Top 10 Winter Prep Tips for Your Vehicle

Windshield WipersUse this checklist to avoid getting left out in the cold.

Don’t make winter any harder than it has to be – on yourself or your vehicle. To keep your car running reliably this winter, spend a little time on preventive maintenance before that chill in the air turns into a polar vortex.

Here’s a checklist of 10 important maintenance items to take care of now, so your vehicle can take care of you later. While you may be familiar with several, there may be some surprises on the list.

1. Radiator cap – while it’s a simple and inexpensive part, the radiator cap plays a critically important role in your heating and cooling system – not the least of which is keeping the antifreeze in your vehicle, where it should be. A leaking radiator cap can cause the engine to overheat and allow antifreeze to leak, neither of which are good scenarios for winter-weather driving. Take a close look around the radiator cap for signs of leaking fluid. To be on the safe side, if the vehicle radiator cap is several years old, replace it with a new one. The five or six bucks you may invest are well worth the peace of mind and performance you get in return. There is a lot more information available about a radiator cap’s importance.

2. Thermostat – another inexpensive, yet critically important component of your vehicle heating and cooling system is the thermostat. If it’s not functioning properly, you might find yourself without heat. That’s because thermostats can fail, particularly if the coolant hasn’t been changed regularly and corrosion has appeared. Change the thermostat, and change your odds having a warm interior all winter long.

3. Undercar – your vehicle ground clearance could decrease this winter, but only because the road surface might be rising up to meet you in the form of snow drifts or boulder-like chunks of snow and ice. Take a quick look under your car and search for any loose plastic panels related to aerodynamics that might have come loose and are dangling, as well as any exhaust system parts that look like they’re hanging particularly low.

4. Tire Pressure – temperatures aren’t the only thing going down in winter. For every 10-degree drop in air pressure, it’s estimated that tire pressure decreases by one pound. In a tire that’s only supposed to hold 35 pounds of pressure, colder temperatures can translate to a significant tire-pressure deficit. Underinflated tires wear faster, hurt fuel economy, and can reduce handling and traction. Check them with a tire pressure gauge.

5. Headlights – even if they haven’t burned out, it may be time to replace them. Did you know that headlight bulbs dim over time? Couple that with the haze that may have developed on your plastic headlight covers and you could be driving with significantly less light, and reduced down road vision. Change your headlights and restore your headlight covers, and see further.

6. Oil – if you’re not using synthetic oil, consider switching. It flows more freely at lower temperatures, making for easier starts and less engine wear.

7. Tire Tread Depth – tires that are showing their age with the telltale sign of little to no remaining tread depth aren’t a good way to head into winter. Tires are your first line of defense when it comes to gaining traction in snow and ice, and worn tires make that job harder. Take a minute to measure your tire tread depth.

8. Windshield deicer – decrease the amount of time you’re out in the cold, trying to scrape your windshield, and increase your visibility with windshield deicer. To see clearly, you need an ice-free windshield, and this is the quickest way to get it.

9. Antifreeze – not only will it help prevent heating and cooling system corrosion in every season, antifreeze also protects your engine in frigid temperatures, if it’s at the proper level and strength. And that’s not all. Having the proper level of antifreeze is a must have if you want the level of heat you’ve come to expect.

10. Emergency Kit – even a new or well-maintained vehicle can experience trouble, and if it does let you down, you should be prepared with an emergency kit to help see you through in case you’re stranded for a few minutes or even a few hours.

As an experienced driver and quite possibly someone who’s pretty seasoned at working on their own vehicle, you’re probably already familiar with the usual suspects that can cause winter driving problems. Even so, it doesn’t hurt for a quick review of your battery and  windshield wipers as the final step in your winter driving preparation checklist.

Chances are, you and your vehicle will get through winter just fine. All it takes is a little time and commitment in the garage now, instead of wishing you had later on.

Editor’s note: Drive safe and warm this winter with parts and accessories from Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in store, in 30 minutes.

Top Vehicles with Retro Styling – Part 2

Dodge Challenger logoIn this exclusive sequel, we explore more contemporary vehicles designed with a nod to the old-school. 

Why do so many people like newer cars with retro styling? Maybe it’s because the vehicle in question is part of a great memory they have. It could also be that the original vehicle had an impressive reputation for good looks or performance and today’s buyers are hoping to recapture those attributes with the modern model. Whatever the reasons, vehicle manufacturers seem to like these retro styles as much as drivers do, particularly when they hit on a winning combination that results in soaring sales.

In the first installment of Top Vehicles with Retro Styling,we looked at several models whose looks borrowed heavily from their ancestors. Since there’s no shortage of retro-styled vehicles that are new today or that debuted within the last several years, we decided to examine a few more.

Chevy HHRChevy HHR – the acronym stands for “Heritage High Roof.” Chevy’s HHR was available in model years 2005 through 2011, and if it looks strikingly familiar, it’s probably because you’re thinking about Chrysler’s PT Cruiser. According to a review in Popular Mechanics, the HHR was also designed by the PT Cruiser’s designer after he and an auto industry executive both left GM for Chrysler. On its “discontinued vehicle page,” Chevy touts the HHR’s best-in-class fuel economy at 32 mpg, resulting in more than 500 miles between fill ups. For a retro wagon like the HHR, one would expect Chevy to be highlighting the HHR’s retro good looks or other appealing features instead of staid fuel mileage.

