DIY Don’ts!

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Do-it-yourself repair work can save you time and money – in addition to giving you a lot of satisfaction. But doing it wrong can end up costing you more in time and money than you would have spent farming the work out to a professional mechanic – and sour you on the idea of ever getting under the hood yourself again.DIY 1

For instance:

* Attempting a repair you’ve never done before without having a shop manual to refer to.

This is probably the number two pratfall on any list of beginner DIY mistakes. Never disassemble stuff without knowing the proper procedure, including how the parts fit back together.  A shop manual will typically have schematics, photos, diagrams and so on – as well as a step-by-step procedure for each repair. Winging it without the manual is about as bright as trying to prepare an elaborate gourmet dinner you’ve never made before … without the cookbook.

And if you plan to do more than the most basic maintenance/repair work (oil and filter changes, etc.) spend the extra dollars for a factory shop manual. These cost more than the Haynes/Chilton manuals you’ll find at auto parts store – but they’re worth every FRN. The Haynes/Chiltons manuals are ok – but they’re nowhere near as comprehensive (and specific) as the factory manuals. Often, you can find the factory manuals in PDF form online – and these can be viewed or even downloaded for free or for much less cost than buying the hard copy manual. For hard copy manuals, hunt on eBay. The thing is going to get greasy and dog-eared anyhow. Why pay full mark-up for a new manual when you can buy a used – but perfectly complete – one for half the price?

* Randomly pulling parts before you know what’s wrong.manual 1

This is number one. The major mistake DIY people make at some point along the learning curve. Like touching a hot stove (or voting for major party candidates) it is – hopefully – a mistake you’ll only make once. Because like voting for a Republican in the hope of less government – or a Democrat in the hope of less government – it only leads to frustration and a lighter wallet.

Doctors don’t begin treatment before evaluating the patient and making a diagnosis. It should be no different with any automotive “operation.” Find out what’s wrong firstthen fix it. The shop manual mentioned earlier will have diagnostic procedures you can use to eliminate possibilities, one by one – until you arrive at the problem. Never guess – never assume.


* Not using the proper tools.DIY rigged

This is a pretty common beginner DIY issue – because few beginners have a full set of mechanic’s tools – in particular, the often specialized equipment needed to properly perform certain diagnostic and repair procedures. This leads to improvisation, which sometimes works – but sometimes also leads to physical damage of the part being worked on – in addition to skinned knuckles and a lot of cursing and – very often – a lot of wasted time, too. You might spend hours – literally – trying to remove a part/assembly with the wrong tool that could have been removed – with the right tool – in half an hour.

If specialized tools are required, be sure you have them before you begin. It’s often possible to rent such tools at auto parts stores – which is much less expensive than buying them. And: be sure you know how to use them properly. Ask the counter guy to walk you through the proper use of the tool if you have any doubt at all about how to use it. You’ll reduce the chances of hurting the car – or yourself – this way.DIY 2

* Not having the right place to work.

It’s important to have a safe, secure area to work on your vehicle. The shopping mall parking lot isn’t it. A covered space – so you and the car are out of the weather – is ideal. Good lighting is also important. If you need to raise the vehicle, be sure it is parked on a level (and solid) surface, not grass. Beginners get killed or badly injured every year when an improperly supported car either rolls on top of them or slips off the jack stands and crushes them.

* Rushing it.DIY 6

Deciding to tear your car apart on a  Sunday afternoon but needing to have it ready to make the commute Monday morning is a really bad idea. Always allot sufficient time to finish the job – which means, whatever you expect it to take plus whatever it actually ends up taking. Remember: You are not a NASCAR pit crew. Those guys have to get it done right now. You don’t. Or rather, you shouldn’t put yourself in the position of having to get it done right now. Or even tomorrow.  Rushing almost always leads to ruin. Don’t do it.

