Stock accessory drives were designed to fit in late-model vehicles with modern frames and spacing. Depending on which accessory drives are retained, clearance may or may not be an issue. However, the A/C compressor constantly presents an issue. It’s typically mounted low on the passenger’s side of the engine, and it tends to hit the frame rail or the upper A-arm on the suspension at this location.
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On the other side of the engine, power steering pump and alternator placement becomes an issue. The stock recirculating-ball steering gear-box gets in the way. Each chassis is different and each accessory drive is different.
Stock Accessory Drives
Specific stock accessory drives work on specific chassis. If the drive system doesn’t fit your car, there are several options. The first is to find a stock drive that fits your chassis, but these can be difficult to find, especially the older 1998–2002 F-Body drives. There are also quite a few after market drive kits that not only relocate the offending components, but also add some flash to the install. The last solution, relocating the problem component with a home-fabricated bracket, requires a little more ingenuity and fabrication. When swapping an LS into a less traditional vehicle, the possibilities are endless. In many cases, the chassis and suspension is modified to accept the LS engine. In addition, each vehicle’s purpose helps determine the accessory drive choice. Vehicles that do not run A/C or power steering are certainly easier to fit and modify than a project that requires all of the accessories: keep that in mind when choosing your accessory drive. An alternator alone is much easier to relocate than three components.
The accessory drives on Gen III/IV engines are interchangeable throughout the product line. However, each accessory drive is based on two components: the water pump and the harmonic dampener (or harmonic balancer; LS engines are internally balanced, so it is technically a harmonic dampener, but commonly referred to as a balancer).
You have three water pump off-set options: the 1998–2002 F-Body, the Corvette, and the C/K trucks. Within these types are subgroups. The F-Body water pump remained the same throughout its production run, from 1998 to 2002.
The Corvette (also GTO in 2004) used one water pump design with some internal differences. The 2005-up Corvette/GTO water pump for the LS2, LS7, and LS3 used the same offset, but contained a different internal design.
The same is true for the C/K truck pumps. The 1999–2005 trucks use a specific water pump, but in 2007 the design changed to DoD. Not all 2007 C/K engines use this pump. The offset remains the same as with early pumps, but you do not want to swap a DoD pump onto a non-DoD engine. The LS1/LS3 pumps are interchangeable; the LS3 pump uses a lighter pulley, with about 4 pounds of weight savings.
The crank pulley is part of the dampener; it is one piece as opposed to a separate pulley that bolts to the balancer. There are three balancer designs for the LS engines.
The Corvette (Y-Body) dampener is the shortest of the three, placing the drive belt close to the engine.
The F-Body (also GTO) dampener is 3/4 inch longer than the Corvette engine.
The C/K (GM truck engine’s 4.8-. 5.3-, and 6.0-liter) unit is 11/2 inches longer than the Corvette unit.
This correlates to the water pump as well.
Each GM vehicle accepts a certain stock drive. Matching the drive to the car saves money in the long run and probably some headaches as well. The following breakdown refers to fully accessorized engines running A/C and power steering. If you are not running A/C or power steering, other drives may work; it depends on the vehicle and the drive system.
1958–1972 GM Muscle Cars and Early Corvettes
The C5 Corvette (Y-Body) accessory drive fits most GM muscle cars; C2, C3, and C4 Corvettes; and clears the stock chassis and stock chassis components with most motor mount adapters. The C5 uses a variable clutch-speed compressor that rides low on the smaller secondary four-rib belt. Depending on the motor mounts used, there can be clearance issues.
A Sanden 508 A/C compressor on a Street & Performance bracket positions the compressor forward to clear the chassis and puts the A/C compressor on the larger six-rib belt. You can run other accessory drives in these cars, but the engine crossmember must be notched to clear the A/C compressor, and the alternator hits the frame and steering gearbox.
A rack-and-pinion conversion simplifies the installation. This drive places the A/C compressor low and pushed back on the passenger’s side. The power steering pump mounts in front of the driver-side cylinder head, and the alternator rides up and over the power steering pump.
1967–1969 Camaro, Firebird, 1978–1988 G-Body
The classic Camaro and G-Body cars require the 1998–2002 F-Body accessory drive to clear the chassis. This drive system places the A/C compressor very low and tight to the block, with the compressor centerline just below that of the crank. The alternator is tucked to the driver’s side of the crank pulley and the power steering pump is mounted directly above the alternator.
