What’s the Difference Between Car, Marine, and Lawn-Mower Batteries?

There are few things worse than turning the key and hearing nothing but a loud click, click, click, as the gauge lights fade. Your battery is dead. It’s time for a new one, but when you start your search there are, well… let’s just say “a ton of options” would be an understatement. Not all batteries are equal, and different vehicles have different requirements. Here’s what you need to know before you hit the store for a new battery.

For comparison: car batteries

All of the batteries listed here work generally the same way: A positively charged metal plate with a negatively charged plate in an electrolyte solution create an electron flow that you know as a useful electrical voltage (potential) and amperage (capacity).

Modern cars run on 12-volt electrical systems, and auto batteries are designed to work with this voltage. Manufacturers design standard flooded automotive batteries to deliver a quick burst of energy to quickly start the vehicle. We measure this by the battery’s CCA rating. A Honda Fit 1.5L can get by with lower CCA than a big block Chevy Chevelle 7.4L, so pay attention to what your ride needs.

The energy storage is shown as reserve capacity, which is less important in a car, as running the lights, radio, and such are the job of the alternator. It seems obvious, but you should stick with a car battery for cars.

Marine batteries

Starting marine batteryYou may have seen a battery at the parts store that is the size of a car battery, but the label states it’s for marine use. So what is a marine battery? A marine starting battery is quite similar to a car battery, but the differences matter. A boat battery has thicker plates so they don’t shake apart and fail under heavy wave impacts.

Also, you’ll notice the battery is rated in MCA. This is Marine Cranking Amps, which is the same as CCA, but at 32 degrees. Boat batteries have to act like a car battery for engine starting but also need to be able to provide “deep cycle” capacity for running that radio, GPS, or fish finder with the engine off. So, depending on need, there are specific starting batteries and deep cycle batteries.

Lawn batteries

lawn and garden battery

Lawn and garden batteries are, again, a different item. A battery for a riding mower doesn’t need to take on pounding waves, so it’s built more like a car battery. So how long does a lawn mower battery last? When properly maintained during the off seasons, the lawn mower battery last years, even with inconsistent use.

Lawn mower batteries are usually 12-volt. You’ll also notice they’re considerably smaller than car batteries, and tend to be cheaper, too. Lawn mower batteries often have one-third the CCA of a car battery, due to the heavier duty starter required for cars versus mowers.

Farm batteries

Farm batteries are deep cycle batteries with a CCA comparable to a car. This is because tractor engines have roughly the same electrical need at startup compared to your car or truck. On the other hand, the deep cycle is needed here due to the tractor usually running at idle or just off idle.

The tractor’s alternator can’t quite charge the battery at low engine speeds, so the battery needs to have a large reserve capacity. Farm batteries are also heavier duty than car batteries, due to the need to stand up to more bumps, ruts, and off-road work. You can use a farm battery in a car if you have to, but a car battery in a tractor won’t last long.

Golf cart batteries

Golf cart battery

Golf carts vary significantly between manufacturers and models, so the batteries vary, too. Golf carts operate on 36V or 48V electrical systems, with a set of batteries running usually 6, 8 or 12 volts. Definitely read the label before buying. With that said, they also differ in being true deep cycle batteries with a huge rating for amp hours. This is the ability to provide low power for a long time.

Unlike marine batteries that can start engines and provide deep cycle, a golf cart doesn’t have to deal with starting a large engine, so CCA isn’t a factor here. The golf cart needs reliable power for an extended period of time because the battery is the only source of power. Flooded GC batteries aren’t maintenance free. They need to be properly charged after use and electrolyte level must be checked regularly. Top off the electrolyte level in the batteries by adding distilled, deionized or demineralized water to the proper fill level. When the battery finally needs replacing, go with the same voltage as the factory batteries. For example, if your 48V cart has six 8V batteries, buy those six again rather than trying to upgrade to 12V. And don’t try to use a golf cart battery in your car, or vice versa.

Power sport batteries

Power sport battery

Your Jet Ski, snow machine, and ATV run power sport batteries that are specific to the demands of those machines. Most power sport batteries are 12-volt, like your car. That’s about where the similarities end. Smaller engines mean easier starting and thus lower CCA, so you probably wouldn’t want to run your Jet Ski battery in your F-250.

