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.

Braking Fundamentals: Brake Pads, Rotors and Fluid

Car brakesWe cover the basics and explore the science behind brake parts and related accessories.

 

With so many options to choose from, how do you know which brake rotors, pads and/or fluid is best for your vehicle? Step one is to look for guidance in your vehicle’s owner’s manual – and then find more details here.

Function of brake pads

When you push on your car brakes, calipers clamp the brake pads onto the rotors to reduce speed and then stop the vehicle. To do their job effectively, the pads must be able to absorb enough energy and heat. When there is too much wear and or heat, brake pad efficiency is reduced – and so is your stopping power.

Brake pad choices include:

  • Ceramic, composed of ceramic materials; sometimes copper fibers
  • Semi metallic, composed of steel wool and fibers; sometimes brass or copper
  • Organic, composed of glass, rubber and resins

Function of brake rotors 

Your brake pads clamp down on the rotors (also called brake discs). The lug nuts hold both the rotors and wheel to the wheel hub. When pressure is applied to the brake rotors, it prevents the wheel from spinning – which means that your brake rotors are as important as the pads when it comes to safety.

You’ll need to make several decisions to choose the best rotors for your vehicle, including:

  • Which material is best
  • If you want drilled or slotted rotors
  • If vented or non-vented rotors are better
  • Whether you need a cryogenic treatment for your rotors or not

Most rotors are made from cast iron – more specifically, gray iron – because it disperses heat well, which is important to avoid overheating and brake fade. Meanwhile, racing and other high performance vehicles often use reinforced carbon rotors, similar to those used in airplanes. Carbon rotors need to reach a high temperature before becoming effective so are not good choices for the average car. Other high performance vehicles use ceramic rotors, an innovation first used in British railroad cars. Ceramic rotors are lighter in weight and are stable at high speeds and all temperatures. They are, however, more expensive.

Cryogenic treatment

Over time, rotors warp because of heat and usage. If you adjust the warpage through truing, this solves the problem – unless the rotors are too thin, or heat up and warp again. So, your options are to:

  • Replace the rotors whenever needed
  • Replace the rotors and then have them cryogenically treated

When cryogenically treated, rotors dissipate heat much more effectively and maintain their optimal (non-warped) shape for a longer period of time. This means that they need replaced much less often.

Beware of brake fade

Brake fade (the reduction in stopping power after repeated or sustained usage) occurs most often when you’re carrying a heavy load in your vehicle, traveling down a long steep hill or driving at higher speeds. Brake fade can happen in any vehicle that uses a friction braking system because of a build-up of heat, although drum brakes are more at risk since disc brakes can vent heat away more easily. Brake fade can take place in vehicles with braking systems in overall good condition, although regular maintenance can help to prevent this from happening to you. To avoid bad repercussions from brake fade:

1)   When replacing your brakes, choose the highest quality that you can afford.

2)   Watch for “green fade,” which happens when the resin applied to brakes by manufacturers begins to evaporate. This can create a period of time (say, the first 100 miles of usage) when you should be extra vigilant about effective braking.

3)   When braking, tap your brakes instead of continually applying pressure.

4)   Shift into a lower gear when driving downhill, rather than riding your brakes. Shifting to a lower gear tells the engine to maintain a safe speed.

5)   Don’t try to go 70-0. Brake gradually over longer distances.

6)   If you’ve gone through a period of heavy brake use, keep a longer distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you, just in case.

7)   Check your brake fluid regularly and change at least annually.

Choosing the best brake fluid

In the United States, there are four designations of brake fluid that meet the minimum Department of Transportation standards: DOT 3, DOT 4, DOT 5 and DOT 5.1. Each contains a mixture of chemicals with specified dry and wet boiling points. When your brake fluid has just been replaced (with a full bleed), this is called the “dry” boiling point temperature. As water finds its way into the system, the “wet” boiling temperature is the benchmark you should use. Here are more details about brake fluid options, but be sure to purchase one that meets the minimum recommended by your vehicle manufacturer.*

 

Editor’s note: Trust Advance Auto Parts for the best selection and values in brakes. Buy online, pick up in-store, in 30 minutes. 

 

*Note: Silicone Brake Fluid is not compatible with Anti-Lock braking systems, and should be used only if recommended by the manufacturer. Always consult your owner’s manual first. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure warranties are not voided.

Bleeding brakes: it’s not nearly as scary as it sounds

Advance Auto PartsWhen you’ve driven your car for more than a few months, your body memorizes exactly how much pressure is needed to turn the steering wheel, accelerate from a complete stop, and brake to avoid collision. Imagine what could happen if, at the worst possible moment, you discover that normal braking pressure isn’t going to stop your car in time.

That’s exactly what can happen if air bubbles get into your brake fluid line. To prevent that, learn how to bleed brakes yourself.

Bleed brakes at home in ten easy steps:

Step 1: Ask a helper to sit at the wheel.
Step 2: Check the fluid level in the reservoir. Verify that it’s full.
Step 3: Place a bucket or bowl below the bleeder valve.
Step 4: Use a wrench to open the bleeder valve (size of wrench needed varies by manufacturer)
Step 5: As you open the bleeder valve, ask your helper to press slowly down on the brake pedal. Picture a hypodermic needle clearing out the bubbles by pressing down on the plunger. Some brake fluid will be lost during this process. The escaping air bubbles will pop or hiss as they come out.
Step 6: Close the bleeder valve before your helper eases up off the brake pedal.
Step 7: Repeat several times until the brake fluid pours out without any hissing or bubbling sounds.
Step 8: Top off the brake fluid reservoir to the maximum fill line.
Step 9: Repeat steps 1-8 for each wheel.
Step 10: Test drive your vehicle/car brakes.

Please note: to flush the entire system, there is a “corner order” to follow, which is found in your vehicle’s manufacturer’s specs.

 

 

 

 

When should you bleed brake lines?

There are at least four likely scenarios:

  • when replacing car brakes/brake pads
  • when a vehicle sits for months at a time
  • when your vehicle endures frequent hard braking
  • when you are experiencing the first signs of brake trouble

At a minimum, bleed your car brakes when replacing brake pads. For the average vehicle will be approximately every 24,000 miles.
Many mechanics and oil change centers won’t offer a specific maintenance interval, but will ask customers how long it’s been since the last time the brake fluid was flushed. Oxidation, heat, and moisture each play a role in degrading the responsiveness and longevity of your brake system, so play it safe and perform your own automobile brake maintenance at least as often as you inspect your brakes.

 

Editor’s note: Stay on top of automobile brake maintenance with Advance Auto Parts. We stock quality auto parts from the brands you trust and rely on most.