Tri-Five Chevy, Buick and Oldsmobile
For the classic Tri-Fives, things get a little difficult. The C5 Corvette (1997–2004) accessory drive fits, depending on the chassis and the motor mounts. For a stock chassis using draglink steering, the C5 drive clears if the engine frame mounts set the engine forward.
Street & Performance suggests the Chassis Engineering V-8 engine stand, which sets the engine 3/4 inch forward. If the engine stand positions the engine rearward, you need a custom drive.
C1, C2, C3, C4 Corvette
The C5 Corvette drive system works well in the C2, C3, and C4 chassis without much modification. The C1 Corvette, however, typically requires an aftermarket accessory drive. An LS swap into a C1 also requires converting to a rack-and-pinion steering system, as the factory steering box doesn’t clear the engine itself.
1960–1966 Chevy and GMC Trucks, SUVs
The F-Body and C/K accessory drives work well for this increasingly popular truck line. The C/K accessory drive positions the A/C compressor just below the crank centerline, tucked in really tight to the passenger’s side of the block. The power steering pump mounts tight to the block, midway between the crank and water pump. The alternator is out of the way at the top of the engine, above the power steering pump, next to the throttle body. This keeps everything nice and clean for these trucks.
1967–Up Chevy and GMC Trucks, SUVs
In stock form, with all the accessories, the F-Body and C5 drive accessories fit the rest of the GM truck line, but the C/K accessory drive does not fit in completely stock trim. The A/C compressor is the problem and can fail in the C/K drive of these trucks. If you do not use A/C, it fits.
If you do use A/C, the solutions are pretty simple. Either fabricate a custom bracket or purchase an after-market A/C relocation bracket for the C/K drive. Place the compressor on top, where it clears everything. Using a Sanden compressor makes the install nice and clean.
Although it might seem like Blue Oval blasphemy, the LS engine is often swapped into the Ford Mustang. The LS is a compact power plant, which makes the swapping process much easier than with many other engines, including the Ford Modular 4.6L and Coyote 5.0 engines. Every model is capable of taking an LS between the fenders; the Fox body is the most popular as well as the simplest.
Early Mustangs have very tight engine compartments; the stock shock towers are just in the way. The good news, however, is that the front area of the chassis is relatively clear of obstacles that the accessory drives can hit. The Corvette, CTS-V, and F-Body drives all work well here.
Swapping an LS into a Ford may seem like sacrilege to some, but it is nonetheless a popular swap. The F-Body drive works well without any modifications, but they are getting hard to find. The ever-present Vortec drive, however, is available on the cheap and it works with a cowl hood. It can work with a stock hood with some modifications.
1994–2004 Mustang (SN95 Body)
For later-model Mustangs, the Corvette and CTS-V drives work well.
The main issue with the 240SX is the limited space between the engine and the radiator and the lower sub-frame rails. The CTS-V drive works well in this regard, pulling the A/C pump tighter to the block and using the short pump design, maximizing the radiator-to-engine clearance.
Jeep CJ, YJ, TJ, XJ
All Jeeps can be fitted with F-Body brackets. The Vortec drive can be made to work; however, the alternator is really high and on some bodies it sticks out beyond the hood. There are modifications to reposition the alternator, which means custom fabrication.
There are two popular LS swap platforms in the Mazda lineup: the RX-7 and the road race legend, the Miata. The lightweight aluminum-block engines work best.
As an increasingly popular swap platform, the Mazda Miata has a fair number of LS swap followers. The CTS-V accessory drive has proven to be the best drive for the Miata chassis. The CTS-V drive uses the shorter dampener, so it pulls the belts closer to the block. This saves a lot of room between the radiator and the engine, plus it retains the factory GM power steering pump.
Late-model RX-7s take the CTS-V accessories with only a slight adjustment. The stock power steering pump sits a little high, causing interference with the hood. One solution is an LS2 GTO pump. Another option is to convert to a remote reservoir pump.
The CTS-V pump also requires a pressure reduction kit as the pump creates too much pressure for the Mazda rack, leading to over-assisted steering. As a result the steering is way too fast for safe driving.
