Wednesday, December 31, 2008

How to Change Your Own Oil

Changing your own oil is a task that everyone from a 16 year old guy to a 55 year old housewife can learn how to do on their own. The truth is, changing your own oil takes about 20 minutes for the average person to do, where as you will spend around 3 times as much as that driving to the shop, waiting for it to get done, and driving back home!

Not to mention the money you save. Not only do you have to buy the oil and the filter itself, but you obviously have to pay the shop to do it for you! Changing your own oil costs around $11 for the oil and $3.50 for the filter. How much did you pay the last time the shop did it for you?

Here's how to change your own oil right in your own garage. Anyone can do it!

1. Jack the front end of the car up and place it on jack stands. Never support the car using only the jack itself, as this is a very dangerous maneuver. Depending on the height of your car (and, um, the thickness of you), you may be able to crawl under the front of the car far enough to change the oil without jacking the car up.

2. Place a drain pan under the car - this can be anything that catches oil, such a commercial oil catcher or simply a plastic container.

3. Remove the plug on the oil pan. If the car is hot, make sure it has cooled down at least 30 minutes before changing the oil to reduce the chance of a burn. Oil will now flow quickly from the engine into the container, so be ready with the pain under the plug when you remove it. Remove the oil fill cap to relieve pressure and increase the flow of oil.

4. Remove the oil filter. Make sure the gasket from the old filter is still on the filter itself, and did not become attached to the engine.

5. Spread a small amount of new motor oil across the gasket of the new filter to ensure a secure seal, and screw it into place. Tighten as far as you can by hand, but do not use an oil filter wrench. Hand tightening is sufficient.

6. Replace the oil filter plug on the bottom of the engine, and securely tighten it using a wrench. Make sure it is secure enough that it will not come out down the road.

7. Fill the oil reservoir with the appropriate amount of oil. Consult your owners manual for this vital detail. Most vehicles will take either 4, 4 1/2 or 5 quarts of oil. If you intend to know how to change your own oil, you need to know how to do it right. Too much oil or too little oil can cause irreversible damage to your engine. Replace the oil fill cap.

There you go! You're a pro! You can now change your own oil without needing the shop to do it for you.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

How to Make Paint Shine

So, you've always wanted super shiny paint that looks better-than new. Of course, this is somewhat hard to achieve using regular techniques. To get the perfect showroom shine, you need to employ techniques that professional detailers use. Though this may seem like a complicated process at first, it can be broken down into several simple steps.

1. Clean the paint. This is done by a thorough hand washing of the car using soap, water, and then clean towels to dry the paint.

2. Decontaminate the paint using a claybar. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for this process.

3. Polish the paint using a random orbital (Porter Cable) or rotary buffer and an abrasive polish.

4. Top the paint off with a high quality wax. Natural carnubas give the paint a rich, warm glow, but synthetics provide better protection and a more "wet" look.

5. Don't forget the finishing touches. Dress the tires, clean the glass, scrub the wheels, and dress the trim for a finished look.

There you go, you've got a showroom perfect paint job! Now, just touch it up in between details with a hand wash or a simple spray-and-wipe quick detailer, and you're good to go!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bridgestone Blizzak Run Flats

I was searching through the garage the other day, and found my set of Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires. I'm going to get them mounted here in a couple of days, and was looking on Tirerack at the specifics. Well, it turns out Bridgestone now makes a run-flat version of this tire. You can drive up to 50 miles at 50 miles an hour after getting a flat due to its self-supporting architecture.

No more standing on the side of the road in the freezing cold 4 degree morning at 6:00 AM before the sun has risen with 22 mile-per-hour winds trying to pry off your old tire, when you forgot to bring a jacket that day. Ask me how I know. The other day when one of my trusty old Goodyear Eagle F1's blew out, that's exactly what happened. Oh well, I guess it's time to switch over to the snow tires anyway. It must be a sign that I should go ahead and do it.

Remember, even if you have the best winter tires in the world, nothing compares to safe driving and judgment. When you hit a patch of ice, no fancy tread pattern or rubber composition can save you.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Driving an Expensive Car on the Cheap

So you want to drive a nice, luxurious or sporty car, but don't want to pay the high prices associated with one? Well, join the club! Most people feel this way. But apparently people don't feel strongly enough about this subject, since the average Joe who wants a Corvette settles for a Cavalier.

Well, there is one way to have your cake at eat it too! Some nice cars can be had slightly used for pennies on the dollar if you know whee to look. For example, take the Cadillac CTS-V. This is their regular flagship CTS, loaded with leather seats standard, and (depending on the model year) the high-performance 400 hp LS2 V8 that's used in the new Corvettes, or the 405 hp LS6 engine from the C5 generation Z06 'Vette.

The only option is a 6 speed transmission, and that's the T-56 - the very transmission used by the Dodge Viper, the Z06, and the SVT Cobra. This powerful transmission delivers earth-shattering performance through the rear tires.

These cars can be had for around $20k to $22k on eBay for a gently used model.

Another great example is the Porsche Boxter. A late-model design may scream baller status, but they also go for around $20k buy-it-now on eBay!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Buying a Used Car at an Auction

The basis of a used car auction is pretty easy to understand: Companies, organizations, government branches, and car dealerships all take bulk amounts of cars they want to get rid of, and auction them off to the highest bidding customer.

Of course, one of the best known car auctions is eBay. You can bid on vehicles across the globe, and steal them away for a fraction of what they would cost at a dealership.

