Hooniverse Asks- What Automotive Unitasker "Special Tools" do You Own?

SPECIAL TOOLS VW SPEEDO

The Curved Dash Olds was the first car designed around a common set of parts, and was in fact the first to be built in series on a rolling assembly line. This interchangeability was demonstrated to the press as Olds mechanics removed components from one completed car, and proceeded to install them on a second. Not only were the parts common between vehicles, but in general so were the wrenches, screwdrivers, and other tools used to build or un-build them.

Oh if only that were the case with our cars today. Instead, we are faced – frequently half-way through some maintenance project – with the requirement of a unitasker tool to complete a certain task. I have a number of these, brake retractors, cam aligners, gear shims and more, and many of the damn things are for cars I no longer even own. Most manufacturers only require specific-model tools for rarely practiced maintenance or repair. Others, like Rolls Royce, demand a widget unusable anywhere else to do something as simple as change out a shock. Hence the singular reason I don’t own a Roller, I don’t have the tool space!

Have you similarly amassed a collection of unitasker tools that clutter the drawers of your tool tower, or rattle around in the back of a garage cabinet, behind the brake cleaner and mouse traps? Do you have any tools the use of which is for a vehicle you no longer own, or worse whose specific function now escapes you? What single-model special tools do you own?

Image source: SaabJournal

107 Comments

    1. Yup, I still have an E30 service indicator reset tool…and no E30. Someday, I'll find a use for it again.

        1. I removed the service indicator lights when I replaced my batteries on the SI board. It was easier than resetting it periodically.

          1. I actually wound up removing just the bulb for the "Brake Lining" light (after replacing brakes and sensors). I was about to use the jumper wire method when another BMWCCA member gave me his old reset tool.

  1. I have tons of "custom" tools I had to make when I was wrenching on airplanes. Usually involved a K-mart special and a blow torch. I have kept them all just in case I ever get to work on a radial engine again.

    1. As a general rule, I don't get rid of tools. There is no cost of continued ownership, usually any amount you could get to sell them is limited, and for the most part they don't take up that much space. And even if I don't currently have a need, there's no telling when it may come in handy for some other purpose, or a friend might need it, or I might end up with another car that needs it. Plus, there is no such thing as too many tools. Mo' tools, mo' better.

      1. I still have a tool we made to remove a shock absorber mount in 1998. I have not used it for that purpose since but I have used it several times to do other things.

  2. <img src="http://static.summitracing.com/global/images/prod/large/acc-35369_w.jpg"&gt;
    This is a TFI module for a Ford 5.0L engine. It was mounted to the side of the distributor in my '87 Crown Vic and failed, like they all pretty much do. The problem was they couldn't handle the heat and every so often would just die. You'd let the car cool down and it would start right back up until it got hot. The module was about $100 from the Ford dealer, but you needed a special TFI tool to remove it. I refused to buy a special tool for a car I was planning on selling soon, and especially when the bolt was a standard size (5/16, IIRC). So I just ground down a socket until it fit.
    I still have that socket. Does that count?

      1. It turned into the source of a class action lawsuit which resulted in Ford extending the warranty on the distributor-mounted units. It also turned into the source of some backyard engineering when people found ways to remote mount them.

  3. I/ve got a few – hub tool for 4WD Ford I no longer own, clutch alignment tool for Alfa and a home built vacuum bleeder (from a garden sprayer) that fits a Subaru reservior.

