A fuel economy rant

This all started with a video sent to me by someone else. Here’s the rub.

Watch this video:

I love how this guy starts the video by saying “I got something here to tick you off!” It worked…

Now I know that the numbers are a little fuzzy and they don’t convert directly, but here is my thought process. Follow me here:

I wanted to make sure this comparison was as close an “Apples to Apples” comparison as possible so I selected the Jetta since it was available in very much the same configurations in the US and UK. Both were 6 speed manual transmission 2.0 TDI powertrains, in the same model car.

HERE is the link to the US version and HERE is a link to the UK version. Following me so far? Good.

Now to complicate the comparison slightly is the fact that the MPG rating of the two vehicles are measured differently. The UK rating is based upon the imperial gallon which, of course is about 20% larger than a US gallon (1 Imperial Gallon = 1.2009504234173434 Gallons US). Also, European cars are frequently rated in liters of fuel used to travel 100km. So you have to make the conversion to be able to compare the hard numbers. Luckily, once again the internet is your friend and saves you from having to strain your brain to recall all of those long forgotten algebra lessons. HERE is a link to a handy conversion site that I like to frequent for matters such as these.

So… you punch in the numbers and this is what you find out: The UK version of the same car gets the equivalent of 38.559 MPG (US) city and 57.369 MPG (US) highway. You can calculate this by either converting MPG Imperial to MPG US or by converting the L/100km figures to MPG US.  They agree either way.

One of two things must be going on here. One possible explanation is that the fuel in the UK is more efficient than what we have here and that could make some sense, but more likely in my mind is the fact that the US models are saddled with more emissions controls than the UK versions and that decreases their mechanical efficiency. Either way this is pretty frustrating. In addition, the 1.6 liter Blue Motion TDI engine that is mentioned in the video (which gets 45.2 MPG (US) city and a stunning 65.4 MPG (US) highway) isn’t even offered in the US. I can’t speculate on the reasoning for the exclusion of this option from the US market, but I don’t have any reason to doubt the explanation offered in the video.

All this begs the question “what is the goal here?”. Are we really striving to make the most fuel efficient vehicles possible or are we trying to shape the market to fit our preconceived goal or reshaping the way that America moves and works? Is it just a power grab? Why the obsession with gas/electric hybrids when these TDI’s get as good or better fuel economy? Why the big push to the all electric vehicle when it clearly isn’t what the majority of Americans want? I guess it is just another case of “Big brother knows best”. Maybe we peons aren’t smart enough o know what is best for us. It’s a good thing we don’t have to fend for ourselves out there in the big, scary world like all those folks in the UK who get to choose their cars from all the options available.

One think is for sure, It does tick you off to think about it (at least it does for me).

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A “Throwback” — What is so good about “old fashioned”?

A year or two ago, Pepsico introduced a series of “throwback” sodas. Throwback Mountain Dew was one of my favorites and is actually one of the best sodas (we call it “pop” here in the midwest) I have ever had. The idea, or at least the marketing ploy, was that these were made with the old formula and used all natural sugar instead of all the high fructose corn syrup that is typically used in the recipe for the cola. I haven’t seen that stuff in a while now, so I am assuming its limited run has expired and we’re back to the “new” stuff now. The Throwback however just had that old fashioned taste that I remember tasting at my grandpa’s little general store when I was little. He had a big chest style soda cooler full of different kinds of soda in glass bottles. As a kid he would let me pick one out, I would open the bottle cap on the bottle opener on the side of the cooler and then sit there and sip the sweet nectar with Papaw. It had a distinctly “old fashioned” feel to it. The fact that I feel the need to link to a Wikipedia article on what a bottle cap or a bottle opener is amuses me and serves to reinforce my point here.

Now maybe I am just reminiscing about childhood memories and that association has clouded my judgement, but it seems to me that there is something special about how things used to be. Maybe I am just longing for the simpler days of my youth when I had no responsibilities, but is it possible that there is something to be said for the “old fashioned” approach? I had a conversation with a friend this week about this subject and I have been thinking about it a lot since then.I had this conversation with a friend and fellow blogger who writes the blog Heritage Breed Farms. We were discussing his series on homesteading and watching his cows graze and felt that a philosophical discussion was appropriate. I was retelling that I had heard a story recently that Americans spend less of their time and resources on food and shelter at this point in time than they ever have. Reportedly, it takes us fewer hours per week of working our jobs to put a roof overhead and food on the table than has ever been the case in the past. With that in mind, it would appear as though in many ways these are the “good old days”, but are they really? Why the fascination with the old fashioned? Are we really happier and better off now than we were? Is all that leisure time doing us good or harm?