Chevy SSRChevy SSR – Chevy was obviously having a “thing” in naming its retro models with three-letter acronyms back in the early 2000s. Their Super Sport Roadster supposedly took its looks from a 1950’s-era Chevy pickup. It featured a folding hard top and tonneau cover, weighed in at nearly two-and-a-half tons and was powered by an eight-cylinder, 300 horsepower engine. The SSR was available from 2003 to 2006. Sadly, or gloriously, depending on your view, it was included on Time magazine’s list of The 50 Worst Cars of All Time.

Plymouth ProwlerPlymouth Prowler – From 1997 through 2001, the Prowler was the baddest looking vehicle on new car dealers’ lots. Less than 12,000 were sold throughout all the model years and there were none produced for the 1998 model year. While the Prowler drew rave reviews for its radical looks and nod to 1950’s-era hot rodding, it drew an equally strong criticism for being powered by a measly V-6. The Prowler was Plymouth’s last new model before the brand disappeared altogether, and it too made Time’s list of The 50 Worst Cars of All Time.

Pontiac GTO 2004Pontiac GTO – This one’s a bit of an oddball. If you’re going to name a car after a hardcore, ever-popular muscle car from the ‘60s, shouldn’t that new retro car at least look a little like its proud papa? Yeah, someone forgot to mention that to Pontiac, and therein lies the biggest disappointment with the 2004-2006 GTO – it looks like an unassuming family sedan. Surprisingly, underneath that sleepy exterior was a 350-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 and a six-speed manual transmission. But as we all know, when it comes to cars, looks do matter.

Dodge ChallengerDodge Challenger – Unlike the folks over at GM with their GTO, when Chrysler introduced the “new” Challenger in 2008, they embraced the Dodge Challenger’s original muscle-car-good-lucks from the 1970 through 1974 model years. From the hood scoops to the front grill and four headlights, the new Challengers look decidedly similar to their old-school counterparts. Those street-tough looks are backed up by some serious power in the Challenger’s top-of-the-line model that features a 6.4-liter V-8 and 470 horsepower.

Given the public’s love affair with retro-styled new vehicles, the aforementioned models most certainly won’t be the last that we see appearing on the showroom floor. Who knows? In another 50 years, maybe we’ll see a new, retro-styled Tesla Model S that borrows some from the original looks sported by its ancient ancestor.

Read Top Vehicles with Retro Styling, Part 1.

Editor’s note: Keep your ride looking good and running right with parts and accessories from Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in store, in 30 minutes.

 

Crucial Cars: Mazda MX-5 Miata

Mazda MX-5 MiataFrom timeless icons to everyday essentials, Crucial Cars examines the vehicles we can’t live without.

For this installment, our lovable Gearhead from Gearhead’s Garage discusses the Mazda MX-5 Miata’s iconic past and previews the all-new 2016 Miata.

If you know me, you know that horsepower’s usually what gets me going. And I mean lots of it. Tire-smoking V8s. Twelve-second quarter-miles. These days I’m thinking lustful thoughts about the new 650-hp Corvette Z06. That’s where my head’s at by default.

But occasionally I make exceptions, and the Mazda MX-5 Miata might be the most notable one. We’re talking about a tiny Japanese roadster that started out with 116 hp and still doesn’t even have 170. Like everyone who loves sports cars, though, I love the Miata. With rear-wheel drive and the Lord’s own manual shifter, it’s like an extension of your body on a winding road. There’s a new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata just around the corner, but before we get to that, let’s take a quick stroll down memory lane and remember where Mazda’s one-of-a-kind ragtop came from.

First Generation Miata First Generation

Code-named “NA” and distinguished by its pop-up headlights, the original Miata (1990-’97) took the world by storm with its proper sports-car handling, Japanese reliability and downright reasonable pricing. Like I said, the base 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine made just 116 hp, and the updated 1.8-liter four-cylinder (’94-’97) only gained about 15 hp, depending on the exact year. But the Miata’s painstakingly tuned exhaust system sounded nice and throaty, and that perfect shifter and rear-drive athleticism made it the darling of critics and consumers alike. Plus, the manual folding top couldn’t have been easier to operate. Even today, there are still plenty of first-gen Miatas for sale, at bargain prices and with many more years of service to offer.

Second generation Mazda MiataSecond Generation

The “NB” Miata (1999-2005) basically kept the NA’s 1.8-liter four, bumping output slightly to 140 horses. Speed still wasn’t the Miata’s thing. But fixed headlights and swoopier styling gave it a more contemporary look, and the overhauled interior offered additional luxuries, including a Bose stereo. Like the original, the NB Miata is widely available on the pre-owned market at very appealing prices. But the one I want is the Mazdaspeed Miata, which was sold for 2004-’05 only with a 178-hp turbo four that finally gave the car a proper sense of urgency. Man, what a motor! It’s night and day compared to the regular one, and there’s hardly any turbo lag, which is amazing given how long ago they designed it. Don’t tell Mazda, but the Mazdaspeed Miata is actually a better car than the third-gen model, which was never offered in Mazdaspeed trim.

