on some sleep!

Editor’s note: Satisfy your hunger for savings by checking out the great deals at Advance Auto Parts today! Plus, check out our latest Facebook sweepstakes for great prizes! Brought to you by Advance and Melling.

Used ATVs are the “new” new toys

Advance Auto PartsIt’s still here. That electric snow blower time of year that lingers just before the final spring thaw. That’s when my husband’s side of the family—his folks and his siblings with their spouses and kids—make a run for their annual break. With just a few weeks left before spring officially hits, we are that wagon train you see heading up the mountains.

Inside each of our minivans, trucks and SUVs are packed to the hilt with comfort provisions, plus that electric snow blower, as well as quite a few spare Power Sport Batteries, just in case. Because outside, we’re towing our toys. That’s right. We’re heading for an extended weekend of family freewheeling in—of all things—used ATVs! I’ve seen his family go from snowshoeing to cross-country skiing, to snowboarding. But since they’ve discovered a faster way to transport themselves, their favorite toys are these used ATVs they bought at a steal a few years back.

What’s my take on these? They can be fun when driven in a safe manner, but I’m not too wild about using them in a sporting way. Maybe it’s just the mom gene in me. Plus, I always remember the time that my cousin took a nasty spill in one of those used ATVs while speeding through some sand dunes down in Australia. Both he and that used ATV rolled down the hill. Together. Still sends chills down my spine just thinking how he spent the rest of his vacation in traction there.

Of course, my kids are mesmerized by these things. To my husband and me they plea their case around this time of year about them getting an ATV for kids. Not one to share, but one for each of them. We used to tell them to wait until they were big enough to drive them. That didn’t help. “They really do have an ATV for kids,” they keep reasoning back. An ATV for kids? Nothing doing.

So, we made them a deal. They’ll only get one ATV for kids that they’ll have to share, but only if they go about it the way their uncles and aunts did: by shopping around for a used ATV for kids. And it has to be at a price that’s a steal. After all, they’ll be the ones earning the money to pay it.

So, if you’re wondering about a certain trio of children who are kicking the tires of some used ATVs for kids, or are asking if you could hire them to clear a path from your front door to your driveway using our electric snow blower, they belong to my husband and me.

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts carries a wide selection of ATV batteries and accessories, plus parts for RVs, lawn and garden vehicles, motorcycles and more. Speaking of which, if you’re heading out to Bike Week, be sure to check out all of the killer events in store! 

Tailgating: big-league style!

Advance Auto PartsIf you’re like my family and me, we’ll be catching that big game nowhere near that sold-out stadium in Louisiana. Instead, we’ll be letting the good times roll in our own way. A few hours before those teams from San Francisco and Baltimore start tossing around that pigskin, we’ll pack up all of our tailgating gear, tailgating food and any other essential tailgate accessories and head to the park by the lake here in town. Once there, we’ll most definitely run into other neighbors who also have serious cases of tailgate on the mind. Welcome to our annual mid-winter gathering of tailgaters who love, love, love football.

But before the tailgate festivities can happen, we all make sure we have plenty of power generators and propane generators on hand. They’ll be giving life to the laptops that’ll be streaming the game live online. Plus, these power generators and propane generators will be fueling the grills, portable outdoor heaters and the appliances that will keep the food and drink warm and plentiful during what we hope will be a mild winter day. I can’t begin to tell you what a great and handy invention these power generators are. We found ours online at a pretty sweet savings deal. I like that this combination power generator does double duty as both a jump starter and portable power unit.

So while the techno-geeks among us set up the game-viewing area with the laptops, auxiliary monitors and power generators (the propane generators had another task), the kids get assigned the task of fanning out the tailgate furniture: foldout seats, tables and canopy or two. That leaves the cooks among us organizing our impromptu outdoor tailgate kitchen.

The power generators and propane generators are switched on and tailgate game-day grub is the name of the game. The park air is soon filled with the traditional aromas of easy tailgating recipes: chicken wings, chili, nachos, potato skins, sloppy joes, appetizers. I always like to throw in a non-traditional entrée to make things interesting. This year, I thought I’d honor the two top teams by firing up my power generator and getting my grill good and hot to heat up the pre-barbecued — and mostly rare — meat for Baltimore’s beloved pit beef sandwiches.