We live just minutes away from one of the largest non-electric goods retailers in the country. Lehman’s Hardware in Kidron Ohio sells tons of non electric and old fashioned tools, home items and appliances. This place is an old-fashioned homesteader’s dream! All kinds of old fashioned, quality built tools, toys and supplies can be found under one roof there at Lehman’s. And it is BIG business. Go there on a Saturday in the summer time and you will see what I mean. The place is packed and they do volumes more mail order business on top of their retail business. Apparently the “old fashioned” approach is in vogue. Why is that, I wonder? Well let me take a stab at an explanation if I can.

I once heard a radio commentators talking about this very subject and his thoughts on the matter resonated with me. His point was this. Things that are good are often hard to do, and often things that are hard to do are good.  This seems at first to be a simplistic approach to the subject, but I that his statement is more profound when you think about it a while. Good things in life often come at the price of hard work. And I would propose that to some degree hard work is in and of itself a good thing. The satisfaction of having worked hard to accomplish something gives a deep sense of gratification that few other things can compare to. Another benefit of working hard is the sense of delayed gratification that comes from working long and hard and waiting for the fruits of your labor. At our house home made ice cream is a good example. Sure I could go and buy a pail of ice cream at the store and just scoop and eat. Sure it would be easier. It would probably be cheaper too. The difference is in the gratification of making it yourself the old fashioned way. The “elbow grease” that it takes to crank that ice cream freezer just makes the end result so much sweeter.

So here is to springtime, gardening, hard work, slow progress, and the “old fashioned” approach. May you sweat for and earn your satisfaction this spring. Some things are just better done the old fashioned way.

What is the Tinkerer’s Tool Chest?

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the direction of this blog. In addition to being a project log of sorts, this is a place for me to organize my thoughts, learn a little bit about things that intrigue me, and to voice my opinions about the issues at hand. But what kind of tool chest does the tinkerer use (no, the blog is not the “tinkerer Stool chest” as some have mused that’s just gross!).

Let me give you a hint in the form of a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci:

 

The human head drawn by Leonardo da Vinci

The human head drawn by Leonardo da Vinci (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The tool chest to which I refer is the noggin’ that the Good Lord gave each one of us. The tools that are used in tinkering are for the most part your mental faculties. Regardless of what mechanical aptitudes or physical tools you possess we all have the ability to gain knowledge. Knowledge it the greatest tool of all.

I have talked some in previous posts about my approach to the “Prepper” mentality, and I think this subject is the perfect example of what I am talking about. I don’t know how most other people are, but I react much better to a difficult situation if I am mentally prepared. Having prepared mentally for a challenge makes success much more likely.

So while I may talk some about tools here (My previous top 10 tools posts) the majority of my time at the keyboard is spent talking about subjects that can teach us something. Regardless of the funds available, the time that you have to spend, or the availability of the facilities to work on a project, we all can read and learn. Having the knowledge of a few basic skills makes us all more rounded individuals and a better asset to the society in which we live.

So get out there and try something new. This weekend. Learn a new skill or exercise an old one. Work, sweat, and strain those muscles and mental faculties. It makes us all a better people for doing it.

 

“I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it.” — Vincent Willem van Gogh

 

Why Do It Yourself?

I have already admitted my almost obsession-like fascination with tinkering. Why do I do that? Why do I feel the need to take things apart and see how they work, why they don’t work and how I can make them work again? Why do I feel a strange compulsion to do everything myself? Why can’t I just pay someone to change my oil? As is the case with most problems now-a-days, I blame my parents. (Kidding of course, but not really).

From a very young age I can recall seeing my dad work on the car in the driveway in front of our house. We had a late 70’s or early 80’s Chrysler Lebaron Towne and Country station wagon, and like most of the Chrysler products I have had experience with it was plagued with powertrain problems. Yes, ours had the same wood grain paneling on the sides and was the same color as the one in this picture I found.

