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Snap on Auto Mechanic's wrench

Even if you are not a professional auto mechanic everyone should have some basic hand tools. But how do you know what tools to buy? Do buy the least expensive stuff you can find? Or save up and get the high end tools? Like every good question, the answer is, It depends.

There are many things to consider when shopping for tools.While price is usually the first one everyone considers, it is generally not the most important.

When to buy the good stuff

When it comes to tools for work, I generally buy the good stuff. I have a definite preference to Snap-On tools. I do own other brands. I have found that they make a great product, and the tool rep is top notch. The tools I always buy top of the line are

Snap on Auto Mechanc's wrech

Not upgraded wrench

    • Things I use all the time.
      Sockets, box wrenches, ratchets are things I generally buy the best I can.
    • Tools that repair damaged fasteners.
      If I am using tools from my “Uh oh drawer” I only want the best. Never cheap out on these tools If you are repairing something damaged, you need to make sure the tools are top of the line
    • Delicate work.
      When doing work on delicate parts, like dash work, you want great quality. Anytime a tool can damage the surface, use high quality stuff!

      Snap on Auto Mechanc's wrech

      Upgraded Snapon wrench

    • Seized or rusted fasteners
      These can be a pain in the butt to work on with the best quality tools. Try doing these jobs with lower quality stuff, and your in for a world of hurt. Seized tie rods are my favorite example. I had a cheaper wrench from Craftsman. Every time I would break a tie rod loose, the wrench would slip and damage the tie rod. I upgraded to some high dollar Snap-on wrenches, and never had it happen again. Sure I paid a premium for the Snap-on wrench, but it saved a ton of headache.
    • Precision tools
      When it comes to measuring, don’t cheap out! Especially when it comes to small measurements. Low torque fastener are a great example. If your cheapo torque wrench is off by 20%, it can mean the difference between a properly tightened bolt, and a damaged cylinder head. Or it can mean a cheap dial indicator that falls apart when measuring something and all the parts fall into the engine. Lucky for me they fell all the way down into the oil pan. talk about a heart attack!

When to save some money

I will be the very first to admit there are times when you don’t need the top of the line tools. I have some tools that I paid next to nothing for and I still use. Here are some times when saving some cash on tools is just fine by me.

  • Rarely used tools, NOT listed above
    If you have a tool that gets used once or twice a year, not need to spend a ton of money. As long as it does not fall into one of the groups listed above, your good to go.
  • Dumb Tools
    Dumb tools are things like hammers and pry bars. I get most of my hammers from places like Harbor Freight. The 3lb sledge hammer I got there 8 years ago still hits things just fine. As far as pry bars go, I still buy Craftsman, but they put them on sale all the time. Usually for 1/2 off.
  • Modifying tools
    If you have plans or need to modify a tool, don’t spend a ton of money. When I buy stuff I know I will have to modify, I get the cheapest I can find.

Now this post is not meant to be a Snap-on commercial. They are just the tools that I buy and I like. At my house I use Craftsman, Stanley, and that brand Home Depot sells. Since I only work on my cars at home, the fear of damaging something is not really there. Plus I don’t do a lot of wrenching at my house.

It really all boils down to this. For most all your tools, buy the best tools you can afford. Cheaping out on everything will mean you get to buy things again(not in a good way). On the other hand, there is no reason to buy all Snap-on or Matco tools. Well, I guess if you were that person that hit the big lotto you should. But since that is none of us, use good judgement.

What about you? What is “YOUR BRAND” of tools? After reading this, I am sure you know that at work I prefer Snap-on. At my house, I save some money, but still get a good product. I really try to stay away from junk tools like Alltrade and other stuff like that.

Left Handed extranctor set Auto Mechanic

There comes a time in every mechanic’s life when something goes wrong. It might be a slightly rounded bolt head, or something really bad like a cleanly broken off stud. Today I want to show you guys some of the tools auto mechanics use when things go wrong.