Running the stock accessory drive is a cheap solution. That does not mean it is the best solution. Stock drives are not aesthetic. Sure, the brackets are aluminum and can be polished, which looks nice, but that requires a tremendous amount of work and upkeep. Polished aluminum fades and oxidizes pretty quickly, and requires constant attention to retain a mirror finish if it is not anodized to protect it.
In addition, there is no guarantee that the stock drive will fit. The particular install depends on what mounts are used and how the engine is set up; there are always tolerances that may not work in some circumstances. An aftermarket accessory drive simplifies the install, removes the guesswork, and makes sure everything clears.
Swapping LS engines into non-GM vehicles can raise some challenges. For cars that were available with small-block V-8s, the radiator is not that big an issue, but more radical swaps sometimes require custom radiators. In addition, the Gen III/IV car engines were designed for electric cooling fans; only the Vortec engines have mechanical fans.
With a radiator and a fan, there can still be a few more issues. In many cases, the more radical swaps end up with a radiator that sits below the engine, creating air pockets in the cooling system and leading to overheating issues. These issues are easily remedied, but you need the right parts.
Gen III/IV engines are typical V-8s with respect to the cooling system, so they do not require huge radiators or special metals. What they do require is a radiator that is rated for the job. With the smallest LS engines easily making 300 hp, you don’t want to use a stock 4-cylinder or V-6 radiator. Making horsepower means making heat as a byproduct, although the LS engines are pretty efficient when it comes to that.
Considering that the most popular GM muscle car and truck swaps had V-8s available from the factory, V-8 radiators are easy to find. And of course with a massive aftermarket catering to these vehicles, there are more than enough choices.
Aluminum versus Brass/Copper: In most 1970s vehicles, OEM radiators are constructed of a mixture of brass and copper. The brass components in radiators (typically the tubes) are expensive and the least effective at cooling an engine. The copper components (the header, and sometimes the tubes), however, quickly absorb and dissipate heat more quickly than aluminum components. Aluminum radiators absorb and dissipate heat better than brass, but at a slower rate than copper.
Copper, therefore, absorbs and dissipates heat at the fastest rate, cooling the engine more effectively than aluminum, right? Not exactly. Aluminum is stronger, which allows for thin-walled cooling tubes, which allows for more cores and rows than a traditional copper/brass radiator for increased cooling surface area. All of this translates into increased cooling capacity. In addition, aluminum is cheaper than brass, which certainly plays a part.
A further issue with brass/copper radiators is that they are soldered together with lead solder. The chemical reaction between the metals leads to contamination and build up inside the radiator. Solder also insulates the tank from the tubes, reducing the heat transfer between them, further reducing the effectiveness.
In reality, both radiators are useful, but the performance nod is typically given to the aluminum unit.
Electrolysis: Whenever there are two different metals in a coolant system, there is the potential for electrolysis. Electrolysis happens when one material is eaten away and deposited on the other. This can be disastrous for an aluminum engine because aluminum is generally the sacrificed material. When running a copper/brass radiator, there is potential to ruin aluminum components on the engine.
The simple solution is to install an anode kit in the radiator. Anodes are used in machinery and marine applications to protect the cooling systems and other components from damage due to electrolysis (or coolant additive failure and breakdown). Flex-a-lite offers a zinc anode kit (PN 32060) for installation as a replacement drain petcock in radiators that are equipped with a 1/4-inch NPT bushing welded into the tank.
The anode may also be installed in any 1/4-inch NPT hole that is available in the cooling system. The introduction of the zinc anode protects the cooling system from galvanic action as electrolysis eats away at the zinc rather than the aluminum.
Coolant: There has been much discussion about which coolant is best for LS engines, particularly in engine swaps. Dex-Cool is the factory engine coolant and is recommended by General Motors. That being said, those recommendations are for stock vehicles using all-stock components.
Dex-Cool is specifically designed for aluminum radiators, not for copper/brass radiators. Dex-Cool’s harsh and resilient organic acids can attack the solder in copper radiators, eventually causing the radiator to leak.
Dex-Cool also has a tendency to sludge up in the system over time due to contaminants that find their way into the system. When swapping an LS engine, most builders suggest flushing the engine with water three or four times until it comes out clear and there are no more hints of orange.
