5 Things You Need to Do Before Modifying Your Ride

Did you pick up a classic project car? Or did you simply decide that it’s time to start modifying your current vehicle? Before you kick off the projects, there are a few things you should take care of—especially if you’re planning on adding extra power. Whether you’re working on a 1965 Falcon or 2015 F-150, here’s what to do before modifying your ride.

Don’t be Fred Flintstone

You can’t go if you can’t stop. Adding more power for a faster ride is a wonderful thing, but having the power to stop all that power is even more important. Most factory braking systems are acceptable with factory power levels but become inadequate after modifications.

Look into pad and rotor upgrades at a minimum. Ceramic pads are a great all-around street option, and certainly better than those asbestos pads on your ’50s Plymouth. Modern vehicles mostly come with organic pads offering less health hazards and a cheap price, but opt for composite pads for the best braking possible on the street. While swapping pads, be sure to flush your brake fluid for easy and cheap insurance. If you want to go the extra mile, drilled and slotted rotors look awesome and provide extra cooling for repeated stops.

Stay cool

Speaking of cooling, don’t forget that more horsepower almost always means more heat. On a classic, you’ll want to upgrade the cooling system. An upgraded radiator isn’t cheap, but the price includes peace of mind. Another way to look at it: a better radiator is cheaper than a new engine block.

If you have a heavy belt-driven engine fan, look into upgrading to electric fans. They’re lighter, reducing parasitic power loss, and can increase power and gas mileage. Don’t forget to keep the rest of the vehicle cool. If you’re working with an automatic transmission, you’ll want to look at a transmission cooler. It’s cheap and helps prevent the number one cause of early transmission failure: heat. You can even run a differential cooler, if you like overkill. If your ride is newer, its cooling capacity is probably improved over a classic, but it may be time to flush the radiator with some fresh coolant.

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Get charged up

Electrical systems from back in the day just aren’t up for modern performance. While performing repairs on a classic, go for upgrades in the electrical system. Swap out the old school points distributor for a higher performance and more reliable HEI unit. It’s the same price, easier to find in stores, and will support your higher horsepower goals. For a classic or modern ride, pick up some thicker spark plug wires with low internal resistance. They’ll deliver more bang to the spark plug. Also, just about every electrical part can be affordably upgraded here, so go for the best spark plugs, coil, cap, and rotor that your budget allows.

Tackle those corners

Ignore the suspension, and your street warrior might be a sudden and unfortunate off-roader. Adding power without suspension improvements makes a 1966 GTO just spin the tires and a 2006 GTO have excessive wheel hop. Either way, you aren’t going anywhere quickly.

Controlling all those forces on curvy roads and under hard throttle takes a good suspension. Upgrade your shocks, struts, and springs with more sport-oriented options. Add sway bars for better cornering, or upsize with thicker diameter bars if your current bars are lacking. If your classic is over 25 years old, look underneath at the suspension bushings—you’ll want to replace those crumbling rubber things right away. Performance versions are cheap, but even new factory equipment rubber bushings will be a dramatic improvement.

Under pressure

Tires have improved more in the last 50 years than perhaps any other area of the automobile. If your Packard project came with tubes and re-treads, or your Mustang is running Gatorbacks, it’s time to get some new tires. You can go for a period-correct look, while still increasing grip and hydroplane resistance and decreasing stopping distance. Hagerty recommends new tires if yours reach eight years old, regardless of mileage or tread life. It seems obvious, but these are the only four contact points your vehicle has with the road. Inspect them carefully and budget for a good set of tires.

While this seems like a large checklist, remember that this isn’t a side track distracting from your performance goals. This is about making your ride a better, safer, more reliable, and faster vehicle.

Anything we missed here? Let us know in the comments.

5 Hacks, Tips, and Tools to Warm Your Winter

Whether you love winter or dread it, one thing you can’t do is ignore it. Unless you live a ways south of the Mason-Dixon line, in which case, carry on. For those remaining cold few (or many), let’s talk this winter’s best hacks, tips, and tools for staying warm.

