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10 cool tricks for the casual mechanic that will get you out of a pinch

      In your every growing circle of abilities and competencies, at some point you will inevitably have to build some basic mechanical skills for working on machinery of all sorts while saving large sums of money, be it lawnmowers, plumbing, chainsaws, the dishwasher, or cars-You’re often the cheapest mechanic you’ll be able to find anywhere. Here is a list of hard learned tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the years that can get you out of a jam. Hopefully your can find 1 or 2 that you like.

1) Latex gloves.


Just because you’re handy with a wrench doesn’t mean your hands have to advertise it to everyone. For those days when you decide you don’t need a temporary oil tattoo on your skin, just pop on some latex gloves. Your significant other won’t have to complain that you smell like gas, oil, or varnish anymore either.

2) Magnetic tool

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dropped a nut or bolt, while working on an engine, only to listen anxiously, holding my breath to see if it will hit the ground or get stuck in the most difficult to reach portion of the engine. For times when my luck runs out, a magnetic extension tool has greatly limited the amount of cursing involved. This one has a 5lb magnet and extends to about 3 ft.

2) Two open ended wrench trick.

Occasionally I’ll find a bolt or a nut that is just too stuck to break loose with a regular wrench. It’s a great trick for the average mechanic. If I have a breaker bar, that’ll usually get the job done, but frequently I won’t have one handy. For those situations you can use two wrenches in tandem to double your fulcrum and thus your leverage. Just be careful not to hit your knuckles if one of them buckles.

3) Heat

Metals of all kinds are some of the hardest materials mankind has found. But do you know what makes everything soften up? Pupies….that’s what. But for the sake of working on cars, heat works better. The next time you’re fighting with a stubborn nut or bolt, just apply some heat with a soldering torch and watch how easy it is to break free. You can find one at your local home depot for around $20 or $30.  For casual use, they last for ever. I’ve been using the same tank of gas in mine for over 10 years.

4) weld a snapped nut

Sometimes you’ll run into a nut that is so stripped out that you can no longer grab it with any wrench. If you’re in a real pinch you can use a welder to weld a new nut right on top of it, wait for it to cool, and wrench it right off of there.

5) super long extension

Can you tell I used this as a pry bar?

Frequently, I’ll notice that the area I’m trying to work in is too cramped for every wrench and socket configuration in my standard tool set. However, There are 2 and 3ft long extensions, that will allow you to plunge into the area while having the wrench free of all the stuff you’d normally be bumping into. But perhaps the are is too tight and at an angle that is too radical for even that. In that case try….

6) swivel sockets

On some cars, the nuts and bolts are in such tight proximity that no combination of universal joints and shorty sockets will let you reach them. Fortunately there is an all in one swivel socket that can fit into the absolute tightest of spaces.

7) video scope

This use to be a high end expensive tool. Not any more. You can have one now for less than $30. Want to know if something is leaking from your engine way back behind that area you can’t see? Just snake this camera back there and you can see areas where your eyes would never fit. It even has a light on it. You can use all around the house for peeking behind walls, looking inside of plumbing, or inspecting the carbon build up on your cylinders from the spark plug hole.

8) metrinch type wrenches

You can now get a cheap set of these from harbor freight. These grab bolts and nuts from the center of the metal instead of the edges. So if the head is already stripped out and you’re wondering how you’re ever going to get it unscrewed now, just switch to this style wrench. It comes in handy all the time.

9) liquid wrench

I’ve tested this stuff on everything from 1/4 inch bolts on up to 3/4 inch ones. It won’t completely unstick a corrosion welded nut but it will loosen it’s grip just enough that you can break it free where it was previously not possible.

10) bolt extractor

It’s only a matter of time when working on machinery before you run into a bolt that snaps off for one reason or another, leaving you cursing loudly or quietly under your breath, depending on who is standing around. What you’ll want to have on hand is a bolt extractor. Simply use a cobalt bit to drill a hole into what is left of the bolt stud (lubricate with oil and drill at low speed not fast), then insert the reverse threaded extractor into the hole, turn counter clockwise, and viola! Broken bolts come right out. It sometimes brings a tear to my eye.

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  1. Great tips! Thanks for enlightening me to the double wrench trick. Plus, I didn’t know that video scopes had gotten so cheap!

    • Thanks man. I only need it a couple of times a year but when I do, it gets me out of a pinch. Sometimes you can just use your cell phone camera to get into tight spots and track down the source of a drip, a leak, or check the condition of a rubber part for cracks, that is too tight to inspect with your eyes. I liked your recent post on side hustles. I’m gonna check some of those out as well.

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