Thawing Out Your Toys: How to De-Winterize Motorcycles, ATVs, and More

Source | Allar Tammik/Flickr

Spring hasn’t sprung in many parts of the U.S., but it has started its slow and steady ascent from the south. That means sunnier days, warmer weather, and, more importantly, that it’s time to pull those toys out of winter storage and get them ready for action again. This guide will cover the steps you should take to ensure your motorcycles, ATVs, side-by-sides, Jet Skis, and other powersports equipment will be operating in tip-top shape when you head back out this spring.

First and foremost, the key to easy de-winterizing is good winterizing. If you put your toys away properly, they’re much easier to get back in good shape when warmer temperatures arrive. But even if you didn’t do everything you should have to pack your toys away last winter, this guide will help get your gear into proper running order.

1. Perform a thorough visual inspection

Don’t just glance at the oily bits and assume all is well. Rodents love to crawl into tight spaces and tear up wires and other material to make nests. Grab a flashlight and take a serious look around your equipment to ensure there have been no critter incursions that might compromise your vehicle’s function. Check behind any body panels, inside luggage or storage areas, inside fenders, and inside mufflers and air inlets.

Also have a close look for leaks, both under the machine and around seals and plugs on the drivetrain equipment and at the suspension dampers. Also check the brake-fluid reservoir, the brake levers or pedals, and the brake calipers or drums themselves.

If you winterized well, you may have covered all of the potential problem areas with plastic bags or other covers. Good for you! You can move on to the next step once you’ve inspected for all other mechanical points of failure.

2. Change the oil

Even if you put new oil in before winterizing your machines, you’ll want to swap the engine oil and, where applicable, transmission fluid before you get down and dirty this summer. Why? Because even when sitting unused, the oils and fluids in your engine and gearbox can separate or become waxy, especially in extreme temperatures, which can dramatically reduce their effectiveness in protecting your machine from wear. This is definitely a case where a few quarts of prevention are worth an entire barrel of cure.

3. Check and/or change the battery

If you put your battery on a float charger over the winter, you’ll still want to check its health with a good battery tester to ensure the battery has enough life left to get you through the fun season. If you didn’t keep your battery charged over the winter, chances are good that it has gone completely flat and may need replacement.

You’ll also want to check the battery for any visual signs of malfunction, like fluid leaking out and corrosion on nearby parts and the battery terminals. With wet cell batteries, you’ll want to make sure electrolyte levels are properly topped up with distilled water.

When dealing with batteries, it’s important to remember that battery acid is corrosive and toxic, so you should always wear gloves and safety glasses.

Once you’ve determined the health of your battery, go ahead and charge it if it isn’t already fully charged.

4. Check all other fluid levels

Engine and transmission lubrication are important, but coolant and brake fluid are, too. Be sure all fluids are at their proper levels, and if any are especially low, go back over your inspection list to see if a leak is responsible. Consider draining and replacing the fluid entirely, especially if it shows signs of wear or if you haven’t replaced it in the past few seasons. This is especially true of brake fluid, which absorbs moisture from the air and loses effectiveness over time.

While you’re at it, double-check the oil level, even though you just replaced the oil in Step 2. It never hurts to be sure.

5. Pull the spark plugs, and check or replace

Removing the spark plugs to check for rust or corrosion can give you some warning as to more serious problems inside the engine that may have developed over the winter. If you do find rust on the spark plug, use a borescope to look inside the cylinder to verify the condition inside the engine before starting it. Chances are, however, that your engine will be fine—but your spark plugs may not be.

If you notice lots of dark fouling, you could clean and re-install your spark plugs, but they’re inexpensive, so replacing them with the proper type (consult your owner’s manual and read more about how to tell when they need replacing ) is a cheap and easy way to ensure your equipment will start easily and run well all summer long.

6. Check your tires and all rubber components

Even if your toys have been shielded from the cold of winter, the sheer time they’ve spent sitting can cause rubber parts of all types to develop cracks, flat spots, or other issues. This includes your tires, hoses, and even handlebar grips.

Once you’ve made sure everything is in proper condition and replaced anything that seems dry, misshapen, or otherwise bad, make sure your tires are inflated to the proper pressure—most tires will lose pressure as they sit, and all tires will vary in pressure based on ambient temperature. Don’t just assume that because they were fine when you packed it away that they’ll be fine when you pull them out of the garage after a few months!

Source | Robert Thigpen/Flickr

7. Fire it up!

Starting the engine in your powersports toy after a long winter is one of the most satisfying activities for an enthusiast. But don’t get too enthusiastic out of the gate—let the engine idle until thoroughly warm. Don’t go zipping around the neighborhood or brapping the engine up to high revs right away.

For fuel-injected machines, this first cold-start after the winter will (likely) be easy. For carbureted machines, it may take some more work. Assuming your carb and choke were properly adjusted at the end of the season (and no critters have fouled the situation), it should start right up with the fuel that’s in it—provided, of course, you used fuel stabilizer. You did, didn’t you?

