My brother-in-law almost killed himself a short while back. How he escaped serious injury I don’t know, but he’s lucky he did. He’s a big-time turkey hunter and was getting his gear ready in preparation for being in the woods before dawn the next morning, for the first day of spring gobbler season. His final task was loading his ATV (you might call it a quad) into the bed of his pickup.
As he drove up the two short loading ramps he had made, his son called out to him. Thinking that the ATV ramps weren’t aligned or something was wrong, he hit the brakes, and then the throttle and the ATV flipped over backwards on him and they both landed on the ground. Luckily he was okay. He said it happened so fast, he still isn’t exactly sure what he did…and he still seems to be seeing stars.
I see lots of people around here hauling lawn tractors and ATVs in their pickup beds, particularly during deer and turkey seasons. I’ve even hauled my own a time or two, but am fortunate to have a trailer that’s low to the ground – and a set of loading ramps.
Given his accident, and how many other similar accidents happen – many of which have “bad idea” written all over them – I got to thinking about the safest way to load an ATV or tractor into a pickup bed, and learned a few things in the process. Here’s my unofficial list of how to “do it right” and avoid potential death, injury, property damage, or humiliation. If you have some tips or pointers, I’d love to hear those too.
1. Get ATV ramps – they are designed specifically for this purpose, unlike the scraps of lumber and cinderblocks lying around your garage. They make these aluminum ramps for a reason – safety. They’ll also make your loading and unloading a lot easier and less scary.
2. Make sure the loading ramps are securely fastened to the loading platform. Many of the accidents I’ve seen occur as the ATV nears the top of the ramps. The torque from the rear drive tire grabs the unsecured ramp and kicks it out, leaving only three wheels on the surface. You know what happens next.
3. Get aluminum ramps or a ramp kit with ramps using dimensional lumber that are long enough to reduce the angle of ascent or descent. ATV ramps that are too short, coupled with today’s truck beds that are higher off the ground, are a recipe for disaster because the incline you’re driving up or down is too steep, increasing the likelihood of a flip over. Consider ramp extensions instead. Also look for a spot from which to load that naturally reduces the angle because of the terrain – i.e. parking the truck in a dip and using the adjacent sloping terrain on which to place the ramps
4. Avoid sudden starts or stops, particularly midway through the loading or unloading process. The sudden weight transfer can cause the ATV to flip over.
5. Wear your helmet.
6. Know the weight of what you’re loading. This is important because wood or aluminum ramps are designed to safely hold only a certain amount of weight. Same goes for your truck’s tailgate.
Once your ATV or tractor is safely tucked in the truck bed, secure it well, to avoid watching it bounce away down the road in your rearview mirror. And, make sure it’s not pressing against the truck cab’s back window in case you stop short.
Finally, if you’re serious about hauling your ATV – and boat – and still having room left in the bed to store your gear, then check this loading system out. I didn’t even know it existed but think it’s a great idea.
Editor’s note: From ATV loading ramps to parts that keep your quad running right, Advance Auto Parts has what your ATV needs. Buy online, pick up in store.
Myths – they’re everywhere, and particularly online. Plenty of those myths focus on cars, like the one about it being better to fill your tank in the morning because the fuel is colder and denser (it isn’t) and you’ll get more for your money (you won’t.) Or there’s the one about increasing your pickup truck’s fuel mileage by driving with the tailgate down to reduce wind resistant (false, as pickups are designed to be aerodynamic with the tailgate up).
I’d like to investigate two myths that always seem to crop up when summer rolls around, the temperature climbs higher, and the long road trip becomes commonplace. It’s this myth: a vehicle’s air conditioner causes the engine to work harder. Therefore, electing not to use the air conditioner and instead rolling down the windows when driving will significantly increase fuel mileage. And in a similar vein there’s this myth – driving with your windows down will significantly decrease your fuel mileage because of the increased aerodynamic drag the open windows create.
One myth probably has some truth to it and one is most likely false. Here’s why.
