Ways To Update and Improve Your Car

You might think of your car as simply a conveyance that gets you from point A to point B, but maybe it’s a few years old and you are ready for an upgrade. Buying a new car may be an option, but it’s no small expense and may not be practical for you to add new or potentially higher car payments to your monthly bills. Fortunately, there are some simple ways you can upgrade your car’s appearance and features without spending a ton. Check out the six low-cost or do-it-yourself car upgrades below to learn how to make your car feel newer, inside and out.

1. Clean It Up

One of the best things about a new car is that it’s clean, shiny and has that new-car smell. You may be able to get some of the new car aroma back via an inexpensive air freshener, but scrubbing your old car from top to bottom can give it a newer look. Start with shampooing the carpet and upholstery, vacuuming the seat cushions and floor, and clearing out buildup from the engine bay. If you have the proper cleaning products, you can also clean many of the actual engine parts including the battery connections. Then, wash and wax the outside.

2. Remove Dents

Detailing your car may reveal dents and scratches you might not have noticed before. Purchase a DIY Dent Kit. These can be purchased online for as low as $20 and offer all the tools you need to flatten out dents. But keep in mind, the smaller the dent, the trickier it is to fix.

Minor dents and dings, the kind your car might receive from a hail storm, for example, can be repaired by one of two methods: paintless dent removal or the traditional body shop repair/paint method.

Because dent repair can vary in difficulty, it may be a good idea to contact a professional auto body shop or dent repair shop to fix any dent, big or small.

3. Upgrade Your Sound System

If your car is 5-7 years old (or more), there’s a good chance your sound system is out-of-date. You can get a new radio head unit that integrates with mobile devices or satellite radio and has Bluetooth capabilities for less than $100 online.

4. Turn Your Cigarette Lighter Into a Power Source

Whether you upgrade your sound system or already had one that was compatible with mobile devices, certain features will only be useful if your electronics have battery life. If you are stuck in traffic or taking longer trips, you may run out of juice before you can charge again. Add a power source through your cigarette lighter. There are units available that plug in to the cigarette lighter socket and offer USB plugs for charging electronic devices. With one of these gadgets, you don’t have to worry about your phone dying before your maps app can get you to your destination.

5. Cover up Scratches

Unsightly scratches and chips in your car’s paint may make your vehicle look aged and worn. To give your car a newer look from the outside, Consumer Reports suggests hiding the wear and tear by applying touch-up paint. Many auto dealers and some auto-parts shops have small bottles of matching paint you can purchase for a low cost. If the scratch is shallow and doesn’t hit the primer or bare metal, you may be able to just dab the paint on the scratch with a paintbrush, let it dry for a couple of days, and then polish the area with a microfiber or foam applicator pad to make sure it blends.

6. Docking Stations for Electronics

Even if you can use your electronics in the car, it may not be practical, safe, or even legal, in some cases, to hold them while you drive. However, using your phone’s navigation system may require your phone to be in clear view all the time. If your older car doesn’t have a fancy, big-screen navigation system installed in its dashboard, you can purchase a mount for your dash, center console or cupholder for your GPS-enabled phone for approximately $10 to $20.You could also create your own DIY electronics dock using a 6-inch by 6-inch piece of stiff plastic and self-adhesive strips of hook-and-loop fasteners.

While these updates and car improvements will not make your vehicle new again, they may help you see it in a new light. Knowing how to improve your car with functional upgrades or some minor body work may give you what you want in a vehicle, without having to spend a hefty amount

Survive A Night In Your Car During The Winter

Just because you don’t live in the Northeast, the upper Midwest or the Western mountains, don’t think that something like this can’t happen to you. Even in areas where snow is a rare event, cars can slide off icy roads and become stranded in freezing weather, leaving passengers stuck right there with them. Here’s how to make it through a freezing night in your car and ride out events until help can arrive.

