Ways to Boost Power without Breaking the Bank

Much like an elite athlete’s ability to rapidly breathe allows them to perform stronger, so it goes with your car’s engine. Whether you drive a ’69 Chevelle or an ’09 Civic, the same principle applies. Get more air in and out and your engine will make more power and run stronger. This is why forced induction (i.e. turbocharging and supercharging) is so popular as a means for, literally, pumping up an engine’s output. That’s great, but unless it came on your car it’s also easily a $5,000 and up modification.

If you want to improve your car’s performance without spending a lot, then you’ll want to focus on cost-effective ways to make that mill breathe like an Olympic decathlete without tearing into it. In other words, consider these following bolt-on mods that will give you the best bang, or should we say breathing, for your buck.

Edelbrock Pro-Flo 1000

Edelbrock Pro-Flo 1000

Golden Oldies Take a Breather
Going with a less-restrictive air filter setup than what the factory has supplied has long been a staple of performance enthusiasts. Those who own an old American car from the ’60s and ’70s typically favor a round, open-element air cleaner that sits over that carburetor. Although some old muscle cars actually came standard with these types of filters, or even trick hood scoops that funneled colder outside air to the intake, more often than not you’d see a closed housing that breathed through a snorkel-like fixture sticking out of its side. Other options for those golden oldies include Edelbrock’s iconic, triangular “Pro-Flo 1000” (formerly known as the “Lynx”) open-element filter.


K&N Cold Air Kit

K&N Cold Air Kit

Something for the Younger Ones
When fuel injection became more widespread in the ’80s, air filter assemblies took on more complex configurations that continue to this day. The latter is due chiefly to being equipped with various sensors that keep tabs on things like intake air temperature and velocity so the computers can adjust fuel metering accordingly. The air filters themselves are typically buried within black plastic boxes. The aftermarket quickly came to the rescue with low-restriction, cold-air kits that typically feature a semi-conical open-element filter. K&N, in particular, makes well-engineered kits that are known for their high quality and wide range of applications.

Ok, Now Exhale
So now that your engine can inhale more deeply; it’s time to turn your attention to the exhaling side of the equation – the exhaust. Before model year 1975, when catalytic converters (“cats”, for short) came on the scene to clean up exhaust emissions, the default performance-enhancing setup was pretty straightforward: exhaust headers running to true dual exhausts with a crossover. Nowadays, the ideal setup is pretty much the same, albeit with high-flow cats plumbed into the system. Of course you’ll want to check with your state’s emissions laws beforehand regarding replacing the cat(s), as some states may only allow factory replacements.

Still, going with a full engine-to-tailpipes system can be rather complicated (ask anybody who’s installed headers) and expensive, plus that labor is probably beyond what most shade-tree wrenches can do. The good news is you don’t have to go that far. Those looking for a cost-effective and minimal hassle upgrade should consider a “cat-back” exhaust system. It is just that, a system that bolts up after your car’s catalytic converter(s). With its freer-flowing pipes and lower-restriction muffler(s), a cat-back exhaust system lets your engine exhale easier and sounds pretty cool in the process.

Cat-back exhaust

Cat-back exhaust

Regardless of what you drive, there are plenty of great choices for a cat-back system. Popular brands include Borla, Dynomax and Magnaflow. Even within each manufacturer’s product line, there’s great variety, sonically speaking. You’ve got systems that are fairly quiet at idle and part throttle that then growl gratifyingly when you step into it. And then you’ve got the more aggressive setups that proudly make their presence known whether you’re burbling at a light on the boulevard or grabbing gears as you rocket up a freeway on-ramp.


For these power-boosting auto parts, along with all the tools you’ll need to complete the job, Advance Auto Parts will get back to the garage fast. 

Three Good Reasons to Change Your Own Oil

Oil changeSometimes, handing your kids over to another caregiver is something you can’t avoid. You need a babysitter if you’re ever going to have a night out, right? Parents can’t be parents all the time; they’re going to need some help along the way.

Still, ask any parent, and I think they’ll agree: it’s always a little nerve-wracking to entrust your kids’ welfare to someone else.

