Mower Time: Getting Ready for Spring

 

lawn mower on grass

Source | Daniel Watson/Unsplash

Your lawn mower might not have a 450hp big block, but believe it or not, the same tune-up principles for your classic muscle car apply to your lawn and garden equipment. If it has an engine, it’s going to need a little bit of prep work to perform its best this spring. Here’s a guide to what needs replacing, what just needs attention, and some general mower maintenance advice.

Walk-behind mowers

Walk-behind push mowers have some of the simplest engines currently made. That makes them easy to work on for any skill level. If you’ve never done any kind of maintenance work before, give it a try with these super-simple tasks.

Oil change

Like with your car, you need to change the oil in your mower on time. This depends on the number of hours and how you use it. Usually most homeowners can get by with changing the oil once a season. Push mowers are cheap and easy to maintain; they don’t have an oil filter and only need one quart of oil. It’s definitely faster and easier than changing oil in your car: tip the mower on its side to drain the oil out the filler spout, then set it upright and refill with fresh oil. Remember to drop off the old oil for recycling.

Spark plug

Spark plugs wear out, too. Like with oil, it’s a good idea to change them at the start of each season. All it takes is a single wrench. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to buy lawn- and garden-equipment spark plugs at a power-equipment store. We stock your Honda’s BPR6 spark plug or your MTD’s RC12 at stores and online too.

Air filter

The air filter keeps dirt, grit, and grass out of the precision internal-engine components. Being down near the debris and spinning blades makes for one filthy air filter that decreases performance. Check the filter throughout the season and replace as needed, usually at least once a season.

Blades

Before you fire up the mower, check the condition of the blade(s). Clean off any excess grass clumps and check for cracks or large chips in the blade. If you find any, it’s time for a replacement. This is easier than it looks—use a wrench to remove the center bolt. If your blade is in good shape, it may only need sharpening. A sharpening kit is about the same price as a new blade but will save you money in the long run.

Ethanol-free gas

Most small engines prefer ethanol-free gas, so fuel up with that if it’s available in your area. Never use E15 or higher ethanol fuels in small equipment not rated for it.

riding lawn mower

Source | Gord Webster/Flickr

Riding mowers

If you’ve gotten this far, we’re guessing you don’t have a small lawn. Riding mowers are great for cutting large amounts of tall grass in a small amount of time, but they do need some extra work. All the above advice for push mowers also applies to riding mowers. The oil change needs a couple more quarts, and there’s oil and fuel filters to swap out, too. Here’s what else to look for.

Blade belt

Under the deck, check the condition of the blade belt and pulleys. A slack belt will cause excessive noise and lack of cutting, so adjust the tensioner and/or buy a new belt. Grease the pulleys to ensure they freely spin.

Battery

Pull out your multimeter and check the voltage of the battery. On a 12V battery, if it tests at less than 10.5V, trickle charge until full and give it a try. If it does not stay charged between mows, then it’s time for a new battery.

Tires

That rider has could’ve been sitting in the same spot all winter. That’s never good for the tires. Look for cracks, dry rot, or flat spots, then inflate to the recommended pressure listed on the side of the tire. If the tires are damaged or don’t hold air, replace them.

… And prep yourself

Safety comes first, so wear gloves when working near the blades. Eye protection is recommended while riding or using a side-discharge push mower. Small engines are disproportionately loud for their size, so remember to wear ear protection any time the mower is running.

Do it right and safe, so you can get your lawn done on the first pass. Spring and summer offer perfect car-show weather, so do your mowing, then get back to wrenching.

Share your lawn and garden tips and tricks with others in the comments below.

Fast Fixes for Foggy, Leaky, or Cracked Windshields and Windows

frosted windshield on a car

Source | Steinar Engeland/Unsplash

A small crack, a rock chip, a tiny leak around the edge of the door, a foggy scene when things get steamy—we’ve all been faced with a windshield issue at the most inopportune time. But when it happens, don’t panic. In an effort to make troubleshooting your misbehaving windshield as easy as possible, we’ve put together a short list of things you can pick up at your local Advance Auto Parts store to quickly and affordably get back on your way.