I can distinctly remember helping dad change the engine once and I think the transmission as well (give me a break I was like 4 okay!?).  Add to that the fact that my mom was of the crafty sort and made little crafts and toll painted notions and sold them at flea markets and craft stores and I was exposed to a variety of tools at an early age. Apparently those times spent handing dad tools must have made an impression on me because I began to emulate my father’s actions and I started taking things apart. As dad was out walking the dogs in the evening he would pick stuff up along the way that people had set out for the garbage man (another habit I have inherited to a degree) and bring them home for me to take apart for inspection. Old record turn tables, small home appliances, computer hard drives, and the like soon turned into me taking apart non-working lawn mower engines. I can remember trying to make simple repairs on a couple of old lawn tractors we had when I couldn’t have been older that 10. I had caught the bug for sure.

As I got older I began to express my frustrations to my parents about not having the money to buy the things I wanted and to this day I credit my parents for helping me to understand the value of earning your own way. I began mowing yards in the summer time for some spending money when I was probably 6 or 7 and was given my own tool box and tools for my 6th birthday. By the time I turned 12 I was working on a dairy farm where our family lived for a little while. That job made an indelible mark on me as a young man and it was a job I would hold in one way or another until I was 19. My Grandpa had been a farmer and part of that generation and that lifestyle is that you fix what you own yourself. You don’t pay to have things repaired when you can make the necessary repairs yourself. I can remember watching my grandpa change tractor tires himself, rather than paying to have the local tire company do it for him. It was a grueling job for sure, but again, it could be done yourself so it was done without outside help. I must have felt in some way that by working on a dairy farm I was following in the footsteps of my dad and my grandpa, even though by that time my grandpa had passed away. So for 7 years I spent summers and afternoons working on the farm. I started just doing the little odds and ends that a youngster on a farm would do, but by then end of my time on the farm, I was spending a good portion of my time working in “The Shop”. We repaired a lot of machinery there in that re-purposed chicken coop. We restored the farm truck, tore down and rebuilt an entire combine, rebuilt the engines in a couple of tractors, built some of our own equipment, and fixed just about whatever broke. Those years taught me more than I ever could have imagined and just served to fuel the fire for my little “habit”.

Fast forward a few years and I was getting married and had a place of my own. I already had quite a few tools I had purchased over the years. By this time I had moved on from my employment at the farm and was working for an electrical contractor. This served to expose me to a completely different sort of experiences and I was buying a little more in the way of tools all the time for work. Our first house had a small garage and it didn’t take long until I had turned a portion of it into a workshop of my own. By this time in life I had moved to the status of the family handyman (or at least auto mechanic) and was making small repairs for friends as well as the occasional “side job” for an acquaintance.

That tells you the how of my little habit, but may not explain the “why”. For that, I have to get a bit more personal yet. I cannot explain fully why I feel compelled to work with my hands, but for some reason I experience a deep sense of satisfaction in working with my hands. Whether it comes from the experience of seeing the literal “fruits of your labor” in those years on the farm, or by some sort of compulsion of knowing that this type of thing runs in my family, I don’t know. What I do know is that when I open something up and carefully inspect its innards I get a feeling for how it is designed and how it should work. The understanding of how mechanical things work helps make sense of the daily grind of life. Every part has a specific purpose. Each component, no matter how small has a specific role to perform and for the greater machine as a whole to be functional each part must accomplish its task at the given time. I believe in a greater power, a master designer that lovingly and carefully engineered this universe to run as it should. Seeing things, no matter how great or small that we can design and build gives me an even greater understanding and appreciation for the level of design that it takes to make the rest of the world work. Maybe I am mixing the philosophical, the theological and the mechanical to a degree to which they are not meant to be combined, but in my mind they are interwoven.

One thing is for sure. I will see to it that my son (and daughters) are exposed to some of the same factors that impacted me as a youngster. Maybe I am indoctrinating them, isn’t that a parent’s job? My son is already “scrapping” his old and broken toys; taking them apart to the smallest piece possible and looking at the parts. It’s about time I get that boy a proper tool box and set of tools. After all, isn’t it the duty of a parent to see to it that a child has the proper tools and knowledge for life?

Why not share?

Wow! It’s been a while since I have made a post here!

