Monday, December 13, 2021

The Realist: Specialty Tools for Home and Automobile Repair

 This is the third in a series by the Realist on tools for the prepper. You can find Part 1, about common hand tools for home repair, here; and Part 2, "Tools for Diagnosing and Repairing Electrical and Electronic Problems" here. The Realist writes:

Disclaimer: All products mentioned in this article were purchased by myself. I did not receive samples, evaluation models, or other compensation from any manufacturer or retailer. I have no formal relationship with any manufacturer or retailer mentioned in this article - I have only been an arms-length customer. All brand names and product names used in this review are the trade names, service marks, trademarks, or registered trademarks of their respective owners. I am not a licensed or certified tradesman. Further, this article reflects my unique circumstances and subjective opinions with regard to performance and other characteristics of the products being discussed. Your mileage may vary.

    Growing up, my father taught me how to fix many things. Since then, my repair skills have continued to improve. Besides having the knowledge of how to fix things, having the appropriate tools is necessary to fix many things.

    As the economy worsens, the need to diagnose and repair things yourself, rather than paying others or discarding a failed item, will become increasingly necessary. I have no idea how much money I have saved by being able to fix things myself. Even though I dislike working on automobiles, I have made many automobile repairs over the years, again saving a lot of money.

    You learn how to repair things by doing repairs. Although, now there are many excellent YouTube videos that explain how to perform various repairs, and you can dramatically shorten the learning curve by watching a few videos on a specific repair topic.

    Specialty tools exist for a reason. They make repair tasks far easier than the repair would be without those tools. In some cases, repairs are virtually impossible without specialty tools. For example, consider the AR-15 barrel nut wrench. There is really no other tool that can be used on that barrel nut.

    Below are a few specialty tools that I have that make specific repair tasks around the home or on an automobile easier.

Bit sets: At the top is the handle for the small bit set immediately below - there are more bits on the back side of the holder. At the bottom is the quarter-inch hex drive bit set, with the security bits in their own rectangular orange holder.

Screwdriver Bit Set

    Sometimes, manufacturers use screws with unusual heads, or use security (tamper resistant) screws. A bit set that contains an assortment of bits for those security screws can make a repair project much easier. I have two different bit sets. One set is a collection of quarter-inch hex-drive bits. The other set is a collection of 4 millimeter hex-drive bits intended to be used on portable consumer electronics products. In addition to those, I have collected a variety of other special purpose bits, such as those to use on various Nintendo products.

    Both bit sets have security bits, various sizes of Torx bits, hex bits, Phillips bits, straight bits, square bits, and tri-wing bits.

    One of those security bits saved the day a few months ago when an HVAC technician, working on a neighbor's air conditioner, encountered tamper resistant caps on the service ports. (Tamper resistant caps prevent theft of refrigerant.) The technician did not have a bit for that particular style of cap, and getting one would have potentially taken him several hours.

    I purchased my bit set at a flea market many years ago, but similar sets with the same or improved selection of security bits are available from a variety of sources including Amazon and Harbor Freight Tools.

Specialty tools: At the top is the classic all metal Yankee Push Drill, with the plastic handle push drill below, and a set of bits to the left. Below the push drills, from left to right are needle nose pliers (above), Hakko wire cutters (below), Klein Tools crimper/cutter/stripper, Harbor Freight Doyle side cutters, Channellock 558 hose clamp pliers, and small and large strap wrenches.

Hose Clamp Pliers

    I didn't discover hose clamp pliers until after my last washing machine repair adventure. Appliances and automobiles frequently use spring wire hose clamps. Most of the time, the ears you must squeeze to loosen the clamp are easy toaccess and squeeze with regular pliers. With that washing machine, one hoseclamp was particularly difficult to reach. It came off without any trouble. Putting it back on was more difficult. I fiddled with it for over a half hour using just about every different type of pliers I had. Eventually, I was able to get the hose clamp where it needed to be. If I had used hose clamp pliers, it would have only taken seconds to put the hose clamp back where it belonged.

    After that hose clamp experience, I purchased Channellock 558 hose clamp pliersI don't know if Channellock makes those pliers any more - several vendors I checked seemed to be out of stock. Fortunately, Irwin Vise-Grip makes a very similar product that is available. There are other styles of hose clamp pliers available, but this style looked more robust.

Needle Nose Pliers

    Needle nose pliers are a form of long-nose pliers, which have very thin delicate jaws. They are very useful for reaching into tight places. Because their jaws are so thin and delicate, applying any significant force with them could irreparably damage them. I typically use these when working on electronic devices which have lots of tiny screws in difficult to reach places.

    The specific model I use is no longer available, however Weller Xcelite makes a similar model.

Strap Wrench

    A strap wrench consists of a flexible strap attached to a wrench-like handle. It is designed to loosen or tighten comparatively fragile cylindrical items or irregularly shaped items, such as oil filters and some plumbing fixture parts.

