Archives : 2016 : October

The DIY Winter Car Repair and Maintenance Guide

October 31st, 2016

A few years ago, a bunch of DIY’ers were asked about how much they save by doing their own repairs. They told researchers they save hundreds or thousands of dollars each year on regular maintenance and car repairs. Not surprising! While some jobs are best left to professionals, there are certain things you don’t need to lean on the shop to do for you. However, trickier jobs that involve work on the engine, exhaust system, shocks or suspension might not be manageable without a lot of experience or a buddy you trust. Regardless of your experience level, we’re approaching the end of fall, which means this is a great time to learn a few tricks to get your car ready for the months ahead.

In 2014-15, the areas marked in red got pummeled by snow. Is your car ready for it?

In 2014-15, the areas marked in red got pummeled by snow. Is your car ready for it?

With true/meteorological winter about a month away, a lot of people will be flocking to their local auto shops for some basic tune-ups, fluid checks, brake/wheel work, etc. If you live in a warm-to-moderate climate, you may still face the occasional cold front or winter storm. Winter, as you know, is unpredictable. Case-in-point: the winter of 2014-15 produced an unprecedented weather report for the country, with the West experiencing unusually warm temperatures while the East got blasted by cold and snow. Parts of Southern Canada and the U.S. were hit by an ice storm that took out the power for hundreds of thousands of residents. The year before, most of the country found itself chilled at one point or another. Snow and freezing temperatures remain possible in Florida, Texas, California, etc. Therefore, we think winter car checks should be considered non-negotiable for just about everyone.

Even knocking off a few items on this list at will save hundreds in costs at the shop. While some definitely require more experience than others, here are a few basic home maintenance jobs and repairs that you can do yourself, just in time for winter.

His head is showing = get new tire

His head is showing = get new tire

Tires, tires, tires
Difficulty: Easy
We put tires first on this list because it affects most winter drivers—less so if you live in warm-weather states. In general, tire pressure drops 1 psi for every 10-degree drop in temperature. Because under-inflated tires heat up during use and put undue stress on the tire structure, visually inspect your tires whenever the temperature changes significantly. As a rule of thumb, take an official pressure reading at least once a month. If you notice the telltale bulging at the sides of the tire, the cold weather may be causing your tire to deflate. Inflating your tires isn’t really a “repair,” per se, but it’s necessary preventative care.

If you’ve been driving around on your tires for a while, and especially if they’ve been under or over-inflated for an extended period of time, the old penny trick is a good test for tire wear. If you stick a penny in the tire tread and can see all of Honest Abe’s head, your tread is worn and your tires won’t be reliable in adverse weather. All-weather or cold weather tires are always advised for the winter months ahead.

Air filters
Difficulty: Easy
When a mechanic changes your air filter, you’re paying a premium for cheap parts and easy labor that you can do yourself quickly and efficiently. Even if they tell you during a routine winter tune-up and inspection that your filters need to be changed, you’re not going to break your car by waiting a few days to order and install the part yourself. Tire and auto shops will often boast that they can change your air filters in less than 10 minutes. Sure, but so can you for about 10 dollars. This step-by-step guide on changing your air filter is useful, but don’t be intimidated if you don’t have compressed air. If you don’t have a ton of accumulation in your air filter housing, wiping it down or even washing it with soap and water will do the trick. Just make sure the filter housing is dry before putting it back in your car.

Oil change
Difficulty: Medium
This one has people split in terms of ease-of-handling. While vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler and Toyota Tacoma make the DIY experience a lot friendlier, Porsche, the Ford Fusion and a number of other muscle/sport cars (to reference a few) have reputations for being time-consumers when it comes to oil changes. There’s a nice thread on easy/difficult vehicles to do oil changes on that is especially useful if you’re looking for a good DIY car-buying guide. Generally, if you’re ready for a bit of a mess and have all the right materials, you’ll get through your oil change without much fuss. By the way, if you’re new to vehicular DIY jobs in general, consider a Wrangler for your first fixer-upper.

Your complete oil change assembly kit

Your complete oil change assembly kit

The downside to doing your own oil changes is that you might not save much buying your oil filter and oil, and for some people, it’s not worth the time and hassle. If you really don’t like the idea of doing your own oil, don’t fret. No one will blame you for outsourcing the work. Our advice: oil changes shouldn’t cost more than $40 – $70 (the upper range for high-performance synthetic oil), so be sure you don’t overpay if you get your oil changed at a shop.

