If you have no clue how to fix cars, but don’t want anyone else to know, here are some wrenching gadgets that will have your buddies convinced you’re a master in the garage, even if you really have no earthly idea what a “compression test” or a “torque spec” is.
But! Just because you’re clueless doesn’t mean you have to look clueless. Plus, you can’t just have an empty garage; your cars will get lonely. So here are some tools you can buy to keep your vehicles company, and to make yourself look like a legit mechanic. You might even pull off some repairs while you’re at it.
Let’s get straight to the item that defines the difference between a true wrencher and a poseur: a hydraulic floor jack.
Anyone who doesn’t have one of these bad boys and instead tries using the death contraptions that are scissor jacks and bottle jacks isn’t fooling anyone.
So the first thing you need to do if you want your friends to take you seriously in the garage: grab yourself a floor jack like this excellent, inexpensive one from Harbor Freight, then immediately thereafter, get some jack stands so you don’t die or suffer a horrible, horrible injury.
Because once you’ve been crushed by a car after scissor jack failed, your reputation is soiled: good luck ever convincing anybody that you know what you’re doing with a wrench! Also you might be dead, so.
Okay, so now that you’ve got the basic floor jack out of the way, you’re going to need a torque wrench, because “good ‘n tight” doesn’t always work, and real mechanics tighten bolts to spec.
But because we’re trying to show off a bit, a regular click-style torque wrench isn’t going to cut it. Instead, we’ll need the accuracy and precision of a digital one like this example from AC Delco. Nobody will for a second doubt your wrenching prowess if you’ve got this snazzy gadget in your tool set.
Just look at it: the thing’s got a screen, and buttons that let you set the torque level between 4 lb-ft and 99 lb-ft—enough for most automotive tasks like changing spark plugs and installing car or light truck wheel lug nuts. The wrench can be adjusted to show four different units (kg-cm, N-m, in-lb, ft-lb), and even works clockwise or anti-clockwise (lest you, god forbid, ever have to deal with right-hand threads.)
Once you’ve set your torque, you’ll start tightening your bolt until you’ve reached the recommended spec, at which point this fancy wrench will buzz at you, and you can just put the thing away: no need to zero it out like on click-type wrenches.
Do you really need to spend $70 extra for the extra precision and ease of use of a digital-style torque wrench versus a click-type one? Probably not, sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with buying fancy for the sake of fancy.
A compression tester is a mechanic’s stethoscope: all you have to do is attach this thing to your car’s heart, turn over the starter motor a few times, and you’ll be able to diagnose all sorts of illnesses.
A compression tester can tell you if you’ve got a bad head gasket, a cracked cylinder head, a leaky or broken valve, or worn piston rings. And since compression is one of the four basic ingredients your engine needs to run, having a way to check it is crucial in investigating why your car left you stranded in that creepy Walmart parking lot.
And like a doctor with a real stethoscope around her neck, your skills will never be doubted if you’re wielding one of these. Anyone who owns a compression tester ain’t playing around.
If a compression tester is a mechanic’s stethoscope, then a multimeter is an electrocardiogram machine. Like that machine you see plugged up to patients in a hospital, a multimeter is there to monitor your vehicle’s vital electrical signals.
You can use it to track shorts in your wiring, internal resistance of sensors, battery’s voltage, alternator output and a whole lot more. This is the only known kryptonite against terrible monsters known as electrical gremlins, but it’s a weapon that can only be handled by skilled, patient wrenchers capable of reading wiring diagrams. Learn how to use this thing, and you’ll be way ahead of most backyard mechanics, including me.
This one from Tekpower isn’t your ordinary multimeter, though, as it can also measure light output, sound volume, temperature and humidity. You might not need all of these functions, but who ever complains about having a tool with too many functions? Answer: nobody.
There’s no point in having that $50 multimeter to track down shorted wires if you can’t even properly fix the problem once you’ve found it.
And patching up or replace bad connections means using a soldering iron— none of this Twisting The Two Strands Together And Wrapping Them In Electrical Tape nonsense. Remember, we’re trying to put on airs, here; we’ve got to have the a tool that lets us fix cars the right way.
And the right way to fix shorted wires is by soldering them together, and then covering the joint with heat shrink tubing to keep out the elements.
There are few sounds in this world as satisfying as the zipping of an impact gun. This one from AC Delco has received good reviews on Amazon, in part because it works well even with cheaper, low-volume air compressors.
While old-school hand ratchets are great, hooking up the impact wrench to the air compressor, and just quickly zipping bolts from their rusty holes is a beautiful feeling, and it’s impossible to not look like a total badass doing it.
You want to look like you know what you’re doing? Buy a welder and learn how to run a beautiful bead. It’s an art, really, and one of the single most respected skills a wrencher can have in her repertoire.
This Lincoln welder isn’t the most powerful one on the planet, but it’s not expensive, uses a regular 110V house outlet, and has received exceptional reviews on Amazon.
A dial indicator is a precision instrument; anyone who’s got one of these suckers in their tool set means business.
That’s because a dial indicator is used to measure very slight imperfections in endplay, runout and backlash. Just knowing what these words mean will make you look like a pro, but being able to use one of these suckers? Please, your friends will start calling you for car advice.
Endplay is axial movement in a shaft; you might, for example, place the dial indicator against an engine’s flywheel, and push the crankshaft fore and aft— the tip of the dial indicator will plunge, and the dial will tell you how much the shaft has moved— that’s called endplay.
Runout measures roundness of a shaft, and can help you identify strange vibrations in your drivetrain. And backlash is the amount of play in a gear mesh— an important parameter when doing work with differentials or transmissions.
So yes, a dial indicator is a bit specialty tool, but considering how many rotating components and gear meshes there are in a car, these things can come in very handy. Plus, it measures in thousandths of an inch— nothing like some precise instruments to make you seem like you know what you’re doing.
One of the worst feelings in the world of wrenching is trying to loosen a bolt that won’t budge, only to snap that sombitch flush with the hole.
You can try using an EZ-out bolt extractor, but you really shouldn’t, because you’ll break it, leaving your children with the daunting task of consoling a weeping adult curled up in the fetal position in the corner of the garage.
Don’t do that to your kids; forgo the EZ out and just drill a hole into that broken bolt. Then use this tap and die set to tap new threads, and all will be well in the world. Including your dignity.
If you want to avoid having to use that tap and die set in the first place, heat that rusty stubborn bolt before trying to remove it. Get yourself one of these torches and a canister of mapp gas, and light up those rusty bolts until they’re red hot.
Heating up the connection will break the bond between the bolt and the female thread, and you’ll impress everyone when you emerge triumphantly from the dark shadows beneath that rusty car with a fully intact bolt in your hand.
Feeler gauges are basically like pocketknives, except instead of having multiple tools, they have multiple hardened steel blades of various thicknesses. That may sound boring, but they’re very handy.
The idea, here, is that if you want to set a gap between two surfaces— say the ground electrode and the center electrode on a spark plug, you simply choose the appropriate thickness called for in the repair manual, put that blade in the gap, and squeeze the two surfaces together until they touch the blade. Then pull out the feeler gauge, and you’ve got the perfect gap.
And feeler gauges can be used in all sorts of different applications, not just spark plugs. If you’ve got a vintage car, for example, you’ll probably need a feeler gauge to set the points on the ignition system, or to adjusting your valves properly.
Yes, it’s just a bunch of thin hardened steel blades, but it’s a serious precision tool that every seasoned mechanic has in his set.