Third generation Mazda Third Generation

The current Miata is about to be supplanted by the new 2016 model, but it’s had a solid run. Blessed with a new 2.0-liter four making up to 167 hp (you’ll want the version introduced in 2009, with its higher redline and sportier performance), the “NC” Miata was the first to offer genuinely respectable acceleration in base form. It was also bigger and heavier, but not by too much, and thankfully it retained the car’s traditional handling excellence despite deviating from the script with a different suspension design. An unconventional offering was the “PRHT” retractable-hardtop version, which added just 70 pounds to the curb weight but still seemed like overkill, in my opinion, for an elemental little roadster. Overall, the NC Miata was a cute and capable update to the Miata line, but if you ask me, it didn’t really move the needle, especially compared to the NB Mazdaspeed Miata.

2016 Mazda MiataWhat’s Next

Hopefully, that’s where the all-new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata comes in. We don’t know much about its specifications yet, although the word’s out that it’ll have a more fuel-efficient 2.0-liter four. But we do know what it looks like, and whoo boy, that styling’s definitely moving the needle for me. You wouldn’t call this new Miata “cute.” It’s more like a cross between a Honda S2000 and a BMW Z3, and that goes for the sleek, high-quality interior, too. In case it’s not clear, that’s high praise. To me, the 2016 Mazda Miata looks like a real, no-apologies sports car; it’s the first one I’ve actually longed for just based on appearances. I also like that it’s going to be about 300 pounds lighter, which hopefully means it’ll be the quickest base Miata yet. Now, will they finally do another Mazdaspeed Miata after more than a decade? I hope so. But meanwhile, the 2016 Miata looks like a pretty satisfying consolation prize. One thing’s for certain: Mazda’s best-selling roadster won’t stop being a Crucial Car anytime soon.

 

Editor’s note: ready for your next Miata maintenance project? Count on Advance Auto Parts for the best in parts and accessories. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Top Vehicles with Retro Styling – Part 1

Are we in love with the car, or our memories?

What is it about cars and nostalgia? Why do so many of our most vivid or cherished memories include a vehicle playing a starring or supporting role?

For me, those important vehicles and memories include a 1974 Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon, 1978 Mercury Zephyr, and my all-time favorite – a four door, five-speed, sunroof-equipped 1985 BMW 318i.

The work I did on all those vehicles is part of the memories each holds. The Zephyr in particular was my guinea pig. I remember replacing the starter, dashboard, back seat, radio, radiator, and a number of other parts through the years, all of which helped me build my mechanical knowledge and confidence.

A number of modern vehicles can trigger a drive down memory lane simply because they look like their iconic predecessors. Here are five on my list of contemporary vehicles with retro styling – in no particular order. What have I left off the list? What’s your favorite, and more importantly, why? I’ll explore five more in an upcoming installment.

2015 Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang

The 2015 Mustang comes with the model’s first ever EcoBoost® engine – a 2.3-liter power plant delivering 310 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. For the really performance-minded driver, the GT model features a 5.0 liter V-8 churning out 435 HP and 400 pound-feet of torque. This iconic sports car’s first model in 1964 pales in comparison when it comes to power as its 170 cubic-inch engine only cranked out 156 pound-feet of torque. And, it’s angular retro looks are nothing to sneeze at.

2005 Ford ThunderbirdFord Thunderbird

Ford’s more than four million Thunderbirds went through many different looks through the years. The 1955 debut saw classic lines and a hard-top or convertible version while the sixth generation from 1972 to 1976 model years were boxy and big, making this version the largest Thunderbird Ford had ever produced. The eleventh generation, from 2002 to 2005, would be its last and saw a return to a more classic look, similar to the earliest model years.

2006 Dodge ChargerDodge Charger

Seven generations of Chargers brought us from those first intimidating, wide-nose models of the ‘60s and ‘70s, through the embarrassingly compact fifth generation in the 80s, full circle to the sixth and seventh generations, available from ’06 through today. That evolution saw a return to looks that are more in line with those first Chargers, from the taillights to the hood and side panels.

2010 Chevy CamaroChevy Camaro

Debuting with the 1967 model as a competitor to Ford’s Mustang, four generations of Camaros prowled the streets until production ended in 2002, only to see the model revived for the 2010 model year with generation five. With today’s MSRP of $75,000, 505 HP, and a seven-liter V8, the 2015 Camaro Z-28 bears some resemblance to those first Camaros in looks only.

2015 VW BeetleVW Bug

The Beetle or “People’s Car” translated from the German “Volkswagen,” was officially called the “Type 1” when production began in 1938. Today, Volkswagen refers to its latest Bug model as, “a sleek twist on an iconic shape.” Out of all the retro-styled vehicles, the Beetle might bear the closest resemblance to its first ancestor.