Stay warm in winter

Source | Oliur Rahman

Tip: Heater System Tune-up

Level: Easy to Experienced

If your cabin remains lukewarm at best, your heating system may need a tune-up. Before you head to the shop, though, check your antifreeze/coolant. A car’s heater works by passing radiator fluid through your hot engine to a heater core. A blower passes air over the heater core and directs the heat into the cabin. Problems with your heating system can originate at any point along the way, but checking for sufficient antifreeze is an easy place to start and might save you money.

Problems with your heating system can originate at any point along the way, but checking for sufficient coolant is an easy place to start and might save you money.

First, make sure your engine is cool. Then check the quality of your current antifreeze using an inexpensive antifreeze/coolant tester. This video shows you how. If the tester indicates that your antifreeze isn’t up for the challenge of winter, you may need to flush your radiator.

Otherwise, go ahead and top off your coolant with fresh antifreeze. Be sure to check your coolant reservoir as well, adding antifreeze to the cold fill line. Now, take your vehicle for a drive and see if adding coolant was a simple solution to the problem. If not, the issue might be with the thermostat or even your heater core. Experienced DIYers can tackle the full tune-up, but others may want to visit a trusted mechanic.

Tools: Winter Tool Kit

Level: Easy

A well-stocked tool kit can go a long way toward making your winter more comfortable (and safer). Save time and elbow grease with windshield spray de-icers or de-icer windshield washer fluid. Keep lock de-icers handy to prevent winter from freezing you out. In case of roadside emergencies, stash a flashlight and reflectors or flares in your glovebox and a spare shovel in the trunk. Add thermal foil blankets and chemical hand warmers to stay warm without giving rodents a place to nest.

Hack: Remote Start Kits

Level: Experienced/Consider Hiring a Professional

Vehicles with a remote start feature have been around for decades, and so have aftermarket remote start kits. On the upside, these kits could cost thousands less than purchasing a new vehicle. They also allow you to warm and defrost your car before you even step out into the snow. Remote start kits only work on automatic engines, however, and require a working knowledge of your vehicle’s electrical system. Purchase a quality kit, and read the instructions carefully. If in doubt, hire a professional to finish the job.

Hack: Heated Seat Kits

Level: Easy to Experienced/Consider Hiring a Professional

If your vehicle isn’t equipped with heated seats, you may be facing the dreaded cold-bum conundrum. Is there anything worse? We don’t think so. For an easy solution, use one of the many heated seat warmers on the market. These usually slide over top your existing seat and plug into your vehicle’s 12 Volt outlet. Installing universal seat heaters can also bring much-needed relief. Unless you relish the thought of removing your vehicle’s seats and disassembling them though (and you DIYers might!), installing universal seat heaters may be a job for your favorite aftermarket shop.

Tool: Portable Micro-Boost Battery Chargers

Level: Easy

Nothing beats a fresh battery when it comes to powering your vehicle through the cold season. That said, life and extreme drops in temperature happen. Should you find yourself in a dark, snowy parking lot with a dead car battery, a portable micro-boost charger can get you back on the road. Use a micro-boost to jumpstart a dead battery or power accessories like smartphones, reducing the overall demand on your vehicle. Keep a portable battery charger in your trunk or glove box, and check its charge level on a regular basis.

Is winter a force to be reckoned with where you live? Leave a comment below about which winter tips, tools, or hacks keep you warm.

Top Aftermarket Accessories for Cooling Your Engine in Summer

Two SUVs in the desertBraving the desert heat, Source | Sahitya Kakarla, Unsplash

There’s one sure-fire way to ruin your day, engine, reputation under the hood, and road trip this summer. It’s fast, requires virtually no effort or planning, and happens to countless drivers every day. All you have to do is let your engine overheat because of insufficient cooling.