If you own a carbureted machine and, as part of the winterizing process, you drained the carb’s float bowl, you’ll want to follow your manufacturer’s procedure for priming the carburetor (letting fuel back into the float bowl) before attempting to start the engine.

If you followed these steps (and properly winterized your hardware in the first place) you should be up and running, ready to achieve full weekend-warrior status. If you’ve run into some stumbling blocks, however, be sure to consult our other how-to and DIY guides for your specific problem.

Got any other tips for de-winterizing or any triumphant stories of spring’s first ride? Let us know in the comments.

ZDDP Motor Oil Additive: What You Need to Know to Protect Your Car

Source | Luke Jones

Engines wear out. It’s an unfortunate truth, but it’s not one you simply have to accept, even if you own a classic car. There are steps you can take to keep your engine from deteriorating for a long time, the most important of which is ensuring it’s properly lubricated and that the oil is changed regularly. But does your classic car’s engine want classic oil? Does it need supplements that aren’t found in modern oil, like ZDDP? Read on to find out.

What is ZDDP?

Zinc dialkyldithiophosphate, or ZDDP, was once a common and useful engine oil additive. It was inexpensive, highly effective metal-on-metal antiwear additive, and as a result, it was used widely in engine oils from the 1940s through the 1970s, and is still in use in some cases today. If your car was built during the peak period of use, chances are its intended motor oil included ZDDP. But in the past few decades, it has been phased out due to concerns over its toxicity.

How does ZDDP work?

As your engine runs, it generates heat and friction, especially at high-stress points like the cams, valves, and tappets, where metal-to-metal contact pressures can be extreme. As this heat and friction builds, the ZDDP breaks down into its chemical components, coating the metal with what’s called a tribofilm and taking the brunt of the load. This film forms at the atomic scale, helping to protect the metal in your engine, and reacts in a “smart” way, increasing the protection as the friction and pressure increases. By reducing direct metal-to-metal contact, the ZDDP provides a replenishable wear surface that prolongs the life of your engine. Studies of ZDDP have shown that it effectively provides a cushioning effect on the underlying metal, distributing the force upon it and, accordingly, the wear.

When does a car need ZDDP?

If you own a modern car, built in the 1990s or more recently, there’s no need to add ZDDP to your engine oil. Just ensure you use the oil specified by your manufacturer in your owner’s manual. Modern engines are designed around low- or no-ZDDP oils, and they often use lower valve spring rates, roller lifters, and other methods to reduce the metal-on-metal friction pressure, particularly in the valve train, that ZDDP was used to combat.

In classic engines with high-pressure friction points, however, ZDDP is still a useful ingredient in preserving the performance and extending the life of your car. Today’s oils often contain some level of ZDDP, though the latest ones often contain only trace amounts—enough to help newer cars with minor wear issues but not enough to prevent newly rebuilt or broken-in classic car engines from wearing at much higher rates than intended. While the debate is still raging among enthusiasts, there’s good evidence that classic-car owners should ensure their engines are getting adequate amounts of ZDDP.

Should you add ZDDP to your oil?

Exactly how to ensure your engine is getting enough ZDDP is another question. Some oils sold in auto parts shops, like Advance Auto Parts, still include ZDDP in their formulation. Some of these are only for racing or off-road use, however, and some are not widely available in all regions. None of the oils that still include some quantity of ZDDP indicate on the bottle just how much they contain, or how that compares to the oil originally specified for your car. You can, of course, call the company that makes the oil and find out for yourself with some digging—but that can be a slow and frustrating process.

Fortunately, there are ZDDP additives available on the shelves at your local Advance Auto Parts (or online). These additives are easy to use and economical, so it’s a cheap and simple way to provide your engine with some solid insurance against premature wear. All you have to do is follow the instructions on the bottle, which typically involve pouring some or all of a container into the engine oil fill port. Don’t exceed the recommended amount; it won’t increase your protection and will only waste the additive (and your money) and put more of the harmful zinc and phosphate components of the compound into the environment than necessary.

Which ZDDP additive should you buy?

As great as ZDDP is for protecting your engine, and as many amazing smart-material behaviors as it exhibits at the molecular level, it isn’t a mysterious, proprietary chemical. It has been used and tested for more than 70 years. In other words, just about any ZDDP additive you’ll find will work great in your engine. Some brands of ZDDP additive may be designed to work with the same brand’s engine oil, so those seeking the ultimate in peace of mind might want to team them together. Otherwise, just grab a bottle of your preferred brand and use as directed to give your classic-car engine the protection and longevity it deserves.

Do you have experience with ZDDP? Let us know.

How Often Should You Really Change That Engine Oil?

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You’ve heard that old advice countless times: “You should change your oil every three months, or 3,000 miles.” While commonly followed, is this rule still true today? How often should you really change your oil? Let’s take a look at the specifics of oil changes.

Why Change the Oil?

If you’re the DIY type who changes your own oil, you probably return the used oil back to the retailer for recycling. But that brings up a good question: if it can be recycled and used again, why even change it at all? It’s not that the oil goes bad, but the oil in your engine becomes contaminated and loses efficiency. You want clean oil lubricating your engine, not contaminants and grit.