In a test conducted by Consumer Reports, they drove a Honda Accord at 65 mph and found that using the air conditioner reduced fuel mileage by three percent. In another test they drove at 65 mph but this time with the windows down and found no measurable effect on fuel mileage. In a similar test performed by Edmunds using a Toyota Tundra, they saw a decrease in fuel mileage of almost 10 percent when using the air conditioner as opposed to driving with the windows down and the air conditioner off.
There are many similar tests and results online, but here’s what I think is the bottom line. It’s a conclusion similar to that reached by many of the testers:
- Using a vehicle’s air conditioner may result in a small decrease in fuel mileage. However, that decrease is negligible compared to the discomfort of not having air conditioning on a hot summer day.
- Driving with a vehicle’s windows rolled down doesn’t produce any measurable impact on fuel mileage as a result of aerodynamic drag (but your dog will love it if he’s along for the ride!)
If you really want to improve gas mileage during an epic road trip this summer, pay attention to these fuel-saving strategies instead:
- Slow down and avoid aggressive driving, such as hard accelerations and hard braking and increase fuel mileage by as much as 33 percent at highway speeds, according to the official U.S. government source for fuel economy.
- Remove excess weight from the vehicle and avoid hauling bulky items on the roof because it increases aerodynamic drag.
- Keep your engine in tune and tires inflated to the recommended air pressure for a three to four percent improvement in fuel mileage.
- Consolidate trips or share rides with someone else.
- Drive a fuel-efficient vehicle.
- Get more fuel-saving tips.
It’s not a bad idea to brush up on your A/C-testing skills either because cold A/C makes for a comfortable car temperature. If you think your air conditioning might be malfunctioning, measure the temperature accurately by sticking this A/C thermometer in the vent with the A/C turned on. It might be working fine or you might need a simple fix. Either way, you’ll have an accurate temperature reading to help you decide.
For me, even on a hot summer day, if I’m driving on back country roads or on the highway, I prefer having the windows down and the A/C off. There’s just something about fresh air that I love. But driving around town, having the A/C on wins hands down every time. What do you think?
The starter and I have long had an uneasy relationship. We hit rock bottom a few years ago, but since then we’ve patched up our differences and things have been going pretty well. At least up until last week. But that’s ok. Every relationship is going to have its ups and downs, right?
The problem is that for a while there, the starter was letting me down, consistently. I couldn’t count on it when I needed it most, and that kind of behavior will put a serious damper on any relationship in a heartbeat. If I want this relationship to work, I know I need to look ahead and stop dwelling on the past injustices starters have inflicted upon me, but someone needs to hear my side of the story.
There was the time before the 18-inch snowstorm. We were going on three winters without measurable snow, and I was itching for a big one so I could go out and plow my driveway, my neighbors’ driveways, the roads in the neighborhood, and pretty much any other flat, snow-covered surface that would give me an excuse to keep plowing, and playing. The old Massey Ferguson 65 tractor had its tank filled with off-road diesel, battery charged, and the block heater plugged in. In the morning, I’d be ready to push some snow. Unfortunately, my tractor starter had other ideas. That’s the time it picked to fail. After I finished clearing the driveway, by hand, I removed that tractor starter and found it filled with an oily, watery mess. No surprise it had stopped working.
Then there was the time I was selling my riding lawn mower at our moving sale. It was well on its way to being sold, until the prospective buyer went to start it. Yep, you guessed it. The tractor starter failed and needed to be replaced before he’d complete the sale. The nerve!
How about the Valentine’s Day dinner in the city that never was because the car starter on the old ’85 Chevy Caprice that grandma was kind enough to pass on to us newlyweds picked that night to die. Not feeling the love.
And finally, there was the long-running battle of three consecutive truck starter failures, each about nine months apart, on my ’99 F150. Turns out my neighbor really didn’t know how to rebuild a truck starter. Once I wised up an replaced it with a quality truck starter, the problem was solved.
