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What Bats Have to Do With Your Car’s Parking Sensor

Parallel parking has long been one of the more frustrating aspects of driving a car. With the advent of parking sensors in the early 2000s, however, the job got a lot easier. No longer are drivers forced to twist their necks and make an educated guess at the distance between them and the car or wall behind them.

Countless bumpers have been saved over the last decade and a half since the parking sensor went mainstream, but how do they work?


The answer has something to do with bats.

The Ultrasonic Parking Sensor



It is common for engineers to look to nature for inspiration. Velcro, for example, was invented when a Swiss engineer took a closer look at the seeds of a burdock plant, known around our way as “hitchhikers.” He noticed the hook structure and then replicated it using nylon to create what we know today as Velcro.

So, when engineers were trying to develop a system that would help drivers locate something they can’t see, like the front bumper of a car behind them, they looked to an animal that needs to navigate without the benefit of sight–the bat.

Bats use a system called echolocation to navigate their worlds, since they are effectively blind and often move around in the dark. They emit high-frequency sounds and then use the time it takes to reverberate back into their ears to determine how far away they are from an obstacle.

Ultrasonic parking sensors work in almost exactly the same way. They emit high-frequency sound waves which are inaudible to the human ear. Then, a sensor detects how quickly those waves take to get back to the car. It also detects any changes in the sound wave. The sensor then triggers an audible alarm to alert the driver to the distance.

The Electromagnetic Parking Sensor


More and more, manufacturers are moving to electromagnetic parking sensors. They are not dissimilar to ultrasonic sensors, but they emit electromagnetic waves rather than sound waves. This has an advantage over ultrasonic sensors in that they can better moving objects–an important feature for backing out of parking spaces in bigger lots where cars may suddenly appear behind you.

What Does the Future Hold?



The future of parking–and really of all driving–is full automation. Already vehicles like BMW’s i3 feature fully-automated parking, with 360-degree cameras, sensors, and even lasers that guide the vehicle into a parking space.

As we move towards self-driving cars, however, parking will become fully automated. Beyond that, it may become a thing of the past altogether. Some futurists believe that once cars become fully automated we may move away from private ownership and towards an on-demand model. Imagine that all cars were Ubers and far less expensive. Since they would continually drive around picking up passengers and taking them to their destination, there would be no need to park at all except to refuel or recharge. So many exciting possibilities.

For more car knowledge, stay tuned to the Strutmasters blog.

Clever Car Cleaning Hacks You Need In Your Life

Keeping your car clean doesn’t just keep it looking nice, it protects your paint and interior, helping it hold its value.

The car cleaning industry is huge. There are thousands upon thousands of products made especially for car care and you can spend limitless amounts of money on them. But at Strutmasters we are all about saving our customers time and money with the right solutions. So, without further ado, here are some of our favorite family car care secrets.

The power of WD-40



A wise man once said that one only needs two tools in their toolbox, WD-40 and duct tape. If it doesn’t move and it should, use WD-40. If it moves and it shouldn’t, use duct tape.

Now that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but WD-40 is some pretty useful stuff. But did you know it makes an excellent cleaning solvent?

Though it’s exact composition is a closely-guarded secret, WD-40 is mineral oil-based. Mineral oil is a common ingredient in many household cleaners for things like wood or metals. This is because it keeps these surfaces moisturized, reducing how abrasive the other ingredients in the cleaner are.

You can use WD-40 to clean almost any hard surface in your car. It works great on plastic, vinyl or even leather. You can even use it on your car’s exterior because it doesn’t strip paint.

So go ahead and stock up on those blue cans. Now you know even more uses for that miracle stuff.

Finally get those cupholders clean



Nasty, grubby cupholders. Everyone has them. Whether it’s coffee or Mountain Dew you’re spilling, it always ends up getting gummy, gross and hard to clean.

Fear not! This tried and true method makes cleaning them easier than ever.


Simply take an old sock and put it around the bottom of a glass or mug that fits in your cup holder. Then, apply something like Goo Gone or the aforementioned WD-40 to the sock. Set the sock and cup down into the cupholder and twist it around a few times.


Now your cupholders are ready for their next spills!

Cleaning headlamps with toothpaste



At your local superstore or auto parts store you’ll see any number of “headlight restoration kits.” These definitely work but they also definitely cost way more than you need to spend.

Simply take an old rag–terry cloth rags work the best because they are mildly abrasive–and apply a large dab of toothpaste. Scrub the toothpaste onto the headlights, using a little muscle and a circular motion.

