In The Shop: Super-Special Tools
Jun 02, 2012
Ever run across a bolt that was impossible to reach with a wrench? A weird nut that defied every wrench or socket you own? Sadistic engineers sometimes incorporate odd fasteners and fittings that seem to make disassembly or repairs impossible.
That's when it pays to be friends with a mechanic at the local dealership. It's sometimes a touchy subject, asking for free advice or to borrow special tools, but as long as you show some class and respect, most mechanics are willing to help. Sometimes the help is in the form of simply looking in a tech book for the secret steps to take apart a component. Sometimes the help is a loaned wrench or specialty tool. Sometimes the proper thing to do is to rent or buy the specific wrench. And sometimes the only course is to pay the mechanic to use his acquired skills and special tools to do the job.
A simple job like replacing a starter on a tractor is a good example. Removing the bolt or nut on the backside of a starter can sometimes be a major challenge. A socket wrench with a long extension and a swivel socket may do the trick. A half-moon wrench is an option. But most mechanics have special wrenches with a half-dozen bends and twists designed specifically to remove back-side starter bolts.
If you're good friends with a mechanic, you can ask to borrow his starter wrench. If you're casual acquaintances with that mechanic, you might ask to rent it. If you do much work on your own equipment, you could ask for the part number of the starter wrench and have the guy at the dealership's parts counter order that wrench from the special tools catalog he has under the counter. Or you can simply pay the dealership to do the work.
My rule of thumb at the dealership when it comes to owning or buying tools is, after the third time I have to borrow, I buy. Sure, it might be expensive for a farmer to purchase a specialty wrench or tool that will only get used once every decade. But when you balance the price of that wrench against the shop rate for that repair at a local dealership, the wrench may be pretty economical.
Of course, when you pay the shop rate for a dealership mechanic to do the repairs, you're also getting the mechanic's expertise and experience, and some sort of shop warranty against faulty parts or repairs. It's one thing to borrow, buy or rent a special tool so you can replace a faulty starter and install a new one. It's a different story when it comes to rebuilding a starter and knowing how to get all those little pieces back into their proper places.