Removing The Bolt

Outside Exctractors Auto Mechanic's Tools

I want to start out with my favorite extractors. We use these when bolt heads get damaged. It can be anything from rust, to a bolt head damaged from an accident. This extractor grabs the outside of a bolt. As you loosen the bolt, it grabs the bolt head even tighter. I find that this works the best. The only negative is, you need a fair amount of space to tap the extractor on. This set is from Craftsman. I highly recommend them!

Inside extractors Auto Mechanic tools

The next type of “Uh Oh” tools I use are inside extractors. These, believe it or not, grab on the inside of a bolt. I commonly use this on allen head bolts. They will fit inside the opening on the bolt head. Just like the outside extractors, the more you loosen the bolt, the tighter the extractor grabs. If I had my choice, I would use outside extractors. I use these when space is limited. This is a Snap-On set. From what I remember it costs a fortune.

Left Handed extranctor set Auto MechanicHere we have a drill bit and extractor set. This set functions the same way the inside kit from before does. I use these when a bolt breaks flush with a surface. I drill a hole with the drill bit, then use the extractor to remove the broken bolt. This set works really well on lower torque bolts. I have had little luck using this set when bolts are rusted, or require excess force. They also require a lot of room. You need to be able to fit a drill where ever you are working.

Power Extractors Auto MechanicThis is a Power Extractor Set. These go on the end of a drill. They are the same as the outside extractors as far as removing bolts. The only difference is they are meant to go on a drill, or other powered driver. I don’t use these much. I bought the set because a recall for B6 Passats. The extractor worked awesome on the bolts that we remove as part of the recall. Sadly, I don’t use them very much these days.

Repairing The Damage
Now that the damaged bolt, or whatever you are working with, is removed, it is time clean fix the damage. Here are some of the tools auto mechanics use to fix the damage.

Thread Chaser set Auto MechanicThis is a thread chaser set. Auto mechanics use this for cleaning threads on nuts, bolts and other fasteners. These are great for a quick clean up. They are not sharp enough to cut new threads, they will just get rid of any dirt, or burrs. I also use this on oil pans, to clean the threads and help the drain plug go in smooth!

Tap Set Auto Mechanic's toolsThis is a tap. You might have heard this type of tool referred to as a “Tap & Die Set”. The tap portion of the set is used to cut new threads in a bolt hole, or a nut. They are very sharp and very strong. If someone were to install a bolt incorrectly, and damage the threads, I would use the tap to cut new threads. Using the proper size tap is vital to doing the job right. If I were to cut new threads at the wrong pitch, I would destroy the new threads. THAT will make for a really bad day.

Die Set Auto Mechanic's toolsHere is the opposite of a tap. This is the die. I use this to cut new threads on bolts and studs. To be honest, I don’t use these all that much. I use them more like a thread chaser, to clean up bolts and studs. Usually, I will replace a damaged bolt before taking the time to cut new threads. 🙂

These type of tools are the “must have, but never want to use” tools. Every mechanic will have some, all, or more of the Uh Oh stuff, but trust me when I say, ” I don’t want to use them” 🙂

 


When I first started with VW,my instructor said “VW makes cars to support their special tool department”. The funny thing his, he was pretty much right. We have over $300,000 worth of tools designed especially for fixing Volkswagens. I have shown you guys pictures of some of the basic mechanic’s tools that I have. I made mention of buying cheaper tools to make custom tools. In the comments of that post, Brett said, ” I’m interested in what you would modify tools for and how you go about doing it”. I think that is a great idea Brett!

Custom tool for removing steering wheel airbag

Cost
Tools are REALLY expensive, often buying a special tool from VW or a top tier company is just out of budget. Paying $100+ of a tool you will use once is crazy(but sometimes necessary). Take the screwdriver on the right. VW has a very similar tool for removing steering wheel airbags. From VW the tool is about $100. I made this one for about $6. By clamping it in a vise, and heating it up, I bent it to about a 90degree angle. Then I had to bend the very edge to mirror the VW tool.