You’ll notice a bunch of different technologies in power sports, as well as some labeled “AGM.” That stands for Absorbed Glass Mat, which is a construction technique where fiberglass separators fully absorb the electrolyte and then are compressed during insertion. These batteries are highly vibration resistant, but AGM does not mean deep cycle.

AGM powersport batteries are not all the same. There are two different types: Dry Charge AGM and Factory Activated AGM. Factory Activated AGM power sport batteries allow you to take the battery off the shelf and use it immediately. Dry Charge AGM is still an AGM battery, but you have to fill the battery with acid and then charge 8-12 hours before you can use the battery.

Charging a Jet Ski battery is similar to charging a car battery, with the exception of using only the slow charge setting here, as most powersports batteries won’t like a 125V engine start setting.When it comes to batteries, the lesson of the day is: use the right battery for the right application. The batteries are internally different and will serve you well in the right vehicle. Remember, like anything else, maintenance is key. Keep it charged with a decent battery charger, and you’ll have a reliable battery that lasts for years.

How do you extend the life of your batteries? Let us know in the comments.

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.

How to Change Spark Plugs

Keep your engine in good working order. Here’s how to change spark plugs.

To some, a car’s engine may seem like an impossibly complicated hunk of mystical machinery. While that’s not too far from the truth for many modern engines, there are still some easily serviceable items on even the most high-tech cars. Spark plugs, especially, are among the easiest parts to replace in any given engine. All it requires is carefully following some basic steps and a handful of basic tools.

Before we dive into the step-by-step process, you might be wondering how often you need to change your spark plugs, what sort of spark plugs you should use, or whether you need to upgrade your spark-plug wires or other ignition components. Fortunately, these questions are easy to answer. And don’t forget, you may need to replace your spark plug wires every time you change your spark plugs depending on your driving style.

But chances are, if you’re here, it’s because you know it’s time to change your spark plugs. So let’s get started.

Holding spark plugs

Difficulty

Good for beginners: A new DIYer will be able to complete the project

Estimated Time Required

One hour

What You’ll Need to Change Spark Plugs

Remember, you can always rent tools from us.

 

Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Once you’ve gathered all of the tools you need, as well as the correct spark plugs for your car and spark plug wires (if necessary), you may want to drape an old blanket or towel over the fenders of your car so that you won’t mar the paint as you lean into the engine bay. It’s also good practice to disconnect the positive terminal on your car battery when working on anything electrical.

Pro Tip: Be sure to let your car’s engine cool thoroughly before replacing your spark plugs, and keep any flammable blankets, towels, or shop cloths away from any surfaces that may still be warm. This will also ensure the new spark plugs are tightened correctly (heat expands the engine threads and limits torque).

Step 2: Thoroughly clean the area around your spark plugs. Once you remove the spark plug, you’ll have an open hole directly into the inside of your engine, and any dirt or debris around the spark plug can fall straight in and cause serious wear or damage to your engine—something that should be avoided, for obvious reasons.

You can use compressed air to blow the area clean, and/or a cleaner/degreaser spray and shop towels to loosen and remove any gunk around the spark plug. Be sure to wear eye protection if you’ll be using compressed air or a spray cleaner.

Once you have the area around each spark plug clear of any oil, dirt, or other debris, it’s time to start the actual replacement process.

Step 3: Keep everything in order by removing a single spark plug wire from one spark plug at a time. This prevents you from reconnecting the wrong wire to the wrong plug when it’s time to button everything back up.

Step 4: Once you’ve removed the first spark plug wire, fit the necessary combination of extensions and swivels to the spark-plug socket to comfortably fit the tool to the spark plug.

Turn the spark plug counterclockwise until it comes free.

Even though you cleaned around the spark plug thoroughly before beginning, take care not to knock any previously unseen debris into the now-open hole into your engine’s interior.

Step 5: Once the spark plug is out, take the new spark plug and use the spark plug gap tool to check that there is a proper gap between the outer (hook-shaped) ground electrode and the center electrode. Most modern spark plugs are properly gapped from the factory, but shipping and handling can result in this small but crucial gap being tweaked, so it’s always good to ensure the gap is correct before installing.