But instead of using the traditional Kaiser roll, I’ll be slicing up loaves of, what else? One of San Francisco’s culinary claims to fame: that super sourdough bread. My business partner (we run a little foodie catering business when I’m not musing about DIY) got her portable propane generator going and soon her stovetop had a pot filled with another SF staple: cioppino seafood stew, while her power generator kept her portable oven busy with mounds of Maryland crabcakes!

We’ll cheer the plays, we’ll reach for another serving of our favorite dishes from those easy tailgating recipes, and we’ll all be glad we didn’t offer to host this party at our own home. Just a quick clean up of our park “living room” and “kitchen”, pack in our tailgating gear, and call it another year until we meet again with our power generators, propane generators and other tailgating gear.

New Orleans may have their beignets, gumbo and jambalaya, but for our big game Sunday, nothing beats all that our tailgate parties have come to symbolize for us all these years.

Editor’s note: While the powers that be at said Big Game prohibit businesses from directly referencing their prized namesake, Advance Auto Parts can still offer you Super Savings on accessories, supplies and more, to get your tailgating party going in high style.

What do brownies, bowling and batteries have in common?

Advance Auto PartsThey’re my power sources. The sweet stuff: after the first bite, I’m ready to move mountains. The sport stuff: always an adrenaline rush since my league days with The Gutter Gals. The start-the-car-NOW stuff: my family has thousands of destinations — starting the ignition, hearing an empty-sounding click, then dead silence is something we don’t need. Dead car battery. Get the jumper cables. Time for reviving a dead car battery and jump starting a car.

Never worked with jumper cables before for jump starting a car? (No worries ladies, we’ve all been there once.) A dead car battery doesn’t discriminate. It’ll happen some day, so take heed and learn how to jump start a car battery right:

  • Turn off both cars
  • Connect one of the red (positive) jumper cables to the positive terminal on the stalled car’s battery
  • Connect the second red jumper cable to the positive terminal of the battery on the car giving the boost
  • Connect one of the black (negative) jumper cables to the negative terminal of the boosting car’s battery
  • Connect the other black jumper cable to the stalled car’s engine block
  • Start the boosting car, let it run for a few minutes
  • Start the stalled car
  • Once the stalled car starts, keep both cars running
  • In reverse order, take off the jumper cables
  • Keep the jumped car running for half an hour (it’ll give the battery time to recharge itself)

That is the art of jump starting a car and reviving a dead car battery. To further avoid the dead car battery dilemma, especially with winter around the corner, be proactive now. During bone-cold weather, a battery’s ability to generate power naturally slows down. To make the problem worse, engines will need even more battery current to get started. Plus, the many demands of the defrosters, wipers and heater also increase the need for power. So check your battery’s longevity level for winter! Test it with a voltmeter. Measure electrolyte levels. Remove corrosion from battery posts and terminals.

Lastly, keep those jumper cables in the trunk. After all, you now know how to jump start a car battery and an opportunity to be a Good Samaritan may arise at the parking lot, on the coldest night this winter. Then, after reviving a dead car battery, reward yourself. I say go for a fudge-nut brownie. Or two.

Editor’s note: Is you power absolute? Advance Auto Parts offers loads of car batteries, services and solutions to serve just about every cold-cranking need. Buy online, have it installed free in store—most vehicles, most locations. (Sorry, we’re out of fudge-nut brownies at the moment.)

Delivering the good this holiday season

Advance Auto PartsThat’s right. Our beloved road warriors do play a pivotal role. In this case, I’m referring to a car’s main purpose: transport. During the holidays when I’m behind the wheel, I’ve balanced out ferocious trips to the mall with trips of the more soul-enriching kind: delivering driving services for senior citizens. I look forward to my volunteer opportunities—a couple hours a week doing driving services for senior citizens to the supermarket, doctor appointments, even senior-center bingo games! There’s no better way to participate in holiday charities.

My girlfriends wondered how I’m so naturally happy during the holiday hustle and bustle, knowing I co-own a local foodie business while raising a family. They accused me of seeking refuge at day spas! I told them I tapped into a better source of fulfillment: volunteer opportunities. The time, I give in offering these driving services for senior citizens was my key to being naturally happy. Holiday charities just aren’t for sale at the mall.