If there’s a silver lining to these experiences, it’s that the starter and I are still together (like I have a choice), I now know how to replace a starter; I know the importance of buying a good replacement starter, and I can usually hear when a starter is getting ready to check out of a relationship. Oh yeah, and I can usually get a malfunctioning car starter to work a couple more times simply by banging on it with a hammer.
If the starter in your life is giving you grief, here’s some relationship advice.
- The end may be near. If you hear an odd metallic grinding sound from under the hood, or if there is just a clicking sound when turning the key before the engine finally cranks, your car starter could be on its last legs.
- Diagnose the problem. If you suspect the starter might be bad, get it tested. Stop by your local Advance Auto Parts store for free testing. If the vehicle won’t start, just bring in the starter instead.
- Bang on it. If the starter has indeed failed and left you stranded, try banging on it with a hammer. Oftentimes this will get it working again, but it’s not a trick you should rely on more than once. Instead, make a note that reads “replace starter” and put it somewhere you’ll see it.
- Replace it. Swapping out a malfunctioning starter with a new one isn’t rocket science. First, check out this video for some quick tips. While this procedure can vary depending on the vehicle year, make and model, here are the starter-replacement steps, in a nutshell:
1. Locate your starter.
2. Disconnect the negative battery cable.
3. Label and disconnect the wires on the starter.
4. Unbolt the car starter, being careful not to drop it as it may be heavy.
5. Install the new starter.
6. Reconnect the wires.
7. Reconnect the negative battery cable.
8. Start the vehicle.
Since I started purchasing quality replacement starters, instead of asking my neighbor to try and rebuild them for me, the starter and I have had a much better relationship. I’m hoping it stays that way, and not just because they’re calling for 12 to 14 inches tonight.
Editor’s note: If you and your starter are going through a bit of a rough patch in your relationship, Advance Auto Parts can help. Buy online, pick up in store–in 30 minutes.
Our farmhouse is old, really old, like 1800s old, and our winters are relatively cold because we live in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. An old, drafty house and cold winters equal a potentially high heating bill.
This isn’t a problem, usually, because we heat exclusively with wood, using one of those outdoor wood-burning furnaces that heat the water and pump it through the home’s baseboard radiators. It only becomes a problem if I run out of wood and have to search for some (or wood-derived products like last year’s Christmas tree, the pizza boxes from last night and scrap lumber). Such is the predicament I found myself in recently, and the blame lies squarely with my F150 and its CV axle, or specifically, its constant velocity joint.
I planned on cutting wood all day Saturday, getting plenty to see us through the coming weeks. That plan was replaced by a new plan, however, when my wife heard the awful sounds the truck was making thanks to the broken constant velocity joint. She insisted I fix it. Where first I was short on wood, I was now long on a laborious new task.
I had just enough CV axle knowledge to get started. And as I’m a quick study and pretty handy in the garage, I figured I could tackle it. I had extra incentive though — my wife and kids were cold. (Isn’t that what jackets are for?)
The first thing I discovered is that replacing a CV joint or CV axle can be a fairly labor-intensive job. A constant velocity joint’s function is to allow power to be transmitted from one shaft to another, through an angle, without any loss of power or a big increase in friction. They’re commonly found in front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, and four-wheel drive vehicles and allow the drive shaft to transfer all that power and torque to the wheels, no matter how they’re angled or turned. On a front-wheel drive vehicle, there’s an inner and outer CV axle. The inner connects the drive shaft to the transmission while the outer connects the driveshaft to the wheel.
CV joints typically last about 100,000 miles. When they fail, they can’t be repaired. They need to be replaced. The CV joint is sealed and protected by a rubber boot that keeps the grease in the joint and contaminants, such as dirt and water, out. When the boot fails because of a tear or hole, the constant velocity joint will fail eventually too, just like mine did.
Now if you catch the broken boot soon enough, you can just replace the boot, which is a lot less expensive and troublesome than replacing the entire joint. If you hear a clicking or popping when turning, then it’s probably too late as that’s a symptom of a CV joint failure. On some vehicles, the CV joint isn’t separate and the entire CV axle needs to be replaced.
