Last Minute Car-Guy Christmas Gifts

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Got a gearhead on your Christmas list – but you’re not a gearhead and so have no idea what to get? Here are some last-minute suggestions for items to put under the tree (or in the garage) this year:

* Five or six quarts of the finest synthetic motor oil available- amesoil pic

That would be Amsoil. And it’s not just as assertion. Amsoil is the only oil brand that backs up its claims with objective third party tests that prove it’s the best. Amsoil was the first synthetic oil to meet the American Petroleum Institute’s service requirements back in 1972 and is the only oil on the market that boasts extended change intervals as far apart as once every 25,000 miles. They also sell a high ZDDP content oil (Z-Rod) made specifically for older/classic car engines (like the 455 V-8 in my ’70s-era Trans Am) with flat tappet camshafts that require the additives which are now absent or greatly diminished in even high-quality mass-market synthetics (e.g., Mobil 1). I’m not shilling for them; they don’t pay me to hawk their oil. I pay them for their oil. Because I want nothing but the best in my crankcase.

About $10 a quart – and worth every penny. Check ’em out here.

* A Valentine 1 radar detector – V1 pic

Going for a drive these days without a good radar detector watching your back is a lot like going into a really bad neighborhood without a gun on your hip. And the best radar detector out there is the V1. It not only has your back – it’s got your front (and sides) covered, too. It’s the only radar detector on the market that detects radar from all directions (most can only detect radar up ahead) and it’s the only detector on the market that shows you where the threat is – and how close it is – via arrows (for direction) and LED signal strength indicators (for proximity). The V1 also gives you individual audible warnings for the various police radar bands (K, Ka, etc.) and laser, too. No other detector susses out police radar as effectively; independent test have shown it is the most sensitive unit on the market.

Once again, I’m recommending the V1 because I have a V1. This little black box has made driving enjoyable again. And a lot less expensive, too!

About $400 (which you’ll “earn back” after the V1 saves you from getting a piece of “payin’ paper”… mine has paid for itself literally dozens of times during the past year alone).

See here for more.

* Zymol – Zymol pic

It’s not merely wax. It’s a superior wax. Used – and beloved – by professional detailers and in-the-know hobbyists, Zymol has a very high concentration (33 percent) of Brazilian Carnauba wax and bonds to your car’s finish as it’s applied. It is also easy to apply – and this, in addition to the superior protection and water-wicking qualities it delivers – is why it’s so preferred. Moisten a soft towel and gently wipe it on, one section at a time. Buff off with a clean, dry towel as it dries. This wax leaves a mirror finish free of swirl marks. Try it – you’ll love it, too!

About $10 for a small tub. See here for more.

* A 3-3/12 ton floor jack – floor jack pic

Bottle jacks are compact and inexpensive. They’re also really dangerous because they’re inherently unstable due to the small surface area of the unit and the contact it makes with your car. If it’s not perfectly straight, on a completely flat surface, the car could slip – and then it’s game over, if you’re underneath it. I won’t even get into the rickety tire-change jacks provided with most late-model cars. If you’re suicidal enough to get under 3,500 pounds of steel with only that between you and being crushed to death… well, godspeed.

A floor jack – especially one rated to handle more than your car weighs – is not only the safe way to raise a car, it’s the easy way to raise a car. A high-capacity jack raises a typical car almost effortless, whereas lower-capacity jacks may give you a real workout. Not only that, like a weak man trying to bench press 300 pounds, the lightweight jack might fail on you, while the beefy one probably never will (and ought to last much longer, too).

Check Sears or even Harbor Freight/Northern Tools. And – never forget: Only use the jack to raise the car. Use jackstands to support the car. Figure $75-$150 or so, depending on where you shop

* A yoga mat – yoga mat

Working on cars can be fun. Lying on cold (and hard) concrete (or – much worse – gravel) isn’t. A good yoga mat will help Zen up your car guy’s life. They are light, easily cleaned and roll up easily. I find them to be even better than “creepers” – the little dolleys on wheels made for the same purpose – because they slide easily and because they provide more clearance. A floor creeper will sit at least a couple inches off the ground – which means you’ll have to raise the car that much higher to get under it. The yoga mat solves that issue. They’re specifically designed to cushion the body, too. And, they’re cheap. $20 or so at Target or a sports equipment store.