A few of the cars on the list went through some “changes” or “growing pains” that left them looking nothing like their much-loved predecessors for several years before they came back around to today’s popular styles. The Ford Mustang is a case in point.

Those 80’s and 90’s-era Mustangs, for me at least, don’t conjure up memories of the tough-looking Mustangs I remember from the 60’s and 70’s. They were Mustangs in name only, unlike today’s Mustangs that look mean, powerful and menacing, just like their brothers from those first two decades of Mustang production.

Retro styling’s popularity could also be attributed to the timeless nature of certain style elements. Much the way some antiques, whether furniture or paintings, retain their value and popularity because of their classic style elements, perhaps the same can be said for certain classic vehicle lines and characteristics?

Or, maybe nostalgia and elements that never go out of style don’t have anything to do with retro styling’s popularity today. For some drivers, it could be that the vehicle’s good looks and solid reputation, built over several decades, leads them to equate today’s models with their popular classic ancestors. The Chevy Camaro has always conjured up the image of a street-savvy, aggressive performer, never straying too far from its original looks, even with the latest model.

Whatever the reason for our love affairs with cars, history and retro styling, two things are for sure – what’s old will someday be new again, and no one’s clamoring for a 2016 reintroduction of Mercury’s Zephyr, including me.

Editor’s note: Whether you’re restoring an original classic or working on vehicle based on a classic, Advance Auto Parts has the parts and tools you need. Buy online, pick up in store—in 30 minutes.

Top 7 car spoilers … epic downforce!

Toy Car SpoilersOne of the most polarizing automotive design choices any automotive designer can make is the inclusion of a rear wing.

Rear wings, or spoilers, are often added to race cars to spoil the flow of air across the vehicle and thus eliminate unwanted turbulence that could cause the vehicle to lose traction, become airborne or otherwise behave erratically on the track.

So if spoiler tech is designed for race cars, why have so many street machines become factory-equipped with huge rear wings?

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and, in this case, the old adage is true. Many factory-issued car spoilers are designed to make street-legal versions of race cars look more like race cars. And this usually sends brand enthusiasts to dealer showrooms by the thousands.

Here are a few of our favorite spoilers from years past … and if you read all the way to the end you’ll see that not all of our favorite car spoilers are affixed to the rear decklid like you might expect.

Dodge Charger Daytona

Photo credit: Erik Baeumlisberger.

Photo credit: Erik Baeumlisberger.

You thought we were going to say Superbird, didn’t you? Well, truth is, the Daytona pre-dated the infamous Superbird by one year. The outrageously huge rear wing was added to keep the car glued to the high-banked NASCAR tracks it raced on, and for good reason. The Daytona was the first in NASCAR history to break the 200 mph barrier.

In 1970 its famous successor (the Superbird), caused officials to change the rule book. NASCAR told Plymouth they had to either run a smaller engine or add weight as the speed of car far exceeded the tire technology of the day.

Pictured above is one of the Daytonas used in the film Fast and Furious 6.

Subaru WRX STI

Subaru WRX STI

Photo credit: Erik Baeumlisberger.

Introduced to the United States market in 2004, the WRX STI from Subaru was a street legal WRC car minus the roll cage. Its 300 hp turbocharged 4 cylinder engine pushed the 3,000 lb. bruiser to 60 mph in just 4.6 seconds. Its giant ironing-board-sized wing was matched only by its stiffest competition, the Mitsubishi EVO.

Like the EVO, the STI lost its wing in subsequent model years. However the wing is back for 2015.

Porsche 930 911 Turbo

Porsche 930 911 Turbo

Porsche engineers needed a way to vent more air into the engine bay of the rear-mounted flat-six. Their solution? One of the most iconic spoilers of all time–the whale tail.

Being German means being precise, at least in the automotive world. The precision spoiler also created downforce that helped keep the notoriously tail-happy 911 pointed in the right direction. This combined with flared arches and wider wheels gave the 930 a distinctive stance, one whose roots can be seen in present day 911s.

Toyota Supra Turbo

Photo credit: BenRichardsFife.

Photo credit: BenRichardsFife.

Pretty much every car in the 90s had a wing, and we loved them all. From the Toyota Supra to the Mitsubishi 3000GT, several cars were available with big suitcase handles attached to their rears.

Whether or not the wing on the Supra is functional or not is up for debate. But like many cars in the 90s, the presence of a spoiler meant one thing–force-fed power under the hood. The addition of a huge wing set often set turbocharged models apart from their normally aspirated siblings. Heck, even the Mitsubishi Eclipse GS-T had a ridiculously oversized wing in the 90s.

Ferrari F40

Ferarri F40

Photo credit: Erik Baeumlisberger.

One of the most collectible classics of the modern era is the Ferrari F40–a stunning example of lightness, power and beauty. Most F40s go for well over $1 million these days, so let’s just say that you or I probably won’t ever own one. But, still, they are magnificent. We’re also impressed by how seamlessly the huge, carbon fiber rear wing molds into the rear decklid. The F40 is truly a work of art.

Buonissimo!

Lamborghini Countach (double winner!)

