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.

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.

How a Vehicle Alignment Saves Your Tires and Your Money

vehicle alignment

Proper vehicle alignment saves money and improves handling.

A four-wheel alignment is an important maintenance item that needs to be performed regularly, saves drivers a significant amount of money over a vehicle’s lifetime, and affects vehicle handling and performance.

Too often, however, this maintenance item gets lumped into the category of “recommended vehicle services that just never seem to get done.” You know the ones I’m talking about – shock and strut replacement, washing and waxing, and the list goes on. These maintenance items are often neglected because of cost or drivers’ time constraints, but mainly because some drivers feel they just don’t need to be done. Their philosophy is that the car’s still going to get them from point a to point b regardless of whether it’s aligned.

Before explaining why ignoring the alignment issue is an expensive and potentially unsafe mindset, it helps to understand what alignment is, and isn’t.

Have you ever driven down a straight highway and felt the vehicle pulling to one side or another? Are your tires wearing unevenly with more wear on the outside or inside edge or across the tread face? These are signs that the vehicle is out of alignment.

While a vehicle’s wheels may be out of alignment, it isn’t the wheels themselves where the adjustments are being made during an alignment, simply because there’s nothing there to really adjust. Wheels are bolted on the vehicle, tightened down, and that’s pretty much that. What is being adjusted during a realignment is the vehicle’s suspension.

The three essential, technical elements of vehicle alignment are camber, caster and toe. Camber is the way the tire is angled in or out from the vehicle. If you look at the tires from the front of the vehicle, imagine that the tire’s top or bottom is angled in or out at an extreme angle. That’s camber. To understand toe, imagine you’re floating above the vehicle and looking down on the wheels. The degree to which the wheels turn in or out is toe. Caster or caster angle is more difficult to envision and explain. It refers to the angle of the steering axis and plays an important role in steering and handling.

Modern vehicles in particular have specific camber, toe, and caster specs that need to be maintained in order for the vehicle to handle properly, and so that tires don’t wear out prematurely because of uneven wear patterns. Unfortunately, vehicle alignment can be thrown out of whack easily by the simple act of hitting a big pothole or the curb. Even in the absence of any adverse events, alignment still changes over time. That’s why it’s important to have the vehicle realigned on a regular basis. Many experts recommend an alignment every 5,000 to 7,000 miles. An easy way to remember this is to have an alignment done every other oil change, along with a tire rotation. Some shops offer “lifetime alignments.” This doesn’t mean that the alignment is guaranteed to last forever, because it can’t, but rather that they will realign the vehicle at no cost in the future if it ever needs it. It will.

Alignments, particularly on today’s vehicles, can’t be performed just anywhere, nor can someone tell if a vehicle is aligned properly simply by eyeballing it. What’s required is a specialized alignment machine or rack that measures wheel angles precisely using lasers, and access to the vehicle manufacturer’s alignment specs for the vehicle being aligned. Based on those results, technicians make adjustments to the suspension to properly align the wheels. Most tire shops or mechanics that sell a lot of tires will have the equipment needed to perform alignments. A good time to have a vehicle alignment is when new tires are being installed. Doing so helps protect the sizable investment that a set of tires represents today.

And finally, there’s the option of having a two- or four-wheel alignment performed. Talk with your technician or tire professional to about what’s the best option for your particular vehicle and situation.

Alignments aren’t free, but in the long run, they more than pay for themselves because they increase tire life and improve fuel efficiency.

Editor’s note: When you need tire-care products or anything vehicle-related, turn to Advance Auto Parts  first. Buy online, pick up in store, and get back to the garage.

The Art of Rechroming

chrome bumper and headlights on classic car

Source/Baher Khairy/Unsplash

Next time you’re checking out all the hot rides at a car show, ask yourself this question: What makes these cars look so amazing? Often it’s the perfectly smooth, impeccably polished chrome. You’ll see it shining under the hoods of all those old American muscle cars. Check out the bumpers, too, and you’ll see mirror finishes front and back. Bottom line? You’re not gonna win any prizes if your chrome’s not correct.

