How to Replace a Fuel Pump

image of a fuel gauge in a car dash

So your car’s been experiencing bad fuel pump symptoms. Sounds like an expensive, time-consuming fix, right? A fuel pump replacement doesn’t have to be either of those things. With some care and attention to detail, anyone with fair mechanical proficiency and a set of hand tools can get the job done.

As with any project, be sure you have on hand all of the parts (be sure they’re the correct parts!) and tools you’ll need for the whole job. That goes double if the car you’ll be working on is your main form of transportation. If you get the tank out and realize you need another tool, you’ll be left looking for a ride.

Before you get started replacing the pump, be sure to check your tank for any leaks or other damage—since you’ll have the tank out anyway, it’ll be easy to replace the damaged fuel tank at the same time. Also check to see if your tank has a drain cock or drain plug on the bottom side of the tank. If it does, it’ll be easier to get the fuel inside the tank out.

As with most repairs or replacements on an automobile, the cost to replace a fuel pump is less if you do it yourself. So take your time, be patient, and be alert, and everything should go smoothly.

Difficulty

Intermediate: A beginner may want to steer clear of this one.

Estimated time needed

One to three hours, depending on skill level, tools available, and vehicle specifics.

What you’ll need for a fuel pump replacement


WARNING! First and foremost, remember that you’re dealing with gasoline—a highly flammable, dangerous substance. Don’t smoke while working on the fuel system and keep all sources of sparks or flame far away from the vehicle and fuel tank during the entire operation. Keep in mind that light bulbs can be very hot, so keep your incandescent shop light on the bench, and use LEDs if you need to work at night.

Also remember that static electricity from your clothes, the vehicle’s interior, or other sources can create a spark, and that spark could be deadly. When removing fuel from the tank, be sure to use a hand siphon pump. Don’t use an electric pump—there’s a risk of a spark causing an explosion.


Step-by-step guide:

  1. Disconnect the negative battery cable.
  2. With a safe workspace laid out, and your car parked on a level, firm surface, jack it up and place it on jack stands, or use a lift to provide access to the underside of the car.
  3. Relieve the fuel system pressure (How to do this varies between makes and models, so refer to the service manual for your specific vehicle).
  4. Disconnect the filler neck from the fuel tank per your service manual.
  5. Support the fuel tank with the jack and the block of wood.
  6. Remove the bolts from the straps holding the fuel tank in the vehicle.
  7. Carefully disconnect the wiring connections, fuel lines, and vent hoses on the top of the tank before fully lowering the tank.33556245572_298db82b8c_oSource | Flickr
  8. Once the connections are released, use the jack to carefully lower the tank out of the car.
  9. Clean the top of the tank around the existing fuel pump assembly to prevent any dirt or debris from falling into the tank during removal.
  10. Refer to your service manual for instructions on removing the fuel pump assembly from the tank. There’s typically a plate held in place with screws or bolts, which, once released, enables removal of the pump.
  11. Install the new pump in the opposite order you used to remove the old one.
  12. Reconnect the fuel lines, wiring connections, and vent tubes, and reinstall the fuel tank.
  13. Reconnect the fuel filler tube.
  14. Reconnect the negative battery cable.
  15. Fill the tank with gas and go for a drive to verify that you’ve properly replaced the fuel pump and that everything is in proper working order.

Got any tips on replacing a bad fuel pump that we didn’t cover? Share them in the comments.

7 Tips to Help Your Vehicle Reach 200,000 Miles

the odometer of a vehicle at rest

Source | Peter Stevens/Flickr

Now it’s easier than ever to keep your car running smoothly for thousands of miles. If your vehicle has less than 50,000 miles on it today, chances are it still has 75 percent of its driving life ahead of it. That’s good news if you’re like the majority of Americans who are holding onto their vehicles longer than ever before.

