Beginner Car Tips You Need to Know

Starting your first car project can be a tall order, even for the smallest of tasks. Here are some tips you’ll wish you knew before you started.

1. Start Small, Take It Slow, and Go One Step at a Time

Project cars take time you don’t have and money you aren’t comfortable spending. If the day comes when you decide to build a purpose built race car or restore a ‘55 Chevy, the budget and time frame you have in mind won’t cut it. It all takes time, patience, and an understanding of your goals.

We’ve all seen ads online of projects being sold by the dozen—“Lost interest;” “No time, could use the money;” “My loss, your gain… need garage space.” The ever-so-common broken dream project that you thought would take one year is now going on its third, and it cost you a small fortune and at least one relationship.

My best advice for a first time project is start small, especially if you have a perfectly good car you want to tear apart. Nothing is worse than partially building a car that ran and drove until you touched it and are now selling it for a fraction of what you purchased it for. Instead, do small bolts-ons or visual modifications, and slowly move towards more time consuming projects. Complete your initial work before deciding to take on a “while I’m in here, might as well” type attitude. When you go down that rabbit hole, you will not come back.

Continue Reading

Can an O2 Sensor Cause a Misfire?

oxygen sensor engine misfire

My most recent automotive repair started where most do, the dreaded check engine light. In this specific case, my 2004 Nissan Titan was running a little rough and, to be completely honest, when the light came on, it wasn’t a huge surprise. What was a surprise was the number of fault codes the ECM (engine control module) threw. In total, my OBD reader found five fault codes.

The identified fault codes were:

  • P0300 – Cylinder Misfire Detected Random Cylinders
  • P1288 – Air Fuel Ratio Sensor 1 Circuit Slow Response Bank 2
  • P1289 – Cylinder Head Temperature Sensor
  • P1168 – Closed Loop Control Function Bank 2
  • P0430 – Catalyst System Efficiency below Threshold Bank 2

At this point I was a little overwhelmed. Typically if you have 1 or 2 faults codes show up, it can be easy to identify your issue but this was something different.  I had to make a decision: was I going to drop it off at the shop and spend hundreds of dollars just to have them tell me what’s wrong or dive in and try to figure it out myself? Seeing as it was winter here in new England and I didn’t have a garage to work in, sending it to the shop was very appealing, but I just couldn’t justify spending that kind of money on something I more than likely could do myself.

Continue Reading

Why Your Gas Mileage Gets Worse in Winter & What to Do About It

poor gas mileage in winter

Cold weather can take a real toll on your gas mileage.  As I pointed out in an earlier post about winter gas prices, gas companies sell a different fuel blend in the winter, which produces less power.  That’s not the whole story, though.  There are a number of other reasons why you have to gas up more once it gets cold out.

The Impact of Frigid Temperature on Your Auto

The first is that your engine has to work harder in the cold.  First of all, the oil that lubricates your engine gets thicker when it’s cold, which means there’s more friction on the moving engine parts.  You also probably use more electric accessories during the winter.  Think of your heating fan, lights, defrosters, windshield wipers, and all the other parts that draw on the battery.  You run a lot of these more often in the winter.  That drains the battery (which already drains more easily in cold conditions) and means the alternator has to work harder.

The grip of your tires also contributes to your fuel use.  As tires roll, they actually flex a bit to make a contact patch with the road.  That helps you get more grip.  Rubber gets stiffer in the cold, so it doesn’t flex as well.  That means they’ll have a smaller contact patch on the road and less grip.  That means you have to use more power just to get going.  If your wheels slip, then you’re really wasting power.  The engine’s pushing but you aren’t getting anywhere.

Continue Reading

Why do Car Batteries Die in Cold Weather?

cars covered in winter snow

Imagine this. It’s the coldest day all year.  You go out to start your car so it can warm up.  When you turn the key, maybe the starter runs for a couple seconds and quits.  Maybe it doesn’t even try at all.  If you live in a cold climate, this has probably happened to you.  Why do batteries go dead in cold weather?  Is it just bad luck?  Is the electricity frozen?  What’s going on?

As it turns out there are a number of factors that make winter especially tough on your car battery.  Batteries don’t discharge as well in cold weather, they don’t charge as well in the cold, and you probably put more demand on the battery in the winter.

The Science Behind Batteries Dying in the Cold

A car battery works through a chemical reaction.  There are plates of lead dioxide and plates of lead, immersed in sulphuric acid that’s diluted with water.  The sulphuric acid breaks up into hydrogen, with a positive charge (basically, it’s short an electron), and sulfate with a negative charge (it has extra electrons).  The hydrogen reacts with the lead dioxide and more sulphuric acid to form lead sulfate and water.  In that process it has to take on an electron to make up for the one the hydrogen was short of.