The slight clearance between moving parts—say, between piston rings and cylinder walls—allows trace amounts of burned fuel to mix with the oil, contaminating it. Over time, these contaminants will turn your oil dark. The oil filter keeps a lot of that junk from circulating in your engine, but it has a limited capacity. When the filter can no longer keep the contaminants out of your oil, it’s time for an oil change. If you go too long without one, the contaminants build up and can cause costly sludge issues.

How Many Miles?

The 3,000-mile oil change guideline has likely been around longer than your parents have been driving. Many drivers still stand by it today. There are a lot of arguments here, as many of us have been rewarded with a reliable vehicle after religiously changing the oil at 3,000 miles.

Studies, however, show that might be a placebo effect. While a $50 oil and filter change is cheap preventative maintenance on a $30,000 vehicle, everyone from Edmunds to the New York Times agrees that the 3,000-mile oil change is no longer applicable in today’s vehicles. The rules have changed with the tech of the last 50 years. With the innovations in tighter build tolerances and higher-quality synthetic oils, many sources suggest a 5,000-mile to 10,000-mile oil change should be the new normal.

 Check Your Manual

Some of the discussion over proper oil-change intervals may come from your owner’s manual. Most manuals list two different recommended mileages for oil changes based on whether your driving routine is “normal” or “severe.” Normal driving is considered the usual daily commute. The more frequent “severe” service schedule should be followed for commercial vehicles, or when using your daily driver for towing, off-roading, or racing.

Even a single manufacturer can have different mileage recommendations based on the engine type and recommended motor oil. For example, Toyota uses 5W-20 in the Rav4, and recommends changing the oil every 5,000 miles. On the other hand, Toyota also recommends lighter 0W-20 in the new Prius, which it says is good for 10,000 miles (if you periodically monitor the oil level). Then there’s the Tundra, which needs a 2,500-mile service when using E-85 fuel. For peace of mind, read the manual.

When in Doubt, Send It Out

If you want to geek out over this and know exactly when to change your oil, science can help you out there. Blackstone Labs is one service that analyzes the chemical makeup of used oil, and can offer fascinating insight into what is happening with your oil, and your engine, as the miles add up. If the analysis shows unusual engine wear, there are additives that can resolve the issue, giving you many more years of problem-free driving.

While the recommended oil-change interval has increased over the years, one thing that remains constant is the need to change your oil.

Do you stick with 3,000 miles or follow the manual? Tell us in the comments.

Winter Automotive Fluids

Winter automotive fluids can help you and your vehicle continue moving during freezing temperatures.

Winter. You can love it, hate it, or simply tolerate it. No matter which camp you fall into, when it comes to winter driving, we all have one thing in common – the need to be prepared. It doesn’t matter if you’re braving snow and sub-freezing Minnesota temperatures or just colder January days in central Florida. There are several steps you can take to protect your vehicle from winter’s damaging toll, and one of the first should be a thorough review of the winter chemicals and fluids your vehicle needs as temperatures plummet.

Antifreeze – The name says it all. It’s one of the most important winter chemicals because the liquid in an engine’s cooling system is composed of equal parts of water and antifreeze. Depending on the brand, either ethylene glycol or propylene glycol in the antifreeze prevents that water from freezing, expanding, and causing damage to the engine. Periodically, the antifreeze needs to be checked, however, to ensure both strength and quantity. Use an antifreeze tester yourself or take the vehicle to your mechanic to measure the antifreeze’s strength. This test indicates the lowest ambient temperature to which the engine is protected from freezing. Also check the coolant reservoir level to ensure it’s filled to the proper level.

Engine Oil – Cold weather starts can be easier on your engine if you switch to a full-synthetic oil instead of a conventional oil. Many drivers don’t think about oil when it comes to winter driving and winter chemicals, but synthetic oil flows freer at low temperatures and doesn’t require any time to warm up, providing crucial and immediate protection to the engine’s moving parts at start up. Full synthetics – as their name implies – are composed entirely of synthetic oil. This is not oil that’s been pumped from the ground, rather it is a manmade, engineered oil that’s specially formulated with additives to provide improved wear and cleaning properties, along with other performance enhancements. Synthetic blends, on the other hand, consist of synthetic oil coupled with naturally occurring conventional oil. Check with your vehicle manufacturer or trusted mechanic for specific recommendations on which oil is right for your application.

Fuel Injector Cleaner – Winter temperatures can cause winter driving performance issues related to a vehicle’s fuel system. Prevent problems from occurring by using a fuel injector cleaner. Added to the gas tank during a routine fill up, it cleans the injectors, which oftentimes will help restore lost power, improve fuel mileage, and eliminate rough idling and difficulty starting. Water that may be present in the fuel system can also become a problem in the winter when temperatures drop low enough that this water freezes. A good way to prevent fuel-line and system freeze up is by choosing a fuel-injector cleaner such as HEET because it also is designed to be a fuel-system antifreeze and remove water from the fuel system.