In this instance, I’m not talking about the more common, run-of-the-mill catastrophes usually behind a cooling system failure, including broken hoses or belts, insufficient coolant level, water pump or thermostat failure, or foreign object piercing the radiator.

Less dramatic, but equally effective at causing an engine to overheat, are scenarios in which a vehicle’s cooling system can’t dissipate enough heat fast enough to prevent an overheated engine. In most cases, it’s the result of an efficiency issue, even when everything on the cooling system is working properly. In other situations, modifications designed to coax more horsepower from the engine might also require changes to the cooling system because more horsepower usually equates to more heat generated.

Here’s a look at several add-on solutions to prevent engine overheating.

Performance radiator

Car radiator photo

Car radiator

There’s a reason copper and brass have historically been materials of choice in vehicle radiators. Copper is great when it comes to thermal conductivity, performing 50 percent better than radiator fins made from aluminum. And brass is durable. So why are aluminum radiators becoming all the rage in high-performance engines and even among vehicle manufacturers? Weight. Aluminum radiators weigh 10 to 15 pounds less than traditional radiators. And they compensate for the reduction in their material’s thermal conductivity with increased radiator surface area and coolant capacity, design, fin spacing and even tube size.

The larger the radiator’s surface area translates to greater airflow reaching more coolant which means improved cooling capability. The limiting factor here is the amount of space you have or can create in which to shoehorn in a larger radiator.

Most radiators utilize a single-pass design – hot coolant comes in one side of the radiator, passes through, and exits out the opposite side. For increased cooling capacity, look at a dual-pass, horizontal-flow radiator. With this design, coolant passes through one half of the radiator, but instead of exiting, it then passes through the other half of the radiator, essentially making two passes instead of one.

Moving to a dual-pass radiator will probably also require a water pump upgrade because this radiator design places more demand on the pump. Which brings us to the topic of coolant speed. An aluminum radiator with larger diameter tubes is going to require an increase in the speed at which the water pump is moving coolant through the system. Your muscle car’s pulley-pump speed might have been sufficient when everything was stock from the factory, but any modifications made might now require changes to that speed and ratio.

In addition to tube size, high-performance aluminum radiators also have more fins, spaced closer together, for increased heat transfer from the coolant to the atmosphere.

Electric fans

Engine-driven fans can get the job done when you’re tooling down the highway at cruising speeds, but when you’re idling or fighting stop-and-go traffic – not so much. For increased cooling capacity, consider installing an electric fan, or two.

Unlike an engine-driven fan, an electric fan is going to generate enough airflow to sufficiently help cool the engine, regardless of engine RPMs or traveling speed. In addition to consistent airflow, electric fans can also net you more horsepower. It’s estimated that engine-driven fans steal about 35 horsepower and clutch-driven fans about half that amount while electric fans only take about one horsepower.

Installing a dual-fan set up enables the entire radiator surface to be covered with cooling air flow. Another option is to use a two-fan system, but with one fan stationed in front of the radiator, pushing air to it, and a second fan behind the radiator, pulling air to it – remembering that pulling is always more efficient than pushing.

As for fan blade style, that depends on what’s more important to you – cooling or noise levels. Curved-bladed fans are quieter than straight-blade fans, but they don’t move as much air.

And in what’s probably beginning to sound like a reoccurring theme, a changeover from an engine-drive fan to an electric one might also require some beefing up of the vehicle’s electrical system to ensure it’s up to the task and increased loads.Car fan photo

Fan shroud

If you’re making the effort of adding an electric fan, make sure you go all the way and include an aluminum fan shroud. The right fan shroud can maximize the fan’s heat-reduction capacity by delivering cooling air to nearly every square inch of the radiator surface, while choosing aluminum helps deliver further weight reduction.

