Tech Garage TV review

Tech Garage studio photoRead our review of the Velocity Channel’s popular DIY show.

Do you look forward to seeing how big The Donald’s hair is this week while two celebrities engage in a boardroom battle? Do you enjoy watching “real” housewives fight one another? Are you still upset about Chris’ choice to receive the final rose?

If so, then it’s probably a safe assumption that you can’t get enough drama in your life, and that you love “reality” TV. If that’s the case, then I recommend you stick with what’s been working for you and not watch Tech Garage, one of the newest car TV shows on the Velocity Channel that just concluded its first season.

If, however, you love everything about cars – including how to fix them, coax more performance from them, how their various systems work, why they break and how to prevent failures, then you’re going to want to tune in to Tech Garage every weekend, or catch the episodes online. It could become one of the top car TV shows on YouTube.

Tech Garage features John Gardner, an ASE-certified master mechanic and automotive instructor at Chipola College in Marianna, Fla., explaining how cars and their various systems work. There’s no drama here, but there are plenty of key tips. Whether you’re a heavy DIY’er who can handle pretty much anything under the hood or a 15-year old dreaming about the day you can drive, you’re going to learn something new about vehicle mechanics from watching this car TV show.

On one of the show’s first episodes, Gardner explored the vehicle’s battery, charging and starting system. What makes the show unique is that he doesn’t just explain to viewers how the systems work and leave them with only a cursory understanding. He breaks the system down and provides an in-depth explanation of not just how it works but why, and he uses some pretty cool, functioning system displays that any gearhead would love to have taking up space in their garage or man cave.

For example, in that first episode Gardner goes under the hood to diagnose a lack of starting power in a Mustang. He provides detailed diagnostics using a voltmeter, and has an awesome cutaway of a vehicle battery and even the internal battery plates to show viewers exactly what a crumpled mess it looks like when they begin to fail. Sure, most of us who know about cars understand why batteries fail and how to prolong their lives and replace them, but it’s not often we see the inside of one that has failed to add to our understanding or that we receive an education about volts, amps and resistance.

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Gardner employs a similar tactic with the full-scale working model of a starting system. He even has a couple starters – including a big field-coil starter – that he’s taken apart to show viewers how they work and why. On this episode, the biggest moment of drama between people is when Gardner asks his assistant to crank the Mustang with the headlights on, and it fails to start. As I said, if you’re looking for fights and name calling, you’re going to find them on this car TV show.

In addition to adding to your knowledge under the hood, Tech Garage provides some pretty cool factoids in every episode that can be used to impress your friends, or one-up a fellow heavy DIY’er who always seems to be a step ahead. Try these on for size. What was the first production vehicle to use an alternator? That would be the 1960 Chrysler Valiant. How about the fact that the first storage battery – called the voltaic pile – was invented in 1796 by Italian scientist Allesandro Volta? The volt is named in his honor. And finally, 99 percent of all new cars sold have air conditioning.

On another episode, Gardner dives into a timely topic now that temperatures are starting to rise – a vehicle’s AC system. In addition to demonstrating how it works and how to quickly and easily recharge it using a canister of AC Pro, and how to identify the high side versus the low side, he has a full scale vehicle AC system, complete with condenser and evaporator – and it’s functioning. If you walk away not understanding more about vehicle AC and how the AC cycle works, you weren’t watching.

With insightful and timely show topics that include brakes and wheel bearings, fuel systems and turbo and supercharging, and engines and related emerging technologies, Tech Garage should quickly build a following of loyal viewers who want to learn vehicle mechanics from an ASE-certified pro.

—MND

The neighborhood service station — a dying breed?

Gas station photoOur Mechanic Next Door reminisces about this steadily declining American institution–where many DIY’ers and professional mechanics first got started.

 

Frank’s Gulf Gas and Service Station was a slightly intimidating place to a five year old. It was dark inside the “office” and in the garage, everything seemed to be either blue-gray or black, and Frank was a tall man, constantly wiping grease from his hands on the blue rag that dangled from his back pocket.

I learned quickly, however, that Frank’s was also a fun place. There were always ice cream sandwiches and cones in an old chest freezer inside the office that we could choose from. Frank’s easygoing personality, quick smile and willingness to help matched his intimidating stature. And, to top it all off, when our car was being serviced, Frank would let us sit in it while he raised it up high on the lift.

As much fun as it was for us kids, however, Frank’s was a lifesaver for my parents, and many of our neighbors.

Whenever there was anything wrong with the car, my dad always said, “Take it to Frank’s.” From routine maintenance to major repairs and pumping gas in between, Frank did it all in a two-bay gas station at the crossroads.

Frank’s, and tens of thousands of other gas and service stations like his across the country, are where countless teenagers first got some grease under their fingernails and began a journey to becoming a lifelong DIYer or professional mechanic. Hang around a gas station, cars and seasoned gas jockeys and mechanics long enough and you can’t help but learn about engines and how they run.