If you have a diesel vehicle  remember that diesel fuel lines tend to “Gel” up in the winter time. Adding a product like Diesel 911 can help and often times remedy this issue. For normal maintenance, use our Power Service products to keep your Diesel fuel system operating at peak performance.

While we’re on the subject of diesel, don’t forget:

DEFDiesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) is mixture of urea and water that reduces nitrous oxide emissions – an atmospheric pollutant produced during combustion – by breaking down the compound into harmless nitrogen and water. On many passenger and commercial diesel vehicles, a dedicated tank contains the DEF which is automatically metered and sprayed into the emissions system and which needs to be refilled periodically. Many vehicles provide numerous warnings and alerts to prevent DEF levels from being exhausted, and will also perform at significantly restricted levels, or not at all, if DEF is allowed to run out.

Deicing chemicals – You can’t drive your vehicle in the winter if you can’t unlock the doors or see out the window, which makes having lock deicers and windshield deicing fluid must-have winter chemicals. The lock deicer thaws and lubricates door locks, as well as other types of locks, helping prevent damage. The windshield deicer can be used year round, is added to the windshield washer fluid tank and helps remove frost and light ice.

Stay warm, drive safe, and be proactive this winter by taking care of your vehicle before problems strike.

Editor’s note: All the fluids and chemicals your vehicle needs to survive winter are available in one place – Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage – hopefully one that’s heated.

 

Synthetic Versus Conventional: Which Motor Oil is Best?

Which motor oil is the best?

As the lubricant for the moving parts of your engine, motor oil is widely considered to be the most important fluid you can use. It prevents excessive engine wear and tear, which makes it vital to keep your car running. So it’s important to understand the different types of motor oil available and how to choose the best one for your vehicle, budget, and needs.

Conventional, synthetic, and blend

There are three main types of oil–conventional, synthetic and synthetic blend. Conventional oil is organic—it’s essentially refined crude oil that’s been pumped up from the ground. Synthetic oil is manufactured molecule by molecule, and because of that, synthetics have fewer imperfections in their chemical buildup than conventional does. Synthetic blends, or “semi-synthetics,” add synthetic additives to conventional oil and can be a nice compromise between the two. They’re less expensive but provide some of the performance enhancement you get from a synthetic.

And…synthetic wins?

In general, synthetic oil outperforms conventional oil on all counts:

  1. Synthetic oil works better in extreme temperatures from below freezing to above 100′ F. Conventional oil is highly reactive to temperatures.
  2. Because synthetics have superior lubrication (they’re more slippery) and create less sludge, so they give you better fuel economy, performance, and even a longer engine life.
  3. And best of all, synthetics don’t have to be changed as often. But make sure you meet warranty service mileage intervals regardless.

The only downside to synthetic oil is it costs more than the regular stuff–typically twice as much. That’s a big difference. But before you choose pennies over performance, crunch the numbers. With longer oil change intervals, the price difference might be a wash. However, if you don’t drive your car hard and/or in extreme conditions, and if you don’t tow heavy loads or supercharge your engine, and if you change your oil promptly on schedule, the price increase to switch from conventional oil to synthetic may not be worth it to you.

Keep in mind…

These three types of motor oil will work fine in your vehicle as long as they meet current American Petroleum Institute (API) certification and don’t go against the manufacturer’s recommendations. The only type of engine you should never use synthetic oil in is a rotary. Rotary engines have unique seals that are engineered for use with conventional oil only.

Pro Tip: Check that you’re not voiding your warranty by using the wrong oil. Many newer vehicles require that you use synthetic oil and some synthetics aren’t approved for certain diesel engines.

The final say

When buying oil for your car, the best thing you can do is to follow your manufacturer’s recommendations. So, check that owner’s manual! When you consider that the wrong oil can cause an engine to fail, it pays to take their suggestions seriously. If you have the option to choose between synthetic and conventional and still aren’t sure which to pick, try a synthetic blend. Still unsure? Consult a pro.

So where do you fall in the synthetic vs. conventional debate? Leave us a comment.

Essential Automotive Fluids and How to Check Them

Power steering fluid tank photoMost DIYers know that ignoring fluid levels and fluid-change intervals virtually guarantees that a mechanical breakdown and shortened vehicle life are in your car’s not-too-distant future. Engine oil and coolant are probably the two fluids most vehicle owners think of, hear about, and check most frequently. However, there are several other fluids just as vital to a vehicle’s operation and longevity that many drivers inadvertently overlook. Here, we take you through those lesser-known fluids and how to check them.

Transfer Case Fluid

Vehicles with four-wheel or all-wheel drive have a transfer case on the back of the transmission. Its job is to direct power to the vehicle axles. Because it’s filled with rotating gears that are doing some heavy lifting and need constant lubrication, it needs to contain the right amount, type, and quality of transfer case fluid. Just like your vehicle’s other vital fluids, transfer case fluid degrades over time and needs to be changed. As a general rule of thumb, transfer case fluid should be changed every 30,000 miles, but it really depends on your manufacturer’s recommended guidelines and driving conditions.