Expect delays as a result of things you didn’t anticipate – such as needing to get a part in the middle of the job (a part you might have to order – and wait for). Or spending an hour on getting a bolt off you assumed you’d be able to remove in a minute or two. Let the job take as long as it takes to get it done right. If that means driving something else to work, bumming a ride – whatever you have to do  – it’s better than doing it (the repair) wrong because you were in a hurry.

* Getting mad.DIY 3

This mistake often springs from the loins of the other mistakes already listed. You’ve got the car’s guts all over the driveway and have no idea how to get them back together. Or you lost something. Or need something you haven’t got. Or something’s not fitting right. This kind of thing happens to professional mechanics, too. The difference between them and a ranting/raging do-it-yourselfer is the pro knows when to step away for a minute, have a cup of coffee, a smoke – whatever – and relax.

The solution will come to you. Maybe not in 5 minutes. Maybe not even today. But it will come.

If you learn to be patient.

* Rigging it.

It can be tempting to home-engineer a fix that isn’t quite what the manual called for, but seems like it ought to work. This is ok in an emergency – like when you’re dealing with a broken down car in the middle of nowhere and just need to get it to run long enough to get you somewhere else – but don’t do it otherwise. Because the “fix” could easily end up causing more problems than it solved.

Do it the right way – or don’t do it. DIY 5

* Refusing to ask for help when you need it.

Pride definitely goes before the fall, in life and car repair alike. Even the best of us don’t know everything – but the wise among us know it’s no sign of weakness to ask someone who might know more than we do. If you can’t figure out what the manual says, or are having trouble getting something to work, there is no shame in seeking the counsel of others – friends, online resources (YouTube is excellent – just take what you view with all due caution; sometimes the info’s good – sometimes, it’s not). Also try the guy at the parts place,  even a professional mechanic.  Just ask – the worst that can happen is they tell you no.

Or that they don’t know.

In which case, ask someone else.

Just don’t guess!

Throw it in the Woods?


  1. I live in Australia and use Craftsman US made tools with lifetime guarantee, since I visit USA every other year, I take the broken or damaged tools back to Sears and exchange them for new tools. I learnt early not to use cheap tools. Mind you, my dad bought me a taiwanese made hammer 42 years ago. It has been bent back into shape 2X and is still a very reliable tool, as long as I don’t use it as a pry bar. With great reliable tools you can use them for jobs they were not designed for; another plus for the better tool.

    • Craftsman ain’t what it used to be. Old craftsman stuff was better. I don’t think anything is what it used to be these days. I have all sorts of brands. Each has it’s place.

      Next time you’re in the US, get your dad a nice Estwing hammer. Made in Rockford Illinois. 😉

      • BrentP, every time I see a reply to you I want to answer it. Sure ‘nough, you’re correct. Craftsman is not what it used to be. I have some Craftsman tools including a 3/4″ drive socket set my uncle gave to me when he quit mechanicing, a bunch of tools that date from immediate post war. Wow, what durable stuff it is. Put a long cheater on that ratchet handle and put a few hundred pounds on it…no problem. And that stuff has been used every day, up till about 20 years ago, from whenever it was bought, before I was born, say 70 years.

        • My grandfather was very tough on tools and used them in his businesses. I have his craftman stuff, what survived anyway, and I think some of it is from the 1930s. I even got the half inch ratchet working again. And then there is the cheater bar I found that slips right on it. I think that one is from the 1930s… He probably used and abused it for 50+ years. It doesn’t work well, but I got it working again.

  2. All good points in the article. To reduce stress have another car available. That way if you need parts or more time you are not stuck. Borrow, rent or have what I call a “Shop car” Something cheap that you can run around in. In fact if you want to start repairing cars make the “Shop car” the first one you build. Make your mistakes on it before you start on your daily drivers.

    • Hi Robert,

      Yup – having a back-up car (or motorcycle) takes a lot of the pressure to “git ‘er done” off. This is how I convinced Dom to buy another bike!

