Carley’s Corner: Confessions of a Tool Junkie – UnderhoodService

Carley’s Corner: Confessions of a Tool Junkie

Larry Carley loves tools. And like most automotive buffs, he's acquired many over the years.

I love tools. Power tools. Pneumatic tools. Hand tools. Specialty tools. Gimmick tools. I may not fix cars for a living, but I probably have the tools to handle almost any repair job I’m likely to encounter.

Like most automotive buffs, I’ve acquired a LOT of tools over the years. Some I use all the time, while others just gather dust. I’ve seen the same thing in a lot of repair shops. Old, obsolete service equipment shoved back in a corner. Nobody uses the equipment anymore, and it has little if any resale value. But the shop owner can’t part with it because he thinks he might need it again someday. Or, he remembers how much he paid for the equipment when it was new and can’t bear the thought of throwing it away.

I’m the same way. I have tools that I don’t use anymore. They take up space, but I don’t want to get rid of them because they might come in handy some day.

I have a cabinet full of old hand-held testers and obsolete scan tools. I have sold a few on eBay, but I cling to the rest because they are still in good working condition. After all, if a scan tool worked great in 1985 on a 1985 vehicle, it will still work today on a 1985 vehicle — assuming I ever need to diagnose a 1985 vehicle again (hopefully not).

I also have an old ultrasonic leak detector I can’t part with. It’s a hand-held wand with a floppy tubular extension that can probe hard-to-reach places in search of vacuum leaks. The tool has a microphone inside that can detect ultrasonic vibrations produced by a vacuum leak. It’s not as useful as a smoke machine, but since I don’t own a smoke machine, it will do. Unfortunately, it also gives a lot of false beeps because it also picks up normal noises from shaft bearings.

I also confess that I’ve bought tools I’ve never used, like a gimmick hand ratchet wrench I discovered at a swap meet. The tool looks like a regular 3/8 ratchet wrench except that it has a lever on the side of the handle. When you squeeze the lever, it rotates the ratchet. It seemed like the perfect tool for working in tight places. But I soon discovered it requires forearms like Popeye on organic spinach to make it work. A pneumatic 3/8- or 1/2-inch ratchet is a much better choice and requires arms no stouter than those on Olive Oyl to use.

Another confession I have to make is that I’m very particular about how my tools are organized. I’m a firm believer in a tool for every purpose, and a place for every tool. I’m not the kind of person who paints outlines on a pegboard around every tool. But I do believe in having well-organized and labeled drawers so I don’t have to waste time searching for a tool when I need it.

I have drawers full of sockets, extensions and swivels. I have short sockets, deep well sockets, 6-point sockets, 12-point sockets and impact sockets all organized by drive size, by fastener size, by length, by SAE or metric designation, and yes, even by brand! Don’t mess with my sockets!

One thing I’ve noticed as I get older is that the size markings on many sockets seem to have shrunk or disappeared altogether. Even if I can’t read the markings, I can usually pick the right one because I know how my sockets are organized (unless someone has been messing in my tool drawers). The trick is to organize the sockets in size order in metal or plastic trays, or on magnetic holders. If the one you grab isn’t the right size (too large or too small), you just grab the next one on the holder.

Some tool suppliers have come out with sockets that have oversized markings to make them easier to read. Great idea! I also found a company online who sells easy-to-read metal stick-on ­labels for sockets. You can find them at

Socket wrenches are probably one of the greatest tool inventions of all time. But in tight quarters there may not be enough clearance for a socket and a ratchet. You still need a set of open end and box end wrenches to loosen fasteners. My first choice, if space permits, is always a box end wrench because it surrounds the nut or bolt, and won’t slip and round off the head on the fastener.

Pneumatic tools and impact wrenches are great for speed and muscle. But you can’t always use them in tight places, even with swivels and extensions. Many fasteners still have to be removed the old fashioned way — by applying plenty of elbow grease.

As an automotive editor, I’m not supposed to endorse any manufacturer’s tools or products. I have to maintain my journalistic integrity and write fair and unbiased articles. But since this is an editorial that expresses my own opinions and not those of my publisher, I’m bending the rules a bit.

One of handiest hand tools I own is a set of GearWrench ratcheting combination wrenches. I’ve actually bought several sets of these in both SAE and metric sizes.

Unlike other ratcheting box end wrenches I’ve owned that were stiff and clunky to use, these have a fine ratcheting mechanism that rotates easily and smoothly. Once a nut or bolt is loose, you can keep on turning the fastener until it is all the way off. They are the first tools I reach for when I have to work on a car.

You probably have some favorite tools, too. Tell us about them. We’d like to hear your comments on this subject; send them to [email protected]

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