The weather here in NE Ohio is starting to look like spring and my time has been occupied with plenty of outdoor projects (and another couple of automotive “projects”) and honestly I have been at a bit of a loss for subject matter on which to post. I did, however, happen to think of something to post about today.

There are a few things that a man can use from time to time that just don’t warrant purchase individually because they are used so seldom. In my case I can think of a couple of examples. One would be a log splitter. I use it a couple weeks out of the year and the rest of the time it just sits. Another example would be a flat bed trailer.

Why not share the costs and benefits of owning things like this with a group of other people? I have a circle of friends with whom I have done just that! Any log splitter worth anything is going to cost you around a grand, new or used. So a year or so ago 4 or 5 friends and neighbors of mine went together to buy one. We pass it around as needed and we each only had to pony up a couple hundred dollars for the purchase. This has, so far, worked out really well. A similar arrangement has been made in regard to a trailer with a couple of friends.

Regardless of the complexity of the agreement between the members of a group, this sort of arrangement works well as long as the members take care of the equipment that is being shared. I even read an article recently about a group in a major metropolitan area that have assembled a “tool library” of sorts where the members can go to their warehouse and “check out” the tools needed to complete their task. It is similar to a rental station, but each member pays a fee for membership yearly and the collection of tools includes smaller hand tools than are generally available from a rental station.

We haven’t gone to that extent but many of my friends and family know the sorts of tools that I have and that they are welcome to borrow the tools. Making sure that those involved have something to offer for you to borrow is an added security against having anyone take advantage of the situation or to feel that they are doing so. There are some people who don’t mind taking constantly without giving something in return, but in general most folks around here would be happier if given the opportunity to repay a favor in some way.

This communal approach to sharing tools and equipment can have its downfalls, but as long as the lines of communication are kept open and everyone respects the property as belonging (at least in part) to someone else it works well. It has really worked out well in our case. In fact, in many instances those involved treat the equipment better than if it were solely theirs since they have the added accountability of sharing it with others. There are some tools that we don’t all use enough to justify the cost of their purchase, but if you work together, sometimes it just works out top share a little!

Camping! An American pasttime

As the weather warms (it is supposed to be 75 degrees today) our minds start to look toward the summer and its leisure time activities. One of the favorite leisure activities of our family is camping. I grew up spending our family vacations in the summer time camping out and our family has continued the tradition. Camping is an inexpensive, and (for us) very enjoyable way to spend some quality family time together. The majority of our trips are filled with food, fun and friends. Many a summer’s evening is enjoyed by our family sitting and cooking around an open campfire. Camp cuisine for us includes the traditional camp classics like pie iron pizzas and dessert pies, s’mores, and hot dogs as well as some less conventional family traditions like home made ice cream, Skyline Chili, and “walking tacos”.

Regardless of your budget, there are lots of degrees to which you can get into camping. Many families enjoy camping out of the trunk of a car with a dome tent, others prefer the ease and comfort of a full size travel trailer. But for us, our family of 5 is comfortable in our pop up camper. It is about the largest pop-up (some call them tent trailers) that is available and the model we have now has a slide-out dinette that serves to enlarge the space inside the camper. This is especially nice when you are faced with spending some time inside the camper due to inclement weather. A trip to a camping expo is all that is required to see the width and breadth of the camping trailer designs available on today’s market. There are literally hundreds of options ranging from the bare bones basic “You want me to sleep WHERE!? tent camping approach to the plush and comfortable “That’s not REALLY camping” Approach taken by the inhabitants of a class A motor home.

One of the benefits of camping that our family enjoys is that it provides a useful outlet for purchasing some pieces of gear that are really helpful in the event of an emergency. Anyone who has read more than a couple of my posts knows that I am always scanning the horizon trying to forecast what may be to come and to be prepared for it when it gets here. Call it paranoia, call it a “prepper” mentality, but I like to be prepared. I might even say that I enjoy being prepared. Battery powered lanterns, a small propane powered stove, water jugs, sleeping bags, and the like are useful not only when you’re out for a weekend at the campground, but also if the power goes out and remains out for an extended time. One piece of gear in particular that I got recently is an ingenious little item called a “Kelly Kettle“.

English: Storm kettle in operation (this one i...