  3. Re: getting pinned under the car. No problem. Just have some dude like Derek Poundstone nearby who can lift it off of you.

  4. Re: Torque wrenches and the proper tools. When I was just out of the service in 1968 a buddy of mine bought a brand new Montesa (sp)? In the owner’s manual was one of the greatest and funniest pieces of advice I had ever seen, ” Please do not engage in a test of wills with the nuts and bolts of the machine as you will most assuredly win.”

    • ”Please do not engage in a test of wills with the nuts and bolts of the machine as you will most assuredly win.”

      That is so going into the ‘remember this’ file.

  5. These days, I limit my DIY auto projects to cleaning the windshield, refilling the windshield washer fluid, and optimizing tire pressures. I use the finest tools, and know the procedures well. Not sure how much money I’ve saved, but every job has turned out perfectly. 🙂

  6. Great advice Eric – and I’m speaking from years of making all the listed mistakes. My smartest move a few years ago was breaking for the Factory Service Manual ($135.00) for My dodge diesel Dully – what a wealth of information, I save the purchase price on my first two repairs.

    • Thanks, Charlie!

      I have a factory manual for every vehicle I’ve got – which is a lot of vehicles (two trucks, one classic muscle car, five motorcycles) and so no small investment. But they’ve each paid for themselves many times over.

      To be clear: The Haynes/Chiltons manuals are decent; but the factory manuals are so much more comprehensive and also very specific to your particular car. The Haynes/Chiltons manuals sometimes cover a much broader swath, leaving out important year-to-year differences.

        • Whoa, David Ward. I saw your link above and liked it. This tag of, “pure rubbish” comes across quite differently.

          Your one example does not a whole pot make. Nothing pure about it.

        • I find haynes to be mediocre. Chilton’s to be rubbish. Why? Chilton’s is often misleading IME, which is worse than having nothing. Some factory manuals are better than others. My favorite are ford manuals from the 1970s. Motor manuals… I think my blue one from the 1970s is a motor. It’s decent.

          Availability of factory manuals: Sadly they aren’t often printed or made for very long. Now they just come on CD more times than not. So they have to be purchased when the car is new. There was one manual for my ’97 I didn’t get. It was expensive and covered the OBD2 system and such for all fords of that year. So I skipped it only to find the regular service manual kept referring to it. A few years later I decided to get it… out of stock. Always out of stock. A couple years ago I bought a used copy off ebay. $40. Lots of people were asking the new price for it ($160), but this guy wanted $40. I bought it without blinking.

          • Aw hell.. If I had known you were looking for the Powertrain Control Manual for ’97 Fords… I have one of those for my old ’97 Cougar, along with the full maintenance manual and the electrical/vacuum supplement manual. Priceless combo of books.

            I not only saved a few thousand dollars in repairs with those books, I learned all kinds of shit about that car that aren’t in the owner’s manual! Between the OD Lockout button and putting the shifter in 2 instead of D, I could bypass 1st and 4th when the weather got nasty. The troubleshooting flowcharts in those books are absolute gold – to those patient enough to learn how to speak ‘mechanic’, that is. My ex took the books when she bought the car from me and they might have well been written in Yiddish for all the good they did her.

            She was cute, but really quite a dumbass about certain things…

          • ecliptix, Ford has been doing the thing with the tranny and shifter since they came out with the Bronco, a great little beast. I never could figure out why GM didn’t do it with the Blazer. I’ve spent many a day hunting quail in a Bronco and going “where no man has gone before”. Wish they’d had their axles and transfer case worked out like GM. You could get stuck in sand with them for no good reason but they’d climb a tree and go between the limbs.