Using a ’04 F150 with a 5.4 liter Triton V-8 and four-wheel drive as an example, Ford recommends changing the transfer case fluid at 150,000 miles. Shorter change intervals are recommended if the vehicle is driven through water, such as during stream crossings or when launching or retrieving a boat. That’s because there’s a chance water could seep into the transfer case and degrade the fluid’s lubricating properties sooner.

How to check transfer case fluid

Consult your manual to locate the transfer case on your vehicle. Unscrew the filler plug or cap. Use your finger or a dipstick to check the fluid level. If the fluid is low or if its dirty brown in color, you need to change it out.

Differential Fluid

Because wheels on the same axle don’t always turn at the same speed, every axle needs a differential. On front wheel-drive vehicles, the differential may be housed within the transmission and utilize the transmission fluid. On rear-wheel drive vehicles there’s a differential in the back, and on four-wheel drive vehicles there can be three differentials–one in the front, center and rear.

And, just like the transfer case fluid, differential fluids have to keep all those turning gears and parts lubricated and moving freely. Fortunately it too is usually a high-mileage interval change, but consult and follow specific vehicle-manufacturer recommendations to be sure.

How to check differential fluid

Locate the differential in your vehicle using the owner’s manual. Open the fill/service port and using your finger, check for fluid. If your finger touches fluid, then your fluid level is adequate. If the fluid doesn’t reach the service port opening, then your fluid is low and needs to be serviced.

Washer Fluid

Washer fluid is one of those fluids that you don’t know is low or empty until you need it and it’s not there. It’s also an important safety item, particularly in cold-weather climates where road slush and salt can quickly coat the windshield, instantly obscuring a driver’s vision. Washer fluid doesn’t need to be changed, mainly because it’s used and replaced frequently, but in cold-weather climates it’s important to ensure that the fluid won’t freeze. Most commercially available washer fluids are pre-mixed and won’t freeze so long as you don’t add water to them.

How to check windshield washer fluid

In most vehicles, washer fluid is blue and housed in a white plastic tank. Look on the side of the tank to see if the fluid level falls between the recommended levels, or open the cap covering the tank to check the fluid level.

Source | Flickr 

Brake Fluid

Brake fluid is hygroscopic, which means it attracts moisture. And moisture in brake fluid is a very destructive contaminant—it will corrode brake parts and eventually lead to system failure. The change interval, based on time and/or mileage, and specific type of brake fluid—there’s DOT 3, DOT 4, 5 and even 5.1—is important. Like most vehicle fluids which brake fluid you use depends on vehicle manufacturer specifications found online or in the owner’s manual.

How to check brake fluid

The reason the under-hood, brake-fluid reservoir on most vehicles is usually see-through is so that it can be checked at a glance, without removing the cap and introducing atmospheric moisture into the fluid. There will be “minimum” and “maximum” levels indicated. The fluid level should be in between. If the brake fluid looks dark brown and dirty it needs to be changed as well.

Power Steering Fluid

Power steering used to be an expensive add-on option for older vehicles, but today, nearly every vehicle comes equipped with it as a standard feature, making it much easier to turn the steering wheel without feeling as though you’re doing an upper-body workout. The system depends on a power steering pump and power steering fluid, and if you’ve ever turned the wheel and heard a loud groaning or moaning sound under the hood, chances are the power steering fluid was low. How often or even whether power steering fluid ever needs to be changed is vehicle-specific. Fluid levels always need to be maintained at the proper level, however, to prevent damage to the power steering pump, which could create hazardous driving conditions and require a much more expensive repair.

How to check power steering fluid

If you can’t find the power steering fluid reservoir, consult the owner’s manual for its location. It’ll either be an opaque tank where you can see the fluid level through the tank’s side, or the tank will have a removable cap and dipstick, possibly with a “hot” or “cold” marking indicating where the fluid level should be based on the engine temperature. Add the right amount, and the right type of power steering fluid.

Brake Fluid tank photo

Automatic Transmission Fluid

Automatic transmission fluid (ATF) lubricates and protects the transmission’s complex gears and also contains detergents that trap potentially destructive contaminants, holding onto them until they’re removed during a transmission fluid change. For the transmission to work properly, the right type of transmission fluid has to be used (there are many, and they are highly dependent on vehicle manufacturer specifications) and it has to be maintained at the proper level. Your car will tell you the ATF needs changing when you notice it is missing gears, its fuel economy is getting worse, or it revs up inconsistently.

How to check automatic transmission fluid

Consult your vehicle owner’s manual to locate the transmission fluid dipstick and for instructions on how to check the fluid level. Based on manufacturer, there could be differences in whether the fluid level should be checked when the vehicle is hot or cold, while it’s in park or neutral, and while it’s running or turned off.

The recommended transmission fluid change interval varies from vehicle to vehicle, and can also depend on whether synthetic or conventional ATF is being used. Consult your vehicle owner’s manual for the proper change interval—it could be as often as every 30,000 miles or as infrequently as every 100,000 miles. And while you’re at it, determine whether the maintenance schedule calls for changing the transmission fluid filter at the same time. A sure indication that the transmission fluid needs to be changed is if it’s dark or smells burned.

