Wrenching on a modern vehicle often requires a set of expensive and highly-specific tools. Using a generic tool on some of these cars can lead you right into a bad day. But there is still one tool with nearly universal fitment that is worth a spot in your toolbox.
Over the last few weeks we’ve kept our batteries full with a solar-powered battery trickle charger, used a right angle drill adapter to help with bodywork and broke out of trouble with an emergency escape tool. This week’s Cool Tool is the classic and still incredibly useful locking pliers.
I spent much of my holiday break working on my fleet. One of my Smart Fortwos still wasn’t starting. My Volkswagen Passat TDI had tires that kept going flat and I even saw the return of my Volkswagen Passat W8. I used a bunch of tools to do a bunch of jobs, but one kept on getting pulled out of my toolbox: old Vise-Grip locking pliers.
The invention of this tool is often credited to Danish blacksmith William Petersen. A century ago in a small town in Nebraska, Petersen found himself with a conundrum, notes the Wessels Living History Farm. He wanted to hold pieces together like a vise can, but didn’t want to go through the work of setting up a vise. Petersen developed a hand tool that combined pliers with a vise; the Vise-Grip.
My pliers first found themselves useful on the Smart Fortwo. One of the possible causes of the car’s no-start condition was a bad engine ground. Sure enough, when I looked into the engine bay I found that the ground cable was connected with a horribly rusty bolt.
I decided to replace that bolt, but found it too rotted for any socket to get a grip. The Vise-Grip was the trick, holding on tight while the teeth found grip where sockets couldn’t.
It then found use helping me swap some newer wheels onto my Passat TDI wagon. My cheap floor jack doesn’t have a handle, so I raise it using a breaker bar and release it with the Vise-Grip.
These wheels came off of a Dieselgate-era Jetta TDI. I think they look pretty nice on this B5.5 Passat.
My little Vise-Grip is useful outside of turning bolts, too. It’s currently the only way to pop the hood of my Volkswagen Phaeton. It’s as simple as locking the pliers onto the ball and pulling.
I’ve found other uses for locking pliers, too. They can work when you don’t have or lost a wrench or socket. They can also help you with pesky fittings like brake lines and fasteners that needs a tool to grip with a lot of force to help you loosen them up. And of course, you can use them to hold parts in place while you work on them.
Amusingly, despite always having a Vise-Grip in my toolbox for nearly a decade, I’ve never paid for one. Like pens, I keep finding them on the ground or in other random places. I don’t even know where my current pair came from.
If you aren’t as lucky as me, this century-old tool is dirt cheap. You can get a single for $12 or a versatile pair for $33. If you aren’t attached to name brands, you can get a bundle of them for $18.
I imagine many of you already have at least one of these. If you don’t, I highly recommend you do! If you have some, what do you use them for?