In the Shop
As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.
"Red Flag" Tools
Jul 12, 2008
I get lots of tool catalogs and have learned to read between the lines to identify emerging mechanical problems. If I notice a glut of a certain type of tool, it hints to me that there is a mechanical malady commonly occurring that the tool is designed to combat.
For example, in recent years "spark plug thread chasers" have bloomed in all the tool catalogs. A little research reveals that it is not uncommon for mechanics to strip or damage the threads in spark plug holes of modern cars and trucks. The cause? Modern engines often have aluminum cylinder heads. Spark plugs have steel bodies. Aluminum and steel, if left in tight contact for a long period of time, develop a chemical reaction that can virtually weld the spark plug into the cylinder head. The potential problem has been compounded by vehicle manufacturers extending the spark plug change interval up to 100,000 miles in some situations. The problem is so common that some car dealerships, as part of their regular service, "exercise" spark plugs--they take out the plugs, then reinstall them, simply to make sure the plugs don't freeze in the head before it's actually time to replace them.
Lately, I've also noticed in tool catalogs a flood of tools related to Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS). The federal government has mandated that all new lightweight vehicles--cars, SUVs and light trucks--must have some sort of system that warns the driver if a tire has low air pressure. Car dealerships, tire shops and anybody who works on tires is scrambling to get the tools necessary to test, replace and calibrate TPMS. It's quite a hairball, because there is no standardized type of sensor or system, so each manufacturer has developed its own unique TPMS that requires tools specific to that system. We're going to cover the details of TPMS in an upcoming story in Farm Journal. For now, it's enough to read between the lines in tool catalogs, note the flush of pricey tools dedicated to TPMS, and be aware that you're probably not going to be able to fix flat tires yourself on your wife's van or your pickup anymore.
So reading between the lines of tool catalogs has taught me to use extra caution when removing spark plugs, and to think twice before I rotate the tires on my wife's SUV (rotating the tires confuses the computer that monitors tire pressures, and sets off the warning light that there's a low tire, even thought they're all inflated to precisely 32 psi).
My wife thinks that I'm daydreaming of new tools to buy when she sees me sitting in my recliner, thumbing through tool catalogs. While that's a fun daydream, I'm actually reading between the lines to figure out the next generation of repairs that require care, some training and...special tools.