      • I always bought Motor Manuals and they were great. Their trouble-shooting section alone was worth the price(expensive). Ten years ago I decide to buy one for my current pickup. I got the number of the Motor rep online and called him. He said he’d be near me in a couple days, happened to be going to a shop owned by a friend so I met him. I looked the manuals over. Each vehicle by year model was divided up into body, drivetrain, electrics, etc., each requiring a different book. I asked where the trouble-shooting section was since I couldn’t find it. That’s another book….for each section. These things cost $125/each and some more. I told the guy I’d think about it. After he left I asked my buddy when they’d done that to Motor Manuals and he said a few years earlier and he had quit buying them.(he had a 20 foot long shelf of them from previous times) Me too, how ridiculous. You could spend $1,000 on your vehicle in motor manuals, maybe more. My cousin heads the parts dept. of one of the largest GM dealers in Texas so I called him and ordered a GM manual which I never got because they were temporarily out of stock. It was expensive(to everybody but me)too but would have been well worth it if I had checked back again time and time again. It can be that way with factory anything including parts.

  7. Oh, also I recommend to get a Haynes manual to research your problem even if you’re taking it in for service. That way you can keep the mechanic honest. Yes, you could research your problem online too, but having the steps in the Haynes manual can help you gauge the amt of time needed to effect the repair. So, if the shop is charging you too much time for something simple, you can call them on it.

  8. A comment concerning the “specialized” tools. Most factory service manuals call out specialized tools, often one-offs created just for that manufacturer (and sometimes for a specific model). Most (probably 90% or more) are a modified version of a tool you can buy from Sears or a car parts store (gear pullers, seal drivers, sliding hammer, etc….) OR are tools you can easily make. I keep a supply of threaded rods around that, when combined with a couple of sockets, make a decent press for things like suspension bushings. Just think through the job that needs done.

    • This where I hate ‘throw it away’ people. They have no concept of what a pile of junk is good for.

      Last special tool I needed was a crank pulley holder for my mazda. The generic ones I could buy did not look up to the task. I took a scrap die casting that a nice big hole off center of the part I could get the socket through, drilled two holes for the bolts. Used a couple hardened M8 stud-bolts (they were designed to be molded in to a die cast part, just junk from work) to attach it to the pulley. A small block of wood and the die casting rested against the frame (with the wood in between)for easy removal of the pulley bolt.

      • RE: crank pulley holder.
        I found this write up by a novice for replacing the timing chain, he ‘made’ a tool for holding the crank pulley out of a length of webbing.

        A photo is about halfway down:

        Might be good to know for last ditch repair scenarios?

        So far it’s the best write up I’ve come across with a good amount of photos, in spite of the fact the guy had almost no knowledge of working on cars, so many instructions are lacking in useful photos.

        Videos aren’t always useful either. I came across a three part series on YouTube on how to do the timing chain, only he never made a part four, the most important one. I thought that was kind of funny.

  9. As someone that has used both “Expensive” tools and El Crapo Chinese Junk tools I can tell you the Chinese Junk tools get real expensive sitting in the ER with a couple broken knuckles. So, anything that if it breaks I will get hurt I won’t use Junk. Now, I do have a real crappy Old Motorcycle Lift and Sand blaster… that work just fine. I just made a “Brake” to prevent the lift from dropping the bike on my head.

    And the true middle ground is Collecting a quality set of tools from Yard sales and Craigslist. You can get some fantastic deals, but it takes patience. I am a shade tree mechanic, but I have one of the best sets of tools available. To repair anything from my eye glasses to my RV. And when your paying $0.50 for a $125 Tool… you can’t beat that.

    Craftsman, Snap On, Proto, Old Stanley, etc. Have life time warranties…

  10. Whenever I undertake anything mechanical in the garage, I tell my kids to whistle before they approach. That way I can turn off the blue language that usually accompanies my pathetic fix-it efforts before they get there.

    • Hahahaaa.. [thud] Ow..!

      You should see how my brother-in-law uses a can of CRC.. It’s pathetic. I wanted him to lube the joints and axles of a small hydro jack he’s got, so he just sprayed the thing all over, as if he was painting it :O

      He’ll usually be under a bonnet, huffing, puffing and making lots of noise until my sister rescues him. Hilarious.

