Tell Us Wrenching Tips And Tricks You've Learned Over The Years

To diagnose a belt squeal, spray water onto the belt; if the noise gets louder, your belt is slipping. If it quiets down, you’ve probably got either a belt alignment or bearing issue.
To diagnose a belt squeal, spray water onto the belt; if the noise gets louder, your belt is slipping. If it quiets down, you’ve probably got either a belt alignment or bearing issue.

While there’s a lot you can learn by reading automotive repair manuals, little “wrenching hacks” can make fixing cars a million times easier. What are the best tips and tricks you’ve got up your sleeve?

When I first started fixing cars, I found myself frustrated by even little jobs. But as I started accumulating new tricks, things got better, as I was working working smarter, not harder.

For example, I know now that if I need to remove a stud, I don’t have to use a set of vice grips and booger up the threads. Instead, I can simply spin two nuts on, tighten them against each other, and loosen the first nut—that should spin the whole stud out.

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To remove a stud without ruining threads, tighten two nuts against each other and loosen the first one installed.
To remove a stud without ruining threads, tighten two nuts against each other and loosen the first one installed.

I also learned over the years that if I need to clean oil and grease off my walls and other hard surfaces (because somehow, I manage to get grease everywhere), I use foaming bathroom cleaner. Also, if I need to get sap off my car, I squirt some hand sanitizer on it and wipe it off with a paper towel.

And, if my serpentine belt is squealing, I diagnose it with a sprayer bottle as shown in the picture above. If the noise gets louder after spraying the belt, the belt is slipping; if it gets quieter, it’s chirping and there’s likely a pulley alignment or bearing problem.

These are only a few of many, many wrenching tips I’ve learned over the years. But there are lots of little hacks out there that maybe I don’t know about yet, so tell us about your most novel ones.

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Sr. Tech Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from engineers—email me. Cars: Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94), Chrysler Voyager Diesel ('94)

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DISCUSSION

shanemorris
Shane Morris

Here are a 10 tips I learned from “Uncle Larry” - the retired Ford mechanic of 35 years who lived next door to my dad.

1. If a bolt is stuck, turn to tighten it a little first. Sometimes a little movement will free it.

2. Keep a length of a hollow steel pipe around. It can go over just about any wrench and increase your leverage.

3. Drain your oil on a slight incline or decline, according to where the drain plug is.

4. Run the engine for five minutes and bring your car up to temperature before you change the oil. It’ll flow out faster and bring out any extra bits with it.

5. Buy the expensive battery. Yes, that Optima deep-cycle is pricey, but it’s always worth it.

6. Expensive “4-tip” spark plugs are a waste of money. Just gap your plugs right and move on. (And if for some reason you’ve got a lot of buildup on your spark plugs, you’ve got bigger problems than spark plugs.)

7. Jackstands, motherfucker. Not cinder blocks. Not some hunks of wood you have stacked up. Jack-fucking-stands.

8. Don’t put shine on your sidewalls. It ruins tires.

9. Don’t make fun of my wife’s car, goddamnit. If she likes her Mickey Mouse license plate frame, she likes it. Okay?

10. Eye protection. EVERY. DAMN. TIME.