Type of coolant

When it comes to the liquid flowing through the radiator, nothing’s better at heat transfer than plain old water. Unfortunately nothing also beats water when it comes to freezing in winter and destroying your engine, and corroding the radiator and inflicting a similar level of carnage there. If you are running straight water for coolant – some racing series require this – be sure to also include an anti-corrosion additive to the mix, and to take the necessary steps to prevent freezing before lower temperatures arrive. You’ll also need to research the benefits of using softened water if this is the somewhat risky route you choose to go. If, however, you choose to play it safe by using traditional antifreeze, also consider an additive, such as Red Line’s Water Wetter that prevents bubbles or vapor pockets from forming and helps bring temperatures down.

When it comes to summer driving, just remember – keeping your cool begins with your engine. Do you have any additions to the list? Share them in the comments. 

Advance Answers: Questions About Vehicle A/C Systems

car air conditioner pictureWe explore a couple questions that have come our way regarding your car’s thermostat and how vehicle air conditioning systems work.

Updated: May 2016

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 awhile, though, what you should do is somewhat counterintuitive. Especially when it comes to vehicle A/C systems (which are part of a vehicle’s HVAC system, or Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning).

What should I do when my car overheats?

Sometimes cars overheat (fortunately, not as often as they used to). This happens most often in hot summer weather — and if you’re in the car, you’re probably feeling pretty toasty yourself.

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 counterintuitive part is this: if your car continues to overheat, then turnon both your heater and its blower. It may be uncomfortable, but this transfers heat away from the car’s engine into the inside of the vehicle itself.

Why should I use my A/C system in the winter?

The best thing to do during winter is run your A/C. It sounds strange, but running your vehicle’s air conditioning system during the winter can make sense (just remember your gloves!). If you run your A/C throughout the year, the system stays more lubricated, helping to prevent leaks. That’s because the 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 also much more efficient at window defogging than the 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.

How important is it to fix the thermostat?

The thermostat is a relatively small and inexpensive part with an important job: it senses and “reports on” 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, the coolant can keep flowing until it’s all burned off, which can lead to overheating or even more severe problems, like a blown cylinder head gasket.

In cold temperatures, the thermostat prevents water from going to the radiator. This helps the engine warm up enough, 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 buy a comparable thermostat replacement. You can also check your owner’s manual to see which type of thermostat the OEM recommends.

Diagnostic Tips When Air Conditioning Isn’t Working

A/C button in car

Source | Mattes/Wikimedia Commons

When summertime hits, repairs to your car’s A/C system get moved up the to-do list, fast. Here are some tips to guide you through the diagnostic process, along with information about when to replace the A/C compressor or recharge the A/C system.

Troubleshooting the A/C compressor

First, you need to eliminate the clutch in your A/C compressor as the culprit. Turn on your A/C and fans to the max setting. Is the clutch engaging? If not, use a voltmeter to see if the compressor is receiving voltage. If there’s voltage, the clutch may be bad. Replacement of the clutch and/or compressor may be necessary.

If there’s no voltage, there may not be sufficient refrigerant in the system to engage the low pressure cut-off switch that cycles the compressor. If it seems likely that there isn’t enough refrigerant in the system, the typical culprit is a leak. Use a UV A/C leak detector kit to check for leaks, including in the condenser and evaporator.

Next, use a manifold gauge to check the high and low side pressures in the system. Are they set within the recommended ranges provided in your owner’s/repair manual? Also, check the following for a tight and secure fit:

  • Front seal of compressor
  • All system fittings
  • Hose manifolds on compressor
  • All system hose crimps
  • Schrader valves
  • O-rings found on compressor pressure switches

Important note about replacing an A/C compressor

If you need to replace your A/C compressor, you’ll also need to replace your accumulator and/or dryer and expansion device. You’ll also want to conduct a full flush of the system for optimal performance. (Here’s how to do a radiator flush.) Some vehicles require a replacement of the condenser to eliminate all debris from the A/C system.

A/C recharging

The EPA provides detailed information about the process and regulations. You can read them in full or use the summary we’ve provided below.