Once the coolant system is clean, it’s time to add new coolant. Most builders agree that the aftermarket (non-GM) orange long-life equivalent works well in systems with copper/brass radiators. Make sure that the coolant being used says it is compatible with both types of coolant (Prestone, for example).
Of course the good old green antifreeze provides more than adequate performance so long as the system has been properly flushed. Dex-Cool and the standard green antifreeze can be mixed; however, the green antifreeze counteracts the long-life properties of Dex-Cool.
Inlet/Outlet Positioning: All LS engines have the same inlet and outlet position: on the passenger’s side of the engine. In most cases, the easiest solution is to purchase a radiator with passenger-side inlets and outlets. Because there is no mechanical fan in the way, running the upper return hose to the driver’s side is a pretty simple solution if the stock radiator has a driver-side upper mount.
The lower feed hose is more difficult to cross over to the driver’s side, depending on the distance between the engine and radiator. It is possible to have the inlets and outlets moved, but the expense is likely just as much as purchasing a new radiator.
Aftermarket Options: Each of the many aftermarket radiators has its own benefits. The easiest option is to order an off-the-shelf unit with the inlets and outlets as the manufacturer placed them. New aftermarket radiators that mount in the stock location are available for most popular cars.
You can also save some cash by purchasing a universal or “custom fit” radiator, typically sold in terms of dimension. For example, a four-core 20 x 16-inch radiator indicates a 20-inch-wide by 16-inch-tall radiator. Often, these radiators fit in the stock location using the stock or slightly modified mounting hardware and can cost as much as 30 percent less.
Custom Options: Ordering a custom radiator usually involves filling out a form and sending it in, along with a phone call or e-mail to discuss your specific needs. Griffin and Ron Davis, for example, have custom-build capabilities.
The ideal radiator configuration for a Gen III/IV is to have both outlets on the passenger’s side and a divider placed in the middle of the tank. However, converting to a crossover-style simplifies the installation.
Crossover-style tanks also ensure the coolant takes a longer route through the tubes as all the coolant must pass through the top rows then through the bottom, doubling the surface area the coolant must pass through. Radiators built in this manner cost between $600 and $1,200, depending on the size, configuration, and manufacturer.
A transmission cooler can be run in the radiator also, which keeps the transmission the same temperature without being affected by ambient temperature. This maintains a much more consistent transmission temperature over an external transmission cooler, which allows the transmission to run cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer. Gen III/IV engines do not tend to run hot, so if your LS is running much hotter than the thermostat installed, there’s a problem.
Mounting: Mounting the radiator below the engine is a common LS engine swap procedure that produces ineffective cooling and excessive heat. This is not an issue in most muscle cars and trucks, but on many other vehicles the radiator simply doesn’t have clearance to be mounted in a position higher than the engine. In this scenario, the engines tend to hold air pockets that lead to overheating.
There are a couple of solutions for bleeding air out of a cooling system. The first is to use the upper radiator hose to fill the engine. This allows the coolant to fill the engine from the top down, helping to force the air out. Once the upper hose overflows, connect it to the radiator and fill the remainder of the radiator. Fill the overflow tank to half full. Then the engine should be run with the heater at full blast and brought up to temperature. The overflow tank drains into the radiator. Once the cap is removed and more coolant is added, the overflow tank should remain at about one-quarter full when the engine is cool. If there is air in the system, the tank drains and more should be added until the tank remains at one-quarter full.
This does not always work. Jaguars That Run offers a specialized part that installs in line with the upper radiator hose. This piece contains a valve that allows the system to be purged of any remaining air.
The stock cast-aluminum water neck (also called the thermostat housing) points at a 90-degree angle toward the passenger’s side. This position works fine for many installations, but you may need a non-stock unit to accommodate a different radiator or chassis. There are several aftermarket alternatives to the stock cast water neck. Two such options are a straight unit (which is the best one for the early Corvettes), and a 360-degree swivel with either a 45-or 15-degree outlet.
Each water neck must match the water pump design, 1998–2003 and 2004–up. Since there is no mechanical fan to get in the way, you can easily run a lower radiator hose to the driver-side outlet on the radiator to prevent having to buy a new radiator.
A unique design feature on LS engines is a pair of steam lines that route from the cylinder heads through the throttle body and onto the radiator. These lines circulate warm coolant through the throttle body to warm the intake charge on cold days and ensure that no air is in the cooling system. They must also be routed to the return tank on the radiator. There are three ways to accomplish this.