    • Yeah, I usta get mad all the time when working on cars and my kids knew to stay away! The most frustrating thing, when working on the car is you want just the simplest action (like put the bolt thru the ^*^$!@ thread) and it just wont go! Somehow, over the years I’ve recognized this and now I kinda laugh it off.

  11. First PROPER TOOL to get: A real, high quality, torque wrench. I’ve seen too many people break bolts trying to get some part like a water pump “good-n-tight” when “correctly torqued to factory recommendations” was just fine. Nothing will ruin your schedule faster than breaking a bolt off in the block.

    Even something as simple as rotating tires requires a torque wrench if you want to avoid problems, especially if you use an impact gun.

    • Why, “A real, high quality, torque wrench”?

      I suppose I could understand if you make your living that way and use it all the time. But for most people, why not an inexpensive one?

      • I have never used a torque wrench but I have learned the life lesson too many times of “you get what you pay for”.

        For example, I have a couple real cheap crescent wrenches. These crescent wrenches will deform themselves when trying to wrench out an especially tight bolt…although the deformations are slight, they add up quickly and end up causing slips and damage to the bolts I’m trying to tighten/loosen (or cause slips that make me bash my knuckles). Whereas my high quality crescent wrenches don’t deform. At first glance the 5 dollar crescent wrench appears no different than the 20 dollar one, but after using it a few times the differences are huge. From what I’ve seen with hand tools, it all boils down to either getting the shitty soft metal, or the expensive hard metal. Sometimes the more expensive tools “look” lesser quality than the cheap ones (the cheap ones are nice and shiny, with “cool” packaging, where the legit ones are just simple looking pieces of steel).

        • Another example is a nice pair of bolt cutters. Right now at home depot there are two kinds: a yellow handled one for about 30 bucks and a red handled one for 50 bucks. I have used both, the yellow handled one is made of soft metal, and it will cut through bolts/locks, but after about 10 the wear marks start to get so big that it will no longer cut through thick locks/bolts like it could if it was brand new. The 50 dollar pair will continue cutting through thick locks/bolts long past the time the yellow one would have “died”. One could convince themselves “if I only need to use it a few times, I’ll get the cheaper one…” and that is fine until you come across a situation where you need to use it again, and can’t, because you bought the cheap one instead of paying the premium price for the legit one.

          Every time I’ve bought the cheaper, lower quality tools, I’ve regretted it. The job is made so much easier when you have a full set of high quality tools. As Eric’s article points out, a job that would take you about a half hour will take you much longer with the lower quality stuff. Sure, you’ll still get the job done, but you’ll be swearing/sweating/bleeding that much more because you want to save money (and don’t get me wrong, the money you’d save is significant when you think about an entire set of high quality tools versus low quality).

          And, if you are planning on using the tools for over 10 years, the high quality ones will most likely last longer than your life time, whereas with the low quality tools, you’ll be forced to buy them all over again every time they get worn out.

          • No doubt about the cheap tools, Jacob. There’s some good advise in what you wrote.

            I used the word ‘inexpensive’ though, not cheap. Is there not a middle ground?

            I’ve seen used Snap-On torque wrenches being sold for $125, that’s a bit much for someone who will use it maybe ten to fifty times. Imho.

            The same goes for other tools, it just depends how often you’ll be using them. Your example of the bolt cutters, if a person uses bolt cutters three times in their lifetime, the cheap one might be just fine with seven more times leftover.

            I had a number of well seasoned mechanics tell me the same. YMMV.

            There’s a place for quality tools, and then there’s wasting money.

            I’ve used torque wrenches for jobs before, the inexpensive ones worked fine the many many times I used them. I just wondered why it would be a good idea to spend gobs of money for one if a person wasn’t using it for a job?

          • I thought of something else to add!