  4. The most useless (now) tool I own is a 3-13/16" 8-point socket I had to buy to get inside the brake drums of a 1974 Ford F250. Back before there were things like Intertubes to help you find stuff cheap, I paid, I think, $85 for this piece of mandrel-shaped pipe with a socket hole welded to it.
    The truck is long gone, but I've still got this stupid thing in the garage somewhere.
    <img src="http://www.affjaxx.com/images/18527_mr.jpg"&gt;

  5. I don’t know that I have anything that is make and model specific. The axle nut socket to fit my truck’s front hubs is singular in its utility to me, but since it is just a big socket, it has a theoretical utility beyond just my pickup. I also have a 15mm combination wrench that I bought specifically to change the belt in a friend’s Taurus. It hasn’t been used for anything else, but it could.
    I have a lot of specific purpose tools, but they are more or less universal in performing their given task across multiple makes and/or models of vehicle.
    Probably the closest I have to a vehicle specific tool is my oil filter cap wrench for the Jaguar. That filter is rather large, and I haven’t had another vehicle for which the wrench serves its purpose.
    The steering hub compressor that I made was very specific in its use, but can be used on so many older GM vehicles, it's almost a universal tool.

    1. Just bought one of these to replace a damaged crank pulley. I may never use it again, but it was still way cheaper than paying for shop labor.

          1. Let me know if you have a better way. I'm replacing my pulley tomorrow if the weather's nice.

          2. After struggling with all kinds of approaches, I called the Acura service manager. He said he wasn't surprised … only one of his thirteen techs had an impact wrench strong enough. I wish you better luck.

          3. My plan is to get an extension long enough to clear the fender, and support it with a jackstand. Then I can put a longer pipe on my breaker bar.
            Once your bolt was out, did you need a puller to get the pulley off?

          4. err …. I didn't. I was headed out of town on a business trip, so I towed it to the local service station behind my pickup and asked them to put it back together (couldn't get that damned bolt out, even with a 6 foot cheater).
            The guy at the gas station swore at me when I walked through the door a week later. Said it took the mechanic three hours to get the bolt off. After that, I didn't stay around to chat much.

    2. Me too. Well, technically I still own it, but I lent it to a coworker who also no longer owns a Honda. Did you too find that removing that bolt was the single most difficult part of the timing belt job?
      I've also got a home made aluminum tool for holding the tensioner in the compressed state while you installed it. The special Honda tool was only available to Honda mechanics.

      1. Heck yes, removing the pulley bolt was the most difficult part of the job. Nowadays, though, I use my awesome twin piston impact wrench and it just spins those things right off, no pulley holder needed. Yay!

        1. I did the same on my daughter's Escort, I went and got a Harbor Freight electric impact wrench for about $40. But on the Odyssey, I tried my buddy's pneumatic impact and it still wouldn't budge. I ended up putting a 24" breaker bar on the nut, wedged the tool on the frame and put my floor jack under the breaker bar handle. Lifted the van about an inch by the wrench before the bolt came off and left a nice dent in the frame rail.

          1. I had a regular pneumatic gun and it wouldn't remove the pulley bolt on my wife's car, so I sprung for the twin-piston 600lb-ft pneumatic beast and it spun the thing right off. I've since done 3 or 4 different cars and their crank pulley bolts can't put up more than a token resistance before the onslaught of that tool. It helps that I have a 175psi compressor so I can crank up the pressure regulator if the bolt is really tight.

          2. Ah, I see the confusion. The bolt came loose (not 'off'), and the wrench didn't go flying. It was actually rather anti climactic, the van raised an inch and then slowly settled right back down. I have to admit, as the van came up I was getting nervous.
            If that didn't work I don't know what I was going to do. Likely put it back together and take it to a mechanic.

    3. I've got one of those, or at least a similar one. Never owned a Honda but was a mechanic so I needed it.

  6. I have a socket similar to this for a 4WD Chevy truck. It is used to remove the nut that holds the front brake rotors/axle on 1973-1987 4WD GM trucks. I bought it when I had my 1979 K-5 Blazer. About 4 years after I got rid of my K-5 I got a K-10 Chevy Truck and used it again. The K-10 is gone, but I still have the tool.
    <img src="http://static.summitracing.com/global/images/prod/norm/otc-7090a_w_m.jpg&quot; width="250/">
    When I had to replace the temperature sensor on my wife's Trailblazer I had to make a special tool to remove the sensor. It is a 18mm socket with a grove ground in the side to let the wire out. Think an oxygen sensor tool, but smaller.