What to do when your windshield has a chip or crack

As far as problems go, a chipped windshield may seem like a small one. Usually these things happen when you’re on a long-haul road trip and have been riding behind a big semi-truck or a seemingly empty pick-up truck. It can happen when you’re driving under an overpass, too, or in bad weather when maintenance crews are laying down sand and gravel. Windshield chips are pretty much inevitable, but they can be a real problem if left alone.

The rule of thumb when dealing with these sometimes-nasty little buggers is, if a dollar bill can cover it, it can be repaired. Anything larger than that, and you are likely going to need to have the entire windshield replaced by professionals. The same goes if there are three or more cracks in the windshield or the chip or crack is in the driver’s direct line of sight. On average, calling in the professionals to fix a windshield crack is going to cost you upward of $100, not to mention time with your insurance company.

If your chip or crack, uh, fits the bill, and you want to save the cash, the best thing to do is to head to your auto store. For as little as $15, you can pick up a do-it-yourself windshield-repair kit that will make airtight repairs on most laminated windshields. It cures in daylight and doesn’t require any mixing, so the fix will be quick and easy to do. Better yet, it can help prevent a small crack from spreading further and becoming an even more expensive problem down the road.

What to do when your windshield (or rear window) won’t defrost

There’s a basic rule of thumb for successful defrosting of a windshield or windows—bring the humidity down and bring the temperature inside the car more in line with the temperature outside of the car.

For a quick fix to those foggy windows in cold weather:

Crack a window or direct cold air toward your windshield. Don’t turn on the heat, as it will cause the windows to fog. If, however, you want to stay warm while defrosting your windshield, blow warm air at the window, while turning off the recirculate function in your car (it’s often the button with arrows flowing in a circle). That way the system will draw in dry external air and keep the foggy situation to a minimum.

If it’s warm out and you’re faced with a fogged windshield:

Use the wipers to get the condensation off the outside and the heat to get the inside of the car to warm up closer to the outside temperature. The same rule applies for the recirculation function—keep it turned off.

A few more ideas:

The other trick to keeping your windows clear is to keep them clean both inside and out. Part of that task comes down to having the right tools. Items like squeegees and sponges are helpful. It also pays to invest in the right cleaners for your environment. You can check out a few, here.

Also, be sure to get the right windshield-washing fluid based on where you live. Some have additives that help keep them liquid in really cold weather, others help with ice melting, and some help get the bugs off.

It’s also really vital to be sure you have the right windshield wipers installed on your vehicle. For a quick reminder, check out our article on the topic.

If these fixes don’t help and your defroster appears to be busted:

It’s time to take it a step further. There are two kinds of defrosting systems in most cars. One system directs air off the HVAC system to the windshield, while others use small wires embedded in the glass to remove the fog. Which one you’re dealing with can affect how you troubleshoot. It pays to Google your car and see what common issues might come up. You can also consult your owners manual. More often than not, you can fix them yourself .

Defroster systems can be tricky. Depending on the year make and model of your car, you’ll find spare parts and replacement systems at your local store. Be sure to put in your car’s details so you’re getting the right pieces, as each year, make, and model may require different parts. As always, someone at Advance can help if you get stuck.

What to do when your window seals leak

Nobody likes to get dripped on while they’re in their car, and water inside can lead to plenty of strange smells and mildew problems down the road. There are some great, easy-to-use options on the market to fix those leaky windows.

Simple sealers work well, until you can get a better fix in place. These products come in tape or gel form. Be sure to read all the instructions before performing the fix yourself, as they can be messy. You’ll also have to wait until the car is dry, since they won’t stick to wet surfaces.

A leak can also be the result of a door seal gone bad. Sometimes chasing down a bad seal can be tricky, but once you have it narrowed down, it’s simple to replace.

Follow these tips, and you’re sure to find quick, affordable ways to repair your troublesome windshield without spending a lot of dough.

Do you have a windshield-fix story? Feel free to let us know in the comments!

Thawing Out Your Toys: How to De-Winterize Motorcycles, ATVs, and More

Source | Allar Tammik/Flickr

Spring hasn’t sprung in many parts of the U.S., but it has started its slow and steady ascent from the south. That means sunnier days, warmer weather, and, more importantly, that it’s time to pull those toys out of winter storage and get them ready for action again. This guide will cover the steps you should take to ensure your motorcycles, ATVs, side-by-sides, Jet Skis, and other powersports equipment will be operating in tip-top shape when you head back out this spring.