It wasn’t that long ago that hitting the 100,000-mile mark on the odometer was a major milestone. Today, vehicles are built to last. With proper maintenance and attention, there’s no reason you shouldn’t expect to see that odometer roll right past 200,000 and keep on going. Here’s how to make it happen.

1. Read your owner’s manual

In addition to informing you on the basics, like what those buttons on the dash actually do, the owner’s manual contains vital information for your vehicle. You’ll find specifics about the various components that need to be monitored and replaced, when that needs to happen, and how owners can perform the checks.

Following the owner’s manual also helps prolong your vehicle’s life, because it specifies which fluids work best and provides vehicle-operation instructions that prevent damage and reduce wear.

2. Avoid short trips

The difference between driving short distances and longer distances is that the engine never has a chance to reach its optimal operating temperature on short trips. Here’s why that’s a problem. Water is a byproduct of combustion. When the engine is nice and hot and operating at its most efficient temperature, the water turns to vapor and is ventilated out of the engine. But on short trips, the engine never gets up to that optimal temperature. As a result, water can remain in the engine, collect in the oil, and settle in the exhaust system, where it causes excessive wear and tear.

a mechanic lays underneath a car during a routine maintenance check

Source | Mark Ittleman/Flickr

3. Find a mechanic you trust and like

Given the choice, DIYers would rather work on their own vehicles. We get that. Sometimes, though, having a mechanic you trust is worth its weight in platinum brake pads. Mechanics you get along with—who you believe have your best interests at heart—will give you the right advice and won’t BS you. They’ll be a partner in your quest to reach that magical 200,000 milestone, not interested only in selling you an expensive repair and never seeing you again. If they’re experienced, accustomed to working on the type of vehicle you drive, and convenient to your work or home, it could be the start of a beautiful relationship.

4. Follow the recommended vehicle-maintenance schedule

If you hate your vehicle and don’t want it to last through the next block let alone make it to 200,000 miles, then this is the one category you want to ignore. Nothing shortens a vehicle’s life faster than a lack of maintenance. Remember your friendly mechanic and the stimulating reading found between the pages of your owner’s manual? They’re both instrumental in knowing when to perform routine vehicle maintenance, based on either mileage or time increments, or both.

While you should keep up on all maintenance items, the most important step is far and away the oil change. In addition to lubricating vital engine parts, oil traps contaminants and prevents them from harming your engine. Changing the oil gets rid of all that gunk. Oil also breaks down over time, so it’s necessary to replace it at regular intervals.

Of course, don’t forget about these items as well:

  • Coolant, brake, power steering, and transmission fluids
  • Filters
  • Belts
  • Brakes
  • Windshield wipers

Follow your owner’s manual to develop and stick with a maintenance schedule.

5. Pay attention to your vehicle

We’re not talking about a date night or a conversation around hopes and aspirations, but rather an increased awareness as to how your vehicle looks, sounds, smells, and feels. Don’t just get in it and go, or park it and leave. Pay attention to anything new or out of the ordinary when it comes to your vehicle’s characteristics like:

  • Vibrations, rattles, or squeaks
  • Unusual smells
  • Fluid leaks under the hood or underneath the vehicle

Look at the dashboard gauges and indicator lights for signs of trouble. By paying attention to how your vehicle operates normally, you’ll notice when a mechanical problem is causing something out of the ordinary to happen, enabling your mechanic to make a minor repair before it becomes a major, vehicle-ending problem.

6. Follow up on manufacturer recalls

Don’t ignore vehicle-manufacturer-recall notifications, no matter how minor you think they seem. Manufacturers don’t issue recall notices on a whim. It has to be a serious, important issue that affects vehicle performance and/or driver and passenger safety, which means it’s something you want to take care of. Be wary of any upsells when you take your car in, though. It makes sense to do your research before blindly agreeing to any potentially costly repairs.

7. Make it shine

There are several reasons to keep your vehicle clean inside and out, aside from the most obvious one of looking good when you’re behind the wheel. A regular wash and wax will protect the finish and prevent the vehicle body and components from rusting, corroding, and decaying.