Allow the toothpaste to sit on the headlights for a few minutes. Then, use some warm water and a clean rag to wipe it off. Repeat if necessary and save yourself from spending money on one of those fancy headlight restoration kits.



Removing pet evidence



We love our furry friends. Life is just better with them. However, we’re not as in love with the things they leave behind in our car, namely their odor and their hair.

While there are lots of companies who will gladly sell you specialty products, you can take care of both of these issues with things you may already have.

Before you do anything, give your upholstery a once-over with a vacuum. If you don’t have a a battery-powered vacuum for your car, or one that can be plugged into your car’s power adapter, consider it. They’re not very expensive and often small enough to just stow away under the seat or in the corner of the trunk.

To get rid of pet odors from your upholstery, you’ll need to dip into your liquor cabinet. Not for a drink, mind you, but to act as a solvent for cleaning. Fill a spray bottle with three parts water to one part vodka.

Open all the doors of the car and spray the seats with the solution. Next, while it’s still damp, use a squeegee like you’d use on your windshield, and press down into the cushion dragging the squeegee along. This will roll the pet hair up into a little ball.

Afterwards, vacuum the upholstery again. You may need to repeat this once or twice.

Be sure to let your car air out sufficiently before driving, as having it reek of alcohol will probably get you the wrong type of attention from the authorities should you be pulled over.



Find more money-saving car care tips like these on the Strutmasters blog.

The Motor Oil FAQs – Everything You Wanted to Know But Were Afraid to Ask

At some point while learning to drive, you certainly had the importance of your car’s motor oil drilled into your head.

These days, between digital monitoring systems, computer records at your mechanic and the extended life of advanced oils, it’s not something we think about regularly anymore. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t good to be up to snuff on some good general knowledge.

Here is a list of FAQs about motor oil:

Q: How can I tell if my motor oil is still good?

Many modern vehicles have monitoring systems in place that tell you when the oil needs changing. However, it’s always good to know how to check these things yourself. Every vehicle will still have a dipstick that you can use to check the oil level and quality.

Pull the dipstick out and look for the fill line. The oil will leave residue to indicate whether it is full enough (or too full!). You can check the quality of the oil by looking at the color and feeling it. Healthy oil will be a clear reddish gold and feel smooth. Oil that needs changing will be darker brown to black and feel grainy to the touch.

Q: Should I be worried if my oil is black?

While it’s probably time for an oil change, this isn’t something to panic about. Black engine oil just means that it is doing what it is designed to do–keep your engine components lubed and clean.

However, just as you wouldn’t want to wash dishes with dirty water, dirty oil won’t do as good of a job as clean oil.

Q: How often should I change my oil?

The answer used to be pretty standard–every 3,000 miles. Over the last few decades, though, advances in engine and oil technology has changed that.

Depending on your car and the type of oil you are buying, you can now go 5,000 to even 15,000 miles without an oil change. The packaging on the oil you buy and your owner’s manual should provide all the answers you need about suggested timing.

There is no replacement for regular observation and maintenance, however. Changes in seasons or road conditions may significantly shorten the lifespan of certain motor oils. Be sure to check your own oil regularly.

Q: Can I change my own oil at home?

Yes! A thousand times yes! It wasn’t that long ago that it was common for people to change their own oil. It is some of the most basic, regular maintenance you can do and it will bring you closer to your vehicle.

If you are generally handy and have a few tools, the job shouldn’t take you more than an hour. Just be careful to make sure you are using the correct oil for your car (consult your owner’s manual), you’re not cross-threading any parts when replacing them, and that you follow all state and local laws regarding disposal of the old oil.

All that said, it is also relatively inexpensive to get an oil change these days. There is never a bad time to check in with your mechanic and ask him to look over your car. An oil change is a great opportunity to ask while they’ve already got the hood open.


Q: Does motor oil in the bottle go bad?

The short answer is “yes, but it probably hasn’t.”

Engine oil typically has a shelf life of up to five years. In all honesty, it can probably go much longer than that. If the bottle is stored in extreme temperatures or extreme humidity, it may experience a noticeable drop in quality.

A good rule of thumb is that if you remember buying the oil, it’s probably still fine. Most bottles have a “best if used by” date stamp on them, too.

Q: Where should I get my oil changed?

If you’ve decided to get your oil changed by a professional, you can choose pretty much anywhere that does any kind of car service. There are several chains that offer quick walk-in oil change services. These are mostly very professional and inexpensive.