Many of us car-lovers feel the same way about our beloved vehicles. And when it comes to things you can do yourself, one of the best examples is changing your own oil.

Here are my three reasons to start changing your own oil. Think about it: if you decide to DIY from now on, you’ll never be left wondering if your baby’s been in good hands or not.


1. It’s Cheaper

Typical cars take 4-5 quarts of oil, and you’ll also need a new oil filter to finish the job. Guess how much these items cost at an auto parts store. $30? $40? Actually, you can get out the door for barely 20 bucks, especially if you take advantage of the “oil change specials” that always seem to be running. Cheaper than you thought, right?

Now, you may see a $19.99 oil change advertised at the local Quickie Lube or what have you, but there are a few problems with that. First, they tend to use generic, one-size-fits-all motor oil that leaves you with no choice in the matter. One of the great things about DIY is that you get to buy whatever kind of oil you want. Second, they’ll try to hard-sell you on all sorts of “important” services that are really just a waste of your money and time. And third, can you really trust those guys to do conscientious work for $19.99 a pop? Won’t you be a lot more conscientious yourself?

In short, you’re going to save money changing your own oil, and you’re also going to gain a lot of peace of mind.


2. It’s Not As Hard As You Think

Let me explain the two possible scenarios as far as actually changing your oil is concerned. Number one is the old-fashioned way: you actually get under your car and do the dirty work. Even this procedure is very straightforward; in fact, we’ve got a handy dandy little video on how to change your own oil that walks you through every step. It’s fun, because you feel like you’re getting to know your car like never before.

But if you go with number two, you may even be able to stay on your feet. I’m talking about using an extractor, which is a simple device that sucks the old oil out of the top of the engine, letting you simply pour the new stuff in afterward. There are plenty available on the Advance Auto Parts website, and if you make this investment upfront, you’ll still save money in the long run. The only thing to be mindful of is the location of your oil filter — if it’s on the bottom of the engine, you’ll have to get under the car to remove the oil filter, though it’s a lot less messy without all that hot oil in the tank just waiting to spill out!


3. It’s a Gateway to Further Exploration

If you’re like me, changing your own oil could just be the beginning. I used to be scared of working on engines, as if they were these nasty creatures just waiting to bite my hand off. But the truth is, they’re just machines, and the more you know about them, the more you’ll be able to catch little problems before they turn into big ones. While you’re changing your oil, for example, it’s easy to check the drive and accessory belts, so why not learn about those, too? Maybe your spark plugs are overdue for replacement; why not get some basic tools and do it yourself? DIY’ing can be addictive in the best way, so give the oil change a shot, and see if it turns into a bridge to more exciting projects down the line.

Have You Changed Your Own Oil?

Tell us about your experiences! What would your advice be to a first-time oil change DIY’er? If you’re a first-timer yourself, got any questions for those of us who’ve been there before?

Editor’s note: Save more when you do it yourself! Advance Auto Parts offers Oil Change Specials to help you tackle your maintenance projects—and save. We’ll even recycle your used oil, too.

How to read tire markings: uncover the mystery of tire markings

Advance Auto PartsLooking to read the life story of your tires? Well, to a degree, you can. Each car tire reveals its uses and specs through a code that consists of numbers and letters, a code that is usually found in the tire sidewall. But, because the code is constantly changing to provide more information, it may look like a hodgepodge that’s as clear as an obscure foreign language.

Fortunately, with a little help, anyone can understand what’s written on their tires. And, once you do, it can make all the difference in what you purchase and how you use the tires.

To start, the majority of tires are given a measurement from the ISO metric sizing system.

Discover what an ISO metric tire marking can tell you:

Starting with the ISO code, you will often find a letter(s) on the tire that tells you if the tires are intended for a:

  • P: standard passenger car
  • LT: a light truck
  • ST: special trailer

If you see the letter “T,” it stands for “temporary” and is often written on spare tires and other emergency tire types.

You will also sometimes see a 3-digit number, which provides the tire’s nominal section width. This is usually measured and marked in millimeters, from the widest point of both outer edges.