If any adjustment is needed, gently open or close the gap until the tool just fits at the correct gap (which should be specified in your owner’s manual).

Step 6: With the gap verified, carefully insert the plug into the open hole by hand. If your spark plug isn’t factory treated with anti-seize, you can rub a small drop of anti-seize lubricant on the spark plug thread so it doesn’t lock up from the heat. Gently start screwing the plug in with a clockwise rotation, ensuring the threads are properly mated.

Pro Tip: Be careful to avoid cross-threading the spark plug when re-installing, as any damage to the spark-plug threads could require costly repairs to your car’s cylinder head.

Once the spark plug is carefully started into the threads, continue tightening the plug down with the spark plug socket and ratchet/extension combination. Be very careful not to over-tighten your spark plugs! Just tighten it down until the spark plug’s washer is firmly in contact with the shoulder of the threaded hole and the washer is slightly compressed.

Step 7: With the spark plug securely re-installed, reattach the plug wire by twisting slightly as you push the boot back down onto the exposed tip of the plug until you hear and feel a firm click. That means you’ve properly seated the plug wire. You can put a drop of dielectric grease inside the plug boot for better heat dissipation.

Step 8: Repeat the process in Steps 2 through 7 for each of your remaining spark plugs until you’ve replaced them all. If you’re also replacing your spark plug wires, go back and do each one in the same order, one at a time. You’ll notice that the spark plug wires vary in length according to their proper installation position, so be sure to match each wire up to the existing wire before removing the old one and replacing with the new wire. Repeat until all the wires are replaced.

You’re done! Before you celebrate, however, be sure to mark down the car’s current mileage in your maintenance notebook, so you’ll know when you need to change your spark plugs again.

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.

Why Do Car Batteries Die in Winter?

Few things are more frustrating than climbing into a cold, snow-covered car or truck only to hear the dreaded “click-click” of a dead battery. It happens to the best of us. But why does a car battery’s life seem to end more frequently in winter? Read on for the reason why.

Car battery

Source | Flickr

The inner life of your vehicle’s battery

First, a quick refresher on the science happening inside a car battery. Lead acid batteries are the most common car batteries because they’re inexpensive and fairly dependable. They’re made of a plastic case that houses a series of lead plates immersed in a pool of electrolyte—a mix of water and sulfuric acid. Each pair of plates makes up one “cell.” When fully charged, each cell in a lead acid battery produces 2.1 volts. So, a 12-volt battery consists of six cells.

The lead acid battery doesn’t produce a charge, but receives and stores an initial charge through a chemical reaction between the cell’s lead plates and the electrolyte. But as the chemical reaction occurs, the positive and negative lead plates are slowly coated with lead sulfate. This process is known as sulfation, and it reduces your battery’s ability to hold a full charge.

To complicate matters, lead acid batteries experience self-discharge, a natural loss of charge over time. Left too long without a fresh charge, a battery can discharge beyond recovery.

So why do batteries fail in winter?

Extreme heat or cold can increase your battery’s rate of discharge, making winter a triple-threat to your battery. All that exposure to summer’s heat evaporates the water in the electrolyte, increasing sulfation. Then winter rolls around, and freezing temperatures slow the chemical reactions occurring inside a lead acid battery, further reducing your battery’s ability to perform.

At the same time, a cold engine and sluggish oil demand more power, while power-hungry features like heat and defrost place more demand on your battery. Although lead acid batteries last an average of four years, they can fail earlier under the right (or wrong) conditions.

Signs of a failing battery

Your battery won’t always warn you before it fails, but here are common signs to watch for:

    • Headlights dim yellow instead of white
    • Dashboard battery warning light is on
    • Electronic accessories fail
    • Engine cranks more slowly
    • Dome lights dim
    • Car horn sounds unusual
    • Battery case swollen or cracked
    • Smell of sulfur or rotten eggs
    • Battery is more than three years old

The best way to find out if it’s time to replace your car battery is to have your battery tested.

Have you had to deal with a dead battery in winter? Share your experience in the comments.

