Last week, I asked you to tell me some of the coolest tips and tricks you’ve learned over your years of wrenching. Hundreds of readers contributed tons of great “wrenching hacks,” but here are some of my favorites.
If you want to save yourself hours of heartache and frustration, just scroll through the comments from last week’s post. These are the kinds of things you don’t read in a repair manual or in a textbook. Some of these tips are just passed down through word of mouth, while others are just devised by creative and perhaps a little bit desperate wrenchers.
Here are ten that I find the most helpful:
Removing A Stubborn Spin-On Oil Filter (Dangerous)
With traditional spin-on oil filters like the one in the picture above, all you have to do is tighten them until the o-ring is squeezed and forming a good seal. Any more, and getting that filter off by hand is going to be a royal pain in the butt.
But when you do come across an immovable oil filter, and you don’t have an oil filter wrench on hand, there’s any easy solution: grab a flathead screwdriver and pound it through the filter housing. Then spin the filter with the screwdriver.
This one was recommended by reader Dangerous, who said:
The ol’ screwdriver through the stuck oil filter has never let me down.
Powderhound backed him up, saying:
I used this on one of my roommates cars a while ago. Damn thing was stuck on there and would do nothing to come loose. Once this trick popped in to my head I was pretty damn excited for some reason
It’s messy though, so make sure you’ve got gloves on for when the oil drips down the screwdriver, and put something under the filter to keep the dinosaur juices off the pavement.
Always Undo The Fill Port First (rhobere)
This is one of my favorite bits of advice, and it comes from reader rhobere, who says:
When changing any fluid, always loosen the “fill” port before draining the fluid. The last thing you want is to drain, say, all of your transmission fluid only to find out that the fill port is stripped or cross-threaded and can’t be removed leaving you with a dry transmission. Better to have old fluid than no fluid.
That’s very solid advice for anyone who would prefer to avoid an “oh shit” moment when replacing their transmission or transfer case fluid.
Use Another Box Wrench For Leverage (Santiago has successfully Sno*Drifted)
If you’re trying to get a seized bolt or nut loose, but you’ve been yanking on your box wrench with all your might to no avail, grab another box wrench and link it on the end, as Santiago has successfully Sno*Drifted says:
Use a second wrench hooked on the end of a box wrench to get extra leverage
Don’t force things on
Remember, torque—which you need to remove any bolt or nut— is equal to force times distance. So why try with all your strength to increase the “force” part, when you can just increase the “distance” part?
ateamfan42 has a special name for this trusty and useful trick:
A nice old man from Mexico who spoke almost no English once showed my friend this trick. Now we refer to this technique as “The Mexican” in his honor whenever we make use of it.
Chase Your Crusty Threads (Hotspoons)
Reader Hotspoons thinks if you’ve got a bolt that doesn’t thread easily into or out of a hole, there’s a problem with your threads, so save yourself some trouble and just fix those threads with a tap and die set:
If a bolt is difficult to get off, is rusted, or has loctite residue on it, chase the hole with a tap and run the bolt through a die.
If you need to use any amount of strength to screw a bolt into aluminum and you are not actively using a torque wrench, stop it, back the bolt out, and chase the threads with a die.
Ah, thermal expansion and contraction. It’s a beautiful bit of physics, so why not use it to your advantage? ChrisinKY suggested it, saying:
When installing bearings freeze them and heat the object they are being installed in, they drop in butter smooth!
The hub in the picture above might not make too much sense to freeze unless you’re having trouble fitting it into a knuckle, but you get the idea: anytime there’s a press-fit, particularly when it comes to bearings, just freeze the part that needs to go inside the hole, and heat up the part with the hole. The cold part will contract, and the hole will expand, and voila!
Label And Take Pictures Of Everything (BLCKSTRM)
There were lots of great recommendations on how to keep your parts and tools organized, a key skill and one that drastically improves wrenching efficiency.
This one’s from BLCKSTRM, who says taking pictures, bagging and labeling parts is the ticket to wrenching success:
When doing really complicated stuff with lots of nuts and bolts coming off - get sandwich-size Ziploc bags and a Sharpie.
Use your phone to take pictures of them before and after, including a picture of the bag LABELED as part of the photo set.
It’s the only reason I got my head back together properly.
Because few things in wrenching are worse than that feeling of “oh crap, where did this bolt go again?”
Cardboard Is A Wrenchers Best Friend (dieselectric)
dieselectric is a big fan of cardboard for organizing, building templates, and keeping your butt off the ground:
Cardboard is your best friend :
-Use it to lie on in gravel, and put under the car so that if you drop a bolt you can find it
- Make templates of bolt holes and brackets before cutting any material, especially with weird bends/curves
- When needing to keep bolts/ valves /other parts in order, poke them through or wire tie to a stenciled version of the parts.
- Recycle when done (Happy Earth Day)
Make Your Own Penetrating Lubricant (G0ggles-do-nothing )
If you live in the rust belt, you’re going to need to buy lots of penetrating lubricant to get rusty, seized bolts out. But G0ggles-do-nothing says, instead of going to the store and buying an expensive penetrating oil, just make your own:
Stuck bolt? To hell with PB Blaster and Kroil, mix up a 50/50 blend of acetone and ATF. Apply liberally to seized bolt, let it soak in, and it should turn like it was never stuck in the first place.
Hit Your Knuckle On The Side With A BFH To Remove A Tie Rod (DarkGemini)
You know what a BFH is? I’ll give you a hint: the B stands for “big,” and the H stands for “hammer.” Feel free to use your imagination to figure out the F. DarkGemini recommends, if you don’t want to rent or buy a ball joint tool, just break out the hammer:
Separating a tie rod end from a steering knuckle? Don’t have a tie rod tool? Loosen the nut, and hit the side of the eye the tie rod end sits in with a BFH, it’ll pop right out.
It seems counterintuitive that to push a tie rod end or ball joint out the bottom of a knuckle, you’d hammer on the knuckle from the side, but it does indeed work. It won’t work, though, if you keep the nut on the tie rod end, like in the picture above.
Bleeder Nipple (Racekar)
Because people put a hose over the end of a brake bleeder nipple, they often use a line wrench or open-end wrench to break open the nipple.
But Racekar recommends you use a socket to break the nipple loose before attaching the hose, saying:
If you have a brake bleeder nipple that is stuck you may strip it when you use a small wrench because there is not much surface area on the wrench in contact with the nipple. I take a long socket of the correct size and use it instead after liberal application of your favorite rust buster. It almost always works without stripping the bleeder. Then always use a new bleeder.
That’s great advice, since we all know bleeder nipples are made of the softest material known to humankind, and that even the slightest twist with a box wrench will strip them, forcing you to break out the vice-grips.
All of these tips will hopefully help you avoid crying yourself to sleep after an oily, rusty, greasy day of hellish wrenching.