Fluids Can’t Be Ignored

Fluids are a vehicle’s lifeblood, and your vehicle is an expensive asset. Fluid maintenance is one of the easiest and most important ways you can protect it and help ensure miles and years of trouble-free driving.

Did we miss any important fluids? Do you have questions about any of the fluids we listed? Let us know in the comments.

Motor Oil: What Do the Numbers Really Mean?

“220. 221. Whatever it takes.”

That infamous line of reasoning worked for Jack Butler (Michael Keaton) in the 1983 movie Mr. Momso it should work for you, too, when it comes to selecting the right motor oil grade, right? Simply pick a number? Nope! Just like with electricity, when it comes to car oil, numbers matter—especially if you want to protect your engine.

motor oil 1Understanding viscosity

Oil “weights” or grades—such as 10W-30—are actually a numerical coding system developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) to grade oils based on their viscosity.

Viscosity is measured by how long it takes a specific amount of oil to flow through a specific-sized opening at a specific temperature. The longer the oil takes to flow through, the higher the viscosity. The tool used to conduct that test is a “viscometer.”

To better visualize viscosity, think of pouring pancake syrup from the bottle. At warmer temperatures, the syrup pours fast and easy, while at colder temperatures, it’s thicker and more difficult to get flowing.

The same can be said for engine oil. Only, the particular challenge with motor oil is that automotive engines need the opposite from their oil. When temperatures are freezing, engines need the oil to be thin and free flowing, not sluggish. But when temperatures rises, engines need the oil to stay thick as the engine reaches operating temperature. That’s where multi-weight or multi-grade oils enter the picture.

What does the “W” mean in oil weights?

American Petroleum Institute

SAE’s J300 standard, first published in 1911 and revised numerous times since, classifies oil into 11 viscosity grades—0W, 5W, 10W, 15W, 20W, 25W, 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60. The “W” signifies “winter,” not weight. Oils first received this “W” designation from SAE in the 1950s. The lower the number preceding the W, the lower the temperature for which the oil is rated.

Those winter numbers were modified further after a rash of catastrophic engine failures in the early 1980s. Unusually cold weather in the U.S. and Europe caused oil to gel. When this occurred, the engine would still start, but it couldn’t pull the gelled oil out of the oil pan, resulting in the failures. As a result, SAE added a low-temperature test to measure pumping viscosity as well, and indicated this oil with the W specification.

The importance of temperature

Back to the idea of multi-weight oils. A popular oil, such as 10W-30, performs like two oils in one when it comes to engine lubrication. At colder temperatures it delivers a 10W-grade oil performance, while at higher temperatures it performs like a 30-grade oil. This provides engine protection at both ends of the temperature spectrum, which is important since engines have to operate in a range of temperatures.

Think of it this way—that SAE 30 oil you might use in your riding mower has the same viscosity as the 10W-30 oil in your vehicle, but only at 210°, the maximum temperature that SAE requires. The difference arises at colder temperatures where the SAE 30 oil can’t perform, necessitating some enhancements that make it a multi-grade oil. At those lower temperatures, that’s where the 10W oil and its characteristics come into play.

Oil’s desired performance characteristics at varied temperatures, as specified by SAE, are achieved through the addition of Viscosity Improvers (VI) or modifiers that increase the oil’s viscosity as temperatures rise. The result is oil that performs and provides engine lubrication no matter what the temperature.

Know what to look for

The good news for drivers is that they don’t need to be an engineer or chemist to know which car oil to use, and they don’t have to change their oil grade whenever the temperature changes. Simply follow the motor oil grade recommended by the vehicle manufacturer for optimal engine protection in all types of weather.

oil sealIt’s important to note that SAE also has a coding system for gear oil, such as the one that’s used in a manual transmission, and that it’s different than the ratings for engine oil. So if there’s a bottle of 85W-140 oil sitting on the barn or garage shelf gathering dust, don’t put it in your engine.

And finally, when choosing an oil, look for one with the American Petroleum Institute “donut” seal on the bottle. It indicates that the oil meets API performance standards.

What kind of oil do you use in your engine? Leave us a comment.

Towing Information: 10 Maintenance Tips Before You Tow

Recreational vehicles on the highwayEven when you have a vehicle built with towing capacity, there’s still plenty to check and double-check before you get on the road.

First, check your owner’s manual to answer these questions:

  • Is your vehicle designed to tow?
  • If so, what is the maximum amount that you can safely tow?

If the answer to the first question is “yes,” then here is our overall recommendation:

  • If your vehicle’s owner’s manual provides recommendations for severe-duty use, towing qualifies – and you should follow these guidelines carefully.
  • This will include checking vehicle components and replacing them more often than is typical.
  • Do not exceed maximum towing limits. When exceeded, it’s more likely that you’ll damage your vehicle and/or get into an accident.

If you plan to modify your towing vehicle to give it extra power or additional safety features, check your warranty. Will making these modifications void any warranties? If you’re purchasing a new vehicle to tow, ask the dealership about any towing or camping options that will be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.