The service station’s history is murky, much like the quality of early gasoline when it was first dispensed everywhere and from everything, including in general stores and from buckets whose contents had to be funneled into the car. The first purpose-built service station is widely credited as being the Gulf Refining Company’s architect-designed, pagoda-style brick building that opened in Pittsburg in 1913. Earlier claims point to a Standard Oil station that opened in Seattle in 1907, but Gulf’s station is thought to be the first designed and built specifically to dispense free air, water and tire- and crankcase-related services, and of course gasoline. This entertaining and informative video traces the service station’s evolution and how the industry has changed. gas station 2 picture

Sadly, the neighborhood gas and service station is steadily becoming a thing of the past. Even Frank’s Gulf has long since closed, and the trend shows no sign of abating. 2013 data from NACS and Nielsen counted 152,995 retail fueling sites in the U.S., a continued decline from 1994 when there were nearly 203,000 gas stations. If you don’t remember or have never seen what a full-service, old-school gas station looks like, check out these photos.

Replacing the mom and pop neighborhood service station are 24-hour, corporate-owned convenience store chains whose primary business focus is selling motorists groceries, fast food and even hardware and household goods. With declining profit margins on gas sales, the only reason many even have pumps is simply to get customers in the door. Vehicle service and repairs at these convenience store gas stations have virtually disappeared. They even have their own trade industry association helping represent their interests – the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS).

It’s widely agreed that the death knell for neighborhood service stations began in the 1960s when convenience stores first started invading the gas-dispensing business, helped in part by new pump technology and states lifting bans on motorists dispensing their own gasoline. Today, only New Jersey and Oregon still have a ban on filling the tank yourself. Also helping fuel the decline were big retailers and grocery store chains’, including WalMart and Kroger, entrance in the 1990s into the business of selling gas.

The decline can’t be blamed solely on competition, however. Stricter environmental regulations related to fuel pumps and underground fuel tanks increased costs for many mom and pop stations while improved vehicle fuel efficiency and the rise of vehicles that use little or no gas saw fewer customers pulling up their stations for a fill up.

gas station 3 pictureFull-service, neighborhood gas stations’ disappearance is a loss for budding mechanics and DIY’ers everywhere, who no longer have a place to go after school where they can get their hands dirty and their minds filled with automotive knowledge. It’s also a loss for drivers who don’t check tire pressure often enough or other vital fluids – including the oil level and when it needs to be changed – and for those who need a quick fix or some free advice while getting a fill up.

Frank’s empty building is still there, but inside it’s even darker than I remembered, much like the outlook for the remaining mom and pop service stations that have somehow managed to hang on.

Editor’s note: Have you logged in any hours at your neighborhood garage? In that same spirit, visit Advance Auto Parts for the parts and tools you need to finish your projects right. Buy online, pick up in store, in 30 minutes.

 

 

 

Cracking the code: your vehicle identification number

VIN code photoThe VIN (vehicle identification number) of your car has been described as its fingerprint – no other vehicle can have the exact same one, even if the other vehicle is close enough to yours to be its “twin.” It’s also been compared to your car’s social security number.

VINs first existed in 1954, but their length and code values were not yet standardized. That changed in 1981, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began requiring standardized VINs for any vehicle that took to the road.

As far as the number’s location in your vehicle, NHTSA says the VIN must be inside the vehicle, and visible through the windshield when you’re looking through the left windshield pillar. It must also – fairly enough – be readable.

The main purpose of the VIN is to definitively identify a specific vehicle, but its usage goes beyond that. According to DMV.org (a privately owned, non-governmental site), “deciphering these codes is a hobby for some car enthusiasts, including collectors who want to own one of the first or last cars to come off an assembly line.” Plus, of course, it’s a great way to understand the history of your vehicle – or the vehicle you’re thinking about buying.

So, you know how we are . . . curious minds want to know, and so we’ve decided to crack the code . . .

Truth – or urban myth?

Myth busting is fun and, if you look online, you’ll find plenty of places willing to tell you that a man named Steve Maxwell “invented” the VIN. Steve apparently didn’t fully understand the value of his invention, as he apparently wrote it down on the back of a bar napkin and sold the idea to a far shrewder tavern patron for $1,000. The VIN, we are assured, “soon evolved” into today’s system.

True or false? Unfortunately, we don’t know. Snopes had nothing to say on the matter and a search on Google patents didn’t shed any light, either. At some point, we knew we needed to cry uncle and get back to selling car parts – and so we did. But, if you know the answer about Steve Maxwell, we’d love to hear your info!

Back to the matter at hand . . .

Breakdown of the VIN

Not surprisingly, we found conflicting information online, but we were able to track down specifics from the authoritative source, NHSTA, along with other information-rich sites such as ResearchManiacs.com.