The first is to use a traditional routing pattern and run a line from the driver-side cylinder head to the return tank on the radiator.
The second option is to drill and tap the top of the water pump with a 1/4-inch tap, install a 90-degree pipe fitting, and route the steam lines to the top of the water pump. This option certainly results in a cleaner look, but requires some additional work. As a bonus, if aluminum or stainless-steel hard line is used, the lines can be polished, adding some flash to a very utilitarian function.
The final option is to splice a “T” fitting into the heater hose, routing the steam line to it instead of to the radiator.
Steam Line Fittings
Steam lines are a necessary component of an LS engine swap. The problem is that they often look less than stellar with barbed fittings and rubber lines. A great alternative to the stock setup is to convert to AN-style lines. Aftermarket plumbing involves AN fittings, which were developed by the aerospace industry. Each AN size directly correlates to a specific outside diameter of metal tubing. Each size is listed as -X with the number after the “-” indicating a 1/16-inch increase in size. Therefore, a -3 fitting is 3/16 inch, -4 is 1/4 inch, and so on.
Choosing which components to use depends on your budget and the level of performance desired. Earl’s Performance Plumbing offers several different types of fittings and hoses to suit each system’s needs. The Ano-Tuff hard-anodized fittings resist corrosion and wear better than the more common red and blue anodizing. Swivel-Seal hose ends keep the hose from twisting and collapsing when assembling the lines in the car. The steam line adapters are from Trick Flow and have -6 male ends for the hose connections.
An electric fan must be used because Gen III/IV (except for 5.3 1999–2005 Vortec) engines do not have provisions for a mechanical fan. There are many options for electric fans, both stock and aftermarket, and each requires custom fitting to the radiator.
For the budget-minded builder, reusing stock radiator fans is an inexpensive option. Most salvage yards include the stock fans (and maybe the radiator) when you buy a complete engine. Because the Gen III/IV platform is relatively new, there is plenty of life left in the fan motors. Of course, new fans have guarantees and can be configured exactly how they are needed.
Electric fans have many benefits over mechanical fans. Electric fans are set to run at a predetermined temperature, allowing the engine to reach operating temperature much faster. This improves fuel economy and reduces engine wear and oil contamination.
The electric fan can also operate when the engine is off, so the coolant in the radiator cools while the car is sitting. This helps keep the engine in its optimum temperature range during all driving conditions. How-ever, correct installation is essential. If electric fans are not installed correctly (with an electric fan shroud), they are not able to draw air through the entire radiator, and efficiency suffers.
When shopping for an electric fan, make sure to purchase one designed for high-performance engines and one that has a fan shroud for maximum efficiency. Some of the leading electric fans for LS engines are from Flex-a-lite, Griffin, AutoLocZirgo, and PermaCool.
Factory water pumps are suitable for most performance applications with mechanical pumps, being the staple for high-performance street cars. However, electric water pumps have broken free of the stigma of being strictly for drag racing and can update the functionality of an LS swap.
One of the biggest benefits to an electric pump, beyond the horse-power savings, is the ability to wire a timer that circulates coolant through the engine after the engine is shut off, providing a consistent cooling rate. Meziere Enterprises’ LS engine pump is available with an idler puller, so the serpentine belt system can be retained, or without an idler pulley for race engines.
There are several flow ratings for electric pumps: from 20 to about 60 gallons per minute (gpm). For street applications, you want an extreme-duty motor that delivers as much GPM as possible, in the 45 to 55 range. The Meziere LS pump provides 55 gpm, as does the CVR electric LS pump.
There are even options for a remote-mount electric pump, using a conversion kit from Moroso, which allows you to put an electric pump anywhere under the hood. The keys to an electric water pump installation are the heater hose fittings. Not all electric pumps come with all the ports required for hooking up heater hoses, so you have to work around that. Stainless-steel mounting hardware is included with this lightweight pump. Electric pumps clear camshaft belt drives, Jesel belt drives, and most blower drives, but spacers are necessary to clear distributor belt drives without the inlet fitting. The fitting must match the size of the lower radiator hose. The average amperage draw is 6 to 7 amps.
The biggest gain with an electric water pump is through elimination of drag. Just by dropping the drag of the pump’s operation from the engine, you can gain 15 hp, plus the cool factor goes way up.