If you want to fix up your chrome from time to time, the process is called re-chroming, and it’s something every classic-car buff needs to know about. Whether you’re in the middle of a bumper rechroming or just learning about rechroming for the first time, here’s our Rechroming 101.

How do they do it?

Classic GM car

Source/© Copyright General Motors

Chroming, or technically chrome plating, is just a particular way of finishing a surface. The craftsman starts by cleaning the part’s existing surface thoroughly, and then he “dips” the part in a chrome-plating vat that’s filled with a chromium-based solution. Through a process known as electroplating, electrical current is used to dissolve the chromium atoms and “plate” them onto the surface. The thickness of the plating is determined by how long the craftsman leaves the part in the vat. Once the desired thickness has been achieved, boom–you’ve got your re-chromed surface.

Popular cars and parts for rechroming

View of a chrome muffler

Source/Eisenmann Andrade/Flickr

Although chrome continues to be featured on some modern cars, it’s more common among the older cars you tend to see at the shows. Chrome bumpers, for example, are pretty much dead and gone these days, unless you count a handful of pickup trucks. And good luck finding chrome headers under the hood; you’re more likely to see a bunch of molded plastic engine covers. Candidates for re-chroming, include Mustangs, Corvettes, Chevelles, and certainly European luminaries like Ferraris and Lamborghinis, if your budget allows.

As far as specific car parts go, you’ve got bumper chroming and headers but it doesn’t stop there. Wheels are a big one, of course, and since they’re so close to the road with all its dust and debris, they’re gonna need more frequent attention than other parts. Chrome grilles, too, are in a vulnerable spot; you’ll often see pitting and tarnishing up there.

But more broadly, just think about that C2 Corvette I mentioned, for example. There’s chrome everywhere! You’ve got those iconic side-exit exhaust pipes, the fuel flap on the rear deck and various other exterior parts, not to mention all the chrome switches and knobs inside. Back in the day, chrome was a much more significant part of car styling. So if you want to make your classic car tip-top, you might have a real laundry list of parts that need to be rechromed.

Have you rechromed any of your car parts before? Tell us any tips you have in the comments.

2015 comprehensive wheel guide by Advance Auto Parts

Ferrari F40 wheel photoCount on Advance Auto Parts for reliable info about your ride, whether you’re looking to improve performance or street appeal – or both. Today, we take a look at one of its most basic features, the wheel.

Most iconic wheels in history

According to CarThrottle.com’s top 10 list, the Ferrari F40 from the late 1980s and early 1990s is the winner. According to the site, these wheels are as special as the car itself and “despite being only 17 inches at each corner (small by today’s supercar standards), they displayed all the confidence in design that became synonymous with the era.”

Second place went to the BMW E30’s cross spoke alloy wheels that cost extra when the car was first released in 1982. Check out the article for photos of these two beauties, as well as the wheel choices in places three through ten.

Modern-day choices

Whether you’re looking to pimp your ride (wouldn’t it be great to have a fresh new look after a long winter?) or whether you’re looking for tough dependable choices from reliable brands, here is guidance.

First, a video. In it, Alan Peltier, president of HRE Wheels, shares the latest in his company’s custom high street performance wheels with Jay Leno – including one that Leno says looks like so much trouble that it should get a ticket even when not in motion. Warning: if you fall in love with these babies, be prepared to spend $6,000-$12,000 – or even $15,000 to $20,000 – for a set of four:

Now, let’s get more practical.

CarThrottle.com names the ten most incredible aftermarket wheels for when you’re ready to make your ride look amazing. Topping the list:

  • Rota Grid: called the “Swiss Army Knife of rims” for their ability to look “awesome on pretty much any car,” they come with uncluttered wide spokes.
  • OZ Ultraleggera: if you love a dark grey finish, CarThrottle.com recommends this “gorgeous multi-spoke design.”
  • ATS Classic: these come with contrasting black centers with chrome rims.