            With some high quality tools, they don’t even make them anymore thanks to government regulated safety measures.

            I’m in (and have been for about 2 years…) the process of completely renovating my house. I found a 10 year old Stanley box cutter in my attic that works fan-frickin-tastically. I wanted to buy a couple more but found out that Stanley no longer makes them because now they can only make them with certain safety features. The box cutter I found is the 10-079 (check them out on, I just bought a bunch of em’ when I found out they were discontinued). The “awesome new” models they make are rated “we want you to be a super pussy and not cut yourself” and because of that they don’t operate nearly as easy/simple as the older “more dangerous” models.

            On top of that, the discontinued models are actually the same price or cheaper than the fancy packaged “safety” models that they now make.

            Fuck the government.

            • “….they don’t even make them anymore thanks to government regulated safety measures. ”

              Oh yeah.

              And don’t get me started on power equipment. First thing you have to do – in order to be able to use the things without ridiculous hassles – is defeat the &^$#@!! saaaaaaaaaaaafety crap. Riding mowers, for example, all have a seat-mounted saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety switch that kills the engine if the operator gets off the machine. That’s annoying all by itself. I am fully capable of putting the transmission in neutral and applying the parking brake. But even worse, this system also kills – or partially cuts out – the engine when you’re cutting on grades/inclines and your weight shifts in the seat. It’s infuriating. Luckily, it’s also easy to defeat. Ditto the saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety switch that shuts off the blades if you try to back up. It’s there because some imbecile ran over a chiiiiiiiiild.

          • I think there is certainly middle ground. Companies (especially these Chinese pieces o’ shit) know how to market, and they’ll market some tools (with fancier packages and higher cost) but they’re still the same cheap, piece of shit tools.

            I’ve never used Snap On tools, but from what I’ve heard from people who have, they are worth the money if (big “if”) you plan on using them all the time. I don’t know for sure but I think Snap On tools have a life time warranty. That said, a lot of the shitty tools at Home Depot have a life time warranty too.

          • “a 10 year old Stanley box cutter in my attic that works fan-frickin-tastically.”

            I hear ya on that one. I have two left. …But that’s what garage sales, estate sales and auctions are good for: quality tools at a low price. (Usually low prices, sometimes people have a warped sense of value, especially when they get caught up in the excitement of an auction or have Dollar signs in their eyes while pricing things For Sale.)

            Anyway, cheap China tools can last too sometimes. It just depends.
            I have some China tools I never thought would last as long as they did.

        • By way of analogy:

          I once bought a cheap chainsaw; typical Home Depot-level item. Not long after, I had to buy another chainsaw.

          Had I bought the right (high quality) chainsaw the first time, I’d actually have saved money.

          Same with tools.

          If you wrench a lot, it pays to buy good tools because you will only need to buy them once!

          • Cheap tools have come a long way from 25yrs ago when I first started working on my cars. Back then, I would never buy a tool that was made in Taiwan. I can tell no difference between tools made in Taiwan versus ones made in the US. Now, for Chinese-made tools you must still tread carefully.

            Another thing, specialty tools (“Lisle”) costs have come down substantially over the years. I now have a small collection of these specialty tools….

          • Chainsaws are one of those pieces of power equipment that doesn’t lend itself to cheap knockoffs. I myself am sort of a chainsaw nut since I cut firewood for my winter heat.

            I didn’t quite do what you did Eric but I did buy a “homeowner class” Husqvarna my first year cutting and the following year I ended up buying a pro-series saw and selling the homeowner saw.

            This video is a great example of good versus bad engineering on saws and why the cheap knockoffs should be avoided.

      • “But for most people, why not an inexpensive one?”

        One word: Aluminum.

        30 years ago, when engines and most critical parts were made of cast iron or steel, getting the torque “close” was usually not an issue. But today, with alloy heads/manifolds (and plastic parts, too) going a bit too tight can really mess up your day.