Be Prepared

One of the first things to do as winter approaches is be sure you have stored a few key items in your car. If you wait until you need them to try to round them up, it may be too late. Essential items to include in a winter survival kit :

  • A shovel
  • Windshield scraper Bottled water (at least four quarts)
  • Snack foods, particularly nutritious energy bars
  • Necessary medications
  • Strike-anywhere, waterproof matches and small candles
  • A flashlight with extra batteries
  • First-aid kit
  • Folding knife and multi-tool
  • Emergency flares
  • An extra winter coat, mittens and a wool cap
  • Winter boots
  • Toilet paper
  • Cellphone and charger
  • A spare blanket or sleeping bag
  • A portable radio with spare batteries
  • Tow rope
  • Nylon cord
  • Flagging tape
  • Chemical hand and body warmer packets
  • Road salt and sand
  • Booster cables

Other essential winter tools in severe weather country include jumper cables, a small shovel, tire chains and rock salt, sand or kitty litter to provide added traction when stuck on a slick surface.

Before You Go

If you’re leaving for an extended trip, always check weather and road conditions before departing. If poor conditions are forecast, you may consider postponing your trip. Also, Ready.gov says to let others know when you are leaving, which way you will be traveling and when you should arrive at your destination, so they can alert authorities and provide them with solid information to help in finding you should the need arise.

Fill your car with fuel and make frequent stops to stretch, relax and refill your tank, never allowing it to get much below a half tank. Should you become stuck and need to spend the night in your car, the ample gas will allow you to start your car throughout the night and run the heat for short intervals.

If You Are Stranded

If you’re stuck in your car and immobile, first, call for help. Don’t overexert yourself and don’t leave your car and begin walking for help. Typically, you have a better chance of being found if you remain with your car, which may also provide the best shelter from the elements. However, do not run your car constantly.

Instead, be sure the exhaust pipe is free from snow and roll down a window enough to vent the car and prevent carbon monoxide buildup. Run the car for short 15-20 minute intervals to warm up and then turn it back off, using blankets, a sleeping bag, hand warmers and the body heat of others in your car to stay warm. Keep yourself alert and your mind occupied by eating snacks and reading a book until help arrives.

Thinking Of Replacing Your Own Brakes? Read The Pros and Cons Here

If you have the know-how to do your own brake work or know someone who does and is willing to share their expertise for free, the do-it-yourself approach to replacing pads and rotors can save you lots of money. But be sure you know what’s wrong before you get started, or you could waste a lot of time and money.

The cost of brake parts varies widely by brand and model, and you should certainly expect to pay more for brake work on a BMW than on a Honda.

Doing it yourself also means you choose the parts that go on your car, you’re in charge of quality control and you do it on your own schedule.

If that was all there was to it, we would recommend that anyone with a little mechanical skill perform their own brake repairs. Brake maintenance, though, isn’t always as simple as just removing and replacing parts.

For example, unevenly worn brake pads could be the result of sticking caliper slide pins, the calipers themselves might need cleaning, lubricating or replacement, and excessive brake pedal travel might be the result of air in the hydraulic brake lines, not worn pads.

If you don’t have the knowledge to diagnose what might be wrong or the tools or experience to correct it, you might be wasting time and money by replacing parts because they’re the usual suspects. You might know your car better than anyone, but a good mechanic probably knows much more about brakes than you do.

Repair shops also guarantee their labor as well as the parts they install, so if something doesn’t seem right after a brake job, they usually stand behind it and fix what’s wrong.

If you decide to do the work yourself, be sure you’re addressing the root causes of your brake issues, and make sure pads, rotors and other parts really do need replacing before you buy new ones.

Above all, know your limits, because brakes are what stop your car and you don’t want to make a dangerous mistake.

Need A Tune Up? Find Out Here

If your engine misfires, hesitates, stalls, gets poor mileage, is hard to start or has failed an emissions test, it clearly needs something, though a tune-up in the traditional sense might not be the cure.

If you tell a repair shop you need a tune-up, the mechanic should ask why you feel you need one before recommending any service. Just like a doctor should ask what symptoms you’re experiencing, a mechanic should seek to diagnose the problem. And just as a doctor may recommend some tests, a mechanic may do the same.