Missing tool
In a shop full of guys, would you believe that tools don’t get put away? Crazy right. Not only that, but tools get lost, get broken, or we never get them. I was replacing an oil pressure switch on a new Touareg. VW had a special tool for the job, but I could not find it. I was not sure if it was lost, or we never got it. To be fair, it did not matter. The issue was the sensor was pretty big (24mm) but the channel to work through was about 22mm. I could have removed more parts, to gain access, but I didn’t really want to do that. I had to cut about half an inch off of the socket. Then grind down the other end to have it fit in the channel. I spent about 1 hour making this special socket, but now I have it for next time.(that job stunk, I don’t want there to be a next time.)

Special fitment
This is most likely the most common reason to modify tools.When tool makers build tools, they do not have the specific fastener in mind. When Snap-On made this scraper, they didn’t know that it would not fit around the mounting surface of an oil pan. A few minutes of grinding, and bingo, a perfect fit. This is one of the very few top tier tools I have modified. Generally I would not do this, but it works GREAT! I do have several screw drivers that I have trimmed down to fit exactly what I need.

Fine tune
This can be similar to special fitment. Doing things like adding a magnet to the inside of a socket, adding some tape around a swivel, or taping the edge of a socket can really be a life saver. I wrap the socket that I use to remove wheels in electrical tape. This will prevent nicking or scratching a $400 alloy wheel. I also wrap some of my swivels in electrical tape. It makes the swivel a little more rigid.

When it comes to actually making the tools, a grinder and a cut off wheels are your best friend. It usually takes some trial and error, but it is worth it. Having a wrench that will allow you to do a job faster, because you don’t have to remove a certain bracket is vital to a mechanics success! Here are some more pics of the tools I have made over the years.
[slickr-flickr tag=”specialtools” items=”13″]

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Hey guys, I wanted to give you a slightly different perspective today. My good friend Kristin is medical professional. I was able to sweet talk her into writing a post for us. We get to hear from her about building a small med kit for your car. PLEASE post any questions you have for Kristin in the comments below. AND thank her for the great information that she has given us!

Hello, my name is Kristin. Charles asked if I would write a blog post for him about a simple first aid kit to put in your car in case you come across an emergency and want to help out before the EMT’s get there.  I have been a CMA, Certified Medical Assistant, for the past six years and I have always carried a first aid kit in my vehicle and unfortunately I have had to use it on several occasions. I will include pictures of my kit so you can see how easy and simple it can be to put together.

First and foremost you should take a first aid and CPR class through a local organization like the Red Cross, they are cheap and could save someone’s life and if you are going to help in an emergency it is good to know what to do.  A charged cell phone is also a vital item to have so that you can call for help and get the professionals to the scene.

The kit does not have to be anything fancy or expensive the professionals will have all the good equipment to help the person, you are just trying to keep them stable until someone can arrive.  I have my kit in a small tool box that I purchased on sale for about ten dollars, there are also a few larger items that won’t fit in the box but are easily stored in your trunk.

  • Gloves are very important and should be worn at all times when touching someone else especially if they are bleeding.
  • Alcohol pads, preferably individually wrapped ones, are good to have to clean up any blood or to get debris out of wounds.
  • A bottle of aspirin is a cheap thing that could literally save someone’s life; again a first aid course so you know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack is helpful.
  • I keep some Band-Aids in my kit just for small cuts, the ones I have are latex free but I don’t know if this is really necessary, I just don’t want to do more harm to someone if they have an allergy.
  • I also keep some cheap dollar store feminine pads in my kit, this may seem strange but they are good for wrapping larger wounds and are absorbent and cheaper than getting a bunch of large gauze.
  • I have some tape, wrap and some old t-shirts in my kit to use for wrapping splints or to attach the absorbent material to the person.
  • A flashlight can be an important part of the kit if you are stopping at night or need to check someone’s eyes.  You should already have a flashlight in your kit that the Humble Mechanic showed you in the post “Building an Affordable Tool Kit for Your Car”.
  • The parts of the kit that will probably not fit in your kit are a couple of towels or blankets and some large wooden sticks that they use to stir five gallon paint buckets with at Lowes or Home Depot.