You may want to consider going to a local mechanic or your dealer’s service shop. The oil change is a great opportunity to look over the car since you’ve already got the car in the repair bay. The better your mechanic knows you and your vehicle, the better they can serve you and help save you money in the long run.

For more car care tips and knowledge, visit the Strutmasters blog.

Be Prepared: Pack the Ultimate Road Trip Kit

With the frost finally lifting for the season it’s time to get out and see the country. There is no more iconic way to explore this beautiful land than the classic American road trip. With a national network of scenic highways and byways, the journey is often also the destination.

The road is a great place to travel but a pretty awful place to run into problems. A well-prepared emergency kit can help keep you and your passengers safe and headed towards your destination. Here are some of the essentials you should pack for your trip:

First Aid kit
A basic First Aid kit can be found at pretty much any convenience store or supermarket. Make sure to have at least bandages, sterile gauze, and rubbing alcohol.

 

Basic tool kit
Pack pliers, screwdrivers to fit all the screw heads used in your car, an adjustable wrench and some sort of sharp blade.

Blankets
The “space blankets” used by emergency response teams are great because they pack down small and work really well to hold in heat.

Jumper cables
Even better, you can now buy rechargeable lithium-ion batteries with jumper cables. Charged properly, you should be able to jump your car without another vehicle. These batteries can also charge your other devices.

Motor oil
Bring at least a quart of motor oil in case you need to top up.

Coolant
Especially if you are driving long stretches of desert highway or other hot, dry areas. Bring at least a gallon just in case.

Tire sealant
Fix-a-Flat and other brands of emergency tire sealant can be a lifesaver. Flat tires are the number one reason for roadside assistance calls. Many of these flats can be fixed with these tire repair kits.

Food and water
Pack at least two bottles of water for each person in the car. Make sure to pack nutrient and calorie-dense food that doesn’t spoil easy, like granola or fitness bars.

 

Pen and paper
You may need to write down a phone number or something else when your phone’s battery life is at a premium. Writing things down on paper ensures you’ll have that information when you need it.

 

Most car manufacturers offer their own roadside assistance programs these days which you can purchase from the dealer. There are also third-party options like AAA. These services are always worth the money. They are often less than $100 per year. If you need towing even once during the year, it pays for itself. Plus, it is hard to put a price on peace of mind.

With tips like these and others you’ll find on the Strutmasters blog, you’ll be sure to have a safe, happy and fun road trip season.

How to Choose the Right Battery For Your Car

You go out to your car in the morning, cup of coffee in hand, ready to conquer the day. You put the key in the ignition and…nothing. Maybe a little whine. Maybe a rather pathetic attempt to turn over. Maybe just the indicator lights coming on.

Your battery is dead. Time to replace it, probably.

Not all car batteries are created equal. Here are a few steps to determining first, whether you need a new battery and if so, choosing the best possible option for your car.

1. Test your current battery



You may not actually need a new battery just yet. There are many reasons why your current one wouldn’t respond while it still has plenty of “juice” left in it. Maybe there’s a loose connection. Maybe it just powered down because a cabin light or headlight was left on and it just needs a jump.

Most auto parts stores offer free battery testing, but that does you very little good if you’re stuck with a car that won’t start. These days, battery testing gizmos are readily and cheaply available. It’s one of those things that’s just good to keep around, especially if your car or battery is getting on in years.

If your battery tester tells you it’s time for a new one, move on to step two.

2. Get your numbers correct



There are a vast number of different batteries made to fit different cars. Some are more standard than others.

The battery itself should display the size and voltage, but your best bet is to consult your owner’s manual. If you don’t have your owner’s manual, a quick search of your vehicle’s make and model should tell you what you need. Likewise, many auto parts stores have a digital and print catalog of what parts fit your specific car.

Note that sometimes different engine sizes in the same line of models use different batteries. Make sure that you buy the correct one for your vehicle. The wrong size or voltage can fry your vehicle’s electronics, which would cost you a lot more than just a new battery to repair.

3. Do your research



With search engines and infinite information at our fingertips, there is no excuse not to do your research these days. Try entering “best battery for [make, model, year]” into your favorite search engine and see what pops up.

Beware that much of the content online, especially around consumer products, is sponsored. Make sure to get a second opinion from someone who isn’t trying to sell you something. Ask your mechanic what they would use, or hit online forums dedicated to owners of cars like yours.

The right battery will last significantly longer than one that is made of cheaper materials, so consider whether it’s more economical to buy a cheaper one now that you may have to replace 2-3 years earlier than one that is more expensive.