The aspect ratio is also listed on the tire’s sidewall, and this is usually a two- or three-digit number that is written as a percentage. If this is not listed on your tire, then your tire’s aspect ratio is the standard 82%, which means that the sidewall height is 82% of its width. Any other measurement will be marked.

Finally, there will sometimes be a letter on the tire that tells you what the fabric of the tire is constructed of:

  • B is for bias belt, which is great for a rough ride.
  • D is for diagonal.
  • R is for radial. Radial is one of the most prolific tire materials on the market.
  • If there is no letter marking, then you likely have a cross ply tire.

The load index is a tire marking that denotes how much a tire can carry. For example:

  • A code of 60 means a tire can carry up to 550 pounds.
  • The highest code is 125, which can carry approximately 3,600 pounds per tire.

Finally, once you know the load index number of your tire, you can begin to pay attention to its speed rating. This tells you how fast you can go based upon your specified load index. So:

  • Code A1 means that you can go 3 mph at the specified load index.
  • This goes up to code Y, which allows you to travel up to 186 mph.

These are the basics of how to read tire markings. They are important to know when you’re shopping for replacement tires or just need to be educated on what your car can do.

Editor’s note: Shop Advance Auto Parts for a wide variety of tire gauges, tire repair tools, accessories and more. Buy online, pick up in store. 


Graphic courtesy of Consumer Reports.

How to diagnose engine noise

Advance Auto PartsEven those with lots of experience in car repairs can be fooled by the meaning of engine sounds. To make matters more confusing, sometimes minor or innocent-sounding sounds may signal a severe problem–while a loud, menacing thud might be fixed with a $20 part.

But, here’s something that’s for certain: you shouldn’t ignore car engine noise. Doing so could lead to a catastrophic situation where your engine needs to be replaced. Plus, disregarding engine sounds could threaten your safety–and result in a breakdown at the worst possible moment.

While you always have the option of taking your vehicle to a mechanic for a diagnostics test, you can often get a good idea of what’s troubling your engine by listening to it.

Some general guidelines about engine noise:

See if the car engine noise you’re hearing matches any of the following sounds. Then look at some common reasons for that sound, and begin your investigation.

Whirring: Could mean a bad water pump, power steering pump or alternator, or low power steering fluid level.

Knocking: Could be an issue with the distributor cap, timing chain or spark plugs.

Pinging: Could indicate a problem with the crankshaft, timing gears or transmission mount.

Hissing: Could mean a problem with the cooling system, exhaust, catalytic converter or vacuum line.

Popping: Could be an issue with the ignition wires, air filter, distributor cap, ignition module or engine compression.

Grinding/screeching: Hearing these engine sounds when you turn the ignition could mean a starter issue. But, if these sounds occur when you apply the brakes, it likely indicates worn brake pads or rotors.

Here’s another way how to diagnose engine noise.

Check out DriverSide for some keen insights and helpful information. It’s a useful tool for both novice and veteran do-it-yourselfers. You can try to diagnose your vehicle’s problem by noise, smell, feel or look.

Again, don’t turn your back on car engine noise, and hope that it’ll just go away on its own. Chances are it won’t–and you’ll wind up with an even bigger problem.

Editor’s note: Don’t let car engine noise fall on deaf ears. Advance Auto Parts carries a wide variety of quality auto parts to help keep your ride running right.

How to clean car headlights to help reduce accident risk

Advance Auto PartsYou may not even think about cleaning your headlights except for a quick wipe during a manual car wash. However, it’s important to clean your headlights regularly, especially when they look foggy.

Having dirty headlights filled with buildup can dim your light brightness and place you at risk for accidents. You may even get ticketed by a highway patrolman if he feels your lights are dulled enough to warrant a risk to you or others on the road. Fortunately, cleaning your car headlight bulbs is simple, something you can get done on a Saturday afternoon.

Here you’ll find a couple home remedies, plus a few fast and easy solutions that are available at Advance Auto Parts.

A popular home remedy to clean car headlights is with toothpaste.

While you may find it to be an odd solution, toothpaste does work.