Take a look at the images as well as the rest of the winners.

Here’s what Tires.About.com chose as the ten most beautiful aftermarket wheels (after confessing a dislike of chrome because it’s harder to maintain, and because of a personal distaste of the look). The list is topped by:

  • KMC Ink’d: called a “canvas for wheel artists. Just breathtaking.”
  • TSW Silverstone: “dead black inner looks great in the daylight, but tends to disappear at night, leaving the bright-silver, diamond cut outer ring looking like it floats in midair as the car is moving.”
  • Enkei GW8: “I’ve never seen anything even remotely like this wheel. Minimalist red plastic inserts and a jagged, asymmetrical spoke design make the GW8 one of Enkei’s unique works of wheel art.”

Toughness matters to you? Find out which five aftermarket wheels Tires.About.com names as the five brands to consider – and three to avoid.

Finally, get another opinion – from Sub5Zero.com – about the ten coolest wheel manufacturers on earth. They assure readers that, “Yes, even the most mundane transportation appliances under the sun can be endowed with new found sex appeal simply by slapping on some new hoops.”

Point of clarification

Today, many people call wheels by the name of “rims,” especially when crafted from aluminum alloy. Technically speaking, though, “rims” are the outer portion of the wheel where the tire is actually mounted.

But, no matter what you call them, how did we get to this point?

Going back in time

The name of the creative genius(es) who first thought of using wheels for transportation reasons is lost in the mist of time, but it probably happened around 3,200 BC (yes, more than 5,000 years ago!).The goal? To have the fastest Mesopotamian chariot in town.

Fifteen hundred years later, Egyptians invented a way to use less material and to move more quickly with their lighter-in-weight wheels: they invented the spoke. Greeks then brainstormed the cross-bar wheel.

About 3,000 years ago (1,000 BC), the Celts added iron rims to their chariots – and that’s about as far as wheels evolved until 1802, when G.F. Bauer registered a patent for a wire tension spoke, where wire was threaded through the rim of the wheel – and this evolved into what we see on modern-day bicycles.

Automobile wheels

If you were a true trendsetter, buying wheels for the first automobile that used them, you’d only need to buy three – since the 1885 Benz Patent Motorwagen only had three wire wheels covered with hard rubber. Another set of trendsetters, Andre and Edouard Michelin, first came up with the idea of using rubber for this purpose. They then went on to found the now-famous tire company. In 1910, the B.F. Goodrich Company improved upon the invention by adding carbon to the rubber.

In the United States, the Ford Model T sported wooden artillery wheels until the 1926 and 1927 vehicles, which used steel welded-spoke wheels. The tires, unfortunately, had a short lifespan, needing repairs after only 30 to 40 miles and lasting only about 2,000 miles before needing to be trashed. Plus, tires often separated from the wheel.

Next were the steel disc wheels stamped out of a roll of sheet metal, which were more solid that Ford’s version. These became more lightweight over time, leading to today’s steel and aluminum/nickel alloy wheels (more about those soon).

From looking cool to keeping raw power under control

Complex.com provides a great overview of car wheels from 1945-1960, the period they call the postwar drag racing era. During this time, drag racers cut holes into the wheels to avoid meltdowns, turned them backwards into deep dish wheels to make them stand out, and more.

Then, in the late 1950s, American Racing invented what is now called the mag wheel with “big fat spokes. It met the three considerations – weight, strength, and brake cooling – but it also looked cool. It was the first real cool hot rod rim.”
Plus, heavy-duty steel and then aluminum rims made “gas-guzzling muscle cars” from Ford, Chevy and Chrysler capture attention on the streets. And so, “what distinguished the ‘hot’ from the ‘cold” was not just the big-block engines under the heavy hoods. It was the rims that let you know real quick who was a serious threat and who a poser. If you have American Racing rims, you were the big-time. They kept all that raw power under control.”