Quick Ways to Improve Your Interior Car Lights

Daylight Saving Time ends this month, which means you’ll be spending more time driving in the dark. You know what we’re talking about: long evening commutes, running errands at twilight, or starting your car before the sun shows up. While you can’t avoid winter’s shorter days, you can make them more comfortable.

One easy way to do that is by upgrading your interior car lights with simple, inexpensive LED lights. You’ll have a more brightly lit cabin for those long nights, which could do wonders for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Here’s what you need to know about choosing and installing LED lights for cars.

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Why upgrade to LED lights in my car?

We could go on and on about the benefits of basic LED replacement lights. Here are a few reasons why they’re in all our cars:

  • They produce a more vibrant, clean white light than the standard yellowish incandescent bulbs. (Pretty useful when you’re searching your trunk for that black football cleat or your pup’s favorite chew toy.)
  • LED bulbs also come in a variety of colors and kits that allow you to customize your interior to your needs and style.
  • LEDs have a longer life than incandescent bulbs and run cooler. They also draw less power, which translates to fewer drained batteries because someone left the door ajar.
  • Replacing interior bulbs with LEDs requires no special tools or experience.

How do I upgrade my interior car lights to LED?

You can upgrade your car’s dome, map, glovebox, step, and/or trunk lights. How accessible the bulbs in these areas are depends on your vehicle’s make and model. Many vehicles feature a clear, plastic lens cover held in place by plastic clips and/or a few screws. In that case, use a flathead screwdriver to loosen the screws and gently pry off the lens covers.

In other vehicles the dome and map light bulbs are housed inside a unit held into place with larger metal clips. Removing these units will take a little more time and skill, but a screwdriver will still do the trick. Once you’ve removed the lens covers or light units, replace the incandescent bulbs with LEDs.

For help selecting the correct LED lights for your car, talk to your Advance Auto Parts Team Member. White bulbs are classic and provide the best visibility for these areas, but the choice is yours. If possible, double check that the lights work before replacing the face plates. LED bulbs have positive and negative polarity, like a battery. So if they don’t light up at first, you may need to turn the bulbs around.undefined

How can I step up my LED game?

If you want to further customize your vehicle’s interior lighting, take a look at LED strip kits. LED strip kits bathe your vehicle’s interior in a number of ambient colors, from your floorboards to your trunk space, and are also fun and easy to install. Adhere the LED strips where you want more light, then use the 12V adapter. Or hardwire the kit into your electrical system. Many strip kits also come with a remote that lets you choose from a variety of colors and modes, so you can adjust your lighting to match your state of mind and lend a more luxurious feel to your car’s interior.

Upgrading your car’s interior lighting is a simple and inexpensive way to improve visibility and add panache to your vehicle.

Pro Tips for installation:

  • Replacing interior bulbs with LEDs requires no special tools or experience. Simply follow the instructions in your owner’s manual.
  • LED bulbs have positive and negative sides, like a battery. So if they don’t light up at first, you may need to turn the bulbs around.

Have you installed LED lights in your car? Tell us about your experience in the comments.

What You Need to Know About Engine Misfires

Engine misfires can be a mysterious, frustrating problem—and information around them often makes them sound worse than they are. The symptoms vary by vehicle but are usually described as a stumble or brief hesitation in power delivery. An engine misfire can be temporary or continuous and will sometimes generate a check-engine code. But don’t be alarmed. Though it seems like an expensive fix, it usually doesn’t have to be. Read on as we demystify misfires.

Vehicle engine bay

What is a Misfire?

First, let’s examine what causes a misfire. You already know an engine needs three components to fire the cylinder: fuel to ignite, oxygen to burn that fuel, and a spark to ignite the mix. Take away any of those elements, and the cylinder will not produce the expected bang. That sounds like an easy enough diagnosis, but other cylinder misfire causes are due to incorrect ignition timing, vacuum leaks, or valve spring wear.

If your engine is misfiring, it’s best to find the problem and fix it as soon as possible. Misfires reduce gas mileage and increase emissions, which can cause you to fail an emissions test. More seriously, cylinder misfires can cause damage to other engine parts, like the oxygen sensors or catalytic converter. Let’s look at what to do when diagnosing this issue.