* Maintenance charger – trickle charger pic

Batteries are expensive – and they not infrequently croak sooner in occasional-use vehicles such as classic cars (and motorcycles and outdoor equipment like riding mowers) which are often started only every now and then and not used/driven for very long. Or at least, not long enough for the vehicle’s alternator to fully recharge the battery, which gets progressively weaker and weaker with each cycle. Also, there is sometimes a slight drain on the battery just by dint of being hooked up. A maintenance (aka, “trickle”) charger will prevent premature battery death by keeping the battery perpetually charged up. It feeds low-amp current to the battery, then automatically cuts off and maintains the charge. The better units have pigtail-type plug-in connectors, but alligator clamps work just as well.

I have three chargers I rotate among six vehicles – one of them, a bike I bought new back in late 2002 that still has its original, factory-installed battery.

And it’s almost 2015.

You can find trickle chargers at most car parts stores or online. Look for one that’s fully automatic, with “charging” and “fully charged” indicators. About $40 or so each.

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  1. Motor oil is motor oil. As the old commercial goes. Seriously, has anyone ever had a breakdown or wearout that was attributed to (cheap) motor oil? I think motor oil is one of the most hyped up things ever….

    • Hi Tom,

      It might clear the air to read the objective, third-party scientific analysis of oil performance. You will discover that motor is not motor oil… that there are clear, definable differences, brand vs. brand and type vs. type.

    • I’ve seen the difference between cheap dino oil and mobil 1 as far as the valve train build up of gunk is concerned. I like my mechanical stuff clean as it was intended to function and that alone is worth the price IMO.

      • Also, yes there are huge differences on the engineering side. I attended a class held by the supplier of lubricants for the company I work for. I might actually use their stuff personally but their automotive lubricants are only sold commercially to fleets and such. I do have some of their grease left over from various development projects. It’s good stuff.

        • I appreciate it, amigo!

          One of the best things about going off the MSM reservation has been developing what I consider to be friendships with people like you and the other regulars here – who have helped me to hone my thoughts in a way I could never have imagined when I was still working on the “res” (and had no real interaction with readers, much less the quality interaction I get here).

          So, again – a big thank you to all of you!

  2. I waver on the synthetic oil thing for one simple reason: why do they have a 6/12 month change recommendation?

    What happens to the oil over time?

    Does it really deteriorate that quickly, or are they just full of shit to sell more oil?

    In other words. Liars.

    • The ‘time’ requirement in owner’s manuals, which synthetic oil packaging says to follow despite anything else listed, comes from the build up of combustion by products in the oil. It is assumed that when someone does not reach X number of miles in Y months that they are short tripping the car. Of course that is not always true. IMO There’s no need to change the oil on a car you took out twice in a year for 100 miles each time. The oil sitting in the pan doesn’t ‘age’ anymore than it does in the bottle, which is not at all.

      • Hi Brent,

        I change my TA’s oil once a year, even though I rarely drive it more than 500 miles a year. This may be overcautious, especially given Amesoil. But, it’s an engine that’s becoming rare (the last 455 Pontiac block was cast in 1975) and, of course, it’s fed by a carburetor… so, inevitably, some raw fuel seeps into the sump. It often sits for several weeks at a time before I get some time to fire it up/take it out for a drive. It’s an almost 40-year-old car at this point; I figure it’s earned the “spa treatment” maintenance schedule!

      • BrentP, oil actually does age just sitting in the pan. It gets depressed, never being heated up or used as it should be. Actually, changes in temp and humidity really do change the composition of oil. Water causes an acidic condition which does break down the oil, esp. using up the additives. Amsoil says to change oil yearly no matter how much use it gets. Since I’m no petroleum chemical engineer whose job is to design and test oil, I defer to their advice. I’d do as Eric does with his TA, change it once a year as Amsoil suggests. Glad to have him on the Amsoil wagon. We once argued the merits of different oil but after getting him to access their website and see the results of independent tests of all oil, some of which companies such as Mobil will not submit their oil to be tested, it becomes clear which oil can claim superiority over all others. They also have tests for each manufacturer’s filters. I don’t always need a test since pulling my K&N filter and seeing dirt inside the housing leading to the turbo had me running as fast as I could to a much better brand before my dual stage Amsoil filter arrived. BTW, I used a dual stage filter before Amsoil’s got to me, a Purolator which performed perfectly, not a bit of dust on the filtered side. If I didn’t use a washable filter, I’d have no problem of staying with Purolator air filters.