When recharging, there are two main options:

  1. Top off with refrigerant
  2. Empty/evacuate the system and recharge/refill the system

Although each can be effective, they are both temporary fixes if any A/C leaks still exist. And, if you have an older vehicle, what’s leaking is CFC-12 (Freon), an expensive refrigerant that is no longer manufactured in the United States because of concerns about the ozone layer. The cost of replacing CFC-12 will make it more economical, in most cases, to fix any leaks first.

Top-off versus evacuation and recharge

A top-off is cheaper, faster and simpler. However, any impurities in the refrigerant remain unless you choose the recharge process, which involves:

  • Removing any remaining refrigerant
  • Purifying the refrigerant using recycling equipment, recharging it into the vehicle and then topping if off, as necessary

Plus, the recharging allows you to be more precise. When topping off refrigerant, you can determine the optimal amount (say, 2.2 pounds) by looking in your owner’s manual. However, there is no precise way to know how much refrigerant is currently in a vehicle, making topping off an estimate at best. If the A/C system is accidentally overcharged, newer cars usually have a feature that causes the system to shut down in hot weather. With a recharge, you can be precise.

How to find a refrigerant leak

If only a small amount of refrigerant appears to be left, you’ll need to add up to a few ounces. If the refrigerant has less pressure than 50 pounds per square inch, the EPA says more refrigerant is needed. (Note that at least 1 to 1.5 pounds of refrigerant is needed to test cooling capabilities.) The EPA recommends the use of an electronic leak detector that is Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) J1627 certified.

It’s possible to have pinpoint-sized leaks that are very difficult to find, even with the best equipment. These tiny leaks cause slow leakage but the A/C system may seem to lose its cooling capabilities virtually all at once. If that’s the case, it’s likely that your vehicle has a system that shuts off once refrigerant drops below a certain level.

The EPA doesn’t require that refrigerant be removed and cleaned before car air conditioning recharging takes place. To get more information, you can call them at 800-296-1996. The EPA also does not require that leak repairs be done before refrigerant is added, although states and/or localities can require this so it’s good to check.

State-level agencies

Here are listings of state-level environmental agencies in alphabetical order. You can search the appropriate agency to find information for your state and/or contact them to ask them a specific question.

Another useful tool is the Gateway to State Resource Locators, where you can narrow down your questions by broad type and then enter your zip code and further filter down the type of information you need.

Streamlined option

If you decide to just add refrigerant, A/C Pro is a solution to consider. It contains a sealant that helps stop leaks on hoses, gaskets and o-rings. Here are the basic steps to use it correctly:

  • Locate the low-pressure connection point
  • Use the A/C Pro gauge to measure the system’s pressure
  • If low, refill by pulling the trigger on the product’s nozzle and monitor pressure via the pressure gauge device, making sure that you don’t overfill

Troubleshooting your vehicle’s A/C? Share your tips and stories for other readers.

Common A/C and Fuel Efficiency Myths Debunked

 

Two A/C myths always seem to crop up as the temperature climbs higher and long road trips become commonplace.

Myth #1: A vehicle’s air conditioner causes the engine to work harder. Therefore, electing not to use the air conditioner and instead rolling down the windows when driving will significantly increase fuel mileage.

Myth #2: Driving with your windows down will significantly decrease your fuel mileage because of the increased aerodynamic drag the open windows create.

One myth probably has some truth to it and one is most likely false. Here’s why.

Car_air conditioner

Uncovering the truth

In a test conducted by Consumer Reports, they drove a Honda Accord at 65 mph and found that using the air conditioner reduced fuel mileage by 3% (versus keeping it off). In another test they drove at 65 mph, but this time with the windows down. They found no measurable effect on fuel mileage.

In a similar test performed by Edmunds using a Toyota Tundra, they saw a decrease in fuel mileage of almost 10% when using the air conditioner as opposed to driving with the windows down and the air conditioner off.