The same is true inside the vehicle where dirt and other foreign materials accumulate, increasing fabric, vinyl, and leather wear. Regular cleaning also gets you up close and personal with it, so you’re more likely to notice broken or missing parts or other maintenance items that need attention.

And as long as you’re at it, don’t forget to clean the engine bay.

It’s a long way to 200,000 miles. Another 38,000 beyond that, and you’ll have equaled Earth’s average distance from the moon. Not every vehicle will make it to that impressive milestone, but by being an attentive vehicle owner, you can increase the likelihood that yours will.

Have you already reached 200,000 miles? Share your tips in the comments.

How to Clean Your Car Engine the Right Way

Source | Gerard McGovern/Flickr

Do you clean your vehicle? The answer’s probably yes. But do you know how to clean your car’s engine bay? If not, that’s like taking a shower but never brushing your teeth. Don’t be that person; wash your engine, too.

Now you might be thinking that no one sees your engine bay except you and the occasional mechanic, so who cares, right? Well, like with the rest of your vehicle, cleaning prevents damage and keeps resale value high. A car engine bay covered in oil and grit is allowing premature wear in the pulleys and bearings, or hiding serious issues like gasket leaks. A clean engine bay allows the engine to stay cooler, operate efficiently, and keep your value high.

Difficulty

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

Time Required

1 hour

What you’ll need

 

Step-by-step guide on how to clean an engine bay

Hose it down

A quick pre-rinse does several things. It knocks off any of the loose dust and grit, makes it easier for the engine degreaser to spread around, and prevents spots from the soap quickly drying out. In short, a pre-rinse is essential.

Step 1: Wait until the engine is cool. It doesn’t need to be cold though—you just don’t want to introduce a bunch of cold water to hot parts. Pop the hood and let it cool for an hour. This is when you’ll put down the drip pans and absorbent pads to stop the chemicals and gunk from going down the gutters.

Pro Tip: Find a local recycling center that accepts both the used pads and the oily water from the drip tray.

Step 2: Disconnect the negative battery terminal or cover the battery with a plastic bag. Water conducts electricity, and you don’t want it to connect and make new temporary circuits. If you have a classic ride, cover the alternator, carburetor, and distributor with plastic bags. On a modern ride, cover the alternator and go easy with the water around the coil packs and fuse box.

Pro Tip: If you are using a power washer, use the low-pressure setting and rinse everything in the engine bay. Low pressure is better than high pressure here, as you want to clean off the crud, not blast it into the small crevices between components.

Spray it up

Step 3: Now it’s time to spray a liberal application of engine degreaser. Why use a degreaser instead of regular car soap? Your average car-wash soap is fine for grit and dirt but just won’t cut it on oil and grime. Go heavy on the engine degreaser on the typically nasty parts, like the starter and oil pan and anything else oily. Follow the directions on the bottle, but usually you will let it sit for a few minutes to get the most grime-lifting action. You can use a wash brush here for the seriously filthy areas. It has soft bristles that won’t scratch the paint or plastic.

Step 4: Rinse with low-pressure water again and take a look at your progress. Some engines that have never been cleaned in 300,000 miles will need the degreaser again. If not, it’s time to get busy with the automotive soap.

Step 5: Use an automotive car-wash soap to finish cleaning the engine bay the same way you would clean the exterior. Use an automotive wash mitt, get it soapy in the bucket, and scrub up the engine bay just like you would a rear quarter panel, then rinse.

Sweat the details

Step 6: Rinse with low pressure again and remove the plastic bags over the sensitive parts. If they need cleaning, professional detailers will remove the plastic fuse box cover or distributor cap and clean it by hand, where the electronics won’t be affected. Once clean and dry, just bolt them back on.

Step 7: Use a dedicated plastic cleaner to polish out fine scratches and restore shine to the engine bay plastics. Apply with a terry cloth and wipe off with a clean microfiber cloth. For the metal bits, a metal polish will brighten them up. They are all a bit different, but in general, grind a bit into the metal surface until the polish starts to turn darker, then wipe off with a clean cloth.