Complex.com also takes you through 1960-1970, the age of chrome, when racecar rims made it on the streets and the smooth aluminum Moon Disc reduced drag, when chrome reverse rims were cutting edge and people painted their rims. Also check out rims from the era of the low rider (1970-1980), from the age of the spinner (1980-1990) and beyond.

Steel versus alloy

Car wheel comparison chart

 

** Less nickel creates a lighter wheel, but one that can bend more easily upon impact; more nickel makes a heavier wheel, which doesn’t bend easily but can become brittle and crack.
Some wheels are made of cast aluminum where the melted alloy is poured into a mold, with multiple methods of casting, including:** Less nickel creates a lighter wheel, but one that can bend more easily upon impact; more nickel makes a heavier wheel, which doesn’t bend easily but can become brittle and crack.

• Gravity casting: metal is poured directly into a mold with only gravity pushing the alloy. This ends up being a thicker and heavier form of alloy.

• Pressure casting:
  • Low pressure: air forces the molten metal into the mold, making it denser and stronger
  • Counter-pressure: a mild vacuum in the mold sucks the alloy into it; this also makes a denser, stronger wheel
 • Free flowing: high pressure rollers stretch and shape the alloy, creating a thin dense metal that is similar to forged aluminum (see below)

Some wheels are made of forged aluminum where a solid piece of alloy is placed under 13 million pounds of pressure (and heat) to crush it before shaping. This makes an exceptionally dense and strong piece of metal that is also very light. TSW Wheels takes forging a step further, doing so while the forge is spinning at high speeds, which creates an even stronger product.

See Tires.About.com’s Wheel Composition and Construction for more info.

Time to DIY

The TireRack.com site is a great resource when you’re a DIYer. One article suggests that, when choosing which wheels to buy, you should consider quality, integrity and value. What level of quality do you need? If you’re looking for winter wheels, you’ll have less of a need for sophisticated technology, TireRack.com points out, than if you’re looking to race.

Having the correct size of wheels, of course, is crucial. You already know that they come in a wide range of widths, from the petite 14” wheels to massive 24” ones, with 16”, 17” and 18” serving as common diameters. Widths tend to increase along with diameters, so you might see a 14 x 5 wheel or a 19 x 10 one.

Yet, a proper fit is something more than diameter (or even diameter and width). According to TireRack.com, “To property fit on a vehicle the wheel must have the proper bolt pattern, centerbore, offset, width, and most importantly, the proper load capacity for the vehicle.” And, when selecting wheels, make sure that you tell your vendor what has been upgraded on your vehicle. If, for example, the brake system has been modified, then additional measurements need taken for an optimal fit.

If you’re buying online and need to measure the wheels yourself, eBay.com’s Wheels and Rims Buying Guide offers advice. If you aren’t changing the size, it’s fairly simple. Look at the code that’s on your current wheels. It might read “225/70R16.” If so, then these are 16 inch wheels on a 225 millimeter radial tire with a sidewall height of 70. Note that, on some high performance cars, rear wheels are slightly larger than those in the front.

If plus-sizing your wheels, then precise measurements are a must. Measure the width (left edge to right edge); diameter (top to bottom); bolt pattern (“how many bolts; measure width of bolt circle with bolt circle gauge or use measuring tape and starting at edge of first bolt hole, measure to the center of the third bolt hole, skipping the second one); backspace (clearance of wheel from the wheel well); and offset (distance from the hub mounting surface to the wheel centerline)

When it’s time to install your wheels, we refer you back to TireRack.com. The site offers tire and wheel installation tips. Even if you’re fairly comfortable with doing the job yourself, it wouldn’t hurt to review these first.