Today’s VIN contains 17 letters and numbers and is really a conglomerate of three sets of numbers:

  • World manufacturer identifier (WMI): characters 1 through 3
  • Vehicle descriptor section (VDS): characters 4 through 8
  • Vehicle identifier section (VIS): characters 9 through 17

World manufacturer identifier: WMI

The first letter or number reveals the continent where the vehicle was made:

• A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and H: Africa
• J, K, L, M, N, P, and R: Asia
• S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z: Europe
• 1, 2, 3, 4, 5: North America
• 6 and 7: Oceania
• 8 and 9: South America

The second letter or number identifies the country where the vehicle was made. As ResearchManiacs.com reminds us, though, “NOT all Japanese cars are made in Japan and NOT all GM cars are made in America and so on.” Here’s how you can decode that second letter or number in your VIN.

The third letter or number identifies the type of vehicle it is – a car or truck, for example, or a bus or motorcycle. Each manufacturer uses different codes – and, there’s good news and there’s bad news about that. The bad news is that it can be a bit of a hassle to track down your manufacturer’s coding system for that third digit. The good news is that it’s fairly unlikely that you don’t already know if you own a car or a truck, a bus or a motorcycle. (If you aren’t sure, ask a buddy.)Car VIN number

Note: If a vehicle is manufactured by a “low-volume” company – one that produces fewer than 1,000 of a particular vehicle per year – it will have the number 9 in the third character, as well as in the 12th, 13th and 14th placeholders.

Vehicle descriptor section: VDS

Letters and numbers in the VDS provide information about the vehicle model, engine type, body style and so forth. Again, each manufacturer devises its own codes. Fortunately, there are multiple VIN decoder sites such as this one that can decipher the meaning behind the characters. The one we’ve linked to works for cars manufactured by:

A-F H-K M-P R-V
Alfa Romeo Honda Mazda Renault
Audi Hyundai Mercedes Benz Seat
BMW Jeep Mitsubishi Subaru
Buick Kia Nissan Suzuki
Citroen Opel Skoda
Chevrolet Peugeot Toyota
Ford Pontiac Volkswagen
Fiat Porsche Volvo

 

Note: the character in position 9 is the VIN check digit that is used to determine if it is a correct VIN and to help prevent VIN fraud. It does not tell you anything specific about the actual vehicle.


Vehicle identifier section: VIS

Characters 10 through 17 get down to the nitty-gritty, sharing when a car was built, what options it has and more.

Let’s look at character #10, which is the model year (not the year manufactured). If it’s A, then your car is from 1980 or 2010. To determine this (although it’s probably pretty obvious which one it is), look at character #7. If it’s a number, then your car is pre-2010 (and is therefore 1980). If it’s a letter, then it’s a 2010.

Letter B: It’s either 1981 or 2011; look at character #7 to tell

Letter C: It’s either 1982 or 2012; look at character #7 to tell

You get the pattern. The letter “Z” is not used in this cycle. Instead, once you get to the 2001/2030 option, the tenth character is the numerical 1 (and it goes through the numerical 9). Confused? Use a VIN decoder!

Then, characters 11 through 17 are used in unique ways by each manufacturer to record info, such as the assembly plant, options on the vehicle and so forth. So, track down the coding for your specific manufacturer. (Or use a VIN decoder!)

Useful fact: If a VIN contains the letters I, O or Q, then it’s not a real VIN. That’s because it’s too easy to confuse those letters with the numerical 0 and 1, and so they are avoided. And, character ten cannot be the letters U and Z or the numerical 0. You can use this info to dazzle your friends and/or to identify false VINs. Or to make yourself feel better if you needed to ask your buddy if you rode a motorcycle or drove a bus (to help figure out character 3 of your VIN).

For more information

There is plenty of (dry) reading material available at the NHTSA site. There is also an article at Wikipedia that cites credible sources for its reporting.

What questions do you have about your VIN? What scoop can you share about the Steve Maxwell mystery? Please share in the comments below!

VIN graphic courtesy of Edmunds.

Euro Tripper 2015: Advance on the Fort Myers scene

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Check out this amazing photo exhibit from recent events in Fort Myers.

Enthusiasts from around the world love a quality car show – and it just doesn’t get better than Euro Tripper 3.EuroTripper 16 car

Some shows are only about the cars, while others are also a chance to catch up with good friends. Still others, like the Euro Tripper, offer entertainment for the entire family, striving to make it a good time for everyone.

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In year three we’ve seen Paul Barney, the show creator, grow the show tremendously. This year featured a new location, new entertainment – and, as always, lots and lots of rescue animals from Brookes Legacy Animal Rescue available for adoption. People had the opportunity to donate food, toys, cash and more to the rescue operation, with parking fees donated to Brookes Legacy.