There you go. That’s all you need to learn how to clean your car engine. Now step back and enjoy your work.

Any detailing experts around? Let us know your engine bay cleaning tips and tricks!

How to Change Spark Plugs

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

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

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

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

Holding spark plugs

Difficulty

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

Estimated Time Required

One hour

What You’ll Need to Change Spark Plugs

Remember, you can always rent tools from us.

 

Step-by-Step Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turn the spark plug counterclockwise until it comes free.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Braking Fundamentals: Brake Pads, Rotors and Fluid

 

Wearever gold brake pads

You know something’s wrong with your brakes. Maybe it’s a grinding or scraping noise, pulling to one side when you slow down, or even a spongy brake pedal. The first step in diagnosing the source of the problem is understanding the main parts of a brake system and how they work together.

Brake pads and shims

When you push on the pedal for your car brakes, calipers clamp the brake pads onto the rotors to reduce speed and then stop the vehicle. Brake pads get the glory as the main component in stopping, but equally important are the rotors. Helping to reduce noise and vibration are the brake pad shims. Shims are made of metal or rubber and found on the back of brake pads, in between the pads and the calipers. In addition to reducing noise and vibration, shims manufactured from titanium also protect calipers and fluids from damage caused by excessive heat.

Troubleshooting brake pads

To do their job effectively, the pads must be able to absorb enough energy and heat. When there is too much wear or heat, brake pad efficiency is reduced, along with your stopping power. Car brake pad indicators are designed to emit a scraping sound when the pads are worn out. If you hear this or a grinding sound when you apply your brakes, the pads need replacing. Brake pads should be replaced in pairs.

Learn how to choose the right brake pads for your vehicle and how to replace brake pads yourself.

Brake rotors

Car brakesWhen you press the brake pedal, the calipers cause the brake pads to clamp down on the rotors (also called brake discs). 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.

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. High performance vehicles use ceramic rotors, which are lighter and more stable at high speeds and all temperatures. They are, however, more expensive. Some rotors also come ‘painted‘ with a special, rust-inhibiting coating. This ensures that the rotors look good and last longer.

Troubleshooting brake rotors

Rotors will need to be replaced by 70,000 miles on most vehicles, but it depends on use. Rotors, like brake pads, should be replaced in pairs for even stopping performance. Your rotors may need to be replaced if you see or hear any of these signs:

  • Grooves worn into the rotor by the brake pads
  • Squealing, squeaking, or grinding sounds when braking
  • Vibration or wobbling when braking.

Learn how to choose rotors and how to replace rotors yourself.

Brake fluid

brake fluid designation sign

Source | Brian Snelson/Flickr

Brake fluid is “incompressible,” so that when the brake pedal is pushed, the fluid forces brake parts to work together to slow the wheel. Brake fluid also lubricates parts in the braking system. In the United States, there are four designations of brake fluid: 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, 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. To choose the best brake fluid for your vehicle, consult your owner’s manual.

Troubleshooting brake fluids

Because brake fluid is also hygroscopic (attracts water) it starts degrading the moment the bottle is opened, so it should be replaced every two years. A sure sign that your brake fluid is degrading is a ‘spongy’ brake pedal, or a pedal that continually creeps toward the floor. When this happens, it’s time to look at replacing your brake fluid, or bleeding air from the brake fluid lines.

Learn more about how to change brake fluids and how to bleed brake fluids.

For information about the brake parts offered by Advance Auto Parts, check out our buying guide. Are you diagnosing your own brake needs? Tell us about your brake project in the comments.

Make Your FR-S or BRZ As Fast As It Should Be

Scion FR-s

Scion FR-S

The Toyota 86, known as the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ in the States, promised a return to the good old days, when you could get a cool, rear-drive sport coupe for a reasonable price. Of course the “86,” or hachiroku in Japanese, is a reference to the iconic RWD Corolla coupes from the ’80s. With bloodlines like these, Toyota and Subaru couldn’t miss.