First, make sure you are using regular white toothpaste. Mint paste or those that are designed for whitening or other special purposes can actually damage your headlights.

Take the plain white toothpaste and squeeze it onto a soft dry cloth. Wipe your headlights in circular motions in small sections until the dulling grime is removed. Don’t try to cover a large area. Instead take on small portions of the bulbs and concentrate on them until you get a clean shine.

Rinse the area with water and wipe with a clean, wet cloth. You can then apply some polish specially designed for headlights if you wish.

You can also purchase sandpaper to clean headlight bulbs and do what is known as a “lasting clean” method.

This will not only clean your bulbs, but prevent them from becoming dirty again in the near future.

Start by purchasing three pieces of sandpaper:

  • 400 grit
  • 1200 grit
  • 1500 grit

Clean your lenses twice with rubbing alcohol and then with either clean paper towels or a clean, dry cloth towel.

Use a spritzer bottle of water to wet sand your headlights. Do this thoroughly with the 400-grit sandpaper. You will likely begin to see the factory coating come off of the lights. Keep on sanding until the coating is completely removed.

Then, you will have to eliminate any scratches left behind by the 400-grit sandpaper by using the 1200- and 1500-grit paper. If your car headlight bulbs have an interior texture (you will know because you won’t be able to see the light bulb inside), then you can usually finish the job with the 1200-grit paper.

Finally, wipe them off with more dry paper towels or a clean, dry cloth.

Complete headlight restoration may require a little more than a home remedy can offer.

Over time, the plastic lens casing around your headlight can get cloudy and diminish your visibility. Why go to the dealer when you can do it yourself for a fraction of the cost? On top of that, most restorations can be done in about an hour.

Advance Auto Parts can help, with a wide selection of headlight restoration kits to fit every budget, plus resources and videos to help you tackle the job.

For the ultimate headlight restoration kit, check out the 3M Headlight Lens Restoration System.

Advance Auto Parts

Editor’s note: with the days getting shorter, it’s important to always ensure your headlights are in top working order. Count on Advance Auto Parts to help you see clearly all season long.

Wash? Wax? Why bother.

Advance Auto PartsWouldn’t you know it? At long last, I not only washed but also detailed, to the best of my ability, the car this past sunny weekend.

Not even a couple of days pass before the inevitable happens. Rain. All last night. And this morning.

Serves me right. The Wash Your Car Now gods are getting back at me for waiting too long. (Pity, the billions of bugs that met their fate on my front bumper. Alas, the caked-on muck and sludge atop the once proud clear coat.) Apparently, I haven’t sacrificed enough personal time in order to surround myself with car wash products to appease the auto overlords.

What can I say? I HATE when it’s time to wash my car, and don’t get me started on waxing. There, I said it, even though I love and value cars and I’m always on top of the maintenance part of ownership.

But looks-wise, I’ve no problem and no shame driving around with, not the cute little “Wash Me” message, but the far more serious command of “Wash Your Car” menacingly hand-scrawled on my back windows by some neat-freak.

Evidently, my family could no longer stand the embarrassment either. So on Mother’s Day (yes, last year), they presented me with a gift bucket filled with car wash products. For washing your car, drying your car, waxing your car, buffing your car, deodorizing your car. Yet not even one promise from my kids to help me put these Wash Your Car wonders into use. I looked with hope at my husband who gleefully said, “Waxing your car builds character,” and who also quickly ducked as I threw my new microfiber sponge at him.

Back to this past weekend: I unearthed my 2012 Mother’s Day gift. Prepared to defunk and degunk, my new car wash products were the arsenal at my side.

Mission “Wash Your Car – Waxing Your Car” was officially under way. The hardest part? Convincing myself that I know how to wash a car, and that waxing your car is a cinch. Not an easy feat when one’s past cleaning method didn’t even require car wash products. All I did was:

  1. Take the hose to it
  2. Then drive off

So I headed to the Advance Auto Parts Wash & Wax section of their website. I already had the car wash products. I just needed some tips. After a quick read on how to wash a car, waxing your car and more, my confidence grew. I transformed my old 2-step How To Wash A Car method into this better one:

  1. Wash and dry
  2. Surface prep
  3. Wax and shine
  4. Wheel and tire
  5. Interior

When I was done, it was a beautiful sight. All clean and looking sharp for those couple of days. Next time I get the urge to reach for my car wash products, I’ll be sure to glance at the weather report first.