4. Warranties are good



Many batteries carry a warranty. These often vary in length. Consider buying the battery with the longest warranty if they are relatively the same in other factors. This will ensure that if anything happens, you won’t be stuck shelling out another $100-$200 sooner than expected.

5. Replace it (correctly)


Replacing a car battery yourself is one of the easier DIY auto repair tasks. If you know how to take off and put on the terminals, you can replace a battery.

Note that batteries are far, far heavier than they appear. Be prepared to lift about 10-15 pounds without a very secure grip. Always wear gloves.

It is highly advisable to clean the area around the battery thoroughly while you have the space to do so. In most cases, a simple wipe-down with a clean rag will get all the grease and grime from around the housing. This will help keep the new terminals clean and the connection solid.

Here’s a short video to help you if you want to try and install it yourself:


The install is also a quick and easy job for a mechanic, and you shouldn’t have to pay for more than half an hour of labor to do so. Consider going to a mechanic and having them look over the car while you’re there.

 


Maintaining your car’s battery is essential to keeping its electronic system healthy. It is always better to replace it before it needs a new one than after. Keeping a strong, healthy battery in your car will bring you peace of mind and ensure that you make it where you need to be on time–no morning surprises!



For more car care advice and maintenance tips, check out the Strutmasters blog.

Is Your Oil Leaking? 6 Easy Ways to Tell

Proper oil quality and oil levels are essential to a healthy engine. Leaking oil not only causes a series of immediate issues like overheating, it can cause serious irreparable damage to your engine and other components if left untreated.

If oil leaks are spotted early on, they can usually be treated easily and relatively cheaply. If you think the oil in your car may be leaking, look for these tell-tale signs before taking your car in to the shop.

1. The unmistakable burning oil smell



Even before a leak may be visible, small amounts that touch hot components will burn. While you may not immediately see smoke, the smell is unmistakable. It is a distinctly acrid, industrial smell.

2. Snap, crackle and pop



If oil is leaking onto hot components, you may also hear what sounds like something being fried. Just like when something is dropped into a hot panl, when your engine oil leaks onto hot parts it reacts with dirt and debris and sizzles. This sound indicates a likely leak.

3. Smoke from under the hood



If a larger amount of oil is leaking and burning, you will see visible smoke coming from under the hood. Not only does this suggest a leak, it can also rapidly deteriorate other components in the vehicle. If you see smoke coming from your vehicle’s engine, get it checked by a professional immediately.

4. Slicks under your vehicle



Due to condensation and a few other things, your car will occasionally “leak” onto a driveway or parking place. This can make it difficult to detect when your car may be leaking oil, rather than simply shedding water.

Unlike water, oil will leave a stain on whatever surface it sits on. Check to see if the puddle under your car evaporates or if it leaves a brownish or yellowish stain. You may even want to slide a piece of cardboard under your vehicle to get a sample you can inspect more closely.

5. Running hot



The engine oil in your car keeps friction down. This keeps the engine from overheating. If there is a significant leak and your level and pressure are low, this will cause friction and heat to build up in the engine. Keep an eye on the engine thermometer on the dash panel. If your engine is running hot, it is possible you have a leak.

6. Indicator light



Your dash panel also features an indicator light (and perhaps something more detailed than that). When this light illuminates it indicates that something is wrong with the level or pressure. Do not ignore it. Sometimes driving the car up or down a steep hill might cause it to misread the amount, in which case the light would go back off once the car levels out. If the light comes on and stays on, take it in.

 



While one of these symptoms alone does not necessarily mean you have an oil leak, several of them together means one is likely.

An oil leak is a serious problem because it can wreak havoc on an engine. While the leak itself is mostly just an annoyance, your car needs it to function. If you ignore the problem long enough, you risk serious and expensive engine damage. Don’t mess around. Take it in, or if you’re handy enough, look for it and fix it yourself.

For more car care tips and maintenance help, check out the Strutmasters blog.

How to Clean Foggy Headlights


So your headlights aren’t as bright and perky as they once were. It happens to all of us.

Years of grit, grime and ultraviolet light have rendered your once gleaming headlights hazy and dull. You could make a trip to the store and spend $15-$25 for a “headlight cleaning kit,” or you could stay right at home and make them shine using things you already have around the house.

Just follow this quick and easy guide to get those headlights beaming bright again!

What you’ll need:

  • “Regular” baking soda-based toothpaste. Avoid anything with beads, mini breath strips or other debris in them as they’ll scratch up your lights.
  • Toothbrush
  • Cloth or old t-shirt
  • Bucket of water
  • Sponge

How to do it:



Put a healthy squeeze of toothpaste onto your cloth. Use the cloth to smear a layer of toothpaste over the surface of the lens. Let it sit for 15 minutes.

