A while back, we expounded on some simple items that brought more joy to the automotive arts. Spring is just around the corner, and we've compiled a big ol' list of things to address in celebration of the Vernal Equinox. Unpacking the tools from their long winter nap is a ritual here, and it's like reconnecting with old friends. Off we go.
Pressure bleeder -
These come in small, like my EZ-Bleed, and large, like the Motive Products unit. You can make your own from a garden sprayer and a few other bits for that McGyver feeling. Anyone who's ever had to do the whole downholdupdownholdupdownhold routine with a helper while bleeding brakes can attest that it's unpleasant. Not only do you not have any idea how well they're following your advice to not press too hard on the pedal, lest you destroy the master cylinder seals (using more stroke than is normal can drive the MC pistons into pitted areas of the bore, chewing up the seals), but you have to trust that they're holding when you ask them to. Helpers are usually reluctant to get near you if they so much as see a screwdriver in your hand after a brake bleeding session. These little doodads make it simple. The Motive unit is like the DIY garden sprayer setups, you pour the fluid in, attach a special master cylinder cover with a valve installed for the fluid, pump the handle a couple times (watch that gauge) and then go open bleeder valves till nice, clear fluid runs into your catch can. Flushing brake fluid is one of those things that we like to do on our favorite cars once every 3 years or so. Most brake fluid in street cars is alcohol based and hygroscopic, so it will absorb water which then plays havoc with your braking system. If the fluid has started to take on a gray cast in the reservoir, it's time for a flush.
Impact Sockets -
I don't own a full set of these, nor do I have an impact wrench, but I cherish the impact sockets I have. Why? Because they're tough as hell, and I like to bash them around. Regular half inch drive sockets are all well and good, but sometimes they're not up to the job. Most of the sockets I've broken have been half inch drives while doing suspension work. Over time, all those big deal fasteners under the car get tight! Impact sockets are much more heavily constructed, with thicker walls. They can take tons of abuse, too, so there are times where they're getting the torch inadvertently until they glow, or they get hammered down onto a rounded fastener. With the heavier construction, they can also handle more torque, so you won't crack the socket's wall like I recently did using a plain-jane half-inch drive deep socket on an extremely tight fastener. I tend to seek out impact sockets in the sizes I'll need for under-car work.
That's not a tool for cars, you say? Oh yes it is! Every sensor has a "signature" that can be displayed on the 'scope. It's especially useful for diagnosing older fuel-injection systems. A common and unenlightened approach to fixing ailing FI is to throw parts at it. It's often expensive and lacking an effective outcome. With some experience and system-specific knowledge, a guru can usually diagnose the problem over the phone. Now you can start down the path to being your own guru. We've all been faced with a doohickey that seems fine when tested, but still raises suspicion; a 'scope can help solve the issue. They're expensive to buy new, though we did just see a handheld digital model in the mid-hundreds. My Tektronix unit came from a government surplus sale and was about $100 shipped to my door. It works well for other electronic tinkering I sometimes undertake, as well as being a diagnostic toy.
Real wiring tools
Pretty much all of us likely started with those cheapo plier-type things that are supposed to be wire strippers and crimpers. Right. They're okay in a pinch, but hey're smooshers more than crimpers, and they only do marginally better as strippers. Real wiring tools like strippers that will pull the insulation off for you and crimpers that squeeze around the entire crimp connector aren't that expensive, and they make the work many times more enjoyable. Of course, some people will never like electrical work, but if you dig it, these tools will help you dig it more. Not only will you find the work easier, better looking and higher quality, it will be more durable, too. Those smoosher things make poor crimp connections that you need to be wary of, the better crimpers make solid, tight connections that are the best thing in automotive environments. Some guys get away with soldering, but soldering is a no-no for the high-vibration life an automotive wiring connection must endure.
This last one isn't so much a tool as it is a roadmap to effective tool use. Since I try to do as much maintenance as possible on my own vehicles, it helps to have all the little Jedi-tricks that the dealer techs are privvy to. You do still need to do a fair amount of cyphering, as the factory manuals always call out all sorts of special tools that would have you going broke very quickly were you to buy them all. Factory docs used to be a shelf-full of system specific books, but now everything seems to be distributed on DVD. I've got a copy of VADIS for my Volvo cars that works as parts fiche, repair manual and classroom material. You can find a lot of this stuff on auction sites, as well as circulationg amongst groups of hard-core marque enthusiasts. The next step will be to figure out some way to crack into CAN and be able to push software to the vehicle, reset MILs and adaptations, and most importantly, set the "preferences" on the car (seat heater temp, autodim strength, etc).
Soon, the days will be longer, the nights will be warmer and I'll be looking for ways to add to the arsenal so that jobs go faster and there's less head-scratching. Suggestions are always welcome. Who doesn't love to build a Christmas list all year-round?