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Brand spanking new location

Sponsored by the local VW dealership in Fort Myers, Euro Tripper moved from a hockey arena parking lot to a new location at Jet Blue Park, the spring home of the Boston Red Sox. The show field had cars from all along the east coast of the U.S. and even a traveler in his Mk6 GTI all the way from Mexico.

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More about the cars . . . while newer Volkswagens, BMWs and Audis covered half of the show field, a great showing of air-cooled classics lined the perimeter. For those along for the fun and maybe not so much the cars, Paul brought out a team of BMX riders for family entertainment.

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Giveaways have become a tradition at Euro Tripper and v.3 of the show brought a raffle for an air ride management kit, a set of brand new wheels and countless other smaller prizes. Many went home very happy that day. Wouldn’t you be?

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Thumbs up!

Thanks to all the volunteers, workers at Jet Blue Park and sponsors for making Euro Tripper 3 another entertaining weekend for everyone involved. See you at Euro Tripper 4!

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Editor’s note: As you head out to car shows this season, make sure your ride’s appearance is firing on all cylinders. Advance Auto Parts can help–with a wide assortment of appearance chemicals, accessories and more, all at great values. 

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Crucial Cars: Chevrolet Blazer

Chevrolet Blazer pictureFrom timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

In this installment, Ol’ Man Gearhead digs up some dirt on one of his favorite SUV’s—the iconic Chevy Blazer.

When you think about the Chevrolet Blazer, what comes to mind? These days, chances are it’s the Trailblazer, a short-lived SUV from the 2000s chiefly remembered for its quirky 4.2-liter inline-6 engine. Or maybe you’re thinking of the S-10 Blazer, a popular SUV from the ’90s based on Chevy’s compact pickup.

But those aren’t real Blazers.

If you want the real deal, you’ve got to go back in time to the so-called K5 Blazer, which debuted in 1969 as an SUV version of Chevy’s full-size C/K truck. That’s what a Blazer is supposed to be. Chevy calls it the Tahoe now, and there’s not much of that original rough-and-tumble character remaining. But back in the day, the Blazer had attitude like no other SUV on the road.

No-Nonsense Capabilities

If you look around today, it’s genuinely difficult to find a true SUV with body-on-frame construction. The Tahoe’s one of them, but between you and me, it’s tuned more for suburban shopping malls than off-roading. The Blazer, though, was all muscle, all the time. From ’69 until its demise after the 1994 model year (the final chassis actually continued on as the Tahoe through ’99), the Blazer rode atop a short-wheelbase version of GM’s full-size truck platform, and four-wheel drive with low-range gearing was always available. An off-road package added various beefed-up components for even more trail-busting ability. You could even get removable top until ’92, which meant the Blazer was kind of like a full-size Jeep Wrangler. They don’t make SUVs like this anymore, and that’s a shame.

Plenty of Power

The Blazer also came with plenty of motor. Right off the bat, Chevy offered the legendary small-block 5.7-liter V8, and that continued to be the featured engine throughout the Blazer’s run. With ample thrust across the powerband and an exhaust note that announces your presence from blocks away, the small-block is one of the great motors in automotive history. It’s also one of the easiest engines to work on yourself, and that’s one of the charms of owning a Blazer, even today. If you find a used one in decent condition, you can rest easy knowing that any engine work can be done by a decent shade-tree mechanic.Chevy Blazer picture

SUV Functionality

There’s a reason that real enthusiasts like body-on-frame SUVs so much: they’re as tough as the trucks they’re based on, yet the offer the interior accoutrements and passenger space of a wagon. True to form, the K5 Blazer always provided the most luxurious features available on the C/K trucks of the day, and the spacious backseat made it a viable family vehicle. These were do-it-all SUVs that could handle whatever you threw at them — and still can. If you’ve driven a K5 Blazer, you know what I’m talking about. For my money, you still can’t find a cooler all-around SUV than the original Blazer, no matter what era you’re talking about.

Blazer Fan Forum

Let’s hear from you, Blazer fans. You know that SUVs don’t get any better than this. What are your favorite K5 Blazer stories?

Editor’s note: To keep your Blazer and all other vehicles in check, count on Advance Auto Parts for the best in savings and selection. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Muffler Methodology: Getting the Sound You’re After

Car muffler pictureWhat’s your sound preference? Mild? Moderate? Aggressive? No sound at all? Maybe you want a different sound depending on what and where you’re driving? Choose an aggressive tone for your 1972 Dodge Charger that you lovingly restored and is parked in the garage, and another – shall we say – “less noticeable” tone for the Subaru Outback that’s parked in the driveway and shuttles the kids back and forth to their activities.

No matter what your harmonic preference or what you’re driving, there’s a muffler that will deliver exactly the sound you’re looking for. Welcome to the world of mufflers and sound enhancements – increasingly popular modifications that can personalize your ride.

