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Gadgets & Gizmos

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Gadgets for the weekend auto mechanic



I'm a MINI Cooper and performance driving enthusiast and over the weekend I went to the Phil Wicks MINI Driving Academy in Orlando for a day of track driving and instruction. When I head to the track I put on a separate set of racing wheels and tires, and when I was doing that this time I realized how many gadgets there are to make things easier when changing wheels. Even if you aren't a driving enthusiast, these things would be helpful to you if you want to do your own tire rotations to save some money.

Floor jack - This is a must for the weekend mechanic. Trying to do maintenance using the scissors jack that came with your car is inconvenient and unsafe. Those jacks were made for roadside tire changes and are designed to be compact so you can keep them in the car. If you plan to jack up your car often get a floor jack. Harbor Freight Tools has a nice selection and they have racing jacks for lowered cars like mine. I have the basic 3,000-pound racing jack from U.S. General and when it's on sale you can get it for about $70. It looks just like the one in the photo except it doesn't have the LED Lights. If you plan to have all four wheels off the floor or need to get under the car, get two sets of jack stands. This is important: Never, ever go under a car when it's on a jack. Always use jack stands for that.

racing floor jack      jack stands


Lug wrench - The lug wrench included with your car is usually very small and doesn't give you much leverage when trying to take off lug nuts that were put on with an impact wrench at the garage. Try the Gorilla Power Wrench instead. It's a telescoping wrench that gives you more leverage but still collapses to just 14 inches for storage in your car.


Cordless impact wrench - If you get really serious about changing wheels and need to do it often, quickly or on multiple cars, a wrench like this one from Hitachi is a great help. It's on my wish list.



Lug bolt guide tool - Most domestic cars have wheel studs in the hubs, making it easy to hang a wheel before installing and torquing the lug nuts. Some foreign cars, however, have wheel bolts. This means the nut and the bolt are one piece and all you have on the hub is a threaded hole. This makes it much more difficult to hang a wheel because you have to hold the weight of it while trying to insert and tighten the bolts. These handy lug bolt guide tools thread into the holes on your hub so you can hang the wheel and install the other bolts. With the other bolts installed just remove the bolt guide and install the last bolt. Genius!



MagnoGrip magnetic wrist band - I can't tell you how many times I've kicked a lug nut under the car when changing wheels. This magnetic bracelet would solve that problem, keeping the lug nuts on my wrist so they're handy when I need them. This is another wish list item for me. MagnoGrip makes a bunch of cool magnetic gadgets for use with tools.



Tire pressure gauge - There are many types of air pressure gauges out there and most work fairly well for checking your pressure. But one thing most of them lack is an easy way to release aire from your tires if you overfill them. This is important for racing, because tires are often intentionally overfilled to prevent the sidewall from flexing during hard cornering. And if you've ever overfilled a tire at one of those coin-operated compressors you know what a pain it is to hold in that tiny needle to let the air out. The Moroso tire pressure gauges have a release valve so you can release aire while watching the pressure on the gauge. And the long hose makes it much easier to see the pressure readings. I use model 89560.



Torque wrench - This is an extremely important tool you must have if you change your own wheels. Wheels stay on your car because of friction between the wheel and the hub. For this to work properly the lugs must be tightened with the right amount of torque. Torque settings should be checked regularly. Although having the lugs tight is better than having them loose, having them too tight can cause problems too. Sears makes good torque wrenches and I have one from the Craftsman Microtork line.



Whether you're a weekend racer like me or just someone who wants to save a few bucks and do your own tire rotations at home, all these gadgets will come in handy. For look at my day at the track, check out the video below.


Phil Wicks MINI Driving Academy - August 29, 2010 from Jack Rowland on Vimeo.

[Last modified: Thursday, September 2, 2010 7:22am]


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