When It’s the Spark

Ignition parts that control spark to an engine are primarily wear parts that are designed to provide maximum performance for their service life, then be replaced as needed. As these parts wear or corrode, they will gradually increase impedance to the point that little or no electricity makes it to the spark plug to ignite. Since this happens over time, you may initially have small intermittent misfires you don’t even notice that gradually get worse over time. This is a big clue that your misfire is caused in the ignition system, so start there. Fortunately, most of these items are affordable and easy to quickly replace.

Spark plugs are cheap and easily swapped in just a few minutes. Ignition wires that are old can show signs of wear and are simple to replace as well. Older vehicles with a traditional distributor might just need a new cap and rotor. The coil packs on modern vehicles are less affordable but are still easily serviced.

When It’s the Fuel

After the ignition system is checked out, move on to the fuel system. Parts here typically last longer but still wear out. Perhaps just the fuel filter is clogged, or the fuel injectors are dirty. If those are good, the fuel pump or the mass airflow sensor may be starting to fail.

The EGR valve might be sticking with age, letting exhaust dump into the intake manifold. Emissions systems are precisely designed, and spent exhaust in the wrong part of the ignition cycle will cause issues. Or maybe you are lucky and just filled up with a tank of bad gas.

Fuel-system misfire symptoms will suddenly appear and are often more noticeable at idle than at highway speed. If your engine is chugging at a stoplight but smooth at speed, take a hard look at the fuel system.

When It’s Mechanical

Engine misfires can also be a little more complicated. Check the vacuum lines connected to the intake manifold. Look for cracks and replace lines if you find any problems. Also check the condition of intake manifold gaskets, especially around the throttle body. Take a timing light under the hood to make sure the timing belt or chain has not slipped or jumped. Finally, pop off a valve cover and have a close look at the valve train for any obvious damage.

Unlike fuel misfire symptoms, mechanical misfire symptoms will not go away with higher engine speeds, and often get worse. The misfire can be serious enough to cause noticeable vibration in the cabin, or even backfires. By this point, your engine’s PCM should show a code.

About That Check Engine Light

If you have a “Check Engine” light, your car’s computer is storing information about what problem was detected. The great thing about diagnostic codes is that they can be very specific, even often narrowing down which cylinder is misfiring. That’s less time spent hunting down the problem, so it makes sense to use a code reader to get to the root of the problem.

Have you ever solved a misfire problem? Tell us your solution and advice in the comments below!

Saying “Goodnight” to Summer’s Toys

winterizing summer vehiclesWinter means it’s time to say “goodnight” to cars and summer toys like ATVs, boats, jet skis, golf carts, and motorcycles. Storing your car for winter (or any of your other toys) isn’t as simple as putting it in the garage. So before you tuck your toys in until spring, here are six tips to ensure your winter vehicle storage leads to a happy summer ending.

1. Check the fluids

Changing out essential fluids and lubricants is like giving your vehicle’s engine a warm glass of milk before bed. To prevent corrosion, top off your gas tank then fortify your fuel with an additive like STA-BIL. Boat owners can use SeaFoam to stabilize their fuel. Old motor oil turns into engine-blocking sludge, so change it out too before you put your vehicle into storage. And since you don’t want your engine freezing this winter, check that your antifreeze is up to the task with an antifreeze tester. Fresh antifreeze/coolant can withstand -34′ F when mixed at 50/50 concentrate. This video shows you how.

Pro Tip: To prevent corrosion, top off your gas tank then fortify your fuel with an additive like STA-BIL. Boat owners can use Sea Foam to stabilize their fuel.

2. Maintain the battery

Keep your battery connected to a trickle charger. Trickle chargers use electricity to replenish batteries at the same rate as they lose power. That way, your battery will be ready to go when you are. A trickle charger can overcharge and damage your battery though. So be sure to use a charger that shuts off automatically, or goes into “float” mode, when your battery is fully charged. Read our post on when to use trickle chargers for more information.

3. Remove or over-inflate the tires

Tires on long-term parked vehicles can develop “flat spots.” To avoid flat-spotting, put the vehicle up on jack stands, remove the tires and store them separately in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. If you prefer to leave them on your vehicle, slightly over-inflate the tires for added protection. You can also move your vehicle periodically to even out wear. Return the tires to their normal inflation before driving again in the spring.

winterizing summer vehicles

4. Nix the parking brake

Instead of leaving on your parking brake, which can cause your brake pads to stick to and warp the rotors, use a pair of wheel chocks. Problem solved.