You may have some of these items already and most of these items can be bought at a Dollar Store for very cheap or obtained for free.  The most expensive part of my kit is a CPR mask, this is not necessary really unless you are planning to do mouth to mouth , I have never had to do mouth to mouth on anyone and they now have a hands only version of CPR that would work well until an ambulance can arrive.

I hope this is has been helpful so you can put together a cheap kit that could make you feel more comfortable stopping at a scene and helping.  Feel free to ask questions in the comments section and I will try and answer them. ~Kristin Donadeo, CMA

Thanks Kristin~ This is not the last you guys will hear about this topic. 😉 I will be building 2(one for each car) and show you guys how easy and affordable this car be!

Here is the complete kit!

NAME:

David Hillier or what my fellow techs like to call me, Gravy Davey

How long have you been in the Industry?

I picked up my first wrench professionally in 1993. I worked for a small independent import shop called R.C. Motor King in Rexdale, Ontario, Canada. It was my only way into the industry. In Canada we have to get licensed to be working as a technician professionally and to do this you needed a shop with a journeyman to sign you up as an apprentice so you can start collecting hours so you can go to trade school. Where I lived in Etobicoke (Ontario) my wife and I would always drive by a Volkswagen dealership on the lakeshore called Mississauga Volkswagen. I was a bartender at the time but I have always wanted to get my start in the Automotive industry there. Don’t ask me why but that building had always caught my eye every time I drove by. I tried sending my resume in but I never got a response. I also plugged my resume elsewhere just to see if I could get any jobs. Finally I got a job at R.C. Motor King (a small independent import shop) and got signed up as an apprentice. I worked there for about a year. I was working on everything but what I wanted to work on which was VW. We only had one customer with a two year old (1991) Passat automatic 2.0l 16v that would come in for oil changes. I loved working on that car! Anyways, still wanting to work at Mississauga VW I would pump my resume in by fax, mail and I would drop off a copy to the reception desk once a week for about three months until one day I got a call. It was the service manager from Mississauga VW and he wanted to see me! I was super exited! The day I was to see him I stopped off and got coffee for both of us before I got there. When I got there I pulled up in my 1984 GTi and proceeded in. I finally met the service manager and offered him the coffee. he said “I don’t drink coffee” Thinking I got off on the wrong foot we proceeded into an office and sat down. First thing he said was “You know why I called you in today?” I said “For a job?” He said “You are the most persistent bastard I have had the pleasure to meet and if I didn’t call you I suspect I would be getting your resume sent to me until the day I quit or die. So I’m going to have to hire you.” That was one of the best days of my life besides meeting my wife and the birth of my children. I worked there under two journeymen and finally got my interprovincial licence. I have since worked at two other VW dealerships and currently work at an Audi dealership.

What is your current job title?

Automotive service technician

What were you doing for your first automotive job?

The usual apprentice duties, driving the shuttle, cleaning the shop and doing all the crappy jobs apprentices have to do to earn their keep.

Do you currently work at a Dealer, or in an aftermarket shop, do you prefer one over the other?

I work at an Audi dealership. I would say the dealership is better. I have only worked at an aftermarket shop for a year before I got my first dealership job with VW. I have other friends that work at independents and it’s hard for them to keep up with the latest technology.

Walk us through what you do on a daily basis.

Open my toolbox, have a coffee, get the first job, finish that one, get the next job… You know the drill. It’s always fun that’s why I keep working on cars day after day. You never know what your going to be fixing next until you get the work order.

When you are not working on or with cars, what do you like to do?

I’m a computer geek in my spare time. I have successfully installed Mac OS X on both of my Dell laptops at home. I also like to (when time permits) work on my 1973 Type 2 Campmobile.

What kind of car do you drive?

A 2000 VW Golf 2.0l manual. It just turned 340,000KM!

What was your first car?

A 1979 Plymouth Horizon. It had a VW Rabbit engine from factory!

What made you want to work on cars?

My Horizon used to break down and I would ask my dad for help (he was a tech back in the day) and he said “Here is the manual, try to fix it yourself” That was some tough love but it only made me the tech I am today, not relying on other people to diagnose and fix vehicles.

What is the weirdest thing that you have found in a car, that should not have been there?

