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You can turn your garage space into an automotive “super shop” with these 13 cool tools. And they won't break the bank (just dent it a little).
Sometimes it's just not worth the time and effort to
save a rusted fastener or clamp. When I run into
those situations, I break out my cutoff tool, slice
through the rusted part and install new parts. You
can buy an air-powered cutoff tool at any home
center for about $30, but it consumes a lot of air (10
cfm). If you don't have a huge two-stage compressor,
an electric version may be a better option.
Cutoff tools aren't just for cutting rusted parts.
They're great for cutting angle, shelf brackets and
Lighting up a jam-packed engine compartment that has deep, hidden
components can be a real challenge. I usually use two lights: one to
flood the entire area and a smaller one to fit in the tight places.
Incandescent trouble lights pose a safety hazard when used around
gasoline, and I've lost count of how many times I've been burned by
the hot reflector. So I've tried several alternatives. The long-tube fluorescents
and LED “stick” lights don't cut it. They're either too dim or
too long, or they cast too narrow of a beam pattern. So I switched to a
short-tube 26-watt fluorescent floodlight. The floodlight’s twin 13-watt bulbs match a 125-watt incandescent in output, so it really lights up the entire engine. You'll still need a small light to illuminate the tight spots (see below).
I hate reassembling dirty, greasy, gritty engine and brake components.
The dirty bolts cross-thread easily; gasket adhesive
doesn't stick well; it's no fun to work on dirty stuff; and you
can't see what's really going on underneath all the grime.
That's why I got a parts washer. This 3-1/2-gallon tabletop unit
was only $50 at a home center. Add a
parts washing brush and 2 gallons of concentrated degreaser
and you'll get out of the store for less than $65. Set it up and
add water and you're ready to clean all those greasy, grimy
parts and bolts. And don't forget to dunk your tools in the
cleaner too. Just give them a quick wipe to dry them off
before you put them back in your toolbox.
Car repair is a messy business,
and if you don't use a drip pan
or a large piece of cardboard,
you'll wind up with an oily mess
on your garage floor. If you're
the kind of cheapskate who
saves appliance boxes just for
this purpose, more power to
you. But the rest of you can
easily afford to buy a real drip
pan with a lip all around the
edge. When you're done,
just pour the oil into your recycling
bottle and put the pan
back under your car to catch
any remaining drips.
A wimpy $30 vise may satisfy your
wallet, but you'll regret buying one the
first time you have to crank the bolts
off a really big part. So skip the cheapies
and invest in a heavy-duty vise. You
want a vise with at least 5-1/2-in. jaws,
a pipe clamping area, dual swivel locks
and a large anvil area. I found this
Masterforce model at a home center
for $100. But you can find great deals
on good used vises on Craigslist or at
neighborhood garage sales.
In less time than it takes your air compressor to pump
up to full pressure, you could remove the lug nuts from
two wheels using an electric impact wrench. Sure, the
electric models don't pack the same torque as an air-powered
wrench, but you don't need that much torque
just to remove lug nuts. If all you're doing is tire rotation
and an occasional heavy-duty repair, an electric
impact wrench is just the ticket. Just make sure you
use a hand-held torque wrench to tighten the lug nuts.
A rolling creeper seat doesn't need
much explanation. You sit on it. You
store tools and parts under it. And
you roll around to reach the tools and
parts you forgot.
Find creeper seats at any auto
parts store, home center or online
tool site. The model shown here
costs about $33. A unit with a
pneumatic lift and a contoured seat
(for you Ferrari owners) could set you
back $150 or more.
Got a knocking, ticking or
humming sound and don't
know where it's coming
from? Pinpoint the problem
with an automotive
stethoscope. Just touch
the probe to the most
likely suspects and the
culprit will stand out like a
sore thumb. Pick up a
stethoscope at any auto
parts store or online.
Essential cleaners and lubricants
If you're going to do repair work, you simply have to
keep some basic lubricants and special chemicals on
hand. Here's what every shop should have.
In the old days you laid your tools out on a fender pad. Try that on a
late-model vehicle with a sloped fender and you'll find your tools
on the floor. So buy a rolling cart and keep all your tools right at your fingertips.
Most cars, trucks, and lawn and garden implements use
metric hex and star fasteners. So why wait until you're
knee-deep in a repair before you discover that you need
a special socket? Buy a set of each style now. And if you
use an air or electric impact wrench, pick up an impact-rated
universal joint and several impact extension bars.
Chrome sockets like the ones shown are for use with
hand ratchets only, not impact wrenches.
An electric impact wrench is a heckuva lot better than a hand wrench. But
seriously, nothing beats raw air power and air tools when you want to make
quick work of just about any auto or small-engine repair.
But first you need a real air compressor like the one shown, not some
wimpy $99 2-gallon unit designed to run a nail gun. And don't get suckered
by horsepower ratings; they don't mean anything. Instead, look for a compressor
with at least a 15- to 20-gallon tank and a minimum output of 5 cfm
at 90 psi. That'll power just about any air tool you want, except a sandblaster.
For that, you need at least 10 cfm, and a rich uncle.
When it comes to working in small spaces,
fluorescent lights are too big, and flashlights
aren't bright enough (and don't stay
put). But the latest rechargeable LED lights
fit the bill perfectly. They're much shorter
and brighter than first-generation 70+ LED
stick lights. Plus the battery lasts longer (up
to five hours on a charge) and recharges
faster. So these LED lights are perfect for
DIY auto and small-engine work, as well as
home repairs. This LED cordless
you to switch between a broad 120-degree
beam and a focused, flashlight-size beam.
I don't know why glove manufacturers
can't design a pop-up glove dispenser
along the lines of a facial tissue box.
But until they do, add this inexpensive
magnetic nitrile glove box holder to
your shop. It's magnetic, so slap it to
your toolbox or rolling cart and yank
out new gloves whenever you need
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.
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