First and foremost, the key to easy de-winterizing is good winterizing. If you put your toys away properly, they’re much easier to get back in good shape when warmer temperatures arrive. But even if you didn’t do everything you should have to pack your toys away last winter, this guide will help get your gear into proper running order.

1. Perform a thorough visual inspection

Don’t just glance at the oily bits and assume all is well. Rodents love to crawl into tight spaces and tear up wires and other material to make nests. Grab a flashlight and take a serious look around your equipment to ensure there have been no critter incursions that might compromise your vehicle’s function. Check behind any body panels, inside luggage or storage areas, inside fenders, and inside mufflers and air inlets.

Also have a close look for leaks, both under the machine and around seals and plugs on the drivetrain equipment and at the suspension dampers. Also check the brake-fluid reservoir, the brake levers or pedals, and the brake calipers or drums themselves.

If you winterized well, you may have covered all of the potential problem areas with plastic bags or other covers. Good for you! You can move on to the next step once you’ve inspected for all other mechanical points of failure.

2. Change the oil

Even if you put new oil in before winterizing your machines, you’ll want to swap the engine oil and, where applicable, transmission fluid before you get down and dirty this summer. Why? Because even when sitting unused, the oils and fluids in your engine and gearbox can separate or become waxy, especially in extreme temperatures, which can dramatically reduce their effectiveness in protecting your machine from wear. This is definitely a case where a few quarts of prevention are worth an entire barrel of cure.

3. Check and/or change the battery

If you put your battery on a float charger over the winter, you’ll still want to check its health with a good battery tester to ensure the battery has enough life left to get you through the fun season. If you didn’t keep your battery charged over the winter, chances are good that it has gone completely flat and may need replacement.

You’ll also want to check the battery for any visual signs of malfunction, like fluid leaking out and corrosion on nearby parts and the battery terminals. With wet cell batteries, you’ll want to make sure electrolyte levels are properly topped up with distilled water.

When dealing with batteries, it’s important to remember that battery acid is corrosive and toxic, so you should always wear gloves and safety glasses.

Once you’ve determined the health of your battery, go ahead and charge it if it isn’t already fully charged.

4. Check all other fluid levels

Engine and transmission lubrication are important, but coolant and brake fluid are, too. Be sure all fluids are at their proper levels, and if any are especially low, go back over your inspection list to see if a leak is responsible. Consider draining and replacing the fluid entirely, especially if it shows signs of wear or if you haven’t replaced it in the past few seasons. This is especially true of brake fluid, which absorbs moisture from the air and loses effectiveness over time.

While you’re at it, double-check the oil level, even though you just replaced the oil in Step 2. It never hurts to be sure.

5. Pull the spark plugs, and check or replace

Removing the spark plugs to check for rust or corrosion can give you some warning as to more serious problems inside the engine that may have developed over the winter. If you do find rust on the spark plug, use a borescope to look inside the cylinder to verify the condition inside the engine before starting it. Chances are, however, that your engine will be fine—but your spark plugs may not be.

If you notice lots of dark fouling, you could clean and re-install your spark plugs, but they’re inexpensive, so replacing them with the proper type (consult your owner’s manual and read more about how to tell when they need replacing ) is a cheap and easy way to ensure your equipment will start easily and run well all summer long.

6. Check your tires and all rubber components

Even if your toys have been shielded from the cold of winter, the sheer time they’ve spent sitting can cause rubber parts of all types to develop cracks, flat spots, or other issues. This includes your tires, hoses, and even handlebar grips.

Once you’ve made sure everything is in proper condition and replaced anything that seems dry, misshapen, or otherwise bad, make sure your tires are inflated to the proper pressure—most tires will lose pressure as they sit, and all tires will vary in pressure based on ambient temperature. Don’t just assume that because they were fine when you packed it away that they’ll be fine when you pull them out of the garage after a few months!