Kelly Kettle

It is a device that allows you to heat water to boiling in a matter of minutes using anything that will burn. Whether camping or in an emergency, boiling water is a real asset and it is what this device was designed for. It can boil water literally in minutes, taking only  3-5 minutes to bring 1.5 liters of water to a boil — our stove at home can’t even do that! The kit that I got (thanks to my family) as a birthday present includes attachments that will allow you to cook over the unit at the same time. I won’t go into greater detail right now as I may spend the time to do an in depth review some time soon. Suffice to say it is an ingenious little device.

But by far the biggest asset that is found by camping is that of the time and memories spent with family and friends. The memories that are made sitting around a crackling fire are etched forever into our memories. (Would it be too cliche to say that they’re “burned” into our minds?) The first time the kids were old enough to remember going camping as a family they pretended they were camping for weeks after we had returned home.

So fuel up the truck, check the trailer lights and load up the food. Camping season is just around the corner. I for one can hardly wait!

Top 10 Tools for the Automotive DIY’er

Socket Set Deep and shallow well, 6 pt.

Time for another “Top 10 tools” list. This list is the top 10 tools for the automotive DIY’er. I have been wrenching on cars most of my life and I seldom (okay, never) take my car to a shop to have someone else perform service or repairs to it. I would rather spend the money on tools! While I know a lot of people aren’t willing to perform an engine overhaul, or change a transmission, I bet there are a lot of people who wouldn’t mind changing their own oil or doing a simple brake job and having the tools to allow you to do the job is the first step toward empowering you to do so.

My approach to automotive hand tools has been to buy from reputable tool manufacturers. While a cheap hammer will still pound nails, a cheap ratchet or a bad wrench will cause headaches that you just don’t need when you’re dealing with an automotive repair. I tend to buy the best hand tools I can afford for automotive repair. Right now, at this stage of life, that  means I can not afford Snap-On, MAC, Cornwell or any of the other high end, professional quality tool manufacturers. What I usually end up with is Craftsman tools because decent prices + respectable quality = a good value. I have mentioned it before that I like buying from Craftsman because they have an unconditional lifetime guarantee on many of their hand tools, and I have had the opportunity to hold them to that guarantee on more than one occasion. This is not to say that they are the only place to get decent tools, since there are other high quality hand tools available as well from Kobalt, Stanley and others. The best word of caution is to look at where the tools are made; nothing against China, but  they don’t make good hand tools, Taiwan is in the same boat. If you get a tool made in the USA or even Mexico, you’re likely holding a fairly decent piece of gear.

Furthermore, I fully recognize that there are literally hundreds of variations of specialty tools for automotive purposes. Professional automotive technicians spend thousands of dollars on their tools and have some very specific specialty tools for individual applications. I’m not going to get into those tools in detail. What we’re going for here is a quick top 10 of the most versatile and useful tools for general use in repairing your auto. Also, I am going to assume that if you’re interested in repairing your auto, you’re interested in repairing your home as well, so in the interest of simplicity I will not be including any of the tools that were on my previous lists of Top 10 Hand tools and Top 10 Power tools for the homeowner.

Okay, enough with the tool drivel, on to the Top 10 list! Here in no particular order are my top 10 recommendations for getting your automotive tool collection started (witty, yet somewhat dry pun intended, yeah you probably had to read it again didn’t you?).