But they did. Hard. Because the modern-day hachiroku just doesn’t have enough muscle. The 2.0-liter boxer four under the hood is rated at 200 horsepower and a measly 151 lb-ft of torque. It makes some sporty noises when you wind it out, but there’s no force behind it. The FR-S and BRZ are not fast cars, which is a shame, because the target demographic loves fast cars.

So what’s a power-hungry FR-S or BRZ owner to do? Slap a turbo on it! Here are two great kits that’ll turn your ride into a monster right quick.

Turbocharging the Scion FR-S or Subaru BRZ

Subaru BRZ

For mega aftermarket power, a turbo kit is the way to go. The peak output with some of these kits is explosive. Of course, they use more oil, and any modified car requires extra maintenance. But a lot of folks have been running turbo setups on 86s for thousands of miles with no issues. It’s a robust foundation for a build. As a point of entry, check these two kits out.

FA20Club Stage 1 ($3,499)

FA20Club is one of the big names you see on the hachiroku boards, and for good reason. They pack a lot of value into their kits. The Stage 1 is their entry-level setup, which they say is “capable of up to 280whp without fuel mods.” That’s a cool 115-hp gain over stock power at the wheels. If you think about the power-to-weight ratio that offers, we’re approaching Porsche Cayman territory. Not bad for a few grand.

Dynosty Turbo Build ($17,914)

Ready to roll up your sleeves? Let’s get serious and quintuple the price of the FA20Club kit with this well-regarded Dynosty setup. If you’re up for it, an easy 400+ whp can be yours, and that puts your hachiroku in rarefied territory indeed. See, these cars in stock form weigh in at about 2,800 pounds, maybe a little less. Now consider the new C7 Corvette, making 460 hp for 3,300 pounds. If you do the math, the 86 actually has a better power-to-weight ratio than the Vette. Maybe spending $45 grand or so on a Japanese sport coupe isn’t so silly after all.

Looking for additional ways to boost power to your vehicle? Read about less expensive options, including high performance exhaust mufflers.

Are you sold on turbocharging as the answer? Anyone want to speak up for superchargers? Leave us a comment.

What to Know Before Replacing Your Own Shocks or Struts

 

Wheel, shocks and struts

Source I Mason Jones

It can be intimidating to think about taking your vehicle’s suspension apart. When you get right down to it, however, it’s probably less complicated than assembling an Ikea bookcase. Doing your own suspension work can also save you many hundreds of dollars. But it’s important to understand a few things before you dive into this project.

Here’s what to know next time your suspension needs a shot in the arm.

Note: This project isn’t intended for the newbie DIYer. Try starting with a few basics like these or changing your own oil to get comfortable under the hood before tackling suspension jobs.

Why replace shocks and struts?

Struts are an integral component of your vehicle’s suspension system, and kind of important if things like handling, stopping, and riding in comfort matter to you. A way to visualize struts is simply to picture a shock absorber and coil spring combination, workingtogether to smooth out bumps in the road. Improved handling, shorter stopping distances, and a smoother ride are the benefits you realize from changing struts.

Air shock absorbers improve ride quality by limiting suspension movement. They also have a direct effect on handling and braking. Worn shocks can make for an uncomfortable ride, but, more importantly, they can compromise your ability to control the vehicle. So, it’s important to keep shocks ship-shape.

How often should I change my shocks?

In general, you should inspect your air shock absorbers every 12,000 miles. Signs that your shocks may need attention include:

  • Diving during heavy braking
  • Wandering on the highway
  • Hitting bumps hard
  • Leaking shock fluid

Struts are wear items that absorb countless bumps in the road, which is why replacing struts on a car is recommended every 50,000 miles.