Source | Robert Thigpen/Flickr

7. Fire it up!

Starting the engine in your powersports toy after a long winter is one of the most satisfying activities for an enthusiast. But don’t get too enthusiastic out of the gate—let the engine idle until thoroughly warm. Don’t go zipping around the neighborhood or brapping the engine up to high revs right away.

For fuel-injected machines, this first cold-start after the winter will (likely) be easy. For carbureted machines, it may take some more work. Assuming your carb and choke were properly adjusted at the end of the season (and no critters have fouled the situation), it should start right up with the fuel that’s in it—provided, of course, you used fuel stabilizer. You did, didn’t you?

If you own a carbureted machine and, as part of the winterizing process, you drained the carb’s float bowl, you’ll want to follow your manufacturer’s procedure for priming the carburetor (letting fuel back into the float bowl) before attempting to start the engine.

If you followed these steps (and properly winterized your hardware in the first place) you should be up and running, ready to achieve full weekend-warrior status. If you’ve run into some stumbling blocks, however, be sure to consult our other how-to and DIY guides for your specific problem.

Got any other tips for de-winterizing or any triumphant stories of spring’s first ride? Let us know in the comments.

How to Choose Windshield Wipers

Behind the wheel in rainy weather

Source | Jaromír Kavan/Unsplash

When it comes time to choose windshield wipers, the number of options available might surprise you. While wiper blades all share the same function, they don’t all do it in the same way, for the same price, or to the same level of performance. In order to help you choose the best wipers for your budget or circumstance, we’ve highlighted the three main types of windshield wiper blades below, how much you can expect to spend on them, and when they’ll perform the best.

Types of Windshield Wipers

traditional wiper blade

Traditional Wiper Blade:

The traditional wiper blade has been around for decades and is constructed of a steel frame and rubber blade. The frame itself is what attaches to the wiper arm of the vehicle and has pivoting suspension points that help keep the blade planted to the windshield.

Traditional blades can be found on most new cars and are reasonably priced—at under $10 per blade—when it comes time to replace them. Most wiper-blade manufacturers recommend replacing these blades every six months.

Beam wiper blade

Beam Wiper Blades:

If you’re looking to up your window-clearing game, you’ll want to check out the beam blade section. Most wiper-blade manufacturers offer a beam-blade option, and they certainly have their perks. Rather than having a metal structure like a traditional wiper blade, beam blades are made of a solid piece of rubber. This comes in handy when the weather gets nasty. Where snow and ice can clog up the frame and freeze a traditional wiper blade, you can simply slap a beam blade against the windshield to clear it of debris. Beam wiper blades also have a fin or spoiler along the spine of the blade that help keep the wiper placed firmly against the windshield for maximum contact, even at freeway speeds.

The price for this kind of windshield wiper is higher than traditional blades—between $15 and $30 per blade, but they generally last quite a bit longer.

Hybrid Wiper Blades:

If you like the cost savings of the traditional wiper blade but want to have the all-weather prowess of a beam blade, you’ll want to look into getting yourself a set of hybrid wiper blades. Hybrid blades are constructed like a traditional blade with a steel frame and pivoting suspension points but also have a plastic or rubber protective coating over the frame. This helps keep the cost down and provides protection against the more harsh winter elements. The cost of these blades will usually be right between that of a beam and traditional blade.

All three types of wiper blades are relatively easy to install, but your local Advance Auto Parts store will do it for you for free.

Got any wiper tips? Leave ’em in the comments.

Towing Information: 10 Maintenance Tips Before You Tow

Recreational vehicles on the highwayEven when you have a vehicle built with towing capacity, there’s still plenty to check and double-check before you get on the road.

First, check your owner’s manual to answer these questions:

  • Is your vehicle designed to tow?
  • If so, what is the maximum amount that you can safely tow?

If the answer to the first question is “yes,” then here is our overall recommendation:

  • If your vehicle’s owner’s manual provides recommendations for severe-duty use, towing qualifies – and you should follow these guidelines carefully.
  • This will include checking vehicle components and replacing them more often than is typical.
  • Do not exceed maximum towing limits. When exceeded, it’s more likely that you’ll damage your vehicle and/or get into an accident.