If you plan to run aftermarket gauges, you need to install an adapter into the block to convert the sending unit to SAE threads. The engine has a 12-mm plug on the rear passenger-side head that can be removed to provide the coolant temperature sender location.
Drill and tap for the pipe thread or fit a simple adapter to the head for converting from 12-mm to 1/8-, 1/4-, 3/8-, or 1/2-inch pipe thread. This needs to be done before installing the engine in the vehicle; otherwise it is extremely difficult to install the adapter.
Should it be too late to install the adapter, Flex-a-lite offers an inline adapter to be installed in the upper radiator hose. The adapter, designed to fit 11/2-inch and 13/4-inch hoses, has two 1/4-inch NPT threaded holes and a brass plug. This makes it easy to keep tabs on the coolant temperature.
Feature Vehicle: Gen III Jeep YJ
The Jeep Wrangler YJ is a venerable off-road vehicle, and most agree that through the years the Jeep Wrangler has delivered better off-road performance than any of its competitors. Whether it’s rock crawling, trail riding, or just going where most other 4x4s can’t, the Jeep has them all beat. Take it to the street, however, and the small, inline 4.0 6-cylinder engine does not deliver inspiring performance.
Engine swaps for the Jeep platforms have always been popular. The Buick V-6 is a classic Jeep swap, as is the traditional small-block Chevy 350. The most popular is the LS swap. Ken Wolkens is one of those Jeep owners who definitely needed a bit more power. Jeep enthusiasts tend to be of the “built not bought” mindset, using parts from other vehicles to make their Jeep better.
Built as a daily driver with the ability to go anywhere, Ken’s 1992 Jeep YJ uses many stock parts taken from salvage yards. The 5.3 4L60E transmission, power control module (PCM), wire harness, and drive-by-wire throttle pedal came from a 2005 Silverado with 24,000 miles on the odometer. To make the Gen II work with the Jeep, an NP231C transfer case with manual shifter and adapter from the transfer case to the transmission were sourced from a late-1980s to a mid-1990s Chevy S10 4×4. Rounding out the drivetrain is a D2 8.8 traction-lock rear axle with disc brakes from a 1995–2002 Ford Explorer.
The NP231 case was split, using the GM front half and the Jeep rear half and output shaft. This allowed Ken to use the Jeep speedometer output from the transfer case to drive the factory speedometer. The rest of the gauges were reused, keeping the Jeep oil and temperature sensors in the Vortec block.
The engine was mounted using a set of motor mounts from Advance Adapters, along with the factory transmission crossmember with a new hole for the 4L60E transmission. To make things easy, Ken cut a hole in the side of the transmission adapter for a vehicle speed sensor that tracks the vehicle speed through a reluctor wheel. This eliminates the need to program shift tables to the two-wheel-drive PCM.
Several exhaust manifolds fit the Jeep chassis. F-Body and C5–C6 Corvette LS manifolds work great, but truck manifolds do not. Ken used the C6 factory manifolds, which cleared the chassis perfectly.
The fuel system uses a Walbro GSS 310 255-liter-per-hour in-tank pump feeding a Corvette filter/regulator combo through a new 3/8-inch hard line to the engine. The Jeep fuel system line is a diminutive 5/16 inch, and is not capable of feeding an LS-series engine.
Even though the Jeep chassis is small, there were very few clearance issues. The main challenge with a Gen III/IV engine is clearance from the power steering pump to the lower steering shaft. There is only 3/4 inch, which is fairly tight. Ken used the stock Jeep hose, and adjusted the bends to fit. They worked, so nothing major needed to be done.
Another key issue was the radiator. Ken tried to adapt three radiators until he found one that worked. That one was a “custom-fit Jeep LS swap radiator” he found on eBay. It features a crossflow design with both inlet and outlet on the passenger’s side. The hoses were purchased at the local parts store using wire shapes as a guide.
With the details handled, the freshly assembled Jeep YJ has ample power. Passing on the highway requires a deft foot on the pedal to keep it from breaking the tires loose. With V-8 power and fuel economy that rivals the original 4-cylinder, Ken has a great-looking Jeep that can go anywhere and pass anything, including the gas pump.
Written by Jefferson Bryant and Posted with Permission of CarTechBooks