  7. I have these:
    Here's a tool for adjusting ball joint preload on 81 and up K5s (maybe others, too, I don't know). But it pissed me off because this is the only Snap-On tool I've ever bought, and it isn't long enough to do the job right. I expected more when I spent $25 on a single socket.
    <img src="http://buy1.snapon.com/catalog/objects_lg/images/S9613.jpg&quot; width=500>
    And a spindle socket for the same truck:
    <img src="http://images.oreillyauto.com/parts/img/medium/pfm/w1269.jpg&quot; width=500>

    1. Part 2, apparently my post was too long.
      Just got this one a few weeks ago. It's actually really cool, it's for holding the pinion in place by bolting to the yoke where the u-joint would, so you can loosen or tighten the pinion nut. And it's drilled so that it can fit GM, Ford, and AMC diffs. No mention of Chrysler, but I can't see why it wouldn't work with them, too- u-joints are fairly standard. I've only used it once so far, but I think it'll get some more use in the next few years.
      <img src="http://static.summitracing.com/global/images/prod/large/RAT-18001_OH.jpg&quot; width=500>
      I'm sure I've got a few more floating around.

      1. That reminds me of the power of patents; I'm certain a device as useful as that has its own patent number, despite being just a bunch of holes in a steel plate, as their layout makes them uniquely useful. I know of at least one other mundane tool which earned a patent precisely for that sort of convenience.

    2. The spindle socket you posted – Looks just like the Ford 4WD spindle nut socket I use on the TTB front suspension.

      1. I know there's some interchangeability with them- actually the one I bought has a sticker on the side saying all it's different applications. IIRC, there's some Ford applications on there.

      2. It is not a Ford or GM specific tool it is a Dana axle specific tool and yup I've got one of those too as well as the tool for adjusting upper ball joint preload on Dana axles or the GM 10 bolt that uses Dana outer parts.

    3. That spindle socket is also used on the front ball joints of Peugeot 504s/505s. I was quite pleased when that project went from "crap, I need a discontinued special tool from an orphaned brand" to "OK, the socket is right here at AutoZone."

    1. It is for a Chevy small block, how is this a unitasker. That's almost like calling a 1/2" socket a unitasker. Maybe this way of thinking just comes from owning half-dozen or so 350 V-8 cars and trucks over the years.

      1. HA! You got something similar, then.
        I've kept this one on the better-than-even-odds chance that I end up with another SBC-powered car someday.
        I've kept the giant hub socket above only because I paid so much for it that I hate to get rid of it.

    2. This is one I don't have and ahve never found the need for a regular box end wrench has worked for the hundreds of SBCs I've worked on.

  8. I have a "mechanic's" set of ratchets and sockets as well as other various around the house tools. Surprisingly, for a Scion tC and Pontiac Vibe, that's about all you need.
    However, my backyard neighbor is an Autozone, so when i need a specialty tool, I open my fence gate and take advantage of their loan-a-tool program.
    If I can't do it even with all of that, I go to my most effective tool of all:
    <img src="http://jeffshore.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/checkbook.jpg&quot; width=500>

    1. Though I did growl at their on-air antics from time to time, the Magliozzi brothers did offer up the finest bit of road trip advice many years ago. The best tool you can bring with you in your car is an empty credit card.

    1. That would probably work a lot better than a lot of cursing and a pack of Camels. That didn't work at all.

    1. I use that tool to establish the minimum intelligence standards I require of my parts counter workers. If I ask for the "GM spring clip tool" and they don't steer me to it immediately, or if I'm greeted with more than 1 "wha..?" while I describe it to them, I know it's time to darken some other shop's doorway.

    2. I've got one of those, but it isn't really a single make/model tool since it is needed for a number of Fords and Toyotas too.