There are many similar tests and results online, but here’s the bottom line:

  • Using a vehicle’s air conditioner may result in a small decrease in fuel mileage. As the driver, you get to choose what to do with that knowledge. Maybe that decrease is negligible compared to the discomfort of not having air conditioning on a hot summer day.
  • Driving with a vehicle’s windows rolled down doesn’t produce any measurable impact on fuel mileage as a result of aerodynamic drag (but your dog will love it if he’s along for the ride).

How to really improve fuel economy

If you want to improve gas mileage, try some of these fuel-saving strategies instead:

  • Slow down and avoid aggressive driving, such as hard accelerations and hard braking. Driving normally will increase fuel mileage by as much as 33% at highway speeds.
  • Remove excess weight from the vehicle and avoid hauling bulky items on the roof because it increases aerodynamic drag.
  • Keep your engine in tune and tires inflated to the recommended air pressure for a 3-4% improvement in fuel mileage.
  • Consolidate trips: do all your errands in one run

What do you think? Do you prefer to sweat if it saves you a few pennies, or is it a small price to pay for personal comfort? Leave us a comment.

Checking Your Vehicle’s Essential Fluids and Hoses Provides Peace of Mind

hood up fixing car

Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The same is true for your vehicle, especially when it comes to its essential fluids and hoses. Regular maintenance checks of these items will contribute to the sustained health of your vehicle and reduce your risk of unpleasant automotive surprises down the road. But where to start? Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Essential fluids

High operating temperatures for your car, particularly during seasonal travel, mean more use of your air conditioner and an even stronger need to keep your engine well lubricated with enough coolant and oil. All fluid checks should be done while your engine is cold. This is VERY important because hot fluids can burn you.

All fluid checks should be done while your engine is cold. This is VERY important
because hot fluids can burn you.

  • Coolant: To check your coolant, unscrew the radiator cap and make sure the level is where it should be according to the line on the tank. If you’re low, topping off with a pre-mixed 50/50 coolant will save you time and fuss.
  • Motor oil: To check your oil, pull out the dipstick, wipe it down with a rag, and stick it back in. When you pull it out again, the oil should be at or above the line marked on the stick. If it’s too low, add a quart. Your owner’s manual will tell you what kind you need.
  • Windshield washer fluid: While you’re at it, check your windshield washer fluid. Your car may be able to survive without it, but a clear view of the road can be a life saver—literally. In most vehicles, washer fluid is blue and housed in a white plastic tank. Look on the side of the tank or open the cap covering the tank to check the fluid level.

For more helpful tips on checking essential fluids, read this.

Radiator hoses and spare tires

Fluids aren’t the only things that keep your vehicle running smoothly. Include these items in your regular inspections.

  • Radiator hoses: If coolant is the life blood of your engine, then radiator hoses are the arteries. So, while you’re under your hood, check your radiator hoses for leaks or wear. Squeeze the hoses and make sure they’ve got some give to them. If they’re hard and brittle or cracked, they should be replaced. It’s an easy job and far preferable to breaking down on the side of the road when you’re headed out to the lake with the family.
  • Spare tires: As long as you’re taking stock of your vehicle’s essentials, you may as well check your spare tire. First, make sure you have a spare tire in your car. Many vehicle manufacturers these days are eliminating spare tires as a standard feature. If you have a spare tire, make sure it’s properly inflated. Don’t forget to keep a tire iron in your trunk, along with any other equipment needed to change a tire by the side of the road. You can read through your owner’s manual to get a feel for what it takes to do the job. If you don’t have a spare tire on your vehicle, consider carrying a tire repair kit.

Many vehicle manufacturers these days are eliminating spare tires as a standard feature.

Checking the fluids and hoses on your vehicle will save you money and hassle. They’ll also give you something you can’t put a price on: peace of mind. Are there easy hose and fluid checks you perform on your vehicle? Leave us a comment.