Most cars found at auctions are the result of people wanting to get rid of them fast - which usually means they are willing to sacrifice some profit for you to take them away quickly.

The downside - it's not like buying one at a dealership. You might not be able to get a test drive or thoroughly inspect the car before making a bid. You should at least get to take a look at the car and make sure it runs though, most places will have no problem allowing that.

When purchasing a used car at a car auction, you'll need to bring multiple forms of identification - one of which should be your drivers license. Also, you'll be paying right then and there, so you'll need the money on you to pay for the car and walk away. It's not like a dealership where you can use their in-house financing services.

Since you won't have a lot of time to look over the car, it helps to be knowledgeable about automobiles and mechanics. If you're not, be sure to bring someone along who is. If possible, run a Carfax on the car in question before buying. This ensures the car was never in an accident, flooded, or rebuilt.

Finally, make sure you don't get into a bidding war. Too many people get "into the moment" and pay much more money than they ever would if they had time to think it over.

Automaker Bailout - Is it a good idea?

Well, things have gotten bad it seems. GM, Chrysler and Ford are all in trouble. The CEO's of each (and most head executives) have agreed to work for a $1 per year salary if a bailout passes. Yes, a CEO isn't being money grubbing - I'm not quite sure what's wrong with the world either. They also all sold their private jets and are driving hybrids on road-trips instead.

But the question of most debate has been this - is a massive, multi-billion dollar automaker bailout something we should consider?

Well, I'm just one guy, but I think so. Remember that 700 billion dollar bailout that passed? What exactly has that done? They only want roughly 30 billion dollars. The big 3 tanking would make a huge difference. Imagine all the cars on the road that wouldn't exist if it wasn't for them. We'd all be driving little Japanese cars or something.

One of the things they should consider fixing is their worker's pay. Many people are getting paid $45 or $50 per HOUR just to stand there screwing bumpers into place, or working a paint gun. These are jobs a kid at $10 an hour could do without screwing up.

The only reason they are paid so much is the United Auto Workers union. Instead of laying people off, pay the people what they are worth, and if they won't do it - find someone else who will. Doing away with the union will save more money than anything suggested so far, and will make times much less harder on the big three.

At the end of the day though, if we don't see a car company bailout, things may change greatly.

Synthetic Oil vs Regular Oil

Well, we all know what the ads say, but advertisements really can't give you honest information since they are biased by design. When looking at synthetic oil vs regular oil, it's important to look at it from a scientific angle.

Synthetic oils such as Royal Purple, Mobile 1, or Pennzoil synthetic are considered premium brands. They also cost a lot more than dino oils. So what's the difference?

Well, synthetics take a lot longer to break down. Though they might cost more, you can go up to 8,000 or 10,000 miles between oil changes - compared with the 3,000 to 6,000 miles you can get by on using normal oil.

They also provide more power (cue Tim Taylor grunt here), since you have reduced internal friction. As you may have guessed, this also results in improved MPG.

So is it worth it? Yes, but studies haven't shown a whole lot of difference between brands. Cheap synthetic oil is probably the best of both worlds.

Don't forget your filter either. Whatever you do, don't buy Fram filters. You also don't need to spend $15 on one, but just purchase a middle-of-the-road item that seems to be of high quality and has positive reviews.

Buying a fast car VS. Making a good car fast for cheaper

Let's jump right in. Take the Corvette Z06 for example. Sure, it has some more aggressive styling, but at the end of the day, it has 100 extra horse power and a little better handling and braking than the base model Corvette. The price difference? About $25,000.

An E46 BMW M3 has 333 hp from it's inline 6 cylinder engine. A 330i has 235 hp, but a used one can be picked up for about $15k from a site like ebay. An M3 in the same condition? $30-$35 thousand dollars.

Now, a 3 series will never be an M3 - lets just put that on the table right now. But - you can buy a 3 series, make a few grand worth of improvements, and have a car with many of the same features, a similar look, and similar performance for tens of thousands of dollars less.

The same thing goes for the Corvette. A simple head and cam swap on on a base model C6 will make MORE power than the Z06. The suspension and brakes can be upgraded as well, and it'll cost a lot less than a brand new Corvette!

Monday, December 08, 2008

SVT Focus Timing Belt

Just a reminder for those of you who drive an SVT Focus (or any performance-oriented car with an interference engine): Replace your timing belt early, and often. Though Ford says to replace it at 120k in the manuals, they were obviously drunk, high, or hung-over when they wrote that. Many have had them break with only 80k miles on them, so 60k is the recommended guideline. Whatever you do, try not to let it go over 60,000 miles.

Why? Because in an interference engine (most cars are non-interference), when the belt breaks, the valves are allowed to hit the cylinders - and they collide at full force, causing massive amounts of damage.

More bad news, on an SVT Focus, the timing belt can be very complicated to change, and only qualified Ford mechanics should tackle it. More bad news, it's going to cost between $400 and $600+ to get it done. You should probably change your water pump, and belt tensioner while you're at it, so there's some more change out of your pocket.

Welcome to the world of owning nice things. The non-sport, regular version of the Focus really doesn't need a belt change until 120k, costs less to get done, is much simpler in design, and won't cause any engine damage if it breaks (you'll just be left stranded on the side of the road). It also takes premium octane fuel instead of regular (about 30 cents more per gallon at most places), gets poor mileage for a 4 cylinder, and has more problems.

But is it worth it? Ask any SVTF owner, and they will tell you "absolutely" with a huge smile on their face! :)