Adding Coolant / Radiator flush
Difficulty: Medium
Adding coolant is easy: open the coolant reservoir cap when your car is off and cool, and pour in the coolant. We’ll get to the more involved radiator flush in a minute. Especially as winter approaches, everyone needs to make sure their coolant has the right mixture of antifreeze, but too much can cause problems with fluid circulation and over-heating. A 50/50 ratio of coolant-to-water is most common. Extreme cold weather may call for a 70/30 mixture, but the added antifreeze makes it more difficult for your engine to cool. Conversely, more water helps the engine cool but reduces vehicle efficiency in cold weather. Your engine sensors are likely calibrated to give readings at the 50/50 mixture, so don’t mess with that unless you contact your vehicle’s manufacturer and find out if it’s safe.

We’re rating the radiator flush “medium,” but that’s more due to safety precautions you need to take rather than the actual difficulty of the task at hand. Every couple of years, your radiator will need a good flushing. The process is similar to an oil change, in terms of the draining that takes place. Car and Driver put together a great video that covers the basics, but we have to say… if you’re putting out a DIY guide, safety first! He should be wearing gloves. And so should you, if you’re flushing your radiator.

Spark plugs
Difficulty: Easy
If you have two hands, 30 minutes, $50 and recently put another 30,000 miles on your vehicle, you qualify for a DIY spark plug change! (Note: some spark plugs are rated for more mileage.) The trickiest part about this job is that spark plugs need to be replaced in the right order. Only change one at a time, and reattach the wire to each before moving on to the next. This is one of those great repairs to do at home because of how easy it is and how cheap the parts are relative to what you’ll pay in a shop. Shops charge between $115 – $240, so it’s a real head-scratcher why people pay for something so cheap and easy to do themselves.

Brake pads
Difficulty: Medium – Hard
This is the most difficult DIY cost-saver on our list because a lot can go wrong if you don’t know what you’re doing. There are more steps involved, including jacks and stands or a car lift. Brake pad changes require a serious understanding of your vehicle. You need to be able to look at your brake rotors and see if they need a resurfacing, which requires a professional brake lathe machine. Of course, you could always buy new rotors at $25 – $40 per rotor, which isn’t terribly expensive. The steps involved in this repair take the lingo to the next level, so if a phrase such as, “Compress the brake piston. Get out your C-clamp and put the end with the screw on it against the piston with the other end on the back of the caliper assembly,” has you flummoxed, don’t even bother. Take your brakes to the shop. With the money you saved doing the other repairs on this list, you’ll still be looking at one of the lowest repair totals of your driving life. Still, brake pads are not too difficult once you know what you’re doing, and you’ll save a lot of money changing them on your own; put this on your personal to-do list and set a goal, something like, “By next Christmas, I’ll be able to change my own brake pads.”

If you have questions or an article you’d like to see, drop us a comment! In the meantime, check out our shop equipment if you’re getting serious about taking your DIY skills to the next level or want to expand your shop’s capabilities with the best auto service equipment in the business.

How Can I Avoid Fees for Used Oil and Filter Disposal?

October 27th, 2016

If you want to skip this article and read the official government code, Title 40, Chapter I, Subchapter I, Part 279, you’ll learn everything there is to know about used oil disposal and recycling. For the rest of us, this article will serve as a brief guide to what you need to know about disposing of used oil and oil filters.

The oil change “discount”
saleMaybe you’ve had this happen to you: a sign is plastered outside your local quick-lube service: “Half off your next oil change!”—a seemingly great deal. You take in your car, stand in line in the lobby area and eyeball the chemically enhanced air fresheners that never actually smell like “New Car.” (What is that smell, anyway?) Finally, they ring up your tab, and it’s at least twice what you expected to pay. You smile knowingly and say, “Sorry, I think you forgot to add my coupon.” The guy behind the counter looks over his glasses and says, “Nope, that’s right.” Maybe he kindly explains that the hidden fees are related to waste disposal efforts for used oil. Maybe he just burps and blows bubbles with his gum.

Much to some people’s surprise, the fine print on certain so-called coupons and discounts on oil changes comes with baggage in form of extra fees. Most of these fees go toward the disposal of used oil. It’s not uncommon for half the cost of every oil change to be a cost-share with the business to cover EPA and state disposal fees.

Why are there fees?
Regulatory fees are in place to protect the environment and ensure bad stuff doesn’t get into our water, land, air, etc. To put things into perspective, the used oil from your last oil change is enough to contaminate one million gallons of water. Yikes! Now, it’s not BendPak’s official stance to get you riled up about the costs of doing business, because frankly there’s a way to turn all these regulations to your advantage and make a profit. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Government agencies consider free-flowing oil to be hazardous waste
PENTAX ImageIn addition to federal EPA regulations, individual states can craft their own laws around waste disposal. California has recently tightened its shop oil regulations, and by “tightened” we mean imposed more punitive fees for businesses that improperly try to dispose of waste oil products.