In the end, it all worked out for me. I learned that hauling wood in a wheelbarrow is a GREAT workout. On top of that, I found and installed a ToughOne CV axle assembly and was soon back in business.
Here are a few other takeaways you might appreciate, at my expense:
- If your front-wheel drive has been making some odd sounds lately – get it checked out.
- Make sure your Saturday plan matches up to your significant other’s plans for you.
- Have an emergency supply of whatever it is you can’t do without.
- The Rzeppa joint is a type of CV joint invented by Alfred Rzeppa in the 1920s and still in use today – try that one out on your know-it-all-mechanical-genius friend!
Editor’s note: If you’re CV is SOL, then check out Advance Auto Parts and ToughONE, for a great solution at an even better value.
Guitar graphic courtesy of Taylor Guitars.
Show you care for St. Valentine’s Day.
If your significant other is a car guy or girl—someone who loves their vehicle almost as much as they love you—then figuring out what to get them for St. Valentine’s Day should be a snap: something for their vehicle.
But what if you’re in a relationship with someone who just isn’t that into cars or trucks and sees them simply as a mode of transportation? (Yes, there really are people out there who think like that!) What then would be the appropriate Valentine’s Day gifts? Flowers? Chocolates? A mix tape? (Sorry, I was reliving my high school days for a moment.) Two of those three aren’t bad ideas, and are pretty safe as far as Valentine’s Day gifts are concerned, but how about thinking outside the heart-shaped box this year?
What? Have I lost my mind? Am I trying to singlehandedly destroy your relationship? To the contrary. I’m going to improve your relationship by helping you demonstrate to the love of your life that you’ve been listening, and by helping you show how much you care—even if they think you’re not and that you don’t.
Even for someone who isn’t a vehicle enthusiast, there’s still probably something about their car or truck that bothers them, or that they’d at least like changed or fixed. Think about it. Has your partner ever mentioned to you that there’s something wrong with their vehicle or something that needs to be done? Perhaps it’s those squeaky brakes, or that darn interior smell. Or, do their wipers streak for days and is their car in need of an oil change?
Here’s your chance to shine by taking action that demonstrates how much you’ve been listening.
You’re going to solve their problems by taking care of the issues that have been annoying them. Based on a purely unscientific, informal survey of my friends’ significant others, here are the top issues that they’d like their Valentine to take care of now:
- It’s really dirty. After a long winter, it’s probably filthy inside and out. Wash it. Wax it. Vacuum it. Just make it shine, inside and out.
- It needs an oil change. The sticker in the window says it’s overdue and so does the owner’s manual. Do it yourself and save some money that you can spend instead on that nice evening out.
- I can’t see when it rains. The windshield wipers aren’t doing their job because they’re too old. Get new ones, and get them installed for free with purchase.
- The “Check Engine” light has been on forever. Not only is it annoying, it can also indicate a serious problem. Check it yourself with this diagnostic tool.
- I need a new headlight or taillight. On most vehicles, this is a really easy fix. Even if the headlight isn’t burned out, if it’s old, consider replacing both of them anyway because new lights have technology that enable you to see further.
In addition to making their St. Valentine’s Day special, you just might make a car lover out of them! (There’s always hope!)
Editor’s note: Whether your significant other loves cars or not, you can still get a sweetheart deal on parts, tools, accessories and more at Advance Auto Parts.
The first winter I lived in the Ohio country, my dairy farmer neighbor told me that a truck without four-wheel drive was about as useful as a chocolate teapot. I soon learned why, the hard way, and quickly said hello to winter travel with a four-wheel-drive F150 and the whole new world it opened. With the bed filled with firewood for extra weight, I drove everywhere in the snow – unplowed roads, through the field, backwards up the ramp to the bank barn. Compared to driving the old rear-wheel drive truck, I felt unstoppable and invincible in all my winter travel thanks to four-wheel drive, and of course, a car emergency kit with food and other supplies in case I did get stuck. A man has to eat!
