Professional mechanics and do-it-yourself driveway warriors love tools. A good tool collection is never finished because there’s always new stuff coming out to make a particular auto repair more efficient. Here we’ll focus on four tools that will make you a better mechanic. We’ll also include the average price of this needed equipment.
The tools that topped the list have been around for 100 years or more. Unfortunately, a large percentage of do-it-yourself technicians fail to have these devices in their toolbox. This is often due to the misconception that these specialized tools won’t get much use. But I’m here to tell you, when you do without or find a workaround you’re putting the reliability and longevity of the repair in jeopardy.
Precision Straight Edge for Measuring Flatness
A precision straight edge for measuring flatness is an essential tool for the serious mechanic. Usage of a straight edge is more important now on modern engines than anytime in the past. Back in the old days we had cast-iron blocks and cylinder heads that were not prone to warpage.
Despite these reliable materials that held up to overheating, we still had precision straight edges in our toolbox to verify the deck and cylinder head sealing surfaces were flat. Often we would find small degrees of imperfections that mill out in a machine shop process.
Today’s automobiles are fitted with aluminum powerplants. Not only is the cylinder head made out of aluminum, but the block as well. This tremendous amount of weight reduction helps the manufacturer to meet stricter fuel economy ratings while increasing the overall performance of the automobile at the same time.
Unfortunately, aluminum is a soft metal that is prone to warpage from an overheating situation. All too often when a mechanic finds a blown head gasket they will simply replace the gasket and put the car back out on the street. This is a comeback waiting to happen. If there is even the slightest warpage in the engine block deck or cylinder head that new gasket won’t last long. The result is an unhappy customer willing to tell others about your poor skills as an auto mechanic.
Mechanics use a straight edge in conjunction with a feeler gauge. With the straight edge firmly in place you slide the feeler gauge in between the cylinder head and the precision edge. This allows you to check for high and low spots along the entire length of the component. It’s the low spots that we need to worry about the most. Vehicle specific auto repair manuals <<click here>> will supply exact specifications in the form of tolerances.
Machine shops can remove low spots within this range during the milling process and the cylinder head reinstalled. Measurements taken outside the range means it’s time to replace that part. It’s necessary to use the same procedure on the engine block deck. If you’re dealing with an aluminum casting block they’ll have steel cylinder liners. You can also use the straight edge to measure the installed height of these liners. With a total cost of around $50 a precision straight edge is a good investment in high-quality automotive repairs.
Automotive Dial Indicator Set
An automotive dial indicator set is another specialized tool that many professional and do-it-yourself auto mechanics will try to live without. With an average cost of $75 for a good quality automotive dial indicator set, I recommend you add this to your collection and learn how to use it.
The automobile is a machine with many subsystems. Many of these areas require precision measurement in the identification of failed components. The front suspension and steering system, engine and braking system are often diagnosed in thousandths of an inch. As an example, a brake rotor is considered unusable by many manufacturers if the lateral run out exceeds two-thousandths of an inch. This lateral run out is what causes a brake pulsation.
Another example is a General Motors idler arm. We consider these worn-out if more than a quarter inch of free play exists. The human eye cannot distinguish between an eighth inch and a quarter inch of play. And it certainly cannot see two-thousandths of an inch of run out on a rotor face. Therefore technicians use their years of experience to basically take an educated guess on the fitness of the auto parts in these systems.
Unfortunately, I’ve had journeyman technicians call for parts replacement without taking any precision measurements. Often when I double-checked their diagnoses by mounting a dial indicator, I found the component well within the specifications and not in need of replacement.
As for the dial indicator tool itself, there are two common mounting bases included with the precision measuring device. These are a clamping base or a magnetic base. It’s recommended that you secure a kit with both of these types of mounting bases. The magnet is a lot easier to use, but the increase of aluminum parts on the newer cars makes the clamping base necessary in many situations.
Small Air Compressor capable of 90-120 PSI
An automotive air compressor doesn’t have to be huge or expensive to open up a whole new world of do-it-yourself auto repair at home. A compressor with a 90-120 PSI working range and a 25 gallon storage tank is sufficient for most auto repairs. At a cost of around $200 this piece of equipment can bring your auto repair game to the next level.
Again it might be something that you don’t use every day, but when you need it, there’s no substitute or work around. The array of automotive tools and equipment that run using compressed air is vast. Just a few examples that can make quick work of many common car repairs is the cutoff tool, air hammer and half inch drive impact wrench.
We use the cutoff tool primarily on exhaust work, but it can do so much more. You can cut the top off an old shock so you don’t spend an hour trying to get that rusty nut off. Some mechanics call it a whiz wheel, because of the noise it makes and the round shape of the cutting disc. Regardless of what you call it there’s lots of parts on the automobile you can use it on.
Using a compressor to operate an air hammer is another timesaver. The hammer chuck lets you install a variety of bits to perform different automotive procedures. Using the exhaust chisel allows the separation of exhaust components without damaging the ones you want to save. Different sizes of pickle forks can also be chucked and used to loosen front end parts like ball joints and tie rod ends. You can even mount a standard hammer bit and use it to loosen rusted drums or other components that are easy to separate using quick pulses of overwhelming force.
Vehicle Specific Auto Repair Manual
The auto repair manual is one of the most overlooked tools by do-it-yourself mechanics. Professionals know it’s not possible to retain the knowledge of every automobile and its individual system. Therefore we use a vehicle specific auto repair manual for diagnosis, bolt torque specifications, service procedures and much more.
In the diagnosis department a good quality vehicle service manual will include diagnostic tree charts, wiring diagrams and a variety of illustrations to help you locate parts and perform testing procedures. With an auto repair manual in your hand, there is no reason to guess at failed components. Not only will this save you time and money it will also teach you a lesson about the system you’re working on.
A quality service manual also includes a chapter of specifications. You’ll find capacities for the different systems and a description of the type of fluid recommended by the manufacturer. As important as this is, it pales in comparison to another specification seldom used by the do-it-yourself auto mechanic. Almost every bolt on the vehicle has a torque specification.
The vehicles we work on today use composite style gaskets containing a large amount of plastic. Over tightening the bolt running through one of these types of gaskets and you will crack it, creating a leak. Under torquing the bolt will fail to compress the gasket and improper sealing will occur. Even if you get lucky and get the bolt close to the torque it’s supposed to have the longevity of the given repair can become an issue.
You wouldn’t install a cylinder head without a torque pattern and bolt tightness specification. We should have that same attitude toward intake manifolds, water pumps, plenums and other bolts holding together critical parts. At an average cost of between $25 and $100 it’s hard to think of a tool that is more important than an auto repair manual.