That is a good question.. We used to get strippers cars in so you could imagine the things we used to find.

Do you have much customer interaction?

I used to as a foreman but not so much now. I miss that aspect of my career.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love figuring out electrical issues. At Audi there are not as many as I had at VW. Which is weird because they are almost the same electrically.

If giving the chance, what would you never do again at work?

Engine and transmission jobs. My body has been pounded by the trade. Bad knees and the occasional sore back. That’s grunt work in my opinion and the apprentices should be doing it with supervision from a journeyman.

The auto industry has a really bad rap, what do you say to someone who thinks you are trying to take advantage of them?

I have been lucky in that aspect, the clients I have always had have been stellar!  We have always shown the clients what they need and stuff they can put off. I absolutely hate scam artists in our trade. Honesty is the best policy.

Of all the maintenance that cars need, what is the ONE that will keep my car healthy the longest?

OIL CHANGES!!!!

How important is reading your vehicles owners manual?

Very important IMHO. The one thing I stress to clients is that you have to OWN your car. One problem I found at Audi is that there is a valet mode button in the glove compartment of the new A7 and when its depressed the trunk will not open from the door switch, the fob or the tailgate button. it’s covered in the owners manual and you won’t believe how many clients come in stating their trunk won’t open. It wastes not only the clients time but our time. READ YOUR MANUALS PEOPLE!!!

Have you read the owners manual to your car?

Nope. Hahahaha! But I know my car inside and out.

What tool in your tool box do you use the most?

At Audi it would be my oil filter cup, 18mm and 19mm wrenches. Not too much goes wrong with the Audis besides some injector issues.

Is there a brand of tool that you prefer?

MAC FTW! They are reasonably priced and durable as any tool on the market.

If you could only use 3 tools from now on, what would they be( and why)?

The VAS6150A, my Snap-on Vantage and a L.E.D test light. Why? Because I could surf www.techniciandatabase.com and slay ANY electrical issue thrown at me. 😀

If you were building a “James Bond” car, what is the one thing you would add it?

A cloaking device. The poor SOB’s wouldn’t see me coming!

You are sending your kid off to college, what car would you buy for them?

A manual transmission MK4 Golf or Jetta. Totally bulletproof in my opinion.

What is the one thing that you want folks to know about your job that they might not know?

It’s sometimes thankless work and brutal on the body. It would be great if clients would take a second to thank their technician for a job well done. I know I would appreciate it! But I love talking to my customers. 😀

GREAT interview David! What is it with guys named Dave? The Dave at my shop is Gravy Dave too. HA. Thanks again man, Hey guy follow David on Twitter, and his Campmobile page on Facebook!

If you want to be featured in a Behind The Wrench interview, please contact me!

After a conversation on twitter, I wanted to talk a little about safety. Let’s face it, the environment mechanics work in, is not the safest place in the world. In fact we have to attend an annual safety meeting to be sure that we know NOT to put gasoline in a Gatorade bottle, because you will forget, and then drink it. 😉

There are very standard hazards like, slipping and falling, getting cut, and dropping things. A lot of times these hazards can be avoided, or the effects mitigated by wearing proper attire, and not being stupid! We had a guy at the shop stab a wire tool through his hand. He was holding the connector in the palm of his hand, and slipped or something, the result was him being out for several months. It is just like cutting something INTO your hand, instead of away from it. ~DON’T TO THAT~

We also deal in some pretty gross chemicals. Gas, coolant, brake cleaner, brake fluid (and more) can be bad news. Most are under pressure while in a car. Hot coolant will melt skin on contact. Most of the chemicals in a car are are very toxic. I use gloves almost all the time to try and keep my hands from getting jacked up. Well, that and I don’t really like getting dirty.(is that weird?) Safety when it comes to chemicals is so important. I can’t even begin to tell you what an eye full of gasoline feels like.

One of my lease favorite things about this job is dealing with cars that have water damage. Going beyond the smell, and dealing with interiors that are wet, they can have mold build up. I have worked on so many cars with water damage it is not even funny. I remember one Passat that I worked on, you could see the line on the door panel where the water had been. At one time there must have been 10 inches of water standing in the car. Turns out it was from New Orleans and was flooded by hurricane Katrina.