Budgeting for your upgrade

Costs vary widely. Bigger wheel sizes, not surprisingly, can cost more than smaller ones, all else being equal. Steel is cheaper than alloy. Plainer wheels are typically less expensive than flashy and/or artistic choices, and more appealing wheel finishes can cost you.

We’ve seen $65 wheels on discounted wheel sites. We’ve seen refurbished wheels that cost much less than what they would when brand new, and we’ve seen eye-catching ones that are custom made (and therefore more expensive).

It will almost always be cheaper to upgrade your Ford or Chevy than your Mercedes-Benz. Replacements for luxury cars can easily cost $500-600 per wheel.

The best general advice that we can give:

  • Determine your vehicle’s needs; as mentioned above, you need more sophistication if you plan to race than if you drive more traditionally.
  • Decide your budget.
  • Choose wheels of reasonable quality that fit your vehicle (and your budget).
  • Don’t be so penny foolish that you buy wheels that are poorly made or that aren’t the best fit because those decisions will cost you in the long run.
  • Beyond that, let your personal taste be your guide.
  • Have fun!

Gas mileage

You’ve probably heard that the right wheels can save on gas mileage – and we decided to investigate, to determine how much of that is rumor and, how much, fact. Among other sources, we took a look at BankRate.com’s article, Wheels and tires affect car’s gas mileage. This article points out how manufacturers invest time and money determining the ideal wheel and tire sizes for a particular vehicle. When you replace OEM wheels and/or tires, the car’s handling – and therefore fuel economy – can be affected. And, handling and mileage can be affected in either an upward or downward manner.

Common sense suggests that bigger wheels are heavier and are therefore a drag on fuel efficiency, but the formula isn’t quite that simple. We recommend that you read the entire BankRate.com article if you’re interested in how aftermarket wheels can affect handling and/or mileage.

You can also look at CarAndDriver.com tests on upsized wheels as they attempt to find just the right upgrades.

Other performance benefits with the right wheels

TireRack.com lists these four that, taken together, make for a smoother more comfortable ride:

• Alloy wheels reduce unsprung weight, which allows for “more precise steering input and improved ‘turning in’ characteristics.”

• Improved acceleration and braking

• Added rigidity, which can “significantly reduce wheel/tire deflection in cornering”

• Increased brake cooling

Future of the wheel

The pneumatic tire was invented in 1845, when leather was filled with compressed air – and it’s still the standard used today, although the leather was replaced with rubber.

Here’s a glimpse of what’s around the corner with futuristic wheels: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVgMArLtDk8

In 2006, Michelin announced the Tweel, which is a non-pneumatic tire/wheel combo that, according to Michelin, can provide the same load-carrying capacity as the traditional wheel and tire. Stability challenges apparently exist once a vehicle moves at more than 50 mph, with significant vibration occurring, but we expect to see improvements.

Michelin is also experimenting with the Active Wheel System for electric cars. This system houses the vehicle’s engine, suspension, gearbox and transmission shaft.

Keep your wheels looking good

Once you invest all this time, energy and money into choosing the right wheels for your vehicle, you’ll want to keep them looking nice. Fortunately, Advance Auto Parts has a complete line of products to keep your wheels looking their best, plus accessories.

 

Wheel graphic courtesy of Hemmings Motor News.

 

 

 

Is Your Vehicle Ready for Winter? Here’s a Maintenance Checklist

A snowy city street

Source | David Creixell Mediante/Unsplash

 

If you live in places like say, California, winter driving can be as easy as a Santa Monica breeze. For the rest of us, it pays to be prepared for roads covered in ice, snow, and sleet. So here’s an easy winter car maintenance checklist to help protect your vehicle from the harsh weather ahead .

1. Protect your exterior

Take the time now to scrub away last season’s buildup from your vehicle’s exterior. Then apply a quality car wax to protect against the impending barrage of snow and road salt. Need help getting started? Here’s how to wash and wax like a pro and winterize your vehicle’s exterior.