Lamborghini Countach

Photo credit: Erik Baeumlisberger.

We’ve saved the best for last. Our favorite car spoiler of all time is actually a pair of spoilers! Yes, not one, but two spoilers were affixed to the nose of the Countach by Lamborghini of North America during the 1980s. The reason? To get around U.S. laws that required all cars imported to North America to have 5 mph crash bumpers installed.

The most famous nose wing of all time has to be the one present on the Cannonball Run Countach, now owned by Jeff Ippoliti of Celebration, Florida.

 

Editor’s note: What’s your favorite car spoiler of all time? Let us know in the comments below! And make sure to hit up Advance Auto Parts for a wide selection of spoilers and car accessories. 

Lead graphic courtesy of ToysRUs.

Crucial Cars: The Buick LeSabre

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

For this installment, Street Talk gets the lowdown on a most unlikely star of the lowrider scene: the Buick LeSabre. 

Buick LeSabre

Fifth-generation Buick LeSabre

Did you know that the fifth-generation Buick LeSabre, a large car produced from 1977-’85, is still in high demand? We’ll forgive you if you missed the memo. After all, the LeSabre is slow, clumsy and thirsty by modern standards, with outdated squared-off styling to boot. It’s the car Grandma bought decades ago that’s still sitting in the garage, collecting dust.

And yet, there are plenty of lowrider fans who would love to turn that LeSabre into a lean mean street machine.

In fact, LeSabres of all vintages are desirable to the tuner crowd, but the fifth-generation car has some unique qualities that make it especially well-suited to this scene. First of all, it’s new enough to have modern amenities like power accessories, and chances are you’ll be able to find one that doesn’t require much restoration.

Second, it was the last rear-wheel-drive LeSabre ever, and if you know the lowrider scene, you know there’s a strong preference for rear-drive platforms. Third, used examples are incredibly cheap — you can find a low-mileage fifth-gen LeSabre for $3,000 or less if you wait for the right one.

It also doesn’t hurt that this LeSabre was powered by old-school American V8s that sound like beasts, including 5.0-liter and 5.7-liter workhorses along with a massive 6.6-liter (403-cubic-inch) variant that was briefly available in the late ’70s.

So what happens next? Well, at a minimum, the suspension’s going to come in for a thorough overhaul. The cornerstone of almost any lowrider project is a hydraulic suspension with adjustable ride height. Combined with tiny aftermarket rims and tires (whitewalls add an extra touch of class), the hydraulic suspension allows the car to hug the ground for that classic lowrider profile, rise up to monster-truck heights, or even bounce around like in a rap video.

Beyond the suspension mods, it’s really up to the individual lowrider, because personalization is the name of the game. You’ll see Lambo doors, custom graphics, TVs inside, crazy stereos — you name it, some lowrider has probably tried it. Of course, there’s always some kind of custom exhaust system, too. You’ve got to let that old V8 breathe.

1992 Buick LeSabre

1992 Buick LeSabre

But again, one of the keys is buying in cheap so you’ll have room left in your budget for the good stuff, and that’s what’s given this big Buick new life. Next time you see Grandma puttering around in that pristine old LeSabre, tell her that if she ever wants to sell it, there’s a nation full of lowriders who’ll gladly take it off her hands.

Have you ever seen a lowrider Buick LeSabre, or caught a ride in one? Tell us what you think in the comments, we’d love to hear about it.

Editor’s note: Whether you’re an elderly lady with a LeSabre in the garage, or a performance junkie with a few tricks up your sleeve, Advance Auto Parts is here for you. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

American Car Culture: Up Close and Personal

Auto Repair pictureStunning new exhibit showcases the candid and personal work of photographer Justine Kurland.

For over three years, photographer Justine Kurland and her son Casper traveled the country documenting the daily happenings and culture of cars, mechanics and auto repair shops, as well as the open roads that guided their journey.

In a recent article on Slate.com, Kurland’s story and some of the unique photographs documenting it are displayed as part of her new exhibition series Sincere Auto Care, which is also showing at the Mitchell-Innes & Nash gallery in New York City.

Engine repair

For car guys, automotive enthusiasts and DIY’ers of all stripes, check out the candid shots that help to sum up the personal and soulful connections that Americans have with their cars.

Read the full story about Sincere Auto Care at Slate.com.

Auto shop

All photo credits: Justine Kurland, courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, NY.

Top Projects To Do While Your Car’s In Winter Storage

Car GarageWhen it’s time to put my pride and joy into winter storage, I can’t help but feel a little pang. You know how it goes — you spend all winter waiting to drive the thing, and then it’s winter again before you know it. But I realized long ago that winter car storage doesn’t have to mean total separation. The car’s right outside in the garage, you know; it’s not like you’ve sent it off to Siberia. In fact, winter’s a great time to catch up on all the little projects you haven’t found the time for yet. Here are a few of my favorites.