Mufflers aren’t a new invention. The U.S. Patent Office records show that a patent for an engine muffler was awarded in 1897 to Milton and Marshall Reeves of the Reeves Pulley Company in Columbus, Ind. Mufflers in the early 1900s featured a “straight through” design that is still popular today. Essentially those early mufflers consisted of a pipe with holes, wrapped in something similar to steel wool, with the pipe passing through an outer shell. A big change to that early design occurred with a switch to a fiberglass packing material in place of the steel wool.

Contrary to the name, a muffler isn’t just muffling the sound. It’s actually destroying many of the sound waves. But let’s back up for second.

The two types of mufflers that most drivers have heard about are a chambered muffler and a straight through or “glasspack” muffler. In a chambered muffler, the sound waves generated by the engine at the end of the exhaust stroke enter the muffler and bounce around the muffler’s various chambers. As they do, they encounter friction which destroys some of the sound waves. Some of the sound waves that aren’t destroyed by friction bounce off a chamber wall and form a sound wave that’s an exact opposite, and those two sound waves cancel each other out, further reducing the noise that the vehicle produces.

In the straight-through muffler design, the sound waves pass through a straight pipe, with some of the waves being absorbed by the material surrounding the pipe, much like the earliest mufflers.

Still a third type of muffler design is a turbo style muffler in which the exhaust gases are forced into an s-shaped pattern and are peeled off and deadened by the muffler material.

Different types of mufflers yield different sounds, and that’s where personal preference and the type of vehicle enter the picture. Case in point, you’ll find more glasspacks on vintage muscle cars than you would on a custom Honda Civic.

Similarly, chambered mufflers deliver their own unique sounds depending on how many chambers they have and the chamber configuration, both of which determine which sound waves die and which escape and are heard.

The other consideration when choosing a muffler and exhaust system modification is, of course, backpressure. All those twists, turns and holes that the hot exhaust gases are forced through in the muffler slow down and restrict the gases’ migration toward the tailpipe. That restriction results in increased pressure, which forces the engine to work harder to expel the gas, which leads to a reduction in power. Less pressure equals more power, and more sound.

The muffler is just one popular modification when it comes to tweaking the exhaust system, with headers, catalytic converters and tailpipes presenting other options. Whatever you decide to modify, you’ll be in good company because exhaust system upgrades are increasingly popular and there are plenty of well-known suppliers in the game, including Walker, Flowmaster, and Magnaflow.

Begin your research by listening to as many different muffler sounds as you can, like the sound test of these eight Flowmaster mufflers that range from mild to wake-the-neighbors. Choose the one you like, and rest easy knowing you can always change up the sound if you get tired of it, or get too many complaints.

Editor’s note: When it’s time to make some noise, start with a muffler modification. Advance Auto Parts has you covered. Buy online, pick up in store, in 30 minutes.

Car air conditioning mysteries — who would have thought?!?

car air conditioner pictureAs you begin to think about spring travel, we explore a couple quirky questions that have come our way—regarding your car’s thermostat and air conditioning system.

 

In general, using logic and common sense when diagnosing problems with your vehicle – and when making repairs and addressing issues – is a good strategy. You eliminate what doesn’t make sense as you narrow down your diagnoses. Every once in a while, though, what you should do is somewhat counter-intuitive.

For example, sometimes cars overheat (although, fortunately, not as often as they used to). And, not surprisingly, this happens most often in hot summer weather – and, when that happens, if you’re in the car, you’re probably feeling pretty toasty yourself. Nevertheless, the first thing to do is to shut off your car’s air conditioning and open the windows to decrease the burden on your engine.

So far, that makes sense – but, the counter-intuitive part is this: if your car continues to overheat, then turn on both your heater and its blower. Uncomfortable as that makes you, this transfers the heat on the car’s engine into the inside of the vehicle itself.

A website from Australia, KeepinCool.com.au, shares a few more useful tidbits of information related to air conditioning that might seem counterintuitive:

  • Running your vehicle’s A/C system during the winter can make sense: even though it isn’t necessarily comfortable, if you run your A/C system throughout the year, the system stays more lubricated, which helps to prevent leaks. That’s because the system’s refrigerant contains oil that lubricates the system, including the compressor. It also keeps seals and hoses moist, which helps to prevent the dryness that leads to cracks and leaks in the system.
  • Your car’s A/C system is actually much more efficient at window defogging than its heating system. So, turn it on to clear up the fog – and, if your A/C doesn’t do the job, check the compressor because this might indicate a problem.

The Australian website also raised a question we’d never considered before – and that’s why our refrigerators don’t need recharged like a car’s A/C system does. Here is their response: “A domestic fridge has no rubber pipes and no seal on the front of the compressor shaft; all piping is copper, therefore there is no leaking through pipe walls.”