2. Change your oil

Some of us don’t think about oil when it comes to winter vehicle maintenance. But this can be a good time to switch from conventional to synthetic if you haven’t already (and if it’s appropriate for your car). Cold weather starts can be easier on your engine with a full-synthetic oil. Synthetic 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.

Not making the switch? Try a synthetic blend. Synthetic blends 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 vehicle. For more in-depth information on this topic, read up on the debate between synthetic and conventional oil.

3. Maintain your battery

Summer’s heat takes a toll on batteries. That weakness is bound to show up on the first really cold morning, when your car won’t start because of a dead battery. Really, it’s why batteries tend to fail in winter. So test your battery and charging system, and replace the battery if it’s weak.

A fresh battery is your best defense against cold weather, but it isn’t a guarantee. If you live in an especially cold climate or use your vehicle infrequently, you may want to keep your battery attached to a maintainer or trickle charger. That’s because your battery is working harder in cold weather and it will gradually lose power over time if it isn’t in use. You can also disconnect the battery from the vehicle to prevent power draws.

4. Ensure your visibility

Windshield Wipers on an icy windshield

Being able to see where you’re going is always a top priority, but in winter it becomes especially important. Your first stop is to make sure all of your lights are working. If your headlights or tail lights are dim or yellow, replace the bulbs and clean your lenses.

We also recommend that you replace windshield wipers with winter blades in climates where snow and ice can be expected, and fill the windshield washer tank with a deicing fluid. It’ll help you out on those cold mornings.

5. Inspect your tires

Traction is key here. Take a look at your tires. If the treads don’t have sufficient depth, get a new set. You’ll need the best traction possible for dealing with treacherous roadway conditions. Depending on where you live, you may want to invest in snow tires. Not sure which tire type is best for you? Read about your tire options.

Temperatures aren’t the only thing going down in winter. For every 10-degree drop in air pressure, it’s estimated that tire pressure decreases by one pound. Under inflated tires wear faster, hurt fuel economy, and can reduce handling and traction. So keep your tires at the correct inflation.

6. Check your antifreeze

The name says it all. Antifreeze is one of the most important winter chemicals, because the liquid in an engine’s cooling system is composed of equal parts 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.

Use an antifreeze tester 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 make sure it’s filled to the proper level. Top off your antifreeze or flush the radiator if it’s time to replace it.

7. Clean your fuel injector

Cold temps can cause performance issues related to a vehicle’s fuel system. Using a fuel injector cleaner prevents some problems from cropping up. Add it to the gas tank during a routine fill up, to clean the injectors, which can help restore lost power and eliminate rough idling and hard starts.

Water that may be present in the fuel system can also become a problem in the winter when temperatures drop low enough for it to freeze. A good way to avoid fuel-line and system freeze up is by choosing a fuel-injector cleaner such as HEET. It’s designed to be a fuel-system antifreeze and remove water from the fuel system.

8. Do your diesel diligence

If you have a diesel vehicle, remember that diesel fuel lines tend to “gel” up in the winter time. Use a product like Diesel 911 to avoid this common problem.

Also keep an eye on your diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) levels. On many passenger and commercial diesel vehicles, a dedicated tank contains DEF which is automatically metered and sprayed into the emissions system. Many vehicles have built in warnings and alerts to prevent DEF levels from being exhausted. They’ll also perform at significantly restricted levels, or not at all, if DEF runs out.

9. Grab your de-icing chemicals

This may be one of our favorite winter car maintenance tips, because it’s inexpensive, requires zero mechanical experience, and prevents headaches. After all, you can’t drive your vehicle in the winter if you can’t unlock the doors or see out the window. That’s why lock deicers and windshield deicing fluid are must-have winter chemicals.

Lock de-icer thaws and lubricates door locks, as well as other types of locks, helping prevent damage. We’ve already discussed windshield de-icers above, which can be added to the windshield washer fluid tank. These products work together to prevent hassles and frozen fingers.