1. Paintless Dent Removal

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t do this one myself. I’m not exactly an artistic guy, let’s put it that way. But these paintless dent removal guys really are artists, and they don’t close up shop just because there’s snow on the ground. Since your car’s sitting around all day anyway, why not do an inventory of all the dings and dents on the door and body panels, then have your local dent specialist come by and pop them out? I don’t know about you, but I hate when I bring my car out of storage and notice a nasty little door ding while I’m washing it. If you take action now, a few hundred bucks at the most will buy you peace of mind come spring.

2. Full Hand Wash and Polish

This is definitely a DIY, and for me it’s an annual tradition. When it’s time to store the car, first I hose it down in the driveway to get the surface stuff off, and then I roll up my sleeves and get down to business. All you need is a jug of Turtle Wax Car Wash solution, a nice big sponge and a lot of elbow grease. You’ll want to go over every inch of the sheet metal with that sponge. Try to make it cleaner than it was on the first day of spring. Then wipe all the moisture off with a non-scratching water blade to avert streaks and water spots. For the grand finale, get a hold of an orbital polisher and some high-quality Meguiar’s polish. A whole winter is a long time for a car to sit still; it’s only proper to put it to bed with that like-new shine. Quick tip: Consider a one-step sealant to help prevent rust.

3. Clean and Deodorize Interior

There are countless approaches to cleaning your car’s interior, but when it’s time for winter storage, I focus on two aspects: upholstery and odors. For upholstery, I’ve got leather seats, so I start with Lexol leather cleaning spray, let it dry for an hour, and then finish with plenty of conditioner. If you do that every year, your leather should be good till kingdom come. As for odors, look, even if you’re as careful as I am about keeping food out of the car, things just start smelling musty over time. You can get in front of this problem by treating your interior with Eagle One E1 odor eliminator. I don’t understand how it works — they say the stuff actually changes the chemistry of odor molecules — but it keeps my car smelling fresh all winter long, and that’s all you need to know. Quick tip: Place a few dryer sheets in the cabin, and under the hood. This helps prevent mice from making their way into your car or engine bay and building nests over the winter.

4. Check your cooling system

Check your vehicle’s antifreeze to make sure it protects against even the coldest evenings. To help with this, pick up an antifreeze tester to ensure that your car’s cooling system does not freeze solid.  A cheap antifreeze tester may be the key to a smooth ride next spring. Mine was a lifesaver last year.

5. Fix What Needs Fixing (and maybe some other stuff, too)      

Last but definitely not least, winter is the perfect time to bust out your tool kit and get your hands dirty. Hey, it’s not like you’re going to be busy driving the car, right? Think about all the time you’re saving by not getting behind the wheel — and devote a few of those hours here and there to DIY projects of your choosing.

For instance, I know a lot of folks who put off replacing their spark plugs because the car’s running fine, but why wait for it to start getting rough? Get yourself one of these handy magnetic swivel sockets, if you don’t have one already, and give your engine a new spark for the spring. For those of you who have room to get a floor jack under there and raise your car up, there’s a bunch of sensible preventive maintenance you can do while you’re on your back, including fuel-filter replacement and retorquing all your suspension bolts to factory spec with a quality torque wrench.

A couple other projects worth considering are upholstery repair and chrome upkeep. For the upholstery repair, you’re gonna have to be handier with a sewing machine than I am, but it’s not a terribly difficult job if you’ve got the time. Plan on spending a few days, though, if you have to remove the seat covers for re-stitching — and plan on rejuvenating the foam underneath, too, because if you’ve got rips, you’ve also got cushion compression from years of butts.

As for chrome upkeep, whether you’re talking about wheels, bumpers and tailpipes or headers and such under the hood, you’re gonna want a bottle of Mothers California Gold. Go after any tarnished surfaces with that stuff first. If they don’t get shiny enough for you, I would consider calling in a professional, but you can also get a DIY chrome kit and try to do the job yourself. Be careful, though, because the process involves an acid bath and some pretty freaky chemicals. It’s one you can definitely brag about to the boys if you pull it off.

At the end of the day, you know better than anyone what kind of mechanical TLC your car could use this winter, and now’s the time to do those nagging repairs you’ve been putting off. My suggestion? Make a list of priorities, and check ‘em off one by one until it’s driving season again. Your future self will thank you next year when the car’s performing better than ever. Quick tip: Don’t get stressed out. With the proper prep, you’ll be surpised at how much you can get done before the cold sets in.

Spring’s Around the Corner!

Don’t let the chilly season get you down, my friends. Pass the time with some targeted DIY projects, and before you know it, it’ll be time to hit the road again. Any suggestions for some good projects this winter, by the way? Let us know in the comments.

The End of the Honda VTEC Era

2001 red Honda PreludeI gotta admit, I’m biased when it comes to DOHC VTEC Hondas, because I’ve owned two of the best. I got my first taste with a 1995 Acura Integra GS-R, and I still can’t get the sound of that little 1.8-liter motor with the 8,100-rpm redline out of my head. Then I moved on to the “luxury coupe,” a 2001 Honda Prelude, which redlined at a comparatively meek 7,400 rpm but had other stuff going for it that the Integra lacked. These were great, great cars — stylish, fun and relentlessly reliable.