What’s the difference between shocks and struts?

shocks

Vehicle shocks

The words “shocks” and “struts” are often used interchangeably, but they aren’t the same thing. Each wheel on your car has either a shock or a strut, never both; although, a vehicle may have struts in the front and shocks in the rear. Consult your owner’s manual or speak to an Advance Team Member to be sure.

 

How to replace shocks and struts

We’ll take you through the basics below. If you want a full parts list and more detailed steps, check out these how-to’s on replacing shocks and replacing struts.

1. Check whether you need a spring compressor

On many cars, the struts/shocks and springs are interrelated or integrated, which means you may need a spring compressor to remove the springs. This is serious business: if you don’t remove the springs properly, they can pop off and damage anything in their path, including yourself. You can rent a spring compressor, but make sure you understand how to use it before you do. If there’s one part of the job that could come back to bite you, this is it.

 

2. Securely raise one side of the car

If you’ve got access to an actual lift, great. Driveway DIYers everywhere are jealous! Otherwise, you’ll want to jack up one side of the car at a time, just high enough to get a jackstand under the jack point behind the front wheel.

 

3. Remove the wheel and extract the old shock/strut

The wheel is easy, of course, but getting the absorber out of there may take some elbow grease. If a spring compressor is required for your job, this is where you’d use it. There should be three bolts holding the bottom of the strut in place, which you can loosen with a socket wrench. Up top, the strut extends inside a strut tower with a serious bolt inside the engine compartment. You may need to use an impact wrench with a socket extension to get it loose.

Pro Tip: You may have to hold up the lower control arm if it starts to drop once you undo the lower bolts. Keep an eye on it as you go, and be ready to slide your jack underneath for support.

 

4. Install the new shock/strut

With any luck, this will be as simple as reversing what you’ve done so far. You can use a torque wrench to tighten all bolts to OEM specifications or take the “good and tight” approach. DIYers swear by both methods, so we leave it to your judgment. Once the new absorber is mounted and tightened, put the wheel back on, lower the car, and simply repeat steps 2-4 for the other side.

 

5. Don’t forget the test drive!

When you do work on a vital suspension system, you’ll definitely want to take the car for a slow diagnostic drive afterward. Don’t go careening along a winding road just yet. Take a nice slow spin through the neighborhood, perhaps wiggling the steering wheel now and then to test transient response. If everything seems good to go, consider the procedure a success!

Remember that this article is intended as a very broad project overview. Our how-to’s on replacing shocks and replacing struts go into more detail.

Did you complete this project? Share your tips in the comments.

Spark Plug Basics: Your Questions Answered

Your engine relies on spark plugs every day—which means you do, too. So it’s about time we get familiar with these key maintenance parts. You might be wondering how often you need to change your spark plugs, what sort of spark plugs you should use, or whether you need to upgrade your spark-plug wires or other ignition components. Fortunately, these questions are easy to answer. Read on to learn about spark plugs.

Spark Plugs

What do spark plugs do?

Unless you’re driving an electric car, in which case this article definitely isn’t for you, you’ve got what’s known as an ICE or “internal combustion engine.” Now, combustion requires a spark. Spark plugs are a crucial part of your engine because they’re what makes that combustion happen, both at ignition and while the engine moves through each combustion cycle during operation. When the plugs aren’t doing their job, your engine’s not getting the full combustion benefit. Everything from acceleration and fuel economy to engine smoothness is going to be negatively affected.

How do I know when to replace spark plugs?

Your spark plugs should be changed at the interval given in your owner’s manual, typically every 30,000 miles. If no interval is given, or if you recently bought the car and aren’t sure when the spark plugs were last replaced, or if your car is showing symptoms of failing spark plugs or ignition issues (trouble starting, misfires, or rough idle), you’ll want to replace them. Replace them every 20,000 to 40,000 miles in the future, depending on your vehicle type and your use case.