10. Inspect your radiator cap and thermostat

While it’s a simple and inexpensive part, the radiator cap plays a critically important role in your heating and cooling system. Your radiator cap keeps the antifreeze in your vehicle where it should be. A leaking radiator cap can cause the engine to overheat and allow antifreeze to leak, neither of which are good scenarios for winter-weather driving. Take a close look around the radiator cap for signs of leaking fluid. To be on the safe side, if the vehicle radiator cap is several years old, replace it with a new one. The five bucks you invest is well worth the peace of mind and performance you get in return.

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

Do you have winter prep and maintenance tips you’d like to share? Leave a comment.

Don’t Get No Respect: Wheel Hub Assemblies and Wheel Bearings

Hub Bearing Assembly
To paraphrase comedian Rodney Dangerfield, it’s tough being a hub assembly or wheel bearing. Their more famous cousins—the brakes, the batteries, the struts and shocks—get lots of fuss and attention. Meanwhile, the non-glamorous bearings work hard, day after day, repeating the same dreary job over and over again, with little recognition.

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

Why you should maintain hub assemblies and wheel bearings

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

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

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

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

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

Hub assembly

Hub assembly

Diagnosing a potential problem—use your senses

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

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

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

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

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

Confirming and fixing the issue 

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

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

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

Don’t forget the wheel speed sensor

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

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

Hub and bearing assemblyWhat to look for when buying or replacing bearings

  • Beware of cheap bearings constructed of low quality steel with poor heat-treating. These tend to fail prematurely. Bearings should only need to be replaced once during typical car ownership.
  • Cheaper hub assemblies might include bearings that are smaller than OEM, which is another factor that could lead to early part failure. Still other cheaper parts contain double ball bearings rather than one stronger bearing. If possible, avoid these choices.
  • Note that manufacturers recommend a torque wrench rather than an impact wrench when installing. That’s because an impact wrench can damage axle nut threads and CV joints. Plus, the impact wrench can prevent proper torqueing of nuts and bolts.
  • Always consult your owner’s manual first. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to make sure you don’t void any warranties.

Pro Tip: Avoid being penny smart and pound foolish. Replace axle nuts rather than attempting to reuse them. Also, invest in quality seal drivers to ensure a quality seal and therefore protect new wheel bearings.

 

Have you replaced the wheel hub assemblies and wheel bearings on your vehicle lately? Share your tips and experience with others in the comments.

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! 

Drive Your Performance Car Through Winter

 

Close your eyes and remember just how good this summer’s heat felt. Now, snap out of it! Summer’s gone already, and with it any chance of driving your high-performance machine anywhere, except maybe into a ditch. Unless of course, you’re one of those lucky souls fortunate enough to live in a climate where it’s always a comfortable 72 degrees.

Maybe you’ve given some thought to dedicated winter tires. No? Often the biggest obstacle to drivers is the cost of having an extra set of tires or snow chains. What has to be figured into that equation, however, is the loss of use of your vehicle for the season or the cost of being involved in an accident. So, let’s talk winter tires and other options.

car drifting in snow

Source | Desktop Nexus

Winter/snow tires

Back in the day, winter tires were called “snow tires,” for obvious reasons. But today’s winter tires are designed to perform in a variety of winter conditions, including snow, ice, slush, and low temperatures. The tire’s rubber and chemical compounds are designed for maximum performance in freezing temperatures, much the same way that race tires are designed to deliver at high temperatures.

A recent article in Tire Business magazine discussed the importance of using winter tires. “The idea that winter tires are only needed for snow-covered or icy roadways is outmoded and belies the superior cold-weather performance made possible by advances in winter tire technology,” said Glenn Maidment, president of the Rubber Association of Canada. “Today’s sophisticated winter tires feature specialized rubber compounds that retain elasticity at temperatures well below -30°C (-22°F).” So basically that means you don’t need to wait for the snowpocalypse to hit. Once it starts getting cold is when to switch to winter tires.