Effective October 2016 (hey, that means the laws are in effect now), any oil filters that the government collects that have not been crushed, punctured and/or drained of oil will be subject to additional charges and fees than days past. Not only that, the government reserves the right to change a business’s generator status from “small quantity” to “large quantity,” which means heavier regulations and fees on top of heavier regulations and fees for all future filter disposals. Double yikes! It’s not just California: all 50 states have evolving laws around this. Fortunately, when oil filters are crushed and their oil is removed, you wind up with two items to recycle and/or re-purpose, often at a profit: the filters and the oil.

DIY’ers rejoice
walmartWhile it’s mainly the shops that stand to benefit financially for oil and filter recycling, individual DIY’ers need not worry about being fined for doing their own oil changes. In fact, stores like Wal-Mart, as well as most auto shops, will take your unwanted oil waste off your hands free of charge. Auto shops may be especially keen on this, as the collected oil can be re-purposed in different ways. Some shops keep their oil in-house and use it to power waste oil heating devices.

Oil filter crushers solve every business’s problem
If your shop regularly works with oil waste, there’s no reason not to have an oil filter crusher. We at BendPak / Ranger make a particularly good one with the RP-50FC Oil Filter Crusher. The most important feature of any crusher is how much oil it removes as it flattens the filters. The RP-50FC, for instance, efficiently removes 95% of residual oil. If you already have an oil filter crusher that doesn’t get the oil out to your state and federal governments’ complete satisfaction, you’re going to get fined, and your crusher will become a useless expenditure against your bottom line. As you should already know, the government will show no leniency when it comes to fee collection.

When oil filters are recycled, they are no longer considered hazardous waste. Steel producers will gladly re-purpose them as scrap feed. The waste oil itself can be re-purposed or re-refined into usable oil, avoiding hazardous waste fees, as well as the higher costs of constantly buying virgin oil. Some shops efficiently re-refine the same oil over and over again. There’s no limit on how many times oil can be re-refined, and re-refined oil is just as good as virgin oil.

When all is said and done, with an oil filter crusher, you no longer have to worry about paying exorbitant disposal fees. You’ll also be able to offer more competitive price points and draw a better profit from your customers because you won’t be paying half your profit to the government. So fret not, oil shops and DIY’ers. With the right attitude and plan in place, you’ll never have to pay hazardous waste disposal fees again. Cheers to that!

The Worst Car Lifts Ever Built

October 7th, 2016

We searched the Internet to find the worst car lifts ever built, and they come from all over this great nation of ours. Seriously, folks. Buy a real car lift before you attempt to replicate any of these hilarious-yet-stupid makeshift heaps of beautiful junk.

1. 101 Ways to Use a Lead Pipe You Found Sticking out of the Ground
Keep an eye on the back-right chassis corner when he lifts it up. It totally doesn’t scare us one bit.

2. Do Away with Pesky One-Touch Button Controls
Ancient man probably lifted his chariots this way. Ancient man also had a life expectancy of 35 years.

block-lift

3. “I’m Not Saying It FELL… I Feel Like You Aren’t Listening.”
We shared this photo with our engineers, sales team and customer service reps, and no one is in total agreement on this one. Is it Photoshopped? Is the bed supposed to be… bolted on? Someone help us out here.

broken-lift

4. But… they said I should use frame cradle pads on my truck!

We’re all about the frame cradle pads. But, did we say smash them against the vehicle chassis, nowhere near the lifting point, without using the necessary truck adapter set? How long do you think it took for them to go from “well, it’s still crushing the frame, better lift it higher,” to whatever the opposite of that thought is?

lift-points

5. “Honey, Your Car is on the Fritz Again. Grab my Log. And my Really Big Stick. And My Tractor. No, the other Tractor.” 

We’ve probably said all we need to say.

log-lift

6. Just in Time for Halloween

This looks like something you’d see in a zombie movie when they try to rebuild society using PVC pipe and duct tape. Someone get this guy a scissor lift, please.

pipe-lift

7. Caught Playing Transformers on the Side of the Road

Never mind that the truck is perfectly capable of towing the car. Ignore the incredibly unsafe center of gravity this rig creates. Forget about the immense effort, timing and planning it must have taken to get it up there in the first place. Let us focus on the achievement. Let us argue over whether they called the police or got pulled over. And yes, let us remember the time two grown men tried to make a real-life Transformer out of their cars. In the rain. We give thanks to the person who pulled over to capture this moment.

roadside

8. 50% Ramps, 5% Blood Alcohol, 100% Worst Car Lift Ever Built

We’re not saying it’s Redneck. Someone else said that.

This link will take you to a place where you can rest your eyes. If you have more crazy car lifts that you think represent the worst ever built, share them with us, and we’ll all have a laugh.

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