Going back in time: the miracle of air conditioning

We’re so used to being able to flip a switch and cool down our vehicles – but, it’s only been about 80 years since the first official air-conditioned car came off the manufacturing line. Popular Science discussed this amazing A/C feature in their November 1933 issue, where they made these statements about benefits that we take for granted today:

• Because the “windows are closed, outside noise is excluded” (Advance Auto Parts note: dirt, dust and bugs are kept out of the car, as well)

• Air conditioning “can be installed in any car, at ‘moderate cost’ even in ‘low-priced cars’”

The writer of this article predicted that, someday, A/C would be considered standard equipment on a vehicle and also included this statement: “many of the inconveniences encountered at present will be removed, along with a decrease in the danger of suffering carbon-monoxide poisoning.”

In 1941, the magazine shared the miracles of your car being 15 to 20 degrees cooler while you were moving and, in January 1954, Popular Mechanics discussed another incredible advance in technology – the combination of a heater and an air conditioner for your vehicle. Factory installed, the price was $395.00.

Don’t take your car’s thermostat for granted!

The thermostat is a relatively small and inexpensive part, one that’s easy to forget about. But, it has an important job – that of sensing the varied temperatures throughout the vehicle’s engine. The engine needs to “run hot” to burn fuel but, if it gets too hot, the thermostat signals the release of coolant to reduce the temperature.

If the thermostat isn’t working properly, though, the coolant can keep flowing until it’s all burned off, which can lead to overheating – and then a blown cylinder head gasket or even worse.

In cold temperatures, the thermostat prevents water from going to the radiator so that the engine can warm up and get the car up and running, even on bitter winter mornings.

If you think your thermostat might be operating at less than optimal efficiency, it’s often easier to replace it to see if that solves your problem, versus going through more complicated diagnostics. Check the original thermostat in your vehicle and then buy a comparable replacement and/or check your owner’s manual to see what type is recommended. Today’s cars typically use a 190- to 195-degree (Fahrenheit) threshold.

What questions do you have about air conditioning mysteries and challenges? What tips can you offer? Please leave a comment below!

For a wide selection of air conditioner compressors and parts, count on Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

 

Crucial Cars: Honda Accord EX

2014 Honda Accord EX

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

In this installment, Street Talk heads down memory lane to appreciate the remarkably practical, but fun-to-drive Honda Accord EX.

Back in the 1990s, there were only a few midsize sedans that really appealed to driving enthusiasts, and the Honda Accord EX always stood apart. Man, I can remember going on a test-drive with my dad in a ’94 Accord EX sedan, five-speed manual of course, and I’d never known the old man to have an inner Earnhardt until he redlined that VTEC four-cylinder through first and second gear, cackling all the while.

Tell me something: What other volume-selling family car could bring a grown man that kind of joy?

Any mass-produced product that’s this good deserves its own retrospective, doesn’t it? Let’s hop in the time machine and give the various Accord EX models their due.

1990-’93

The Accord EX first appeared on our shores as a high-end version of the fourth-generation Accord, which is still a great-looking car, by the way. This was back when Honda was light-years ahead of just about everyone on the design and engineering fronts. You got a standard sunroof, upgraded interior trim and extra speakers for the stereo, which would become the basic formula for most EX Accords to follow. Oh, and you got a little extra under the hood, too, culminating with the 140-horsepower engine fitted in ’92 and ’93. It was a tantalizing taste of things to come, and even today, I wouldn’t mind picking up a well-cared-for EX from this generation. Goodness, Hondas were gems back in the day, were they not?

1994-’97

The Accord went all futuristic with its styling for the fifth-generation model, and the EX continued to lead the way. The ’94 and ’95 Accord EX shared a particularly attractive set of alloy wheels, and all EX Accords from this generation boasted the first application of dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder with variable valve timing technology, or DOHC VTEC for short. The sharp triangular taillights got a bit generic with the ’96 refresh, but the engine — same one that put that silly grin on my dad’s face — was still a highlight, and the EX’s six-speaker stereo was amplified by Alpine for crisp, clear sound. Let me tell you something, driving a fifth-gen Accord EX with the sunroof open, the stereo cranking and the VTEC on boil might be the best time you’ll ever have in a top-selling family car.

1998-2002

The Accord got bigger for ’98, but not too big, with the four-cylinder engine swelling to 2.3 liters but carrying over that DOHC VTEC technology. In fact, all four-cylinder Accords shared in the VTEC love this time around, but the EX continued to offer its exclusive sunroof, trim and stereo upgrades. If you ask me, this was the last time that the Accord’s dimensions were just right. It had plenty of room in the backseat, but it wasn’t that big on the outside, and it maintained Honda’s traditional low cowl for superior outward visibility. Throw in a five-speed manual that positively glided from gate to gate, and you had an all-around package that was still tough to beat.

2003-Present

This period includes three Accord generations, and I’m lumping them together because in my humble opinion, they’re all too big and boring to be considered in the same league as the EX Accords that came before. When the seventh-generation Accord appeared in ’03, it lacked that low cowl and tidy styling that had always set the Accord apart, and the eighth-gen model was just plain overgrown — the EPA even classified it as a large car! The current Accord (2013) is the best since ’03, no doubt, but it’s still a relatively tubby, ungainly thing that’s nothing like the sophisticated, visceral, light-on-their-feet EX Accords from 1990-’02.