In addition to rubber compounds that are designed for winter performance, these tires also feature tread designs that maximize stopping and steering ability on snow, slush, and ice. And the good news is that most every major tire company makes their own version of it.

“Rather than keeping their fun-to-drive cars in the garage during the cold season, drivers have the opportunity to enjoy them, even in the middle of the winter,” said Brandy Gadd, Goodyear brand manager.

All-season tires

So what about all-season tires? Most vehicles on the road today come equipped with all-season tires. Some vehicle enthusiasts, particularly those who use their street-legal vehicle for on-track racing and driving competitions, refer to all-season tires as “no-season tires.” They call them that because even though all-season tires do the job admirably for a majority of drivers, they can’t perform as well as dedicated winter tires or summer tires. In the end, you’re better off with a tire designed to meet the conditions of the season.

Tire studs

For those living in areas where ice-covered roads or packed-snow conditions dominate the winter driving season, drivers might want to consider snow tire studs. The studs are metal pins that protrude from the tire surface and “bite” into ice and packed snow. Snow tire studs are noisy on dry roads, however, and performance and handling can suffer too.

Tire chains

Another alternative for added winter traction are tire chains. Sized to fit your vehicle’s tires, tire chains can be installed without having to lift the vehicle or even move it, making them an excellent resource to keep in the vehicle and install when bad weather hits.

If you want to take your performance car out in the cold, consider the pros and cons of winter tires. If changing winter tires yourself isn’t something you can do, find a local shop to give you a hand.

How do you handle winter driving? Do you store your vehicle until spring or have you tried some of the options to extend your driving season? Share your experience in the comments section.

Wheels and Tire Stretching

 

close up view of a vehicle's stretched tire

Source/Jonathan Leung/Flickr

Few aftermarket mods get as much love or as much flak as stretched tires. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons.

What is tire stretching?

First, if you’re not familiar with tire stretching, it’s essentially installing a tire on a wheel size that’s larger than what’s specified for the tire, causing the tire to have to stretch to fit the wheels. A lot of online forums give credit to the VW crowd for starting the trend.

The cons of stretching tires

Here are some considerations that fall on the “minus” side of the equation. Tire stretching probably isn’t good for your tires’ longevity. Stretching places undue stress on the tire sidewall and bead and can cause premature and irregular tire tread wear, particularly if you have an aggressive camber setup. Plus, the tire companies don’t like it.

“We follow the RMA (Rubber Manufacturers Association) guideline, beginning on page 42, under Tire Rim/Wheel Selection,” explains Jim Davis, PR Manager, North America, for The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. “If it doesn’t fit in the rim width range that is published in the tire data books, then we don’t approve.”

The pros of stretching tires

Now the pluses. Stretched tires look cool and draw added attention to the wheels.

Performance vs. appearance

Wheels are undoubtedly an important part of the appearance equation, but also play an important role in performance, specifically when it comes to weight. Here are some thoughts on wheels from Kevin Wells, Technical Manager for FORMULA DRIFT.

“Wheel weights matter to our drivers,” Wells explains. “Less rotating weight is preferred, especially in drifting. The wheel speed changes very rapidly–100 mph to 0 mph (ebrake) to 100 mph. Excessive rotational weight places additional stress on the drivetrain and the slower this reaction takes place, not to mention suspension setups from excessive wheel weight.

“Other considerations when it comes to wheels are sizing, fitment, and sponsors,” he adds. “You will see drivers use spacers, front and rear, to get available sizes with the incorrect offset to suit their needs. And as for sponsors, free wheels are good wheels unless you can afford to buy something better!”

So what’s it going to be–looks, performance, or both? Leave us a comment and tell us about your opinion on and experience with stretched tires.