Sometimes, you haven’t got the right tool for the job or you haven’t got the time to get the right tool for the job. Maybe because you’re broken down somewhere far from your tools.
Sometimes, you can make the tool for the job. Or repurpose a tool you have on hand that gets the job done. Necessity being the mother of improvisation.
Vise grip pliers (get a good, pre made-in-China set; the standard jaw and the needle-nose jaw) can loosen bolts and screws when you haven’t got sockets or screwdrivers, remove and install hose clamps and be used to hold things together for just-long-enough. Like a broken battery cable, for instance.
They are the go-too tool for getting damaged screws out when you haven’t got an Easy Out – and back in again when you need to tighten something back up but haven’t got a new, undamaged screw on hand. They can save the day when a bolt head is rounded off and a socket won’t work. They are the American Express card of field expedient tools.
Don’t leave home without one.
Electrical tape is a steady friend – sometimes even more than the better-known silver duct (or “duck”) tape. Electrical tape has expansion/contraction, heat-resistance and leak-keeping attributes that makes it very effective when you need to seal something that’s leaking, like a radiator or heater hose. Wrap it tight – and off you go.
And of course, it’s just the ticket for preventing wires twist-spliced together without benefit of proper connectors from grounding out and leaving you stuck – again. You can also use a piece of electric tape to hold (or just wedge) a loose wire on a connector or contact that can’t can’t be twist-connected back together – for just long enough to get you mobile again.
Ever chip a chrome-plated bolt or lug nut? There are special sockets designed specifically to remove plated sockets and other fasteners without damaging the finish, but you may not have one handy when you need to remove such a bolt. A scrap piece of paper towel can save the day – or at least, save the finish. Put the scrap on the head of the bolt and then ease the socket on top. The piece of scrap paper towel will snug the fit and limit metal-on-metal contact. The bolt should come off without its finish coming off.
Speaking of not coming off . . .
There are times when you have the right socket but insufficient leverage. There are some bolts that not even Franco Columbo could loosen without the help of Archimedes. Air gun-tightened lug nut bolts, for instance.
Which is why it’s a good idea to keep a piece of pipe 2-3 feet long handy. Put that over the handle of your ratchet or tire iron and now you are Franco Colombo! The bolt that seemed unmovable now moves with ease. If you haven’t got the pipe, try the spray. PB Blaster or a similar penetrant, then get a cup of coffee or a beer. When you’re done, tap the bolt with a hammer a little and then try it again. You may not need the bar – or the strength of Franco Columbo!
A piece of wood is also a tool – and can make all the difference. You may already know this if you’ve gotten a flat tire and tried to change it on soft/unpaved ground. You jack the car up but the car goes down as the weight pushes the jack into the ground. If you have a study piece of wood (such as a section of 2×6) to put under the jack,you’ll be able to jack the car up instead of the jack down. The wood can also extend the lifting range of the jack, providing the clearance you might not otherwise get. The same piece of wood can also get you traction – as by shoving it under the wheel that’s spinning on packed snow that’s not letting you go.
Speaking of hardware-store stuff, keeping some rough-hewn rope handy is often . . . handy. It can be used to get a stubborn oil filter off when an oil filter wrench fails. Wrap the rope around the filter nice and tight, leaving enough on either end to let you pull on the one end while holding the other, to maintain tension. Off comes the filter – without having to make a run to the parts store.
Rope also comes in handy when you need to hold down a liftgate that won’t stay closed or which you can’t close it because of something in the cargo area that prevents it.
But perhaps the most important field expedient tool is the one between your ears. Think before you improvise and be careful about improvising. It is sometimes better to accept having to make a trip to the store to get the right tool than to use the wrong tool wrongly – and end up with a problem worse than the one you started with!
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