Then that Saturday night rolled around. My wife mentioned previously that the truck was spinning out from a stop and didn’t seem to have traction in bad weather. Like a good husband, I wasn’t listening. We went to a friend’s house for dinner that evening and when it came time to leave, found that the County snowplow and some fierce winds whipping across open fields had drifted the driveway shut.
“No problem,” I exclaimed. “We have four-wheel drive!” Except we didn’t, as I found out much to my embarrassment after my third attempt at trying to back through the drifted driveway failed and I had to go back in and ask my friend to help shovel us out. It seems the four-wheel drive was broken, compounded by the fact that we had marginal tread depth on the tires, and they weren’t even snow tires. Not a good winter-travel combination. But, to my credit, we did have a car emergency kit.
Whether you’re driving a car, SUV, or pickup with or without all-wheel or four-wheel drive this winter, you can learn from my mistakes. If you live in the country, doing everything you can to prevent yourself from being stranded in the snow is particularly important because another vehicle might not pass by for hours, and there are plenty of spots without cell phone reception. So, here’s what you should do to prevent yourself from being stranded and increase your comfort level if it happens.
- Listen to your significant other.
- Test your four-wheel drive periodically (preferably before it snows).
- Don’t be cocky.
- Pay attention to tread depth and replace your tires as needed. This handy tool makes it easy.
- Consider tire chains. Sized to fit your vehicle’s tires, they are installed without raising the vehicle or even moving it, making them an excellent resource to keep in the vehicle and install when bad weather strikes.
- Keep a car emergency kit in your vehicle that includes, among other supplies, food, water, a blanket, and a compact snow shovel (it helps when digging yourself out of a friend’s driveway on a Friday night).
- And finally, consider switching your all-season tires, which is what most drives have today, to true winter tires – what many people call snow tires. Tire makers optimize their tire and tread compounds based on what type of tire they’re building. With snow tires, the tire’s rubber and chemical compounds are designed for maximum performance in freezing temperatures and on ice and snow. Outfitting vehicles with winter tires is routine in Europe, particularly on high-performance vehicles .
In addition to rubber compounds that are designed for winter performance, these winter or snow tires also feature tread designs that maximize stopping and steering ability on snow, slush and ice. Just about every major tire manufacturer offers a winter tire, a selection of which can be seen at Firestone, Goodyear, Michelin, and others.
For example, Goodyear’s Ultra Grip 8 Performance Winter Tire features a tread design with multiple biting edges that enhance traction on slippery surfaces, a directional tread pattern that channels water away from the tread surface on slushy roads, and a saw-shaped center area that helps push snow aside during braking.
For areas where ice-covered roads or packed-snow conditions dominate the winter travel season, drivers might want to consider using snow tires with studs. The studs are metal pins that protrude from the surface of the snow tires and “bite” into ice and packed snow. Studs are noisy on dry roads, however, and performance and handling can suffer too.
Remember that winter tires shouldn’t just be fitted to the vehicle’s drive wheels, but rather all wheel positions in order to maintain control.
Most importantly, slow down during hazardous winter travel and leave extra space between yourself and the vehicle in front of you. And don’t get cocky when it comes to your driving prowess or four-wheel drive’s performance. We know now where that can lead.
Editor’s note: Stay safe on the road by ensuring your tires are in top shape. Advance Auto Parts can help, with a wide selection of tire accessories. Buy online, pick up in store.
“And she said, ‘Hey, boy, do you mind taking me home tonight, cuz’ I ain’t never see a country boy with tires on his truck this high.’” Jake Owen. “Eight Second Ride.”
Out here, it seems like the only thing a lot of people like more than their trucks is the art of raising them up. Followed closely by a mud-bogging hole or field filled with red Virginia clay that’s just waiting to get torn up by those lifted trucks.
Now, I don’t say this from experience, as my workhorse consists of a highly functional but decidedly tame, un-lifted F150. Rather, I make that call based on the number of lifted trucks I see around here, and the fact that they’re often covered top to bottom, including windows, in mud.
