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.
Cloth or old t-shirt
Bucket of water
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!
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.
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.
Death. Taxes. Your car going out of alignment. These are some of the few certainties in life. A car being out of alignment does more than just annoy the driver or prevent them from steering with their knees (tsk tsk!), it can pose a serious safety hazard and put serious strain on a number of your car’s components. Here’s a quick guide on how to recognize your car needing an alignment.
1. Your handling is feeling loose
When your car is new its handing should feel “tight” and responsive. If it goes out of alignment, you may notice that it “wanders” around the road a little bit. It may be a little sloppy when taking turns. In general you might find that the car doesn’t respond as directly or immediately to the directions you give it via the steering wheel. If you are experiencing any of this, take your car into the shop to have the alignment checked.
2. Your steering wheel sticks to one side
This one is a little more obvious. When all’s well, your steering wheel will be perfectly centered. When the alignment is really off, it will tilt to one side. Note that while your wheel should be centered on a flat road, depending on the crown of the road it may be off center by a few degrees. A general rule of thumb is if the misalignment is immediately noticeable and obvious, it’s probably time to get that alignment checked.
3. Your tires are wearing out unevenly
Next time you take your vehicle into the shop for a balance and rotation, ask the mechanic to take a look at how the tires are wearing in addition to how much. While it’s fairly simple to do this at home, these guys see a lot of tires every day and are a great judge of what’s “normal” wear and tear versus what’s irregular. If it appears that your tires are wearing out unevenly, get that alignment checked out immediately. This is symptomatic of an alignment problem that’s not just affecting your tires, but also your entire suspension system and wheels.
4. Your steering wheel fails to re-center itself
Your car is designed so that your steering wheel will right itself after it’s been turned. This is a pretty important safety feature and it acts to assist drivers. While it is important to always right the wheel yourself for safety reasons, it’s still a great way to see if all’s square under the hood. If you find a long, straight road with light traffic, see if your wheel aligns itself naturally after you’ve turned it a bit. Make sure to be ready to steer if needed. If the wheel doesn’t return to its centered position right away, you’ve got a problem.
5. Your car starts to “pull”
If you’ve somehow ignored all the other warning signs, this one is the final straw. A car that is severely out of alignment will “pull” itself to one side or another in its natural position, rather than stay centered. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you why this is dangerous. If your car is pulling, you are a serious danger to yourself and everyone else on the road. Take care of that problem as soon as possible.
At Strutmasters, we are huge fans of DIYers. That’s why our suspension conversion kits are designed specifically to be easy to install at home. However, an alignment is something that requires specialized equipment and some serious know-how to do. This is not a problem that will correct itself, it will only get worse. Take care of yourself and be considerate of others on the road and correct your alignment today. For more car care tips, check out the Strutmasters blog.
Spring has sprung! That means a fresh new set of potholes to ruin your commute. We all know they can be bad news for cars, but if you’ve recently hit one (or two, or three) of those dastardly potholes, here are the components of your car you might want to check. Tires Your tires will absorb most of the brunt of the impact when you roll over (or into) a pothole. The dramatic bounce is far more punch than most tires were designed to take. Some of the common injuries to a tire are: flats, tire separation and sidewall bulges. The sharp edges of a pothole can compress the tire against the rim of your wheel, which can separate the different sections of a tire from one another. In general, holes or cuts to the flat part of the tire that connects with the road can be patched or repaired. Punctures to the sidewall of the tire, however, mean it’s time for a new tire. Many businesses such as Discount Tire or Costco offer insurance packages for tires. If you live in an area that sees a lot of temperature variation in winter and spring, this is a solid investment. Exhaust As one of the lowest-hanging parts of your car, the exhaust pipes are very susceptible to road damage. Especially in the case of deep potholes, which can cause your car to bottom out and scrape against the road. This can result in a dent or tear in your exhaust pipes, catalytic converter or muffler. This can be more than just annoying. A hole in your exhaust system could potentially pump exhaust fumes and carbon monoxide into the interior of your car, a very dangerous situation. Wheels Potholes often have edges around them which are uneven, sharp and protruding, all of which are bad things for your car’s wheels. If you hit the right size and shape pothole going fast enough, you could potentially severely dent the wheel of your car. This would, in turn, cause damage to your tire and to the rest of your vehicle. You’d notice a dent in your wheel almost immediately, as the car would likely start to “pull” one way or the other. Suspension Most car suspensions, especially on your average sedan or non-off-road vehicle, are meant to be driven over relatively flat and even surfaces. While they can typically handle the occasional bump or dip in the road, potholes provide a unique and unexpected kind of impact. Your car’s suspension is a little like your leg. When you’re running over even surfaces, there’s no problem. Step on or in something unexpected, however, and you could severely injure yourself. Cars run the risk of denting, misaligning or even snapping a strut when they go into potholes. Fortunately, we have everything you need to replace that strut or your entire suspension without breaking the bank. Search our inventory to see if we carry a kit for your car here. Alignment This is one of the more common problems you’ll face if you hit a big enough pothole. Your car’s steering will naturally go out of alignment over a long enough period of time. However, running into a pothole provides a serious jolt to all the components which are responsible for your car steering properly. You will know if your car is out of alignment if it starts to pull or tug in one direction or another when you are driving down a straightaway. Fortunately, this is a pretty easy and inexpensive fix at most repair shops. At Strutmasters we are all about saving our customers time, money, and frustration. Don’t ignore problems caused by potholes. They will only get worse. Help other drivers, too! Report potholes to your local transportation bureau so that they can be fixed.