Inhaling badness is also something we deal with. The conversation on twitter was about a how one of the techs in the shop was being dumb and not paying attention to what he was doing. He had a car running while filling it with coolant. The coolant spilled over and hit the cars exhaust. That caused the coolant to become steam and “smoke” up the shop. The smell of burning coolant smells like burning syrup, and not in a good way. I also remember one time where an oil seal went bad on a turbo. This pumped about 2qts of oil into the exhaust. After replacing the turbo, I had to burn all the oil out. It looked the the shop was on fire. Let me tell you how breathing that stuff is awful, and then you stink like burning oil the rest of the day.

Working in a shop is not the most dangerous job in the world, but its does have some concerns. Most of the hazards can be avoided by not being stupid, and using proper equipment. Working smart and clean will help to mitigate lots of injuries! Cuts, scrapes, bruises, and sore backs are not avoidable, but safety needs to be taken seriously!

One more thing, don’t forget to check out the Automotive Forum. It is not just for mechanics. I actually have a section just for customers to post questions, comments and brag about their mechanics! Just remember, I am trying to keep all the spam out. You will need to be approved, and that might take a few hours. If you sign up and don’t get an approval, just contact me with your email and let me know. I get about 50 spams a day on the forum.

Humble Mechanic Tool Box

Hey guys!

I know that this post is coming in a little late and for that I am sorry. My work changed the customers WIFI to block all social media and email sites. STUPID! I could not access my Humble Mechanic Flickr account. I am home enjoying a tasty craft beer and watching my Carolina Hurricanes~ life is GOOD!

Ok, so I wanted to talk to you guys about mechanics tools! Not mechanics that ARE tools, I mean the tools we use to fix cars. Any mechanic will tell you that tools are the life blood of our jobs. We invest thousands and thousands and THOUSANDS of dollars in tools. Anything from a basic screw driver to a special tool to remove wires from connectors. I have been in the field for a while, and I still average about $1000 every year in tools.

There are several brands of tools that I use. I think that Snap-On tools are my favorite brand. I buy most of my stuff from my Snap-On rep. Part of that is because he is the most reliable of all our reps. Here is a little about some of the different brands of tools

Craftsman
Sold by Sears, they are really good hand tools. They offer a life time warranty on almost all of their stuff. I buy Craftsman when I know that I might lose it, when I need to modify a tool, or when there is no difference in quality. I also tend to buy Craftsman for at home tools. The only issue I really have is their power tools SUCK! I will never own a battery operated drill for Craftsman again!

Snap-On
Overall my favorite brand. I love their hand tools. They are built to much tighter tolerances than any other brand I have used. The fit and finish is great. The selection is unbelievable, and my rep is great. The only down side is you pay top dollar for everything. I feel like the quality is worth it on most stuff. Remember, every dollar I make come by way of these tools, cheaping out is not an option. I have not really bought any of their power tools. I do not think they are worth it for the price. I own 1 Snap-On air tool(1/4in air ratchet), it works great.

Matco, Mac, Cornwell
I grouped these together because I fell pretty much the same about all of them. They are good tools, well made and reliable. I don’t own many of these, but what I have is ok. I just think that Snap-On is a better product.

Stanley, Kobalt, Husky
Great tools for the house. I think they also have a life time warranty. I also will buy this brand if I need to modify tools, like bending a wrench or trimming down a socket.

Dewalt, Makita
I buy ALL my power tools from theses two brands. The tool I use the most is a Makita impact driver. I love this thing so much, I got a second one, and took the old one home. If you are buying a power tool for work or for the house, you can’t go wrong with Dewalt or Makita. PLUS, my wife likes the color of Makita.

Here are some pictures of my tool box, and some of the tools I have. This is my 3rd tool box, the first one was a Craftsman, the I upgraded to a Mac, now I have a really nice Snap-on box. It will be the last one I ever buy.

[slickr-flickr tag=”tools” items=”30″]