Why do we have a love affair with lifted trucks, and why do we raise them up in the first place? For some insight, I turned to an expert in the field of lifting trucks – Chris Dye. He’s the store manager at Super Trucks Plus LLC in North Carolina, and describes it as “probably Raleigh’s only full custom shop.” Chris and his crew specialize in transforming ordinary vehicles into amazing lifted trucks.
“Most people lift trucks to achieve a higher ground clearance,” Chris explains. They do this to avoid bottoming out or getting stuck when driving off-road, and to allow for the fitment of larger tires.
Higher ground clearance? Sounds plausible, but my gut tells me there’s another, more common reason that people lift their trucks, and it didn’t take long for Chris to confirm my suspicions. “A lot of people lift ‘em just for looks these days. They’ll take a brand-new truck, lift it, and it’ll never go off-road.”
Chris said that one of the more common and popular requests when it comes to lifted trucks is a six-inch lift with 35’s, with “35” referring to the tire size. These suspension lift kits can start out at four inches of lift and go all the way to 12 inches, or higher. Chris then began explaining other vehicle parts that get involved with suspension lift kits, including independent front suspension, shocks versus struts, drop cradles, larger knuckles and steering geometry, and this was about the time that I realized that lifting a truck might be more involved than I realized.
He went on to explain that once you maxed out your lift with suspension lift kits, you can still go higher by choosing a body lift. With a body lift, the vehicle body has to be disconnected from every spot it’s mounted to, new spacers inserted, and then the body bolted back down to all its connecting points.
As for height, it seems like that’s more a matter of personal choice. Chris said the highest he’s ever lifted was 26 inches, and that was enough to clear a set of 54’s. In his opinion, the maximum comfortable lift he’d recommend for someone’s daily driver, as opposed to a show truck, is a 12-inch lift with 40-inch tires.
What do you think? Are you driving a lifted truck? If so, let me know your lift height and tire size, and what you think is the optimal set up.
“It’s all about personal preference. If you’re building a show truck, the sky’s the limit,” Chris adds.
As for my truck, if I were to do anything, I’d be inclined to start with Chris’ recommendation of just a leveling kit. “It’s your most basic kind of lift,” Chris explains. “That’s going to take most trucks and lift the front up about two inches so that the front height equals the height of the rear. This will allow you to go up one tire size from factory specs and gives you essentially two inches of lift.”
Cost is another consideration when deciding how high to lift because the two seem to rise in unison. Chris said that a ballpark cost for a six-inch lift on 35’s is about $5,000 to $6,000, but that he’s done lift jobs that total over $20,000.
If you’re looking for ideas on what others have done with their lifts, Chris recommends Mud Life and Four Wheel & Off-Road, as well as the online forum at Lifted Trucks USA. And, of course, you can always check out some projects that he and Super Trucks Plus have performed.
As for me, what do think I should do to it? Stick with the leveling kit? Go a little bigger and get a six-inch lift? Maybe just switch to bigger tires? Leave me a comment, and please include thoughts on how I can sell the idea to my significant other. Chances are, she’s going to be less than pleased instead of asking me to take her home tonight because she’s impressed with my truck’s tire height!
Editor’s note: If there’s a lift or an off-road adventure in your truck’s future, make your first stop Advance Auto Parts, for all the best in parts, tools and accessories at a great price. Buy online, pick up in store.
The ad in my 1977 comic book promised a smoke bomb that would deliver “surprise as smoke pours from under the hood.” At 13 years old, I thought I knew a lot about cars. My sister would soon pay the price for both misconceptions.
It had been three years since my last ill-conceived prank involving a vehicle. That one hadn’t ended well either. Crab apples littering the ground in woods along the country road, a lone, old pickup driving slowly by, and a dare that I couldn’t hit it helped me learn just how fast an angry adult can chase you down when you mess with their vehicle.