Your vehicle’s suspension and steering components are critical to its driveability. These components take care of your control, comfort, safety and wear and tear on other components. We have already detailed how a worn out suspension can do serious damage to other parts of your car. Regular maintenance of components like ball joints, tire rod ends and center links can significantly improve the quality of your ride and extend its lifetime. While car design is moving towards more vehicles having “sealed” components that don’t need to be lubricated, they still benefit from regular inspections. Still, many cars have “serviceable” components that require regular maintenance like lubrication. Fortunately, keeping your steering and suspension oiled up isn’t too difficult, especially with the help of this handy guide. What You’ll Need Floor Jack Grease gun w/ cartridge Jack stands Creeper Rags Owner’s manual Wheel blocks Part 1 – Lift the vehicle Safety tip: Make 100% certain that the floor jack you are using has the right weight capacity to safely keep your vehicle lifted. Double-check your jack stands as well. Your car’s VIN label will have the vehicle weight, located either on the driver’s door jamb or the door itself. It is abbreviated as GVWR. A creeper is a great tool to help you slide in and out from under your vehicle. If you don’t have one and don’t want to buy one, use a piece of cardboard. Locate the points at which the vehicle needs to be jacked. In our experience, when working at home it’s much easier to do this one side at a time.Some cars feature a distinct marker or a cut-out to indicate where the jack should be placed. If you cannot find these on your car, check your owner’s manual. Secure the wheels. Put your wheel blocks in front or AND behind both of the rear wheels. Lift the car slowly until the tire has no more contact with the ground. Once you’ve done that, place the jack stand at the lowest point underneath the car.
Make sure that the jack stand is placed in a sturdy part of the vehicle such as the chassis. Once in position, lower the car slowly onto the stand. Don’t remove the jack. Keep it in its heightened position.
Part 2 – Grease the components Use your creeper or makeshift creeper to slide under your car, keeping your grease gun and rag with you. Locate the ball joints, tire rods and any other serviceable components. They will have a grease fitting on them. Check all of the suspension and steering component assemblies to be sure you find all of them. On most cars you will find one upper and one lower ball joint in addition to a tire rod end (outer). Starting from the driver’s side and working towards the middle of the car you will find a “pitman arm” which is connected to the steering box. You may also find a center link, if your car has one, which connects the right and left tie rods to each other. Some cars also have an idler arm that supports the center link from the passenger side. All of these should be easily reachable, except on cars with an offset wheel design. With those vehicles, you may have to take the wheel off to get to the grease fitting. Consult your owner’s manual if this is the case or if you are unsure. Use the grease gun to fill each of the components with grease. Depending on your car, they may have a rubber “boot” surrounding them. If they are overfilled there is a chance they may burst. It shouldn’t take more than a few pumps to properly fill them. Many components are designed to simply expel excess grease. If that’s the way your car is designed, grease running out of a component is the signal that it is full. Use a rag to wipe off any excess grease. Lower the car and repeat parts one and two again, this time on the other side of the vehicle. Part 3 – Lubricate the rear suspension (maybe) Many cars have a rear suspension that does not require lubrication. If your car features an “independent rear suspension” it may have these components. Consult your owner’s manual to see whether or not your rear suspension has serviceable components before spending time lifting your vehicle.
Here’s a great reference video to help in case you get stuck:
John Force was involved in another terrifying explosion and crash this past weekend at the Gatornationals. During his second qualifying round on Friday, the 67-year old’s engine exploded, scattering the body of the car all over the race track. Miraculously, the 16-time NHRA champ walked away unscathed. You can see a video of the crash here: “I really thought we had it,” said Force. “I thought we were there. In the first round we drove it 500 feet and shut it off. It looked great. We ran it again that run and I was only going to drive it 800 feet even if we didn’t make The Show.” The only injuries Force suffered was a small cut to his hand. It didn’t even require stitches. This latest explosion comes on the heels of the NHRA looking to curb accidents and explosions with some new rule changes. The changes were made partly in response to Force’s terrifying incident in Phoenix just two weeks before and an explosion at the season opener in Pomona.