If you plan to modify your towing vehicle to give it extra power or additional safety features, check your warranty. Will making these modifications void any warranties? If you’re purchasing a new vehicle to tow, ask the dealership about any towing or camping options that will be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.

Also note that, even if you increase your engine’s power, this does not increase the maximum amount that can be safely towed by a particular vehicle.

Towing checklist

Here are ten specific items to check each time you’re getting ready to tow (note: these are not being presented as the ONLY items that you should check, only some of the most important):

1. Brakes

Test your brakes thoroughly before each trip. When towing, you need more stopping distance and so having brakes that are even slightly worn could be a hazard. When you’re towing, don’t ride the brakes; if you do, then you might overheat them and/or jackknife your vehicle. When driving downhill, drive at a reduced speed, using your brakes as necessary.

If you’re towing a trailer, some come with their own braking systems that need to be connected to your vehicle. Although it takes added skill to coordinate the braking systems, this system means less stress on the towing vehicle’s brakes.

Need help with any repairs? Find:

2. Cooling system

Proactively prevent a meltdown. Your vehicle will get heated up by pulling an extra load so your cooling system needs to work optimally to safely tow. So, add the following to your checklist, replacing worn parts:

  1. Radiator, including hoses and fluids
  2. Water pump
  3. Thermostat and housing
  4. Cooling fan and its switch

Here are:

3. Hitching devices

Check the hitch ball regularly to make sure that it hasn’t loosened and is still firmly attached to the draw bar. Make sure that the coupler and hitch ball fit together snugly, and ensure that any tow bar used is parallel to the ground when the towed vehicle is attached.

Each piece of towing gear comes with towing capacity limits. Double check that the equipment you have is suitable for what you plan to tow.

Find the towing parts you need.

4. Safety chains

If your trailer becomes unhitched when you’re towing, the only thing keeping the two vehicles together will be your second line of defense: your safety chains, which are required.

Make sure that the chains you use are sufficient for whatever you’re towing. Light-duty trucks often use 5/16-inch thick chains, while medium-duty trucks often use half-inch thick chains, with heavy-duty trucks using 5/8-inch thick chains. When choosing what thickness to use, make sure that they will help keep the trailer from drifting, while still allowing it to turn easily with your towing vehicle.

Find an assortment of safety chains here.

5. Springs and shock absorbers

Consider adding heavy-duty springs and the best shock absorbers you can buy and make sure that they are in good shape before each tow. Lighter-duty shocks can cause the towing vehicle to sag in the back while heavy-duty versions will help to keep your vehicle stable and level while towing. As a side bonus, they’ll also make the ride more comfortable.

Be sure to also check your hub bearings when doing your suspension check. While small in size, they can cause major problems when not optimal. If one falls off, the wheel can flip flop around, damaging the brakes and potentially even causing the wheel to become disconnected from your vehicle.

Here are:

6. Tires

Tires with the correct load rating and proper inflation are important. A common mistake that people make is to check the tires on the truck that will be doing the towing – but not the tires on, say, a camper or trailer that is being towed. Do you have a spare tire for both your truck and for whatever you’re towing?

Blowouts are doubly dangerous when they occur during towing. If this happens, stay calm and get off the road as quickly as is safely possible. Here are tips for quick tire repairs to get you to the shop. Also find tire gauges, cleaners and more.

mechanic working on a vehicle7. Wiring

Perhaps your truck came pre-wired for trailer towing from the factory or maybe your pre-installed hitch already contains the necessary connector. Whether one of these is true or whether you needed to do your own trailer wiring, you need to make sure that nothing has short circuited before you tow.

And, even if you’ve just bought a new truck, one pre-wired for towing, you will still need to double check that the wiring is adequate enough to run both your truck lights and the trailer lights. You can’t always count on that to be true.

8. Visibility

Visibility can be a challenge when you’re towing something behind you. You can’t see the other vehicles as well, and they may not see your truck as well, either. Lights, including brake lights and turn signals, are even more crucial in these circumstances, so make sure that all are in good working order.

9. Mirrors

Consider using extended towing mirrors for increased visibility. You can choose replacement mirrors or wide-angle clip-on mirrors, so test options out to see what works best. Extended mirrors are especially valuable when towing a wide vehicle.

