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Feature Story


by Bob Hagin

May 31, 1996

So you've finally graduated from high school or college and you're out on your own. You've gotten a job with a future, an apartment with a couple of friends and you're on your way up the ladder of success.

But you didn't get that new car for graduation so you've got to make due with the 10 year-old steed that got to carry in the car but these are things to leave at home to use in non-emergency situations:

PLIERS - Actually you'll probably need two types of pliers, an alligator-type and a conventional pair, along with a plier-type wire cutter. Simple tasks like taking off battery cables can be daunting without pliers. The wire cutters are just for that odd emergency when something has to be cut and scissors aren't tough enough.

SCREW DRIVERS - You'll only need a couple of screwdrivers; two eight-inch (with about 3/8-inch shanks) both straight-bladed and Phillips. Sometimes you might need a "stubby" (the same sized blades but very short in overall length) but don't rush out and buy them thinking you're going to use them tomorrow. And don't use any screw driver to pry on things or as chisels. They break easily when they're beaten on.

HAMMER - A ball peen hammer is nice but for general service, a claw hammer is best. The claw end is sometimes the only thing that can pull off a hub cap and it can perform double-duty by driving in a nail when brought into the house. But make sure it's a good one though: if the head comes off in use, it can be a painful projectile.

WHEEL LUG NUT SPANNER - An X-shaped tool that has a different sized nut socket on each of the four ends. When you acquire one, make sure that one of the ends will fit the lug nuts on your own car since there are more than four sizes in service in this country. Why buy one when a lug wrench comes with your car? Sometimes it would take the strength of Hercules to break loose lug nuts using the factory-supplied wrench - especially if the nuts were put on at a tire shop with an air wrench. On second thought, maybe you better keep this item in the car.

DROP LIGHT - Checking out something under the hood or under your car is lots easier when using a drop light with a bulb cage and a built-in hook. The alternative is a flashlight held in your teeth but in this position, the beam is hard to aim. It might be helpful to invest in a light-duty drop cord too. One that's 50 feet long can be ungainly but you never know when those extra feet of cord may be a necessity. A make-do drop light using table lamps is really a pain.

BATTERY TERMINAL CLEANER - When the weather is wet, corrosion builds between the terminals and the battery cable clamps. The cables have to be disconnected and cleaned with a special male/female wire brush. The female end is slipped over the terminal and rotated until the post is clean. The male end is used to clean the inside of the cable end. If your battery is the side-post type, you'll need a regular wire brush. Check often for corrosion: late night is a bad time to have a dead battery.

TRICKLE CHARGER - When it gets really cold, marginal batteries sometimes won't get your car started, especially when it's parked in a non-heated area. A trickle charger does just that: it recharges your battery slowly and keeps it warm for use the next morning.

JACK STANDS - Your factory-supplied jack will lift your car but if you plan to put any part of your body under it, invest in at least two jack stands. They are non-movable devices that hold your car up. Don't depend on the jack to do the job - lots of amateurs are killed or maimed every year when their "reliable" jack lets them down. And put wooden blocks on both ends of the wheels that are still on the ground.

LONG NOSE FUNNEL - If pouring oil into an engine through the filler hole is tough without some kind of funnel, try pouring automatic transmission fluid (ATF) into an automatic transmission without one. ATF goes in through the transmission dip stick tube (about an inch in diameter) which is sometimes hidden deep in the engine compartment. A long-nose funnel is cheap and makes the job much easier.

Once you get all these items assembled, the one last tool to buy or borrow is an electric pencil. With it you can mark all your "stuff" and by doing so you'll make sure that your roommates remain your friends.