The smoke bomb arrived in the mail, addressed to me and discreetly packaged, as promised. At five inches long, it looked a little like a thin cigar and was wrapped in red, white, and blue paper with two copper wires protruding from the end. The instructions were simple – attach the wires to the vehicle’s spark plugs and watch as panic overtakes the driver when smoke pours from the engine compartment at start up.
I knew how to change spark plugs, or so I thought, so installing the smoke bomb on my sister’s 1974 Ford LTD Country Squire Station Wagon was a snap. When it was time for her to leave for work, I hid in the pine trees, barely able to contain my excitement as I watched the door close and heard the engine start. This was it! Smoke would soon pour from the engine compartment. She’s putting the car in reverse. She’s backing down the driveway. She shifts to drive. Uh-oh. There she goes. No smoke. No one screaming “the car’s on fire!” Nothing, except a letdown, and regret that I didn’t order the “keep on trucking” t-shirt with the big red tongue instead of a stupid smoke bomb that didn’t work. What could possibly have gone wrong?
I removed the smoke bomb from her car the next afternoon and tossed it into my dresser drawer along with other discarded treasures. Little did I know, the fun was just starting. See, I had no idea that it actually mattered which spark plugs were connected to which wires. In the course of installing and removing the smoke bomb, I’m sure I had removed all eight wires and reconnected them in no particular order – something my sister found out later that day, sitting on the side of the road, wondering why the car was running so poorly.
Luckily, she actually knew something about cars, unlike me, and figured out that the plug wires were connected wrong. She fixed them and was on her way. When she came home she asked me about it I confessed to the whole scheme, in part to prevent her from telling my dad and seeing smoke pour from under his lid! That’s when she gave me an education about how to change spark plugs, and that spark plugs, wires and cylinders had to be connected to the proper distributor terminal.
I decided then and there that it would be the end of my car capers—a declaration helped by the impending arrival of Sea Monkeys and Mexican Jumping Beans on yet another order from the back of the comic book.
Now that I know how to replace spark plugs, and that the different types of spark plug metal—such as copper, iridium, and platinum—actually matter, I always think about the smoke bomb that wasn’t…whenever I’m showing someone else how to replace spark plugs.
Editor’s note: Put the comic book down and head on over to Advance Auto Parts for all the best in spark plugs, batteries, brakes and more. Buy online, pick up in store.
With summer almost over, it’s time to reflect. When you’re a kid, those long, hot lazy days are seemingly endless, full of promise, adventure, fun and freedom. Until one hot June day, just as summer break is getting cranked up, your dad comes home from work all excited and drops a bomb.
“Kids, this summer, we’re spending three weeks on the road, driving from New Jersey to the Grand Canyon, towing the camper behind us! The six of us will spend a lot of time together! It’ll be great!”
Uh, no it won’t. For a 13-year-old just starting to plan his summer, have there ever been more terrifying words? I think not. My plan was to spend the summer riding my bike and hanging with friends, not being trapped in a Dodge Ram conversion van with my three siblings and parents on an epic cross-country journey, living in a pop-up camper for three weeks.
This was not going to be good, or so I thought. For one thing, the old man was obsessed with fuel mileage. Always tracking the miles driven and gallons pumped at each fill up, and having a conniption whenever he forgot to record either. As obsessive as he was about the fuel efficiency, however, he didn’t give a hoot about vehicle maintenance. Tire pressure? Air filter? Oil change? A/C tune up? Nah, who needs them. We just hit the road, letting the pieces (hopefully not from our vehicle) fall where they may.
I’m pretty sure that if he had realized the impact a few simple maintenance items have on fuel mileage, not to mention vehicle reliability before a long road trip, he would have been sure to address them before our road trip.
According to fueleconomy.gov, the official U.S. government source for fuel economy information, you can take three steps right now to improve your fuel economy.
- Keep your vehicle properly tuned and increase mileage by as much as four percent. Fixing a seriously out-of-tune engine, like one with a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve mileage up to 40 percent.