Honda had something special going there for quite a while, and talking about it makes me nostalgic for those days. If I could turn back the clock and buy any of those first three Accord EX models brand-new, I’d do it in a heartbeat — wouldn’t even think twice about other family sedans on the market today.

Let’s Talk Accords

1991 Honda Accord EX picture

Have you ever owned a 1990-’02 Accord EX? Have a different take on how Honda’s been doing since then? I love talking about these cars. Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.

Editor’s note: Got projects on the horizon? Visit Advance Auto Parts for the best in selection and values. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Top Tips for Spring Break Travel You Don’t Want To Miss

Spring break travel picture

 

This upcoming Spring Break, it’s all about trust.

While much of the country hibernates under a blanket of snow, freezing temperatures and a dull, brown/gray landscape, there are promising signs that all hope is not lost. Faith and experience tell us that we will one day soon smell the scent of fresh-cut grass on warm evening breezes and taste the mesquite-flavored smoke emanating from our backyard grill.

What’s a sunshine and warm-weather lover to do in the meantime? Plan for spring break 2015 of course, and instead of waiting for spring to come to you, go find it!

But before spring breakers can start enjoying that fun in the sun, shedding the multiple layers of clothes worn for months on end, and soaking up much-needed rays, they have to actually make it there first. And getting there, at least for purposes of this discussion, hinges on trust.

Sure, you know all about the basics when it comes to prepping your vehicle for a road trip – you’re a car guy or gal and certainly know your way in, under and around a vehicle.  But vehicle preparation is just one element of a successful road trip and arriving there safely and hassle-free. Here are four things to consider that just might help ensure your spring break 2015 road trip is a successful one.

1. Don’t trust GPS exclusively. Whether on your phone, dash or built-in display, GPS is great for directing us exactly where we want to be – when it works. Too often we rely exclusively on GPS without having even a basic knowledge of the general route or direction we should be heading. GPS can and does make mistakes.  It can direct us to a “road” that’s more suited for a four-wheel drive vehicle – or goat – or even closed in the winter months because of snow. The GPS signal can fail in an area that doesn’t have cell phone coverage, or when the satellites are malfunctioning or their signal is blocked, or simply because we forgot to charge our device before leaving and don’t have a way to charge it while in route. Have a backup plan by mapping out the general route before you travel or, dare I say it, by bringing a PAPER map or atlas along for the ride. That way if GPS lets you down, it doesn’t turn into an epic spring break 2015 fail on your part.

2. Don’t trust your memory. You know how to take care of your vehicle, and you know what needs to be done to ensure it’s always in top running condition and doesn’t let you down this spring break. But, do you know exactly what you did, were supposed to do or meant to do, and when? For example, you knew you were going to change the timing belt around the 100,000-mile mark, but when the odometer rolled around to that neighborhood, the weather was still bone-chilling cold and you were short on time for a for a project that demands full attention, and the ability to feel your fingers. As a result, you put off the job for a couple months. The same goes for any car maintenance project – you may have planned to do it, or thought you already did, but in reality you haven’t. You’re only human, which is why you can’t trust your memory exclusively. Instead, keep a detailed vehicle maintenance log that highlights the maintenance you’ve performed, when it was done, and when future maintenance is due, using your vehicle manufacturer’s suggested maintenance intervals as a guide, coupled with your knowledge.

3. Don’t trust that all will go according to plan. It won’t, because of a funny little think called “life.” The dashboard gas light just illuminated and there’s about 50 miles to go before you’re running on empty, but you know for sure there’s a gas station 40 miles ahead, over the state line where the prices are cheaper, so you decide not to fill up now and instead save some money for spring break 2015 festivities. Or, you know you always have a can of Fix-A-Flat in your emergency kit, so why bother checking the spare tire air pressure? What could possibly go wrong? Everything. The gas station could be out of gas, or out of business. You could experience two flat tires at the same time and only have one can of emergency tire inflator. No matter what your plan is, or how good it seems, always have a backup plan that you can rely on.

4. Trust your intuition. That “gut feeling” is more than just a hunch. Researchers have shown that intuition is actually our subconscious mind’s way of storing, retrieving and processing information that helps us avoid potentially harmful or dangerous situations. Maybe you don’t like the look of the single lane road ahead or the neighborhood you’re driving through or even the threatening sky. Perhaps something (other than your GPS or co-pilot) is telling you you’re traveling in the wrong direction or already missed your turn, but you just can’t put your finger on the feeling. Trust it, it’s your intuition trying to send you a message. Just because you can’t fully explain or rationalize the feeling you may be experiencing doesn’t mean it should be ignored.