Note: because you’re carrying a heavier load, it will take longer to accelerate so be very aware of that if planning to pass another vehicle. Here are options for your towing mirrors.

10. Fluids

Check and replace fluids more often, including motor oil. The added weight inherent in towing adds stress to the towing vehicle, causing it to run hotter than normal.

Choose products carefully. Synthetic oil, although more expensive, has no carbon—and therefore can’t leave carbon deposits on your pistons or in the combustion chamber as regular motor oil can. It also makes sense to use synthetic transmission fluid.

Also check and change filters often for optimal performance.

 

Bonus towing information:

The most important element in safe towing is you, the driver, so make sure that you:

  • Get enough rest before starting to tow
  • Feel confident backing up while the object being towed is attached; practice before starting on the road
  • Take breaks when necessary to rest if going for a long haul
  • Take turns more slowly when towing
  • Leave enough safe distance for braking
  • Have a fully stocked emergency kit with you at all times
  • Have the right hand tools, specialty tools and work gloves that you need for unexpected repairs

What tips would you add to our list? Leave a comment below! 

Top Tips for a Better, Safer Road Trip

Four friends consulting map on the side of the road

You might want to pull over before consulting the map!

Experts estimate that over 34 million people travel 50 miles or more by car over the July 4 weekend. That’s on top of 30 million Americans who hit the road on Memorial Day weekend! So, it seems as though we like to road trip around America. Before we can start enjoying that fun in the sun though, we have to actually make it there. So here are four tips to ensure a successful road trip.

1. Don’t rely on GPS exclusively

Whether on your phone, dash, or built-in display, GPS is great for directing us exactly where we want to be. When it works. GPS can and does make mistakes. It can direct us to a “road” that’s more suited for a four-wheel drive vehicle (or goat) or even closed due to snow. The GPS signals also can fail in areas without cell phone coverage, if satellites malfunction or their signal is blocked, or if your device’s battery dies. So check your route ahead of time, carry a portable charger, and take along an old-school map if you’re heading somewhere remote.

You can also download areas in Google Maps on your phone before you leave. It’s a handy trick that’s saved us in rural areas or when traveling in different countries.

2. Keep tabs on vehicle maintenance

You know how to take care of your vehicle, and you know what needs to be done to ensure it’s always in top running condition. But, do you remember exactly what you did, were supposed to do or meant to do, and when? Say you meant to change the timing belt around the 100,000-mile mark. But the weather was still bone-chilling cold so you put off the job for a couple months. You’re only human, which is why you can’t trust your memory exclusively.

Instead, keep a detailed vehicle maintenance log. Record the type of maintenance performed, when it was done, and when future maintenance is due. Follow your vehicle manufacturer’s suggested maintenance intervals.

3. Prepare for the unexpected

Stuff happens, even with the best laid plans. You’re almost on empty, but there’s a cheaper gas station just over the border. You know you always have a can of Fix-A-Flat in your emergency kit, so why bother checking the spare tire air pressure? What could possibly go wrong? Just enough to turn your fun road trip into a migraine. The gas station could be out of gas, or out of business. You could experience two flat tires at the same time and only have one can of emergency tire inflator. No matter what your plan is, or how good it seems, always have a reliable backup plan.

4. Trust your intuition

That “gut feeling” is more than just a hunch. Research shows that intuition is actually our subconscious mind’s way of storing, retrieving, and processing information. This helps us avoid potentially harmful or dangerous situations. Maybe you don’t like the look of the single lane road ahead or the neighborhood you’re driving through or even the threatening sky. Perhaps something (other than your GPS or co-pilot) is telling you you’re traveling in the wrong direction. Trust your intuition, but listen to the other passengers in your vehicle too. They might see something you don’t because you’re focused on driving conditions.

By knowing what to trust, and what not to trust, you can enjoy your spring break destination and the journey there, instead of sitting at home, cursing Old Man Winter, or on the side of the road, cursing your flat tires.

 

If you’re one of those determined drivers hitting the road this summer, check out our infographic below for more helpful tips.

Advance Auto Parts

Download your own copy of Rules for Road Trips. Feel free to share with friends and family.

How do you prepare yourself and your vehicle for a road trip? Tell us all about it.