        • What you are describing comes from combustion by products that aren’t burned off because of short tripping the car. Short trips kill the oil by contaminating it. In the various oil forums there are people who send in for oil analysis and find the oil is just fine. It hasn’t chemically broken down. I’ve never heard of motor oil having a shelf life and see no reason why it should.

          Amsoil or spamsoil as it was called back in the usenet days well I don’t know if it’s good or not, they did finally get around to getting some of the certs so it would void warranties but their multi-level marketing and the ‘debates’ back in the day really turned me off to it. I’ve never had an issue with mobil 1.

          I found the same issue with K&N and went back to motorcraft. I use motorcraft oil filters which are consistently rated well in those tests.

    • What type of ester? BTW, if you decide to give someone synthetic oil, you need to include an engine cleaner before using it, otherwise your new synthetic will be instantly filthy with all the crud they clean out after petroleum based oil. I changed to Mobil 1 on a car that normally had clean engine oil for a long while but that Mobil scoured the engine and was so dirty with just a few miles it almost made me drain it right away….and I probably should have.

      After a couple rounds of Mobil I changed to Amsoil and they have a warning to use their engine cleaner before using the oil. Instead of using one of their expensive and superior filters, I changed oil for my regular and added some Amsoil engine cleaner. Holy moly, what a mess that came out of that engine with brand new oil. My Amsoil replacement stayed relatively clean immediately thereafter. My next oil was the Amsoil and their filter. It stayed pretty clean but still dirtied up faster than the next round. To my delight, it used less oil with Amsoil than with the Rotella T I had used. Continued use of synthetic oil brought my oil usage to nearly nothing. I later found out that’s a common characteristic of synthetic oil.

  3. Yup. Zymol. I have been using it for two to three decades. It’s expensive, but worth the cost. You don’t use much per application.

    I’ve read (on the net where you can find any opinion you want) that a wax job only lasts sixty to ninety days, but that has not been my experience with Zymol. Twice a year has kept the finishes on my cars like new. I do garage them while at home, though. YMMV.

      • I have never used it but most others I can think of. I was going to polish my pickup wheels and while ordering some Amsoil products(BTW, Amsoil is named after Al Amutuzio, a 25 year jet fighter pilot who was trying at first to make a better lubricant for aircraft)I just threw in a can of their chrome polish. Somehow while polishing my wheels I got called away and forgot to do one. The other wheels stayed shiny and clean for many years and that one wheel would stand out. I finally did polish it. That stuff not only shined them like no other but protected them through a great deal of nasty hauling for years.

        As an aside. I was cleaning some headlamp lenses one day, really yellowed ones. I wasn’t having a lot of luck so I grabbed the acetone, folded a blue shop towel twice and soaked it. I wiped across that lens about twice and it looked nearly new with yellow crud on the towel. I’m considering what to use next so I thought of that chrome polish. I put some on a powerball and after a few minutes that lens seemed brighter than a new one I had. I did use some aggressive rubbing compound on another headlight and then used the Amsoil chrome polish and it was virtually perfect. Like the wheels, it stayed really bright for many years. The other day I used some 2000 grit wet/dry sandpaper with water. It worked ok but acetone did better. I was going to complete the chore when I got in some new Amsoil chrome polish but last week that tractor got hit by a train with my old butt running away from it as hard as I could get-a-long. Soyonara Volvo….you POS.

  4. The only version of Zymol that I could find in the $10 range was a bottle of $12 ‘cleaner wax,’ I think they called it. Those little tubs as pictured above are about $70 in after-tax dollars.

    • Ouch. I’ll stick with Rain Dance wax, which I’ve been using for about 25 years or so. It’s far superior to Meguiar or Turtle Wax, although I don’t know how it compares to the newer synthetics. Problem is, I can only get it through the Internet. It isn’t sold through stores anymore, at least around here.


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