By knowing what to trust, and what not to trust, you can enjoy your spring break destination and the journey there, instead of sitting at home, cursing Old Man Winter.

Editor’s note: for spring break travel and maintenance tips, visit Advance Auto Parts.

Top Rally Racing Cars You Can Drive Every Day

Rally Racing pictureOur resident Gearhead reminisces on the timeless art of Rally Car Racing and shares his wisdom on three vehicles that fit the bill today—on or off the track.

 

If you know me, you know I’m all about American muscle. But I do occasionally make an exception, and rally cars are one overseas product that can definitely get my blood pumping. Growing up in rural America, I first learned to drift a car on all those local dirt roads to nowhere, and that’s what rally racing is — getting sideways on slippery tracks through the wilderness, as fast as your sense of self-preservation will permit. So naturally I’ve always been drawn to the World Rally Championship (WRC), which started as a mainly European thing but has since risen to prominence almost everywhere except the U.S.

To be honest with you, I’m not sure why there’s not more professional rallying on our shores. We’ve got more land than just about anyone, after all, and that includes countless mountain and desert tracks that would be perfect for rally stages. But for whatever reason, it’s never really been an American thing to do, so the only way most of us can experience the thrill of a rally car is by driving one of the few rally-derived models available in U.S. dealerships. Today I want to tell you about the three such models that I’d most like to have in my garage.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution photo
Popularly known as the “Evo,” Mitsubishi’s turbocharged, all-wheel-drive compact sedan is actually on its last legs with an uncertain future, I’m sad to report. Mitsubishi has officially announced that there will be no Evo after 2015, though a lot of diehard fans refuse to believe that the company would just kill off its most iconic nameplate. Whatever happens, the current Evo will go down in history as one of the most capable four-door cars ever built, and not only because of its deep roots in rally-racing history. The boosted 291-horsepower engine under the hood is just the beginning; this Mitsu also comes with a telepathic all-wheel-drive system that shifts all that power side-to-side during hard cornering, effectively eliminating understeer. Additionally, its dual-clutch automated manual transmission is one of the best, ripping off instantaneous upshifts and flawless rev-matched downshifts that no human could ever match. Bottom line? Mitsubishi nailed everything with this car, and I feel like a WRC champion every time I drive it. It’ll be a damn shame if they let the transcendent Evo go out with a whimper.

Subaru WRX STI

Subaru WRX STI photo
The top-of-the-line WRX is known as the STI, and it’s the closest you can get to Subaru’s legendary WRC race cars. It’s also all-new for 2015, and I was lucky enough to get the keys for a full day recently. As ever, the six-speed manual gearbox — no automated manual here — is a work of art, with short, precise throws and perfectly placed pedals for heel-toe downshifts. The steering feels heavier than before, in a good way, and it’s razor-sharp, with none of the on-center slop you expect in an all-wheel-drive car. Another thing Subaru has improved is the STI’s body control: the previous generation heeled over in corners like a sailboat, but the new model stays nice and flat, as a performance car should. If I had one of these bad boys, the only thing I’d modify the hell out of is the engine, because it basically hasn’t changed in 10 years. Sure, 305 horsepower from a turbocharged 2.5-liter four is nothing to sneeze at, but I expect progress after all that time. Crank up the boost and give me 400 horses, now we’re talking. Otherwise, I would gladly drive one of these Subies every day. It would be an honor to be just a few production tweaks removed from Subaru’s WRC glory.

Ford Fiesta ST

2015 Ford Fiesta ST photo
The subcompact Fiesta comes only with front-wheel drive, so you might not make the rally-car connection right away. But there’s a rich history of Fiesta rally cars dating back at least to the 1979 Monte Carlo Rally, when a couple extensively modified Fiestas braved the icy conditions and achieved respectable results. Since then, numerous Ford rally cars have worn the Fiesta badge, most recently the Fiesta R5 with its all-wheel-drive layout and turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder motor. Swap out the AWD system for front-wheel drive, add a few creature comforts and voila – you’ve got the showroom-ready Ford Fiesta ST. Rated at 197 horsepower, the flyweight Fiesta ST has plenty of punch, and it’s also an ace in tight corners thanks to a brake-based electronic limited slip differential. You can even get a pair of Recaro sport seats that are more or less full-on racing seats in disguise. Throw in the MyFord Touch infotainment system and you’ve got a fully equipped daily driver that just so happens to be a terror on the racetrack, too. For the price — the 2015 model starts at just over $22,000 — the Fiesta ST might be the ultimate road-going rally car, absent AWD system notwithstanding.

What’s Your Practical Rally Car?

Tell me about your daily-driver rally ride in the comments, won’t you? As long as it’s got a sporting chassis and some kind of racing heritage, it’s fair game in my book.

Editor’s note: Rally racing or not, treat your ride right with parts and accessories from Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in-store, in 30 minutes.