Editor’s note: Text “Spring” to 36898 for great wash & wax deals now! Up to 5 messages per month; message & data rates may apply.

How to Buy a Used Car the Smart Way: Top 3 Tips

Get quality auto partsLet me tell you a cautionary tale about buying a used car. A good friend of mine just bought a Camry from the mid-1990s. Low mileage, no rust. Legendary Toyota reliability. The asking price was $2,200. Seems like a no-brainer, right?

Unfortunately, that’s exactly how my friend approached the purchase: without really using his brain. He basically bought the car on blind faith, no questions asked. And you know what happened? Two weeks later, the automatic transmission failed. He had to pay almost as much as the purchase price just to get his car back on the road.

Look, the fact is that any used-car purchase is a gamble. You can never be a hundred percent sure what you’re going to get. But if my friend had asked me for used car buying advice, I would have given him the 3 tips discussed below, and they might have saved him a lot of time, money and headaches.

So don’t make the same mistake he did. Heed my tips on how to buy a used car, and minimize the likelihood of bringing home a lemon.

3. Read consumer reviews to learn about common problems

The internet is full of online car reviews written by drivers just like you, and these reviews are an invaluable source of consumer information. Why? Because people love to talk about problems they’ve encountered with their cars. For example, if the used car you’re considering has a trouble-prone transmission, chances are you’ll hear all about it in those reviews. Armed with this knowledge, you can ask better used car questions of the seller, and you’ll also have a better idea of what to look for when you’re inspecting and test-driving the car.

I recommend starting at Edmunds.com and looking up the specific year, make and model of the car to access relevant consumer reviews. But don’t just limit yourself to that one year; do additional research to determine the other years in which the car was produced, and check out consumer reviews for those years, too.

2. Run a vehicle history check

There’s really no excuse for not doing this, folks. For only $25 or so, an online vehicle history check tells you if there have been any reported accidents or other damage-causing events (like flooding), and it also tells you if the odometer readings through the years indicate any manipulation.

Will every single issue be reported? No, but the major ones will be, so anything that shows up on one of these reports is a real red flag. I personally recommend buying only cars with clean records: no accidents, no nothing. But if you decide to pursue a vehicle that doesn’t have a clean history, keep in mind that the history report can be a valuable bargaining tool.

The two major online providers of vehicle history reports are Autocheck.com and Carfax.com. Pick the one you like best and go get that report!

1. Have a knowledgeable mechanic perform a pre-purchase inspection

Most people balk at the $100 fee that mechanics typically charge for this service, but remember the story of my friend and his ill-fated Camry. When you’re faced with something like a $2,000 transmission-replacement bill, you’re really going to regret having skipped this step. Paying a mechanic to inspect a used car before buying is the single most important thing you can do to ensure that you’re not getting a lemon. So grit your teeth and fork over the hundred bucks. I promise you’ll thank me later.

If you’re wondering how to inspect a used car before buying, the key is to find a mechanic who is both knowledgeable about the car you’re looking at and indifferent to whether you buy it or not. So if you’re looking at a Toyota, find yourself a local Toyota mechanic with a good reputation (I recommend reading consumer reviews on Yelp.com), and make sure he’s not a business associate or family friend of whoever’s trying to sell you the car. Also, don’t forget to ask the mechanic to “road test” the car in addition to putting it on a lift in his garage.

Oh, and don’t worry if you want to buy a used car online that’s located across the country—Advance’s Find My Mechanic feature can connect you with someone skilled in used-car inspections. Or, companies like Inspect My Ride let you tap into a nationwide network of inspection specialists.

Anyway, that’s the best used car buying advice I’ve got. Hasn’t let me down yet, and I hope it works for you, too. Good luck!