- Keep your tires at the inflation pressure recommended by the vehicle manufacturer and improve fuel mileage by more than three percent.
- Use the recommended grade of oil for a one to two percent increase.
- And here’s a statistic that just might surprise you, as well as your friends. On newer cars with fuel injection and computer-controlled engines, the air filter does impact acceleration but it has no impact on fuel mileage. The air filter does impact fuel mileage on older vehicles without that technology. Either way, check your air filter to see if it’s time for a change.
Somewhere between South Dakota’s legendary Corn Palace and the Grand Canyon, I came to the somewhat surprising, albeit gradual, realization that maybe this trip wasn’t such a bad idea after all. We were seeing some really cool things. Don’t get me wrong, this surly teenager found plenty of reasons to complain, like getting in trouble for “sleeping through all the scenery” or nursing frequent bloody noses thanks to the West’s incredibly low humidity levels. But all in all, it was a truly memorable vacation, even if my dad didn’t get the gas mileage he wanted and we all scattered like jackrabbits, including my parents, the second we returned home.
Editor’s note: If you’re planning an epic, end-of-summer road trip, either with your family or to get away from them, make your first stop Advance Auto Parts for preventive maintenance items and a roadside emergency kit.
In the country, we like towing things as much as we enjoy getting towed. Whether we’re the ones being towed out of the woods after getting stuck during a night of mud bogging, or we’re towing a gooseneck stacked high and tight with 200 hay bales, it doesn’t matter. For work or just plain fun, we tow it all.
When there’s minor flooding or a good snowstorm around here, the lifted, four-wheel-drive pickups come out to play, and to help. You’ll see us driving back and forth over these mud- or snow-covered country roads, but not because we’re going anywhere in particular. No, we’re looking for someone who’s slid off the road into a ditch or needs a little assistance climbing a slippery hill. With a tow-strap or even dad’s old logging chains that are always in the pickup, we’ll get you out and back on your way, and we’ll love every minute of it. And if there isn’t someone to tow, we’ll tow something instead.
When it comes to rural living, towing is just a fact of life. Since we are always towing, it only makes sense that early on in our driving careers we get into the habit of doing what needs to be done to help ensure a trouble-free, time-saving experience hauling the heavy stuff.
Your first consideration should be your vehicle’s towing capacity – how much weight it is designed to tow without overloading mechanical systems and causing damage. Towing capacity can be found in your vehicle owner’s manual. Your vehicle also needs to be equipped with a hitch that’s rated for the amount of weight you’re towing.
If trailer towing is in your future, and you’re an inexperienced hauler, spend some time in the driveway practicing backing up the trailer. It’s is a lot tougher than the big-rig drivers make it look, particularly when you’re holding up a line of traffic and all eyes are on you. Here’s an old tip truckers use when backing a trailer – grab the bottom of the steering wheel, and turn the steering wheel in the direction you want the trailer to go.
What’s your best towing tip or worst towing horror story? Let’s see hear about it and see some photos when you share in the comments section below.
Because we typically don’t put as many miles on a trailer as we do the vehicles towing them, trailer tires often wear out from dry rot and age instead of highway miles. Every tire manufactured since 2000 has a DOT alphanumeric code on its sidewall. The last four numbers tell the date of manufacturer. For example, 5107 tells you tire was manufactured in the 51st week of 2007. Tires that are five or more years old need to be inspected for signs of possible age-related failure.
Before your trailer towing begins, have a helper stand behind the trailer while you run through a test of the brake, turn signal and marker lights. You might want to consider switching to LED trailer lights as they’re more durable, maintenance-free, and waterproof and feature a quicker response time.
If, however, you find yourself on the receiving end of the tow, just remember to give us a smile when our pickup or tractor pulls you out, and maybe a little beer money.
What types of towing endeavors have you been involved with recently?
Editor’s note: Need some trailer accessories before your next big adventure? Tow it on over to Advance Auto Parts for parts and advice. Just make sure you know how to back it up before you get here!