  9. Had to buy (2) wrenches specific for the Mrs. former DD, Geo Tracker. One was a 3/4" but could only be 4" long due to space constraints while the other was 1/2" with some weird offset to it. The two wrenches are still in the tool box but don't know that I'll ever use them again.

  10. (rummages through garage)
    Let's see…
    Pulley removal/extraction tool for an 80's Ford AC compressor. Somewhere in the $40 range. Used exactly once.
    Fan clutch removal tool for Ford. It still gets used now and again.
    Volvo fuel tank bung nut removal tool. Its name never fails to raise eyebrows. Go ahead, say it: bung nut removal tool. Actually used several times over the years.
    Volvo strut gland nut tool. Who comes up with these names? Used several times. It slips, rarely stays properly adjusted and makes me cuss. I hate it so, but haven't found an affordable alternative.
    Laycock de Normanville overdrive tool for Volvo. Are you seeing a pattern here? I forget what the hell it's actually called. Used once. Makes a nice paperweight.
    This likely doesn't count, because it's just too useful: a 9-inch Ford monkey wrench, known as the Universal Ford Tool. I think they came with a Model T, but I haven't researched it. It has the Ford logo cast into the handle.
    Specialized tools… this takes me back down memory lane…
    My uncles ran a garage years ago and one of them was known for modifying tools for jobs, to the point that the other one could be heard to say "quit making tools out of my tools!"
    My Dad was a research chemist who often had to make tools and devices for things that hadn't been invented yet, thus, he couldn't just order them from a catalog. He'd conjure up stuff on a regular basis at home, too. My Mom needed to sear the edges of ripstop nylon fabric so it wouldn't fray during sewing. Thus, a Lionel model train transformer, some nichrome wire, nuts and bolts and some scrap wood and plexiglass became a nylon fabric edge searer. I'd like to think some of that inventiveness rubbed off on me!

    1. If you're really good with the temperature settings, Portasol's cordless portable soldering irons (they run on butane) can be fitted with a slick hot knife attachment, which does an excellent job of cutting and sealing the edges of ripstop nylon. It's useful when you need to cut complex shapes out of the material.

  11. The only unitask tool I ever built was the Datsun cam-chain wedge; a block of 3/4" marine ply cut into a rough wedge, then trimmed into shape and drilled at its wide end for a length of braided synthetic rope and a pull handle, the easier to yank it free once the cylinder head work had been completed. I lived on an outer island in HI and the Datsun/Nissan parts guys loved to charge ridiculous markup prices for their specialty tools, which led the shade tree mechanics there to fabricate their own. Fortunately, all you needed for disassembly and reassembly of most 70s era Datsun engines were a set of 10/12/14/17mm wrenches and sockets along with – was it a 10 or 12mm Allen wrench? – for the majority of your work.
    I do have a unique bottom bracket drive socket for the Schlumpf High-Speed Drive unit on my 'bent bicycle. Fortunately it only cost $20, but it does underscore the major tool expense of opening up a bicycle repair shop. First you place the orde with Park Tool for their comprehensive kit, and then you start spending double to triple that for the essentials.
    Every single bicycle component manufacturer uses a unique series of bottom bracket and freewheel cassette fasteners, and every 5-10 years they change them, which ensures you need a half dozen unique tools per component brand in order to reasonably cover what a random customer might bring in for work. It's yet another reason I'm a fan of the new wave of sealed multigear transmissions and CVTs for bicycle use, which use standard tools for servicing and offer the added benefit of decreased chain wear since there's no lateral chain flex included in their design.

  12. I have radio removal tools for my 1996/2000 Rangers, and a set for my 1998 VW Cabrio, none of these vehicles are in my garage any more. That's about it, really.

  13. If anyone has ever pulled the front cover off an LT1 to do a timing chain, there are these stupid round gaskets that require a special tool for the waterpump and optispark outputs. I make the tool out of a CO2 cartridge from a BB gun. Pretty much worthless now since I've discovered LSx motors. I've also got a spindle nut tool, and a ball joint socket for Dana front ends, but I actually use those tools.