My husband couldn’t agree more with volunteer opportunities being my holiday secret for happiness. So he devised his driving services for senior citizens plan, only for homebound seniors. During the holidays, also for a few hours a week, he transforms himself into a deliveryman of food and coats collected by local charities for those seniors.

My town has an infectious ability to rally up and come together. Volunteer opportunities are no exception. I’ve since discovered many local shops now reach out specifically to seniors. A few auto shops, to encourage senior citizen driving safety, placed flyers at the senior center for complimentary oil changes and safety checks during the holidays. Cooler still, upon finding out about us “Santa Elves” who take part in senior-citizen holiday charities, those awesome repair shops have since offered up those same services to us for the holidays, too. What a wonderful way to create volunteer opportunities while reminding us which shop to drive to when we need our next car repair or service!

Even my daughter participates in holiday charities when she’s home from college. Instead of doing driving services for senior citizens, she sets aside a small slush fund from her holiday job helping me out in the shop. With it, she uses the Advance Auto Parts Holiday Gift Guide for inexpensive yet indispensible ideas. Windshield wiper fluid, car air fresheners (Christmas-tree shape, of course), motor oil quarts and more find their way into the basket. She tops each with a red ribbon then distributes them to those repair shops providing seniors with freebie holiday services and asks them to include these as gifts for the seniors, too.

It’s never too late to create and customize your own holiday charities, like our driving services for senior citizens. Soon, you, your friends and neighbors will discover the secret for happier holidays (and how easy, fun and fulfilling it is to participate in volunteer opportunities). It certainly happened in my town.

Editor’s note: While you’re doing your part to help others this season, be sure your ride’s in top shape. Advance Auto Parts can help. Text “HOLIDAY” to 36898 to check out our latest deals and savings offers. Up to 5 messages per month; message & data rates may apply. —JK

Things that make you go ARGH!!! (Or, reasons why your car won’t start)

We’ve all been there… The key’s in the ignition. The car’s cranking, but simply won’t take. Or if it does, it quickly dies. Most frustrating, there just isn’t any action at all. After mumbling some choice words, you gather your car-smarts and summarize this: the car won’t start. I’ve been there myself—more times than I care to mention.

Dead car batteryTake the time we took our son for his junior-prom tuxedo fitting last spring. The car ignition kept stalling. The hubby leaned over and said to watch the dashboard. We noticed the warning lights weren’t turning on. “Looks like it might be ignition switch replacement time,” he deduced. “Warning lights being off are a sign of a bad ignition switch?” I asked. “Generally, yes,” he responded, “might be a short in the electrical system.” So I stopped (didn’t want to drain the battery) and we called for a tow. Our mechanic later confirmed my husband’s ignition switch replacement diagnosis.

A few…ahem, years earlier, back in my college days, friends and I headed for a coastal road trip. Halfway there, the car decides to undergo a midlife crisis. All we got was just a feeble click-click with each turn of the key in the ignition. “I was just with Dad when he bought this new battery! Now it’s a dead car battery,” Kelly groaned. “Then this isn’t a dead car battery problem,” I said.

Best I was able to figure out—with my Dad, thanks to the payphone—was that it still might be a power source problem, like maybe an alternator issue, since that’s what recharges the battery with power from the engine. As Dad predicted, that was all it needed. We pitched in for that alternator replacement, and though it left us with less cash for partying, looking back, it gave me the gumption to delve further into our vehicles.

Another cause for a car not starting? Bad ignition relay. That’ll cause a car to start momentarily then stop right away. In this case, this “middleman” (or “solenoid”) is incapable of relaying a low-amp electrical volt to switch a high-amp circuit that supplies power to the various electrical parts throughout the car. I’ve been the victim of this slippery middleman myself. But now, I always win since I know what to look out for.

Before I get back to dinner and homework duty, I’d like to leave you with this parting thought: alternator replacement and ignition switch replacement are probably going to be inevitable, if you plan on keeping your car a while. You will also most likely deal with a bad ignition relay at some point, and for sure, a dead car battery. Not to worry, you can handle it—I did!

Editor’s note: You can help prevent instances like these by doing simple maintenance and checkups yourself. Rely on Advance Auto Parts for a vast selection of car batteries and other electrical system essentials.