        A good torque wrench is not very expensive – about $50 or so last time I checked at Sears. Get the break-away/click type. The dial ones are too imprecise.

        • “A good torque wrench is not very expensive – about $50 or so”

          Ah, perhaps I made a mistake in assuming a ““A real, high quality, torque wrench” was not in the $50 range. To me, the $50 range is simply an inexpensive one. That’s what I used to use. It had to get checked for accuracy monthly, it never failed to meet specifications.

          This is what I call high quality:

          Torque Wrench Body, Adj. Click Type, U.S., 40-200 in. lb. Range Stock#: QC1I200

          Price: $250.00

          • Actually I recently priced a decent Torque wrench out from sears and a couple other places and the price ranged from about $80 to $120. This would be a good wrench that would put you within +/- 1ftlb if you stored the unit properly. (With the spring unloaded). Or you could buy a 100% digital wrench for about $200.

            Also check Craigslist, sometimes you can find a steal of a Snap On or Mac Tools wrench for cheaper than the sears model. Spend $20 to get it calibrated and you’re good to go.

          • The key to preserving an “inexpensive” click type torque wrench is reset the wrench to zero when finished. The “inexpensive” click type torque wrench will last a long time.
            Take care of your tools and they will take care of you . . .

          • I finally bought one 15 years after I really needed it, in 1980. It is a click type and seems like I paid $125 for it….still works great after all these years and countless chores. If wrenches could talk……Good thing it doesn’t have an audio recorder. Guess I worked too many times on a Nissan.

          • And speaking of Nissans(me), never buy a vehicle in Texas unless it’s in the months of July or August. Did I mention it gets hot? Like the last two years when the a/c at the house runs for weeks without cutting off but what can you expect when one day it’s 114 and the next it’s 115 and then you finally get a cool spell when it only gets to 108 and that’s when your a/c finally turns off….in the morning right as the sun’s coming up….

          • Eric – I think had the same older Craftsman torque wrench you’re talking about. The ratcheting part failed and upon returning under the “lifetime” warranty, they gave me the new torque wrench you linked. The new torque wrench had only a one year warranty. Shortly after a year the adjusting portion of the handle than should only move when turned started moving up and down without turning, making setting the torque a guessing game. I pitched it and replaced it with a Snap-On – no more Crapsman equipment that does not come with a lifetime warranty.

        • I concur Eric. A preset torque wrench (i.e. break-away or “click” type) is the way to go for most people. I see pretty decent deals on Mac, Blue Point and even Snap-On at the local pawn shops. Never hesitate to negotiate on price for any second hand tool, especially if it’s been on their shelf a few weeks or months. I’ve cut some amazing deals over the years.

          The downside to a preset or “micrometer” style torque wrench is the coil spring that actuates it. Springs “fatigue” with use and age requiring recalibration. Some less expensive preset torque wrenchs don’t lend themselves well to this, so check out what you intend to buy carefully if you intend to keep it long term. If it’s not easily calibrated or repair parts aren’t available, it’s probably not worth messing with no matter how cheap it is.

          As Tor pointed out, you need to store a preset torque wrench “unloaded” or backed off to the lowest setting or stop position to relieve the spring tension. This will increase the longevity of the tool. But recalibration will still be required. Annual calibration at a minimum is typical where torque values are critical such as nuclear power plants, aero-space, refineries, etc.

          As age and use affect the spring, you can expect to have actual torque values applied to a fastener that are lower than the tool’s setting. Although this would not cause you to over torque a fastener, it could be a problem where a torque value is designed to prevent a fastener from coming loose during use. For instance, if you had a nut on a rotating shaft that required 200 Ft. Lbs. to secure it, you set the wrench to that value and it “clicks” at an actual value of 150, you may not have enough torque to properly secure it.