  • Combination Wrench Set – One of the most useful things you will buy in working on your own auto is a good set of combination wrenches. Whereas many applications in the home will allow for the clearance to use a crescent (adjustable) wrench, when you’re working on your car, clearance is almost always at a premium. Having a wrench that will fit into the tight spots on your car is of tantamount importance. The first wrenches that I reach for in my collection are from the manufacturer GearWrench. These wrenches are a typical combination wrench with an open end and a closed (box) end, but they have the added feature of having a ratchet mechanism built into the box end of the wrench. Placing the box end over a fastener allows you to operate the handle in a back and forth motion without removing the wrench from the fastener. The ratchet mechanism loosens or tightens the fastener depending on the direction you have the tool set to operate. Some wrenches have a lever that you flip to reverse the direction of operation (Mine are like this) and some, you simply flip the tool over. These things are really handy! I have tried other gimmicky wrenches, but these are in a class of unparallelled usefulness all by themselves. These are truly a great tool. Of consideration is whether the auto you’re most likely to work on uses Metric or Standard (SAE). If your car is an import it likely uses Metric sizes on the fasteners, if it is a domestic car, well then it’s a crap shoot. Many Domestic cars are a strange hybrid of metric and SAE fasteners as some of the parts are made overseas. My projects (even on domestic cars and trucks) are using metric tools with increasing frequency. Long story made short, it is a headache but you may need both. If you have to choose one, I would suggest that you buy the metric sizes and make sure that the set includes all the sizes. Many cheaper sets don’t include all the metric sizes and they are likely to skip sizes that you may need. Typically automotive applications use 10,12,13,14,15,17 and 18 mm sizes. Spend a good amount on these tools and you won’t regret it. A set of gearwrenches goes for around $80 while a set of standard combination wrenches is considerably less. Buy cheap wrenches and you will be calling down curses upon your own head as you try to extract rounded off fasteners than no wrench on earth will fit.
  • Screwdriver Set – Unlike my home owner list where a 6 or 10 in one screwdriver was the best tool for the application, in automotive work, you often need screwdrivers of varying sizes and lengths so buying a set of decent quality screwdrivers is a good investment. Philips and Slotted head are both needed.
  • Floor Jack and Jack Stands – If you have ever tried to use the poor excuse for a jack that is sold with most cars these days, you will understand this one. A hydraulic floor jack is a must for doing your own auto work. A 2 ton unit is typically sufficient for a regular sized car or minivan, but you should look for something a bit larger or a “SUV” model if you have an SUV or truck. Typically weight rating is not so much an issue as the maximum lift height can be. A smaller, less expensive jack will in most cases be more than powerful enough to lift your vehicle but may not lift high enough to get the wheel off the ground. Jack stands are also a must. If you are working on your car (or under it) with it supported by a hydraulic jack, you are entrusting your life to the fluid and seals within that jack. I don’t know about you but I don’t feel all that comfortable trusting life and limb to a $.05 o-ring. Having the rigid support of a jack stand is a much safer approach to supporting the vehicle for repairs to be performed. I list these together since many retailers offer them together as a kit.
  • Work Light –  I know I included work lights in my previous list, and I said I wouldn’t duplicate items in this list, but this is a more specialized type of light than you may be purchasing for another application. An automotive work light is small enough to be hung in a wheel opening while you’re doing a brake job, but needs to be powerful enough to provide enough light so you can see easily. There are lots of options here, so just find one that works for you. One thing to remember, however is that a unit that uses an incandescent light bulb will get HOT. The last thing you need when working on your car is one more way to hurt yourself, so try to stay with something that uses a fluorescent or LED lamp.
  • Oil Filter wrench – While there are a lot of different types of filter wrenches out there and each one has its strengths, the one I use the most is a Craftsman wrench similar to the model below. It is adjustable for size and fits into the tight spaces that I need to get into and does a good job loosening a filter for removal. If you’re worried about chewing up the filter while installing it, don’t be. For installation of a new filter, you don’t typically need a wrench. Most filter manufacturers will tell you that the only tension necessary is to tighten the filter until the rubber seal on the bottom of the filter is contacting the filter base, and then an additional 3/4 a turn or so. IN other words hand tight. Any tighter than that and you’re just making more work for yourself when you have to strain to remove the filter next time.
  • Socket Set – Again this is an area where you can spend from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars, it just depends how serious you are. In my opinion this is something that you can buy just once in your lifetime and have to pass on to your kids, so I would tend to spend a bit more on this area. I generally prefer to have 6 point sockets as opposed to 12 point since they are less likely to strip out a rusted or stuck fastener than a 12 point socket would be. There are different size drives (1/4″, 3/8″ and 1/2″) that will include ratchets of different sizes, but if you’re just buying one, I would suggest a 3/8″ drive as a good starting place. A 1/4″ Drive set typically also contains smaller size sockets that will be very useful for removing fasteners on the body and interior of your car. This picture shows both 6 and 12 point varieties.