Also note that, even if you increase your engine’s power, this does not increase the maximum amount that can be safely towed by a particular vehicle.

Towing checklist

Here are ten specific items to check each time you’re getting ready to tow (note: these are not being presented as the ONLY items that you should check, only some of the most important):

1. Brakes

Test your brakes thoroughly before each trip. When towing, you need more stopping distance and so having brakes that are even slightly worn could be a hazard. When you’re towing, don’t ride the brakes; if you do, then you might overheat them and/or jackknife your vehicle. When driving downhill, drive at a reduced speed, using your brakes as necessary.

If you’re towing a trailer, some come with their own braking systems that need to be connected to your vehicle. Although it takes added skill to coordinate the braking systems, this system means less stress on the towing vehicle’s brakes.

Need help with any repairs? Find:

2. Cooling system

Proactively prevent a meltdown. Your vehicle will get heated up by pulling an extra load so your cooling system needs to work optimally to safely tow. So, add the following to your checklist, replacing worn parts:

  1. Radiator, including hoses and fluids
  2. Water pump
  3. Thermostat and housing
  4. Cooling fan and its switch

Here are:

3. Hitching devices

Check the hitch ball regularly to make sure that it hasn’t loosened and is still firmly attached to the draw bar. Make sure that the coupler and hitch ball fit together snugly, and ensure that any tow bar used is parallel to the ground when the towed vehicle is attached.

Each piece of towing gear comes with towing capacity limits. Double check that the equipment you have is suitable for what you plan to tow.

Find the towing parts you need.

4. Safety chains

If your trailer becomes unhitched when you’re towing, the only thing keeping the two vehicles together will be your second line of defense: your safety chains, which are required.

Make sure that the chains you use are sufficient for whatever you’re towing. Light-duty trucks often use 5/16-inch thick chains, while medium-duty trucks often use half-inch thick chains, with heavy-duty trucks using 5/8-inch thick chains. When choosing what thickness to use, make sure that they will help keep the trailer from drifting, while still allowing it to turn easily with your towing vehicle.

Find an assortment of safety chains here.

5. Springs and shock absorbers

Consider adding heavy-duty springs and the best shock absorbers you can buy and make sure that they are in good shape before each tow. Lighter-duty shocks can cause the towing vehicle to sag in the back while heavy-duty versions will help to keep your vehicle stable and level while towing. As a side bonus, they’ll also make the ride more comfortable.

Be sure to also check your hub bearings when doing your suspension check. While small in size, they can cause major problems when not optimal. If one falls off, the wheel can flip flop around, damaging the brakes and potentially even causing the wheel to become disconnected from your vehicle.

Here are:

6. Tires

Tires with the correct load rating and proper inflation are important. A common mistake that people make is to check the tires on the truck that will be doing the towing – but not the tires on, say, a camper or trailer that is being towed. Do you have a spare tire for both your truck and for whatever you’re towing?

Blowouts are doubly dangerous when they occur during towing. If this happens, stay calm and get off the road as quickly as is safely possible. Here are tips for quick tire repairs to get you to the shop. Also find tire gauges, cleaners and more.

mechanic working on a vehicle7. Wiring

Perhaps your truck came pre-wired for trailer towing from the factory or maybe your pre-installed hitch already contains the necessary connector. Whether one of these is true or whether you needed to do your own trailer wiring, you need to make sure that nothing has short circuited before you tow.

And, even if you’ve just bought a new truck, one pre-wired for towing, you will still need to double check that the wiring is adequate enough to run both your truck lights and the trailer lights. You can’t always count on that to be true.

8. Visibility

Visibility can be a challenge when you’re towing something behind you. You can’t see the other vehicles as well, and they may not see your truck as well, either. Lights, including brake lights and turn signals, are even more crucial in these circumstances, so make sure that all are in good working order.

9. Mirrors

Consider using extended towing mirrors for increased visibility. You can choose replacement mirrors or wide-angle clip-on mirrors, so test options out to see what works best. Extended mirrors are especially valuable when towing a wide vehicle.

Note: because you’re carrying a heavier load, it will take longer to accelerate so be very aware of that if planning to pass another vehicle. Here are options for your towing mirrors.

10. Fluids

Check and replace fluids more often, including motor oil. The added weight inherent in towing adds stress to the towing vehicle, causing it to run hotter than normal.

Choose products carefully. Synthetic oil, although more expensive, has no carbon—and therefore can’t leave carbon deposits on your pistons or in the combustion chamber as regular motor oil can. It also makes sense to use synthetic transmission fluid.

Also check and change filters often for optimal performance.

 

Bonus towing information:

The most important element in safe towing is you, the driver, so make sure that you:

  • Get enough rest before starting to tow
  • Feel confident backing up while the object being towed is attached; practice before starting on the road
  • Take breaks when necessary to rest if going for a long haul
  • Take turns more slowly when towing
  • Leave enough safe distance for braking
  • Have a fully stocked emergency kit with you at all times
  • Have the right hand tools, specialty tools and work gloves that you need for unexpected repairs

What tips would you add to our list? Leave a comment below! 