5. Clean and polish

You could put off spring cleaning until, well, spring. In the meantime, however, grime and bug guts will do their dirty work on your vehicle’s paint and trim. When you pull off the tarp in a few months, you may find your toy’s not as shiny as you remember. So take time now to clean your vehicle. Apply a coat of wax to guard against moisture and rust. Protect chrome accents from corrosion with a light mist of WD-40. Another benefit of mopping up this summer’s soda spills and chip crumbs: It makes your vehicle less attractive to hibernating vermin. To make your vehicle even less appealing, seal up entry points like tailpipes and lay out scented dryer sheets. Apparently rodents hate the smell of clean laundry as much as you hate the damage they cause.

Check out some more projects to do while your car is in storage.

6. Tuck ‘em in

Lastly, If you don’t have room in your garage for your favorite summer toys, store them well-covered and shielded from the elements. Your vehicle will thank you with fewer needed repairs and a longer life.

7. Drive it ASAP!

We’re getting ahead of ourselves here, but seriously, don’t wait a minute longer than you have to. Cars like to be driven, and months of solitary confinement isn’t their idea of a good time. When you drive a car (or another motorized vehicle) that’s been in winter car storage, you’ll want to mix in plenty of highway driving to get the operating temperature up and circulate those fluids through the engine. Speaking of fluids, you’ll definitely want to get an oil change as soon as you take your car out of hibernation – here’s what else to do when spring rolls around.

Have a sure-fire way to ward off mice or keep your summer toy happy until spring? Leave us a comment below.

So, What Is a Trickle Charger?

trickle charger

Trickle chargers, also called battery maintainers, can come in handy if you have a struggling car battery or when it’s time to dust off the long-garaged cars or recreational vehicles like boats, jet skis, RVs, motorcycles, and golf carts. Even though you may be ready to hit the road (or water), it doesn’t mean your vehicle’s battery is.

There’s an easy way to prevent battery failure when you’re storing vehicles for a while, however. Read on for some expert advice about battery maintenance and how these trickle chargers work.

First, about your batteries

All batteries self-discharge, which is a decrease in power over time. Motorcycle batteries, for example, self-discharge 1% every day, even when not in use. The same goes for car batteries: keep a car stored in the garage for a couple months and you might not have enough battery juice to start it. A car’s alternator does the job of maintaining a healthy battery, but it won’t recharge a dead battery. That’s where a trickle charger comes into play. Basically, trickle chargers help the battery maintain power and stop self-discharge.

Even when not in use, a battery still gradually loses power.

How trickle chargers workhow a trickle charger works

Trickle chargers use electricity to replenish batteries at the same rate as the self-discharge. The energy is transferred in a “trickle,” thus the name. We recommend that you use a trickle charger that shuts off automatically, or goes in “float” mode, when your battery is fully charged; otherwise, you need to monitor your battery and unplug the charger when you have enough power. A trickle charger can overcharge and damage your battery if you leave it on for too long, so don’t forget about it!

The “low and slow” method provided by a trickle charger results in a more thorough, reliable charge and longer battery life.

Low and slow wins the race

A quick jump charge from your neighbor or tow station may get your vehicle running, but it comes at a high cost to your battery by prematurely wearing it out. The “low and slow” method provided by a trickle charger results in a more thorough, reliable charge and longer battery life.

trickle charger for atvs

Battery storage and maintenance tips

A trickle charger is just one tool you can use to maintain your vehicle’s battery life. To ensure you don’t end up stranded on the road or lake, you can also follow these steps:

  • Store your battery or vehicle in a cool location protected from extreme temperatures and changes.
  • Use a battery with the correct amperage needed for your vehicle. Consult your owner’s manual.
  • Reduce vibrations by tightening the battery’s hold-down clamps when in use.
  • Accidents happen, but try to avoid deep-discharging, aka “killing/draining,” your battery (by leaving on your vehicle’s lights for example).
  • Never keep a battery dead for long periods of time.
  • Keep your battery fully charged as often as possible.