  • Pliers Set – There are a lot of different types of pliers on the market, but a set of at least 5 or 6 pliers is a great way to ensure that you have the tool you need for the job at hand. The most commonly used pliers in my tool chest are a pair of bent nose needle nose pliers similar to the ones shown in the picture above (4th set in from the left). These are really good for getting into awkward spaces to release spring clips and the like. Again, most of these in my personal collection are Craftsman, but anything from Channellock, or Klein Tools will be of equal or greater quality than what I have.
  • Vise Grips – This one is almost too cliche to mention, but it really is an irreplaceable tool in terms of the function that it fills. Having a good set or two of Vice Grips in your tool box is insurance against being stonewalled by a rounded, broken or stuck fastener. This is one tool that if you don’t buy a good set, don’t bother buying any at all. A cheap set will cause more problems than it solves. In this case the Vice Grip name is a prerequisite for a good pair of locking pliers, although I have a set built by Proto and they seem to be of equal quality. The Vice Grip company was sold to Irwin tools a number of years ago and, unfortunately, since then their quality has been on the decline. Yard sales and eBay are still good places to source the genuine “Vice Grip” brand tools. Look for the distinctive logo as can be seen on the pair in the picture above. I have had other types of locking pliers and different gimmicky tools similar, and they just don’t hold a candle to the original.
  • Oxy/Acetylene torch – Okay, practical for most people – maybe not; dangerous – definitely, but this one is really the be all end all for auto work in the “rust belt” where I live. Rust, road salt and water combine to seize fasteners into place and in many cases a little heat is the only way to free them up. Enter the “Red Wrench” or “Fire Wrench” as some call it. Heating the seized nut or bolt up to cherry red will allow the metal to expand, and it will burn off the rust that is holding the fastener in place allowing you to remove it with a wrench or socket. Add to this the ability to use the torch to “cut” off a bad exhaust or fastener and with the proper technique and safety tools in place, the fire wrench can get you out of a bind in a hurry. It can also get you INTO a bind in a hurry too. It is useful for setting ablaze just about any combustible item in the vicinity so don’t use it without a fire extinguisher, wet rags, a bucket of water or all of them handy. Draping soaking rags over delicate items around the work space is helpful in safeguarding your project, but you really need to be careful. For all the dangers inherent to this tool, it is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal and knowing when and how to use it can be a huge asset. Smaller, portable units like the one pictured above can be had for around $200, take up less space than their full size brethren, and are more than capable of doing the job for smaller projects. There are some new products on the market that perform the same function by a magnetic induction process and without the fire. While these should be safer and faster alternatives, I haven’t had opportunity to see any of them work, so I can’t comment on their function.
  • Computer with an internet connection – This one may be a bit obvious but it bears to be restated. The WWW is your friend in your forays into automotive repair. There is an online forum devoted to about every car manufacturer and model under the sun and it is, no doubt populated by people that specialize in the DIY approach to caring for the car of your choice. Belonging to one of these forums is typically free and opens you up to a world of resources and experience that is truly priceless. Countless hours of frustration can be spared by the experience of the men (and women) on these sites. This is by far one of the most valuable tools you can have access to. Even without the benefit of being able to ask your questions directly, you can search past discussions, and generally find the answer you were seeking. There are YouTube videos on how to perform basic services to your car and even services where for a nominal fee you can register as ask your questions directly to a professional mechanic. The internet is possibly the best resource you have in learning how to do this work yourself.

Honorable Mention:

  • Impact Wrench – This is one tool that while not practical for everyone, if you have an air compressor you will really appreciate the convenience of having this tool at your disposal. It is the ideal tool for removing lug nuts on your wheels. There are electric models available as well for those who don’t have an air compressor at their disposal. This really makes short work of rotating your own tires.

That’s a lot of tools, I know but there are lots of options when purchasing your tools collection. The method that I have taken was to buy (or receive as gifts) a few tools at a time and accumulate this array of tools over a period of time. Others may prefer to buy a large tool set all at once. Buying the tools as a large set, is no doubt a cheaper way to get the tools. It might be a good way to use part of a tax return or bonus, and many tool sets will come with some type of tool box or organizer to store them in. As I have said before, I tend to ask for tools as gifts around the holidays or for gift cards to stores that sell tools. Having a list to work off of is a good way to start watching for those items to go on sale and stretch your dollars as well. Used tools can occasionally be bought at yard sales, auctions and online auction sites like eBay for less than new as well. Regardless of how you choose to go about it, it is money well spent in my opinion.

Well I think that is more than enough for now, Happy wrenching!

–DIY