Continue Reading

Formula Drift: The Next King of the True Grassroots-Gone-Mainstream Motorsport

Ryan Tuerck’s Toyota FRS at NHMS
(Ryan Tuerck’s off season Toyota FRS at NHMS during an HIN event)

Drifting is an uprising motorsport that has grown enormously in the past five years – a sport that has made a handful of professional driver’s careers and furthered the reputation of others. Drifting has a large presence within the younger community, bringing regulated off-the-streets motorsports back into a common youth sport. The Formula Drift league has a firm grasp on its media presence, live-streaming current-season events, and threatening to take air time from other cable television motorsports.

You may be wondering why I call this the next true grassroots motorsport. Other basic motorsports, like autocross and drag racing, have always been open to the public; however, taking your car to the next level while feeling like you are competing at a near professional level without large brand funding has never felt farther away, at least until drifting gained traction. The use of mass production chassis and rules on suspension and drivetrain orientation make it seem like the car in your driveway has a chance against the pros’ cars. Don’t let this fool you, though. Major brands still back the budget on those big name, tire-shredding monsters you see on your screen during the season.

Continue Reading

What Does the Letter in General Motors’ Body Styles Mean?

GM X Body Style
General Motors X Body Style

General Motors uses letter codes to signify which chassis layout, or body type, the vehicle has. This is useful since GM consists of many different makes such as Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Buick, and Cadillac. Many of these brands share platform types with each other. It isn’t some secret, alphabetic code that GM fans are privileged to. It is really quite simple. Each platform has changed somewhat over the years so we’ll walk through them in more or less chronological order.

 

The Early Years

GM started with just four platforms: the A, B, C, and D bodies. In the beginning, A and B were both for full size cars. A body models included the Chevy Superior, the Oldsmobile 60, and most Pontiacs. The B Body was used for the Buick Century among others. GM decided it didn’t make sense to have two platforms for full size cars so the A body was discontinued and the B Body became the standard for full sized cars in 1959. GM continued to use the B body designation for full size, rear-wheel drive cars until 1996. The Chevy Bel Air, Buick LeSabre, Chevy Impala, and Pontiac Bonneville were all built on the B body platform in this era.

In 1931, GM Introduced the C body. The C body would continue as a long wheelbase RWD car until 1984. The C body was essentially a lengthened version of the B body. The Pontiac Torpedo, Buick LaSalle, and Oldsmobile 90 were built on this platform.

The D body was used from 1936 to 1996 for GM’s biggest cars, like the Cadillac Fleetwood Limo and the Buick Limited.

Continue Reading

How to Tear Down a VR6 Long Block Engine

This is a 12 valve 2.8L VR6 engine out of a 2001 Volkswagen Jetta. This engine can be particularly complicated to tear down due to the rear engine timing and the need of a few special tools. Having a rear timing camshaft makes for some difficulties when removing the lower timing cover. For this, there are stand adapters for the mounting points to be moved to the side of the engine instead of using transmission mounting points. In this article, we will be using a regular transmission mounting point.

Tools Required:

  • Basic Metric Socket Set
  • Large breaker bar
  • Impact gun for balancer bolt (optional)
  • 5mm Allen key
  • 6mm Allen key
  • 12mm deep triple square socket
  • 10mm triple square socket
  • 27mm Socket (For the timing chain tensioner & harmonic balancer bolt)
  • Dead blow hammer or rubber mallet
  • Permanent marker
  • Plastic zip lock bags of various sizes
  • Flat head screw driver

Step 1: Index, Tag, and Organize the Engine Parts

To start, you want to simply remove all accessories, pulleys, and other pieces to get the engine down to just the long block. Then drain all the fluids.

NOTE: The intake manifold uses a 5mm hex bolt (i.e. Allen head bolt). You will need a 5mm hex socket driver with extension or a long T-handle style hex driver to remove these.

Once your block is reduced to a long block, you are now ready to tear down your engine. Before writing this article I had already reduced this engine to a long block, so all photos were taken after that point.

Before you start unbolting things, most overhead camshaft engines will have a particular order for removing parts. It is not as simple as going from top to bottom. The first step is to get your permanent marker and plastic bags. The most important rule for an engine tear down is to index, bag, and tag everything you remove. This is particularly useful if you plan to re-assemble it in the future. This is also a good time to loosen your crank bolt with an impact gun. Having the resistance of the rotating assembly and valve train will aid in getting that bolt loose.

Step 2: Remove the Valve Cover

The front of the engine will have two long studs, and you will need a deep socket or an open-end wrench to loosen them. These VR6s have the plastic version of the valve cover and can be brittle depending on the engine’s age. Use a soft mallet to tap on corners of the cover in conjunction with plastic pry tools if needed.

Continue Reading