You can speed the process by being ready to describe what happens and when (such as whether your car hesitates when the engine is cold or when passing at highway speeds), any sounds you hear and what you feel when your car’s “illness” shows up.

One caution about lower fuel economy: You should expect it to go down at least a little during the cold months, and maybe a lot. Colder temperatures make your engine and charging system work harder. In addition, winter gasoline blends have slightly less energy content than summer blends, so they don’t deliver as many miles per gallon. A tune-up won’t make Old Man Winter, or his effects, go away.

What are symptoms that might make you think you need a tune-up?

* A misfiring engine (when spark plugs ignite at the wrong time) could be caused by worn or fouled spark plugs. Bad spark plugs can also cause low fuel economy, hard starting and sluggish acceleration. Most plugs, though, should last 100,000 miles or more, and engine computers do a remarkable job of compensating for worn plugs, so that might not be the main or only culprit.


* A dirty or clogged engine air filter is more likely to reduce acceleration than fuel economy, according to tests conducted by the EPA. Because filters get dirty gradually over time, you might not notice a small but steady loss of performance until your car is accelerating like a turtle. But if you haven’t changed the filter in a couple of years (or sooner in areas that have a lot of soot in the air), that could be part of the problem.

* Engine deposits caused by low-quality or contaminated gasoline create drivability problems, and the cure for that might be a fuel system cleaning, either by a repair shop or with a gas-tank additive.

* An illuminated check engine light signals when something is amiss in the emissions control system, but depending on what the issue is it could also affect fuel economy or engine performance, so don’t ignore it. A faulty oxygen sensor, for example, leaves the engine computer in the dark about how to set the air-fuel mixture, and that can result in poor fuel economy.

* An old oxygen sensor (say, 90,000 miles or more) may still work well enough that it doesn’t trigger the check engine light but could still hurt fuel economy. Engine performance can also be reduced by more serious internal problems, such as valves that don’t seat properly or worn piston rings, or by restrictions in the exhaust system.

Because the same symptoms can suggest different problems, and there are often several possible causes and cures, it’s better to consult a professional mechanic than to try to be one if you have neither the experience nor the right equipment to diagnose drivability problems.In short, rather than ask for a tune-up, tell a mechanic what you’re experiencing and ask him or her to find the cause.

Is Your Radiator Leaking? Check This Simple Guide

When the temperature gauge on your dashboard reads high or a temperature warning light comes on, you have a cooling system problem that may be caused by a leak — be it in the radiator itself or some other component.

First, make sure it’s coolant that’s leaking, not another fluid. (Coolant is often referred to as antifreeze, but technically coolant is a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water.) You can easily check the coolant level in your see-through overflow tank. If it’s empty or low, the next step should be to check the coolant level in the radiator, but that should be done only when the engine is cool.

Once you know you’re losing coolant, the radiator is a good place to start. Some radiator leaks will be easy to spot — such as a puddle underneath the radiator — but others not so much. It’s best to check the radiator from every angle, not just from above, and pay particular attention to seams and the bottom. Corrosion inside the radiator or holes from road debris also can cause leaks.

Antifreeze comes in different colors — green, yellow and pinkish-red, for example — feels like slimy water and usually has a sweet smell. If you can’t see coolant dripping or seeping, look for rust, cracks or stains on the radiator. Those are telltale signs of where it has leaked.

If the radiator appears to be OK, the cooling system offers several possibilities for leaks, including the hoses from the radiator to the engine, the radiator cap, water pump, engine block, thermostat, overflow tank, heat exchanger (a small radiator that circulates hot coolant into the dashboard for cabin heating) and others. A blown gasket between the cylinder head and the engine block is another possibility, allowing coolant inside the combustion chambers — a problem that must be addressed immediately by a mechanic.

If you can’t find a leak, have it checked by a professional. Coolant has a way of escaping only under pressure when the car is running — possibly in the form of steam, which may not leave a trace.