Editor’s note: Once you do find your new ride, count on Advance Auto Parts for the best in quality auto parts, services and more. Buy online, pick up in store.

How to buy a used car online: buying advice for modern times.

How to buy a used car online: buying advice for modern times.

Not too long ago, when in the market for a secondhand car, you were usually limited to cars located within about a 50-mile radius of your home. Your primary source of information was the classifieds section in your local newspaper.

Used car buyingThat’s changed dramatically. Sure, your local classified ads remain a good source of information about available secondhand cars. But, thanks to the online marketplace for previously owned cars, your potential marketplace now stretches from coast-to-coast.

When considering how to buy a used car online, you need to keep the typical used car questions in mind, along with some specific ones that pertain to buying online.

Here you’ll find practical used car buying advice for online purchases.

Start by scouting what’s available. Some viable sites include:

Also, online bulletin boards sites that contain secondhand car listings (such as Craigslist) can be a good potential source of vehicles, too.

Once you’ve found some candidates:

  • Do some research. Check reliability records for the makes and model years in question.
  • Comparison shop online to find the best prices for your top choices.
  • Get the Kelley Blue Book value for those cars.
  • Order vehicle history reports before buying.
  • Have a mechanic inspect the vehicle. (There are services located throughout the country that will perform this for you if the vehicle isn’t in your area.)
  • Have your financing in place.
  • Negotiate for the best price based on your research (this may not be an option depending on the seller or the site).

Consult trusted sources to find more information about how to buy a used car online.

Sources like AAA, the Better Business Bureau, your state’s attorney general’s site, as well as other government sites may offer more solid used car buying advice, and provide answers to other used car questions.

No matter what, just be sure to get advice from a knowledgeable, impartial source that has your best interests in mind.

Editor’s note: After you buy your secondhand car, take good care of it with quality auto parts from another trusted source: Advance Auto Parts. Keep an eye out here for more info on used cars coming soon.


How to save on gas – a recipe

As mom to a soon-to-be-college-freshman, high-schooler, middle-schooler and twins in elementary, my husband and I are also proud parents of an SUV, minivan and sedan. Like our kids, our cars are constantly on the go: to school, sports practice, supermarket, work, the gym, everywhere. Through years of experience—and Recipe to save gasfrankly, out of bare necessity—I’ve learned how to save money on gas. Essentially, it’s a lot like following a recipe. Gather the best ingredients, follow instructions, and the resulting fuel saving tips will keep gas in your tank longer.

Fuel saving tip #1: Use the tire-pressure gauge to ensure tires are properly inflated for safety and a no-brainer method for how to save on gas.

Fuel saving tip #2: Declare to drive sensibly. Keeping a calm, cool head (not easy when my twin six-year-olds are acting up in the back seat) is preferable to being agitated — and aggressive driving really wastes a lot of fuel.

Fuel saving tip #3: We all love upgrades, from airline seats to cuts of meat at the grocer. Upgrade to synthetic motor oil! It’s made to help boost engine efficiency. Speaking of motor oil and how to save on gas, do oil changes regularly. My other half swears by the traditional every-3K-mile rule. (I do mine,  he does his and we take turns on ours. Unless I’m making his favorite dinner that day!)

Those’re my top-3 observations on how to save on gas. But, I’ve got plenty of other fuel saving tips that I’m happy to share. While many are familiar, they’re good reminders of how to conserve gas and ultimately, get more out of your wallet:

  • Get regular engine tune-ups
  • Get your brakes checked
  • Get that gas cap replaced if it’s loose or worn
  • Get the O2 sensor tested
  • Get a good fuel injector cleaner

I hope my tips to save gas get you to do the same. Though my family and I are good about incorporating public transit whenever possible, that option isn’t always going to work for us. So we rely on our valued modes of transport. We take care of our vehicles, they do the same for us, and knowing how to save money on gas is key in our ability to afford to have them be a vital part of our family.

Did I miss any other tips to save gas? Join me and spread the word.


Editor’s Note: Create your own recipe with these helpful fuel saving tips from Advance Auto Parts and be sure to consider the oil change specials available every day!