The Ten Best Tools of All Time

by J. William Lam
(as taken from the Internet... idea "borrowed" from our neighbors to the West; it was featured in the WNY Region's Western New Yorker, January 1997 issue.)

Forget the Snap-On Tools truck; it's never there when you need it.
Besides, there are only ten things in this world
you need to fix any car, anyplace, any time.

1. Duct Tape: Not just a tool, a veritable Swiss Army knife in stickum and plastic. It's safety wire, body material, radiator hose, upholstery, insulation, tow rope, and more in one easy-to-carry package. Sure, there's a prejudice surrounding duct tape in concourse competitions, but in the real world everything from LeMans-winning Porsches to Atlas rockets uses it by the yard. The only thing that can get you out of more scrapes is a quarter and a phone booth.


2. Vice-Grips: Equally adept as a wrench, hammer, pliers, bailing wire twister, breaker-off of frozen bolts, and wiggle-it-till-it-falls off tool. The heavy artillery of your toolbox, Vice Grips are the only tool designed expressly to fix things screwed up beyond repair.


3. Spray Lubricants: A considerably cheaper alternative to new doors, alternators, and other squeaky items. Slicker than pig phlegm. Repeated soakings of WD-40 will allow the main hull bolts of the Andrea Dorea to be removed by hand. Strangely enough, an integral part of these sprays is the infamous little red tube that flies out of the nozzle if you look at it cross-eyed, one of the ten worst tools of all time.


4. Margarine Tubs With Clear Lids: If you spend all your time under the hood looking for a frendle pin that caromed off the peedle valve when you knocked both off the air cleaner, it's because you eat butter. Real mechanics consume pounds of tasteless vegetable oil replicas, just so they can use the empty tubs for parts containers afterward. (Some, of course, chuck the butter-colored goo altogether or use it to repack wheel bearings.) Unlike air cleaners and radiator lips, margarine tubs aren't connected by a time/space worm hole to the Parallel Universe of Lost Frendle Pins.


5. Big Rock At The Side Of The Road: Block up a tire. Smack corroded battery terminals. Pound out a dent. Bop nosy know-it-all types on the noodle. Scientists have yet to develop a hammer that packs the raw banging power of granite or limestone. This is the only tool with which a "made in India" emblem is not synonymous with the user's maiming.


6. Plastic Zip Ties: After twenty years of lashing down stray hoses and wires with old bread ties, some genius brought a slightly slicked up version to the auto parts market. Fifteen zip ties can transform a hulking mass of amateur-quality rewiring from a working model of the Brazilian rain forest into something remotely resembling a wiring harness. Of course, it works both ways. When buying used cars, subtract $100.00 for each zip tie under the hood.


7. Ridiculously Large Standard Screwdriver With Lifetime Guarantee: Let's admit it. There's nothing better for prying, chiseling, lifting, breaking, splitting, or mutilating than a huge flat-bladed screwdriver, particularly when wielded with gusto and a big hammer. This is also the tool of choice for oil filters so insanely located they can only be removed by driving a stake in one side and out the other. If you break the screwdriver -- and you will, just like Dad or your shop teacher said -- Who cares? It's guaranteed.


8. Bailing Wire: Commonly known as MG muffler brackets, bailing wire holds anything that's too hot for tape or ties. Like duct tape, it's not recommended for concourse contenders since it works so well you'll never replace it with the right thing again. Bailing wire is a sentimental favorite in some circles, particularly with the MG, Triumph, and flathead Ford set.


9. Bonking Stick: This monstrous tuning fork with devilishly pointy ends is technically known as a tie-rod-end separator, but how often do you separate tie-ends? Once every decade, if you're lucky. Other than medieval combat, its real use is the all purpose application of undue force, not unlike that of the huge flat-bladed screwdriver. Nature doesn't know the bent metal panel or frozen exhaust pipe that can stand up to a good bonking-stick. (Can also be used to separate tie-rod-ends in a pinch, of course, but does a lousy job of it).


10. A Quarter and a Phone Booth: See #1 above.