    Once the strap is wrapped around the item, tension of the strap to the grip holds everything tight while you loosen or tighten the item.

    I have used a small strap wrench to loosen and tighten a thin threaded brass ring that holds a shower/bathtub water valve together in my bathroom. This threaded ring lacks flats for a wrench, and water pump pliers would likely damage the ring.

    I purchased my strap wrench set at Lowe's, but similar sets are available from many sources. (I purchased an older version of this set:

Crimpers and Wire Cutters

    A combination wire cutter, wire stripper, and terminal crimper can make wiring repairs easier and more reliable. The terminal crimper is most useful when doing wiring projects in vehicles. I use the Klein Tool model 1010 because it has wide molded handles that allow me to squeeze the tool more comfortably.

    If you get one of these tools, make sure to get an assortment of crimp connectors to use with the tool. Don't buy the cheapest assortment you can find - the metal will be too thin to make reliable connections. Also, avoid the inexpensive cutter/crimper tool and connector assortment kits - the tool and connectors will be poor quality.

    For electronics work, I like to use Hakko brand wire cutters, although there are other very similar wire cutters available. These cutters are intended only for cutting small diameter copper wire. They also work well for cutting zip ties. Cutting iron wire will destroy them.

    If you need to cut larger wires or cut iron wire, nails, or staples, side cutters are needed. (E.g.

Yankee Push Drill

    The Yankee Push Drill is a manual drill that is roughly the size of a screw driver. It rotates the drill bit by pushing the handle. It does not use any electrical power - you power it with your muscles. The Yankee Push drill uses unique double fluted bits that are not twisted like traditional drill bits. The classic all metal Yankee Push Drill is rather expensive at ninety dollars. I purchased mine, which has a heavy plastic handle, many years ago for far less, but it is no longer available. If you get a Yankee Push Drill, make sure to get spare bits for it ( or

    There are a variety of other non-electric manual drill tool options, including "push-pull" spiral drive screwdrivers, some of which take quarter-inch hex bits (which could likely accept quarter-inch hex drive drill bits - I have not tried this).

    I have mostly used my push drill to drill pilot holes in wood for screws. It is far easier to carry and use a push drill than an electric drill (even if battery powered).

OBDII Code Reader

    When the "check engine" light comes on in your vehicle, what do you do? Ignore it and hope it goes away? Take your vehicle to a mechanic and hope you don't get cheated? For modern automobiles, an OBDII code reader can identify many automobile problems. Even if you can't fix the problem yourself, it allows you to be better informed when you do take your vehicle to a mechanic for repair.

    Sometimes, the fault that causes the "check engine" light to come on is the result of a transient event, and "fixing" the problem is no more difficult that clearing the fault code. If the problem returns, then you can start pursuing a solution. (Some fault codes can be cleared simply by disconnecting the vehicle's battery for fifteen or twenty minutes. Unfortunately, your vehicle's radio will probably lose its station presets and time, and other unexpected settings might be cleared. I had a vehicle that would lose its steering wheel angle sensor settings whenever the battery was disconnected - easy to fix without any tools once I learned the non-obvious trick to setting it.)

    Several years ago with my vehicle, I would sometimes feel the engine missing when going up a hill on my way to work. Further, the check engine light would sometimes come on. By the time I got home, the check engine light had gone out, and checking for fault codes with the code reader showed no faults. (I'd later learn that some transient faults may be cleared automatically after a couple times starting the engine.) Eventually, I took the code reader to work with me, and checked the codes sitting in the parking lot at work. The code reader told me that one of the coil packs on a particular cylinder had produced the fault.

    To verify the fault was with the coil pack, and not upstream wiring, I moved it to another cylinder. The fault now showed up on that cylinder. I replaced the faulty coil pack, and the problem went away.

    I am now on my second code reader. The first one consisted of a handheldelectronics package with a display, and a cable that connected to the OBDII port under the dashboard of my vehicle. It worked well for what it did, but had some limitations. My current code reader, which I purchased four years ago, is the BlueDriver OBDII code reader. It is a Bluetooth dongle that plugs into the OBDII port, and then connects to my smartphone via Bluetooth. The app on the smartphone provides the display and controls for the code reader. While there are cheaper code readers and Bluetooth dongles, BlueDrive provides regular app updates and maintains a database of various fault codes and fixes for most vehicles.

    My OBDII code reader has saved me a lot of money on automobile repairs. Even when I ultimately decided to take my vehicle to a mechanic for repair because I did not feel my skills were sufficient, I was able to tell the mechanic exactly what faults I had seen.


    There are specialty tools for a wide variety of tasks. The tools discussed in this article are a few of the many specialty tools I use on occasion. I highlighted these tools because they would benefit many people who are wanting to perform infrequent but necessary repairs around their home or on their vehicles. These are the specialty tools I have found, in my experience, to be most useful.

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