Zip through metal with an electric cutoff tool
Cut out problem parts
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 threaded rod.
A retractable fluorescent floodlight
Light up your engine
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).
Parts washers aren't just for pro shops
Keep it clean
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.
A drip pan saves time
Keep your floor clean
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.
Get a beefy bench vise
A good investment
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.
Fast tire changes with an electric impact wrench
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.
Save your back and knees with a rolling seat
Stay comfortable, work longer
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.
Diagnose with a stethoscope
Find problems fast
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.
Chemicals to Keep on Hand
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.
- Lithium grease for latches and hinges.
- Brake cleaner for removing oil and grease from metal parts.
- Rust penetrant for removing rusted fasteners.
- Dry lubricant for lubricating metal to metal, and metal to plastic or rubber.
- Electronic parts cleaner for dissolving corrosion on electrical connectors.
- Anti-seize lubricant to prevent nuts and bolts from seizing in place.
- Dielectric grease to repel water in electrical connections and prevent corrosion.
- Silicone spray to lubricate windows and weather stripping.
Keep your tools within reach with a rolling cart
Must-have socket accessories
Buy now or regret it later
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.
Save your knuckles with air power
Raw power for tough jobs
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.
LED light fits in tight places
Great portable lighting
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 light allows you to switch between a broad 120-degree beam and a focused, flashlight-size beam.
Grab one glove at a time
Great glove box
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 them.