If you have a high-performance sports car that regularly sees high revs, you will want to change your spark plugs more often. If you drive at moderate speeds and under moderate acceleration, your plugs may last 40,000 miles or more while still operating efficiently. Because spark plugs are cheap, however, and easy to replace, it’s good insurance to change them sooner than later, no matter what vehicle you own or how you use it.

How can I check to see if the spark plugs need replacing?

As a general rule of thumb, if something seems funny about your engine, you should check the spark plugs first. If you’re a hands-off kind of car owner, of course, you’ll just take it to your mechanic and get it diagnosed. But if you want to inspect the plugs yourself, it’s a pretty easy job.

Check your owner’s manual to find out where the plugs are located, and then pop the hood and have a look. If the plugs appear dirty, that could mean you’ve got an oil leak or excessive carbon deposits. And if they look damaged, your engine might be running too hot or misfiring.

Keep in mind, though, that even if your spark plugs look fine, they might be past their prime. Consult your owner’s manual for when to replace spark plugs. If you think you’re past due, we recommend replacing them, just to be safe.

Can I replace my own spark plugs?

Although you can check them, you may want to have someone else replace them. Truth is, for a seasoned backyard mechanic, popping the old plugs out and putting new ones in is pretty straightforward. But if you haven’t done it before, you should probably have someone looking over your shoulder the first time through.

There’s some serious wrenching going on here—literally. You’ll need a number of tools to complete the job. You need a socket wrench, and you may need a specific spark-plug socket and other accessories as well. Plus, there’s a fairly advanced technique called “gapping” that may or may not be required, depending on your vehicle’s age and other factors.

Wait for the engine to cool off first before attempting any replacement. We’re talking four hours, minimum. Those plugs are responsible for combustion, remember? Better safe than scalded.

What spark plugs do I need?

As for which type of spark plugs you’ll need, most folks will want to stick with the plugs recommended in their owner’s manual. For more info, here’s a ton of detail on the different types of spark plugs.

What about cleaning spark plugs?

You’ll find various home remedies for cleaning spark plugs, but for peace of mind, we recommend just swapping them out if they’re that dirty. But it’s your call on that front. From a money perspective, spark plugs are a car owner’s dream, because they’re an essential engine part that’s also inexpensive.

Do I need to change the spark plug wires?

Short answer: Yep. Find out how to troubleshoot spark plug wire problems and check out how to replace spark plug wires.

Do you change your own spark plugs and wires? Share your tips and tricks. Leave us a comment.

​​Tuner Notes: Why Replace an Exhaust System

Thrush brand muffler

A Thrush muffler with cutouts

For many import and tuner enthusiasts, how your car sounds can be as important as how it looks and performs. Sound and performance share a common bond—the exhaust system—and there are some pitfalls to keeping the stock exhaust system. Those car exhaust systems, consisting of a muffler and catalytic converter, sacrifice engine horsepower. You’ll also miss out on hearing an import/tuner’s true expression.

Why replacing a stock car exhaust system is a good idea

Stock mufflers are designed to absorb sound. (Learn more about the different types of mufflers.) With all their twists and turns, they get the job done of dampening the noise. That air-flow restriction, however, robs the engine of horsepower and a vehicle of its natural sound. To improve engine horsepower and harmonics—without breaking the bank—consider replacing the stock car exhaust system with a performance exhaust system (the muffler and catalytic converter).

Why replace the catalytic converter too

Second only to the muffler, a stock catalytic converter is a big engine horsepower thief—but necessary to avoid big fines and possible impoundment. So, what’s an enthusiast to do? Replace that stock cat with a high-performance one.

While a ceramic core might be cheaper, it delivers slightly less of an increase. More worrisome for import/tuners, though, is its lower melting point and the resulting failure in high performance, or boosted applications. And, when it comes to removing the cat entirely, improvement is minimal and hardly worth it, given the risks and considerable cost of running afoul of the law. If you’re looking for additional ways to improve performance without going broke, check out our article on three easy performance mods.

Considering swapping out your stock exhaust system? Share your ideas in the comments.