6 Unusual But Essential Tools For Car Guys (And Girls)

By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

A basic socket set and pair of screwdrivers will get you through most basic backyard jobs — oil and plug changes, replacing a headlight. But if you go deeper — or work on cars long enough — you’ll encounter a situation where the basic stuff’s not enough. Or makes the job a lot harder and more time-consuming that it needs to be.

Here are some specialty tools I keep in my toolbox that have made life a lot easier for me over the years. They could do the same for you, too!

1) “Wobble” extension bars
Most socket sets come with a a couple of extender bars to let you get a socket onto a recessed bolt/fastener that would otherwise be difficult to access. But sometimes, the path to the fastener you need to reach is not quite straight. For instance, there may be a brake line partially blocking your path; or the frame rail is in the way. That, in turn, puts the socket on the fastener unevenly — if you can get it on at all. And even if you can, getting it back on becomes a challenge because you’re trying to thread it back on at an angle instead of dead on. Stripped threads and even broken studs can happen this way.

The wobble extender has a tapered head that allows the socket to well, wobble, slightly — correcting for misalignments that would otherwise make trouble for you as you work to remove and re-install bolts in hard to reach places.

Sears and other major tool suppliers sell them individually or in sets for both 1/2 inch and 3/8 drive sockets. If available, buy a set with a knurled shaft rather than smooth/polished chrome. The knurling provides more grip and makes it easier to manipulate the bars by touch if you need to.

Sears/Craftsman sells a six piece set for $34.99; item number 00934904000.

2) Stubby combination wrenches
Sometimes, a normal sized combination wrench won’t fit. It’s either too long — or doesn’t leave enough room once it’s on to let you move the handle back and forth to apply sufficient force to remove the bolt you’re struggling with.

A set of Stubbies can be some of your very best tool-time friends.

These combination wrenches are just like regular combination wrenches; three-point open ended on one end, 12 point closed end on the other. But they are about half the overall length of standard combination wrenches. You can buy them individually but it’s more economical to buy a complete set — even if you currently only have one situation where a specific size stubby wrench might be helpful. Eventually, you’ll need another — larger or smaller size. I have a set that ranges from 9/16 size to 5/16, standard. But you may want to get metric sizes if you work mostly on newer/import stuff.

Northern Tool sells a nice 7-piece set for $49.99; item number 15235.

3) “Crow foot” flare nut wrenches
These things are really clever. Let’s say you need to loosen a fitting for a hydraulic hose, such as a power steering line. You can’t get a socket on it (because of the hose) and you can’t apply sufficient force to a standard open-end wrench because of the tight surroundings. Ordinarily, you’d be stuck. But not if you have some crow foot wrenches.

These are hybrids tools that combine the form of an open-end wrench and the function of a socket. There’s the “head” of an open-end wrench — with a four-point hole for an extender bar, so the wrench can be turned via a socket driver. The range of motion becomes 90 degrees — and vertical rather than horizontal — allowing you to apply a lot of force to the wrench in places where it would otherwise be super hard to even get a wrench on the fastener, let alone get any torque on it.

The head of the tool is also unique. It is four-point, with “jaws” near the open end to secure the tool onto the bolt. This helps keep the tool from rounding off the shoulders of the bolt you’re trying to remove.

Snap-on tools sells a comprehensive 10-piece set for $163.50 in both metric and standard sizes; item number 210FRHMA.

4) Hemostat
No need to attend medical school to make use of handy tools originally designed for doctors.A hemostat looks like a pair of scissors, except that the blades have been replaced with locking clamps. Surgeons use hemostats to stop bleeding arteries — but you can use them to temporarily clamp a disconnected fuel or brake hose — or just hold something in place while you fiddle with your now-free hands. They are especially handy for fine/detailed work — places and jobs where fingers are too big and clumsy.

Hemostats come with both curved and straight ends, in a variety of lengths and sizes. They’re also pretty cheap; about $5-$10 per pair or so, depending on where you buy.

Many auto parts stores will have hemostats for sale up near the counter; or check out suppliers such as Harbor Freight Tools, which sells as 12 inch model for only $3.99.

5) Big piece of pipe
It’s not really a tool, per se — but it’s still every mechanic’s friend. A two or even three foot section of sturdy hollow pipe (steel or PVC works, etc.) can be used to apply extra leverage to a breaker bar or ratchet in order to free a seized up or super tight bolt. Just slip the pipe over the handle of the ratchet/breaker bar — and turn. You’ll be amazed at this practical demonstration of a principle that go back to the ancient Greeks and before.

So, save that piece of PVC from your bathroom remodel — or just buy a length of steel pipe at the hardware store next time you’re there. Someday, it might come in extremely handy

6) The Grabber
This tool is sold under a variety of brand names (and the style varies slightly from brand to brand) but the essence of it is the same. It’s a length of flexible hollow tubing with a T-style handle at one end and, at the business end, a set of prongs that extends and retracts as you pull up and down on the T handle.

This tool picks things you’ve dropped and can’t get to — even if they are not metallic (in which case a magnet won’t work). With so many small plastic fasteners in use today, the Grabber can be a godsend. It can also be used to manipulate a wire or screw or fitting into an area where your hands can’t reach — or fish out something you can’t even see. For example, I recently helped a friend recover a door jamb striker wire that had fallen deep into a crevasse inside an inaccessible part of the car’s wheelhouse.

Like bacon in the fridge, every house should a Grabber in the garage.

The one I’ve got looks like this:



Image Credit: Olaf

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