At Strutmasters, we believe in things that are time-tested. That’s why we prefer standard coilover struts and shocks to air suspension. It’s why we insist on making our products right here in the USA. It’s why we employ people right in North Carolina to answer our phones and help our customers. Call us crazy, or perhaps just a vintage-style company, but we think sometimes the old ways are best.
We fell in love with these vintage car ads. Maybe you will too.
Quick! Where is your power steering fluid and how often should you check it? Unless you’re one of the more dedicated car owners among us, you probably have to check your owner’s manual or Google for the answer. Don’t worry, it’s okay! We are here to the rescue with this handy guide on how and when to check your different fluids. Transmission Fluid In a car with an automatic transmission, the transmission fluid is what keeps the gears moving smoothly. The well for the fluid is located in a different place in each vehicle, so consult the internet or your owner’s manual to find it. It will have a dipstick, just like your engine oil. Since the transmission is a closed system, you aren’t checking for levels, but for the shape that the fluid is in. Healthy transmission fluid should be essentially odorless and have a pinkish-red hue to it. If the fluid appears brown, black or smells burnt it is time to replace it. How often to check: Once a month When to replace: Depending on the car and driver, between 50,000 to 100,000 miles or whenever the fluid appears brown or burnt, whichever comes first.
Brake Fluid Brake fluid, like transmission fluid, is within a closed system. If your levels are low, there is something seriously wrong and you should take your car to the mechanic. It is still important to keep an eye on it. If your brakes don’t feel like they are supposed to, the fluid is the first place to look. It’s probably the likeliest source of issue and certainly the cheapest and easiest to fix. The brake fluid should be visible in its container/well. Look at the color. It should be a slight golden color. If it is brown, it needs to be replaced. How often to check: Whenever you change your oil. When to replace: Every two years or 30,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Engine Oil This is probably the one you’re used to checking. By the time you own a car, someone should have drilled into your head that you need to check and change your oil regularly. Maybe you even know how to do it yourself.
But for those of you who don’t, the question has become a lot more complicated than it once was. It used to be that “every 3,000 miles or six months” was a standard, catch-all answer. Nowadays, different manufacturers have different recommendations for how often you should replace your oil and it’s important to follow their recommendation. While checking your oil every time you fill up with gas is a smart move, with newer cars you can probably get away with checking it less frequently. Engine oil exists in an open system, so it is likely it will fall below safe levels and need topping up from time to time. For that reason, it’s a good idea to keep a bottle or two on hand at home. How often to check: At least once a month, preferably more often. When to change: Consult your manufacturer’s recommendation.
Power Steering Fluid The power steering in your car ensures that steering is smooth an easy. Cars that are low on power steering fluid will start to make creaking sounds and the driver will notice a tactile difference when driving. The check for power steering fluid is a visual one, just pop the hood and look for the well, which should be clearly labeled. Consult your manual if you can’t see it right away. Power steering fluid should remain at relatively the same level at all times. If it is low, there is a good chance you have a leak. Take your car to your mechanic if this is the case. How often to check: Once a month When to replace: Maybe never. Consult your manual.
Coolant Take a wild guess at what this stuff does! Since you can probably guess what coolant does, you know how important it is. Like engine oil, the health of your car’s engine depends on this to function properly. Wait until your engine is cool to the touch to check the coolant. This is a simple one. Just unscrew the radiator cap and take a look. There should be a line or hash mark indicating the proper coolant level. If it needs topping up, go ahead and do it but be sure to use the same type of coolant that is already in the engine. If you have never replaced the coolant in your car, your manufacturer should have that information freely available. How often to check: At least twice a year: once before the beginning of spring and once before the beginning of fall. When to replace: Every two years.
Wiper fluid While “low windshield wiper fluid” doesn’t sound like an emergency, it’s an important one to keep an eye on. Visibility is one of the cornerstones of safety. If your windshield is dirty or obscured in any way, it puts you and everyone else on the road at risk. Good windshield wiper fluid cleans your windshield and decreases the friction between your wiper blades and your windshield, reducing wear and tear on both. Wiper fluid is usually the easiest of your car’s fluids to monitor and replace. Pop the hood and look for the reservoir and fill to the line if it’s not there yet. How often to check: Every time you fill your car up. When to replace: Top up as needed. Consider seasonal fluids which may perform better depending on weather conditions.
At Strutmasters, we want your driving experience to be as easy, inexpensive and pleasurable as possible. That’s why we make suspension conversion kits that save owners thousands and keep cars on the road longer than their original air suspensions. If your car is showing any warning signs of suspension failure, be sure to visit our website or call our suspension experts at (336) 597-2397 for a free consultation today.