          Tor commented that you can get a torque wrench cal’d for about 20.00 FRN. The best price I’ve seen, flat rate for a preset up to 600 Ft. Lbs., is 32.00 FRN. And you can figure in about 10.00
          FRN shipping each way. So if you buy used intending to have it calibrated, figure 52.00 FRN adder as minimum. It will be more than that if parts / repair are required. Depending on the metrology lab, the repairs / calibration on a used wrench may end up costing more than a new one.

          Also remember that if you use anti-sieze lubricant on a fastener you intend to torque, it will require a lower torque value to achieve the same tension. This is due to lower rotational friction from the lube. We had tables supplied by engineering in nuclear power that showed us the torque values for “dry” fasteners vs. those with anti-sieze. In other words, you can still over torque a fastener even at the correct setting on a calibrated torque wrench if you use lube on the threads.

          Finally, don’t scoff at the good old beam type torque wrench. They may not be as easy to use as a preset, but they do work well enough that countless engines have been rebuilt using them with great success. I relied on one of these for years before becoming affluent enough to own preset torque wrenchs. Primitive as it is, the beam type is far better than “millwright tight” or worse, “Aw shit! I can’t believe that stripped out so easily!”

      • This has been my experience with tool choice in the decade and change I’ve been wrenching and stringing wires on airplanes, cars, boats, etc… The quality of your work will NEVER exceed the quality of your tools.

        I started out way back when with a decent set of Craftsman stuff. It worked, mostly, but I was still having to borrow the other guys’ Snap-On tools from time to time. I instituted a new rule: If I borrow it three times, I need to buy it.

        As time passed, I instituted another new rule: If I break it, I replace it with a better one. Overall, it took about 2 years to slowly destroy or replace the Craftsman pieces for Snap-On (occasionally Matco, but they’re not really made for aviation tasks). By only buying what I found I actually needed, I saved thousands over buying some sort of all-in-one set and having most fo it sit there and rust. By replacing the things I broke with better (usually more expensive) wrenches, sockets, or ratchets, I’ve ended up with a pretty decent kit these days.

        Since almost all airplanes are SI, I’ve had to duplicate some items into Metric for use on cars, but other than that, I don’t plan on needing to buy too many more expensive tools – but if I do, I’ll pay the money up front. Even if I only end up using it once, WHO CARES? Whatever I do with it will be done as close to perfect as I can get.

  12. Factory manuals are Sweeeeet! If you’re serious about doing repairs on a particular automobile they’re priceless. The haynes or chilton ones are good, you get what you pay for, but nowhere near as comprehensive.

    • That’s true. I’ve always used Haynes manuals for my bikes. For anyone with enough electrical/mechanical nouse these are fine, but for others the factory ones are better.

      For those that don’t know how to use a screwdriver, STOP!

      • To note, I have the Kawasaki service manual for my bike. It is probably the worst manual of all time. It leaves out the entire crankcase breather system. Hell, my Honda service manual for the Rebel has this in it. I now have a 2004 vn750 with a serious issue springing oil leaks and I can’t find any Kawasaki docs that tell me how the Crankcase Breather system works on the bike. To wit, not all FSMs are good and not all aftermarket manuals are bad.

        David Ward,
        Memphis, Tennessee

        • “FSMs” – Ha! For the longest time I kept seeing that acronym and didn’t know what it meant. Now it’s a part of my thinking alongside RTFM.

    • Haynes and Chiltons are good for small repairs, but factory manuals are the best. The problem is, you can’t find them anymore. On my Jag, I hunted around for them but couldn’t find a thing. That’s why I gave up the car. I was wanting to do the repairs myself. One thing that you can do is subscribe to alldatadiy to find information on it. It is almost as good as the factory stuff. When I did that, the work got a little easier, but it still didn’t help with the Jag. Parts were too expensive!

      • Hi Swamp,

        I assume you checked eBay?

        How about online PDFs?

        I’ve always been able to find manuals, even for old/oddball stuff like my S1 triple. I have the factory manual for it, too.


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