Use a toothbrush to scrub the lens using a tight, circular motion. You should start to notice the lens clearing up at that spot. Use a little “umph” to get it completely clear.

Once you’ve gotten the entire lens surface, use a sponge and clean water to gently clean away the remaining toothpaste. The result should be headlights that shine like new!



Here’s a video to help:

How To Tell If Your Brakes Are in Trouble

The best way to determine if your brakes are up to snuff is to have them inspected by a professional. It’s quicker, easier and less expensive than you may think and there is simply no substitute.

However, for whatever reason it’s not always easy or even possible to get an inspection. Chances are, you’re reading this guide because you’re concerned about your brakes. You probably came to that conclusion because you sensed that something might be wrong.

Follow those instincts. This guide will help you look for signs of trouble in your brakes.


1. How does it feel?



Try to envision what your brakes were like when they were new. Are you having to use more force to stop the car? Does it take longer to stop in general? Does the brake pedal feel mushy? If so, it’s probably time for some maintenance or replacement.

This should be your first point of inspection. If anything feels like it’s not working how it should, it probably isn’t.

2. Follow your nose



If you’ve smelled burning brakes before you’ll recognize it in an instant. It has a distinct burned chemical smell, almost like singed carpet.

This smell happens because your worn-down brakes are generating too much friction. This friction causes your brakes and rotors to get so hot it burns your brake fluids and any other greases in the assembly.

Needless to say, this can be quite damaging to more than just the brakes themselves.

3. What’s that sound?



There is a distinct screech that brakes make when they are worn down or malfunctioning. It is ear-piercing and can be heard from hundreds of yards away. You will certainly notice it when it comes.

This sound almost certainly indicates a problem. It is caused by direct metal-to-metal contact between the brakes and the rotors. This can cause severe damage to the rotors and the brakes themselves.  Fortunately it usually just requires new brake pads to be fixed.


4. Got the jitters?



If you’re driving on a flat surface and apply braking pressure, does it stop smoothly? Or does it feel likeyou’re grinding or pulsing against the rotors.

When this happens it will cause the pedal or the steering wheel in your car to vibrate. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s time to get it checked out.


5. Been a while?


Maybe you haven’t noticed any obvious signs of brake failure, but it has been a long time since you’ve had them inspected.

All cars are different, but in general you should be getting yours checked every 25,000 miles. They are the primary safety feature on your vehicle. You should be able to have them inspected at many places near you. It is well worth the money, if for nothing else other than peace of mind.


Good components save lives. Get your brakes checked and buy quality parts.

Stay tuned to the Strutmasters blog for more car care and safety tips.

How to Restore Your Brake Fluid


Any idea how often you should replace your brake fluid? Chances are, your guess is as good as any. Surprisingly, this information is often left out of owner’s manuals. While “every 25,000” seems to be a good ballpark figure, the lack of consensus means it’s probably one of those things you should just monitor when you can.

The following guide will help you test to see if your brake fluid is healthy and restore it if it isn’t. A full “brake fluid flush” cannot be done at home as it requires special equipment. What you will do is replace it gradually until the old, worn-out fluid is refreshed with new, healthy fluid. It will make a huge difference in your vehicle’s braking and it will delay the need for a brake flush, saving you money in the process.

Step 1 – Test your fluid



Purchase a brake fluid test strip from your local auto parts retailer. Pop the hood and look for the brake fluid reservoir. It should be clearly marked.

Dip the test strip and compare it to the chart on the test strip’s packaging. Brake fluid is a golden color when new and gets darker as it gets used. If your brake fluid is fine and doesn’t need refreshing, close the hood and call it a day. If it does, proceed to step two.

Step 2 – Replace the brake fluid



Use a turkey baster to suck out the old fluid from the reservoir. Make sure to expel it in a suitable waste container and dispose of it properly.

Then, pour the new brake fluid into the reservoir. Wipe up any spills around the area. Screw the cap back until it’s on snug.

Step 3 – Rinse and repeat



Your car’s braking system will still have lots of old fluid and probably some gunk in it. The new fluid you put into the car will mix in get dirty almost immediately, defeating the purpose of adding it in the first place.

After replacing the first round of fluid, drive the car for a week or so. Then, check the fluid again using another test strip. See where it lands on the color chart.

Repeat steps two and three until the fluid looks new.


We love saving our people money with tips like these. For more guides like this and car care advice, check out the Strutmasters Blog.