And we’ll never see the likes of them again, because Honda has turned its back on that whole scene. The Prelude was quietly put out to pasture in 2001, having become too refined and expensive for its own good. The Integra kept kicking for a while as the Acura RSX (it was still called “Integra” in other markets), but 2006 marked the end of the line. For a few more years, the Honda Civic Si carried the torch with its sweet 2.0-liter motor, a high-revving marvel that reminded me very much of the Integra GS-R’s 1.8. But these days the Civic Si uses a warmed-over Accord engine. FAIL.

The Honda VTEC era is gone, and it’s not coming back.

But we can still remember the good times, right?

Ride along with me as I reflect on what made my DOHC VTEC cars so special.

1994 Acura Integra GS-R

1994 Acura Integra GS-RFirst of all, as soon as the second-generation GS-R came out in ’94, I remember lusting after those shiny five-spoke wheels. Man, Honda knew how to do alloy wheels back in the day, didn’t they? Admittedly, the rest of the car’s looking a bit dated. It’s got that bubbly 1990s look going on from some angles. But I actually dig the four round headlights, even though a lot of owners swapped them out for the JDM lenses. And from the back, the GS-R still looks pretty purposeful with its standard spoiler and wide taillights.

Inside, my GS-R had flawless leather buckets, but let’s face it: this car wasn’t about creature comforts. The road noise at speed was literally deafening, at least temporarily — I’d be a little hard of hearing when I got out after a long trip. As for the ride quality, a friend of mine once called it “skateboard-like.” Really, the best thing about the interior was the hatchback trunk; you could fold those rear seatbacks down and fit your whole life in there if you had to.

VTEC Acura IntegraBottom line, the Integra GS-R was all about what was under the hood. The dual-overhead cam (“DOHC”) 1.8-liter inline-4 was rated at 170 horsepower, falling just short of the magical 100 hp/L threshold. Torque was a paltry 127 pound-feet, and that was always the knock against the DOHC VTEC motors, but let me tell you, it didn’t matter in this car. The power ramped up steadily all the way to 8,100 rpm, with the VTEC crossover at 4,400 rpm producing a growl that gave way to a motorcycle-like scream toward to the end. Known to fans by the internal code “B18C1,” the GS-R’s engine was only offered with an incredibly precise five-speed manual transmission, and they were a perfect pairing — the short gears helped keep the revs high, and the pedals were ideally placed for heel-toe downshifts.

Nowadays, turbocharged fours are all the rage because of their supposed fuel-economy benefits, but did I mention that I got 37 mpg on the highway in my GS-R?

Throw in legendary reliability and low maintenance costs, and you’ve got an all-time great. There’ll never be another car like it.

2001 Honda Prelude

2001 Honda PreludeThe angular, understated Prelude was a different beast — a gentleman’s  sport compact. With its long nose and short deck, the 2001 ‘Lude could almost pass for rear-wheel-drive, its extended front overhang being the only real giveaway. It was a classy car, especially with the beautiful alloy wheels shown here. With the Integra, you expected a kid to be driving it, and it was normal to see an enormous spoiler tacked on the back. But the ‘Lude appealed to everyone. I’ve seen a handful of white-haired old guys driving bone-stock models, and that doesn’t surprise me one bit.

Inside, the fifth-gen Prelude served up an inviting mix of quality materials and subtle, ergonomic design. You had all the controls you needed, and no more. People used to say Honda was the Japanese BMW (hard to believe today, right?), and this dashboard is a case in point. Everything was right where it needed to be, and the simple layout aged really well — I never felt like I was driving an old car, even when it was an old car.

VTEC Honda PreludeOn the road, the Prelude was significantly quieter than the GS-R, though I wouldn’t exactly call it quiet per se. The general comfort level was a lot higher. Really good stereo, too — so much better than the Integra’s clock-radio-quality sound. But it still handled great, albeit with slightly slower reflexes. I wish I’d been able to find a suitable Type SH with its torque-transfer system, because my base car understeered a lot if I entered a corner too hot. But I always had a blast on twisty roads nonetheless.

The fifth-gen Prelude’s engine was a torque monster by DOHC VTEC standards, cranking out 156 lb-ft along with a healthy 200 hp. To be honest, I liked the GS-R’s engine better. The ‘Lude’s 2.2-liter four-cylinder, a.k.a. “H22A4,” had a Jekyll and Hyde character, coming on real strong all of a sudden at 5,200 rpm. I preferred the way the GS-R’s motor smoothed the VTEC transition out. But the H22 made a great snarl, and the five-speed shifter was lighter than the GS-R’s, gliding friction-free from gate to gate.

If you wanted genuine Honda performance without the boy-racer looks, the fifth-gen Prelude was the ultimate solution.

Epilogue

Honda VTECs used to rule the street, and for good reason. It’s sad to me that those days are never coming back. Did you ever have a DOHC VTEC car? I know we’d all love to hear your story in the comments.