So, do you use a trickle charger to help with keeping your battery powered? Let us know in the comments.

Top Five DIY Annoyances When Working on Your Vehicle

hood up fixing carMany DIYers relish the opportunity to work on their vehicle, whether it’s performing routine maintenance or installing the latest performance upgrade. Sometimes, however, what should be a relaxing and satisfying few hours spent under the hood on a weekend afternoon with the game on in the background turns instead into a knuckle-busting, tool-throwing lesson in DIY frustration.

We’ve all been there – victims of Murphy’s Law. Whatever can go wrong, will, and the chances of it happening rise in tandem with the degree to which you’re feeling rushed or under pressure to get the job done.

Here’s my Top Five List of DIY Annoyances. This isn’t an all-inclusive list, so let’s hear what your biggest frustrations are under the hood.

Plastic engine and under-car covers. Lift the hood or crawl underneath most modern vehicles and you’ll see plastic – a lot of it. Plastic shrouds cover the engine, the battery, and pretty much everything else you might have a need to access under the hood. It’s no better down on the ground with plastic blocking precisely the spot you need to place a wrench. Depending on whom you believe, all that plastic serves a purpose – according to vehicle manufacturers – or it’s been placed there to thwart DIYers. Regardless, its presence makes your job that much more difficult and time-consuming. And, more often than not, the plastic screws or clips holding the shrouds in place break when they’re removed. I prefer a plastic-cover free, roomy engine compartment, circa 1973, in which to perform my best work.

Lost – or as I tell my wife – “temporarily misplaced” tools. It’s a simple job – one that shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes and one for which you have all the necessary tools close at hand. Or so you think. The one tool that you must have for the job, and that you know you do have, isn’t where it should be. In fact, it isn’t anywhere. Did you loan it to someone? Leave it in the shed? Mistakenly throw it away? You now wind up spending more time searching for that tool than it would have taken you to complete the job. Put the tools away where they belong every time.

Fixing that which is not broken, or, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Sometimes you’re unsure exactly what the problem is so you start fixing things that you think may be the culprit, only to find out they’re not. On the other hand, you might be overconfident that you know exactly what the vehicle maintenance problem is so you fix it, and quickly learn it wasn’t the problem. Case in point – the Honda engine on my wood splitter suffered from an intermittent failure to start. I was sure it was the rust build up on the flywheel magnet. It wasn’t. Then it had to be the spark plug. Nope. Followed by the low-oil switch. Wrong again. Finally, I struck gold by cleaning some water and junk out of the carb bowl. Finding the right fix can be time-consuming, costly, and frustrating, but it’s important.

Doing more harm than good. When does a routine carb adjustment turn into a head removal? After you drop something down the intake. In the blink of an eye, what should have been an easy, inexpensive task just turned into an expensive vehicle maintenance nightmare because you deposited a screw, nut, washer or some loose change down there. Sure, you can tell yourself that it fell in the gravel driveway and that’s why you can’t find it. You’ll soon learn the truth when you start the engine. It’s happened to the best of us – good intentions of fixing one part are punished with the realization that you just broke something else, and it’s going to be a lot more difficult and time-consuming to repair.

Other people. Even if you’re living by yourself in a cabin in the woods you still have to deal with other people, and their mistakes, when it comes to servicing your vehicle. Don’t think so? Have you ever been under the hood of a vehicle someone owned before you and found yourself shaking your head in amazement, wondering how and why the previous owner made a repair the way they did? Ever pull up to a self-service car wash or air pump, deposit some coins and only then find out that someone before you broke the equipment? Ever get some bad advice from a well-meaning friend or brother-in-law who “had that exact same model and knows exactly what the problem is.” We’re all human and we all make mistakes. Be ready for it.

Working on vehicles can be a tricky business or hobby and one that’s full of surprises. Expect the annoyances, learn to roll with them, appreciate the time you get to spend under the hood, and share your pet peeves with us. You’ll feel better after you do.

Editor’s note: Whether it’s tools, parts, or knowledge, if you don’t have what you need under the hood, turn to Advance Auto Parts. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.