101 Series: Top 5 DIY Projects to Tackle Yourself

When major things go wrong with our cars, most of us bite the bullet and consult a trusted mechanic. But there are many car problems you can fix on your own, which saves you money. Sometimes the hardest part is just getting started. Read on for five simple ways to get that DIY ball rolling.

father_son_work_under_hood

1. Headlight Restoration

If your car is more than a few years old, chances are its headlight lenses could use some TLC, particularly if you deal with inclement weather on a regular basis. You’ll notice cloudiness on the plastic lens surface and maybe some yellowing. Fortunately, a number of reputable brands sell headlight restoration kits that can make those lenses look new again. Don’t get intimidated if your kit requires a power drill, by the way. That’s just because you may need more power to get that crud off than a human arm can muster. The job may take an hour or two to do properly, but there’s nothing tricky about it. Check out this video to get started.

For an even less expensive option that’s as easy as brushing your teeth, try this easy home remedy.

2. Headlight Replacement

Repair jobs under the hood don’t get much simpler than this one. Consult your owner’s manual or speak to an Advance Auto Parts Team Member to locate the correct headlight replacement parts. Then, take a look at this handy, step-by-step tutorial and this video.

As with any job that involves disassembly or removal, remember the order in which you take things apart. If you have to remove your headlight assembly, for example, you may end up unscrewing and pulling out a number of pieces. Remember how to put everything back together.

3. Replace Your Wipers

This is actually a simpler job than headlight replacement, because you don’t even have to pop the hood. Windshield wiper blades typically just snap into place. Replacing them is as easy as flipping the wiper shafts up off the windshield, popping the old blades off, and snapping the new ones on. Your owner’s manual should have specific information about the removal and replacement process. For help choosing new wiper blades talk to your Advance Auto Parts Team Member.

4. Replenish Your Fluids

Fluids are the lifeblood of an internal combustion engine. Without enough motor oil, the engine will wear down more quickly and may even seize. Without enough power steering fluid, the pump, bearings and other parts are in imminent danger. Without enough brake fluid…well, you get the point. Bottom line, it’s crucial to make sure that all fluids are always up to spec. To do it yourself, just check your owner’s manual for the location of each fluid reservoir or dipstick, and make a habit of inspecting those fluid levels. You can also read these handy guides to maintaining your vehicle’s motor oil and other essential fluids.

5. Wash and Wax Your Ride

Ever find yourself shaking your head at the price of a car wash? It definitely costs more than you’d pay to do it yourself. So why not get up close and personal with your car’s finish? There’s a whole world of at-home detailing products to explore. With the money you save, you can spend time doing something you really enjoy.

You may have to spend a little time to conquer these five projects. In the end, however, you save money and possibly the time and hassle of having your vehicle at the shop. Plus, you’ve gained the confidence to tackle the next project and a fuller knowledge of your vehicle’s maintenance.

What basic DIY projects do you tackle on your vehicle? Share your experience with us by leaving a comment.

Three Good Reasons to Change Your Own Oil

Life is busy. So you’ll be forgiven for thinking that a discussion about changing your own motor oil seems about as appealing as a lecture from your dentist about flossing more regularly. Why should you take precious time, a limited resource, and spend it changing your own oil? Here are three reasons.

motor oil

1. It’s cheaper

Money is a precious resource for many of us. So, it’s enticing to know that changing your own oil saves you green. Typical cars require four to five quarts of motor oil. You’ll also need a new oil filter to finish the job. Guess how much these items cost at an auto parts store. $40? $50? Good news—you can get out the door for around $20-30 bucks, especially if you take advantage of the regular oil change specials. Cheaper than you thought, right?

Now, you may see a $19.99 oil change advertised at the local quick-lube station, but there are a few problems with that.

  1. First, they tend to use generic, one-size-fits-all motor oil that may not be the best quality. One of the great things about DIY is that you get to buy whatever kind of oil you want.
  2. Second, that cheap oil change and convenience comes at a cost—the hard-sell on all sorts of other services that may be a waste of your money and time.
  3. Third, no one cares about your car more than you do. You’ll do a great job because it matters to you.

In short, you’ll save money changing your own oil and gain peace of mind.

 

Check out oil change specials for deals on the oil and oil filter to save some cash.

2. It’s easier—and faster—than you think

You can change your own oil using a few basic tools. We can help you choose the best oil for your vehicle and even recycle your used oil. As for time—how much time do you already spend waiting in a crowded lobby for someone else to change your oil? With a little experience, you’ll be able to change your own oil in far less time, without ever leaving home.

3. It helps you avoid larger repairs

Changing your own oil can be just the beginning. While you’re changing your oil and filter, for example, it’s also easy to check the drive and accessory belts, air filter, and spark plugs. That way you can catch simple maintenance issues before they become major repairs or problems. DIYing can be addictive, in the best way. So give the oil change a shot, feel pride in your knowledge, and see if the experience turns into a bridge to more exciting projects down the line.

Have you changed your own oil? Do you have tips to share for making it an even easier project? Share your experience with new DIYers.