  14. Mercedes diesel valve adjustment wrenches. Not the real deal from Hazet, just some Craftsman 14mms bent by some dude on eBay.

    1. I do have the genuine articles, but since my 300SD has been in dry storage pretty much all of the last year or so, I haven't used them yet.

  15. Audi radio removal keys, that's about it. I have a whole bunch of bicycle specific tools, like non-squishing cable cutters and brake pliers, but that's not what you asked.

    1. I've always looked at my various bike tools and thought I wasted a lot of money on things I could have kludged together from scrap.
      Chain whips for example.

      1. A friend of mine has a debilitating Park Tool habit. I believe he buys every new tool that they come out with, whether he needs it or not.

    1. I'm building my collection of huge sockets and wrenchs. I don't have any 36mm (largest metric is a 27mm), but I do have 1 1/8", 1 1/4', and 1 5/16". That last one I could only find in 3/4" drive, which meant I had to buy a 1/2" drive to 3/4" drive adapter. I just bought a 3/4" drive breaker bar to go along with the pinion flange puller I posted earlier though, so now I have a $30 socket wrench to go along with my $20 socket, each of which has been used once. And the adapter no longer has much of a purpose.

  16. In my near future, a one-time use tool that runs about $50…
    Lisle (LIS65600) Broken Spark Plug Remover for Ford Triton 3 Valve Engines
    <img src="http://www.denlorstools.com/shop/images/LIS_65600_S.jpg&quot; >
    The 3 valve Fords had 2 piece plugs that were supposed to last 100k. Carbon builds up on the end of the plug and when it's time to replace, the carbon prevents the plug from threading out. Snap. Busted plug.
    Of course I'll buy the tool and every plug will come out just fine, never using the remover.

    1. Is the engine earlier than 2008 or part of 2008 (depends on manufacture code), yeah you'll need it. Well that's true at least for the 4.6. During 2008 they changed the plug to a more traditional style. I would think they changed it for the Triton's also but you never know. I only stumbled on the issue searching for something else on my Mustang. Thankfully, I have the later style plug without that issue.

        1. Look up the Ford procedure for removing them and don't break off the plug!! It involves the use of carb cleaner, a stone cold engine and patience. A favorite adult beverage helps with the patience part.

          1. I've seen a few youtubes and read the forums. I'll prolly get the tool in any case.

  17. I still have the some water cooled VW tools, despite selling my Jetta in1997. Offhand, a cam follower depressor for changing valve clearance shims, a timing belt tensioner pin spanner, two 12 point driver bits for head bolts and CV joints, a17mm hex key for the transmission drain plug, and an inline fuse holder with spade terminals for jumpering the fuel pump relay.
    I also have a dummy centrifugal advancer shaft used for setting breaker points on BMW Airheads, which partially counts because I still have the R100s but I converted to electronic ignition in 2003.

  18. I almost forgot about my super wonderful amazingly specialized OBD I code reader!
    <img src="http://doitandhow.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/paperclip.jpg&quot; width=500>
    I'll admit to having no clue how OBD I works on other vehicles, but on Chevy trucks all you have to do to read codes is have a paperclip and shove it in to the proper two ports, then follow the prescirbed key sequence, and count the lights on the dashboard. You could spend $25 for a fancy looking tool that does the same, but I'll stick with my $0.01 paperclip.

    1. I hate to break it to you but that's not an OBD I code reader, it's more widely known as a 'convoluted linear improvisation package' (Clip), it's used it to reset computers, pick locks that have lost keys, open stuck CD player drawers, hang a hat, emergency electronic repairs, emergency disc brake caliper holders, emergency motorcycle swing arm castle nut retainers, brazing rod, and much, much more, as you've already discovered.
      I'm not sure where you get yours, but U.S. $0.01 each is waaay too much, I get mine free for the asking as I only need one at a time.

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