Editor’s note: If you’ve got a street import in your driveway, hit up Advance Auto Parts for the best values and selection. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Don’t get no respect: wheel hub assemblies & wheel bearings

wheel-bearingTo paraphrase comedian Rodney Dangerfield, it’s tough being a hub assembly or wheel bearing. While their more famous cousins – the brakes, the batteries, the struts and shocks . . . okay, we’ll stop name dropping because you know who we mean – get lots of fuss and attention, the non-glamorous bearings work hard, day after day, repeating the same dreary job over and over again.

But when those drudgery cousins finally get worn out, you’ll probably know it. They’ll most likely squeak, they’ll grind, they’ll growl, they’ll whine and moan. Besides that, they may not hang on tightly to your tires any more, perhaps even letting go completely and/or causing a loss of steering control – and that goes beyond annoyance and becomes a significant safety issue.

Hub assemblies and wheel bearings

Located between the brake drums/discs and the drive axle, the hub assembly is mounted to the holding bracket of the chassis on the axle side. On the drum/disc side, the wheel is connected to the hub assembly via bolts. The wheel bearing itself is inside the hub unit.

These low-maintenance parts must take on the load of your vehicle, whether it’s in motion or standing still. Their importance rises even more when you’re driving over potholes and other rough patches – and, even though they are low maintenance, they certainly aren’t no maintenance.

Your goal is to minimize the amount of friction generated by the wheel bearing. This can be accomplished by the use of quality grease specifically intended for high temperatures. Be careful not to overdo how much grease you apply, though, as this can result in overheating because of friction that can’t appropriately be dissipated. With repeated overheating incidents, car parts damage can occur.

And, even though proper application of grease will help these parts last longer, they will eventually need replaced. Typically, you should check and maintain your wheel bearings every 25,000 to 30,000 miles. An average sealed wheel bearing lasts 85,000 to 100,000 miles although some can last as long as 150,000 miles.

Hear that noise?

Diagnosing car troubles by sound alone is an inexact science, but you should not ignore new or unusual car noises. According to an often-quoted study from Braxton Research, 51% of wheel bearing problems are found because of noise (24% are found during a brake job and 19% during an alignment).

Having said that, although noises from bad hub assemblies and/or wheel bearings come from the area of your wheels, not all strange sounds from the area of your wheels is assembly- or bearing-related. They could indicate a problem with your brakes or CV joints. And if the noise comes and goes with the application of your brakes, the problem is more likely brake-related.

Still, be sure to check your hub assembly and wheel bearings if you hear:

  • Chirping, squealing or grinding sounds with different intensities at different speeds; these noises may get louder or softer upon turning
  • Humming that exists when you drive and increases when you start to turn your steering wheel

 If you ever sense a vibration from your wheels or your wheels “wobble,” be sure to check your hub assembly and wheel bearings.

Hub assembly

Wheel speed sensor

Vehicles with antilock brakes may have a sensor built into the hub assembly. The sensor ring may move about as it rotates if there is a worn wheel bearing, which may trigger the appearance of an ABS warning light. Use a scanning tool that accesses your ABS to diagnose.

Meanwhile internal corrosion within the wheel assembly can send up a false alarm of worn parts. If your vehicle has a removable sensor, then simply remove and clean it and then add a zinc corrosion inhibitor to the hub before replacing. If the sensor is not removable, then the entire hub assembly will need replaced.

Check up

Jack up the car into the air and spin the wheel by hand. Can you feel any roughness or excessive drag? If so, you may have a bad wheel bearing. Check your car manual to see the maximum amount of movement that can be considered acceptable.

If you’re unsure whether or not there is too much movement, it’s better to be safe than sorry. You should replace your hub assembly and wheel bearings. Even if only one side is bad, it makes sense to replace them in pairs. The “good” side is likely to cause problems in a relatively short time.

Also, after driving the car, you can check the temperature of the hub assembly. Typically, a hub assembly that is worn out will be hotter than the other hub assemblies on the vehicle. This is due to excessive drag produced by the worn out bearings.

Gas mileage

If you surf around auto forums on the net, you’ll find conversations about whether or not bad hub assemblies and/or wheel bearings can have a negative effect on gas mileage. As on many car-related topics, there isn’t clear consensus, with some commenters noticing an improvement after hub assembly/wheel bearing repair.

Caution!

Hub and bearing assemblyBeware of cheap bearings constructed of low quality steel with poor heat-treating. These tend to fail prematurely, which only signals another repair job in the future when, in most instances, these parts need replaced only once at most during typical car ownership.

Cheaper hub assemblies might include bearings that are smaller than OEM, which is another factor that could lead to early part failure. Still other cheaper parts contain double ball bearings rather than one stronger bearing. If possible, avoid these choices.

Note that manufacturers recommend a torque wrench rather than an impact wrench when installing. That’s because an impact wrench can damage axle nut threads and CV joints. Plus, the impact wrench can prevent proper torqueing of nuts and bolts.

Bonus tips: don’t be penny smart and pound foolish. Replace axle nuts rather than attempting to reuse them, and invest in quality seal drivers to ensure a quality seal and therefore protect new wheel bearings.

Editor’s note: Advance Auto Parts carries the quality hub assemblies and wheel bearings that you need to ensure your ride control is in check.

 

Always consult your owner’s manual first. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure warranties are not voided.