Hooniverse Asks: What Obsolete Automotive Tools do You Still Possess?

oil can
I pretty much never throw anything out. That’s why I still have hanging on my garage wall one of the original – and dented – wheel covers off of my first car, a 1961 Chevrolet Corvair. I replaced it with a solid citizen edition, and put the wounded soldier up on a nail. It’s followed me for years across four moves and a like number of garages.
The detritus of our hobby follows us like Pan’s Shadow, always lurking, almost never useful. Tools occasionally become obsolete too, owing simply to time marching on. Car radios once used vacuum tubes and a number of places – Thrifty Drug being a notable example – used to have testing kiosks for them. Both the tubes and the testers are long since gone.
Those of course didn’t take up room in your garage, but you might just have an oil can spout laying around, even though it’s been years since oil was sold in the once ubiquitous quart cans. Why do you still keep that lying around, and more importantly, what other antiquated tools are you also holding on to? What obsolete automotive tools do you still possess?
Image: Etsy


  1. I still have a Uni-Syn, though the only things in my garage with carbs are the mower and weed trimmer.

    1. I never really thought of a timing light as obsolete, but I guess for many, it is. Of my cars, only one is distributorless, so my timing light isn’t obsolete just yet.

      1. That would be a good trivia question, “when was the last new car with a distributor sold?” My non-running ’77 Corvette needs the timing light, the other three don’t.

        1. That is an interesting question. I know Chrysler used distributors until ’03-04, when the Magnum series V8 was discontinued.

  2. My Grandfather was a mechanic and service station owner back in the ’50s and early ’60s. Sadly, he died before I was even born. However, a vast majority of his tools still sat in my Grandmother’s garage – when she died 3 years ago, I was the lucky heir. I now have a LOT of really cool, obsolete tools (and a lot of very old, but still very useful tools).
    There’s an old vacuum tester, a stethoscope, a really cool axle/hub puller that utilizes a slide hammer, and a bunch of stuff that I frankly have no idea what it’s for.

    1. I was fortunate enough to inherit tools from two grandfathers. I got all the tools from the first one. It was probably easier to go through the 1977 Craftsman tool catalog and circle what he didn’t have than what he did have. He was a certified GM mechanic in the mid 1940s, after he got out of the Seabees, an appliance repair man for the local electric utility in the 1950s, and finally an attorney (but part time tinkerer/jack of all trades). The other grandfather was a mechanic at the Lockheed plant and part time farmer, I probably got 40% of his tools. There aren’t many hand tools that I’m missing, but I don’t have too many matching sets of anything.

    2. Send some images our way and we’ll see what we can do to get those identified. Rob would have a field day with this.

  3. I don’t have much of any obsolete automotive tools, outside of my timing light. I DO have some really old interesting tools meant for working on silk spinning machines… for a silk mill that burnt down in 1977. Most of the tools date back to the late 1800’s, early 1900’s, from when my great-grandfather bought or outright made them himself to work in the mill. Nobody is left alive that worked with my great-grandfather and grandfather at the mill to let me know what half of them do, but I know what all the pipe wrenches are for. 🙂

    1. Here’s a postcard of the mill, circa 1925, that I found (and subsequently bought) on Etsy:

  4. I have one of those spouts, a fancy chrome one with a plate around the base, with a foam gasket. I remember when I first saw plastic oil bottles. I thought, “An oil container, made out of oil? That’s stupid.”

    1. I’ve got one too, sits in the top of my rollaway. Friends my own age ask me what it is.

  5. Ignition dwell meter/tachometer for setting up breaker point ignitions, plus a timing light, a vacuum gauge and some special tools. I have a dummy centrifugal advance shaft for setting points on BMW Airheads and some circa 1980 VW valve clearance and timing belt tools. Also a breaker point file, which is very useful for filing small flat things.
    I should have a carb synch tool, but I’ve never gotten around to buying one.
    Also 2 oil can spouts, one with a built in plastic funnel.

  6. I also have a Sears Penske timing light and carrying case, like this one:
    and Sears Penske ignition analyzer:
    Two of the first tools I ever bought, in 1978, along with a Craftsman 3/8″ drive socket set, and a Craftsman beam type torque wrench. I hated the way the dealer adjusted the timing and idle on my ’75 Vega (it pinged, and the engine would stall at idle when the a/c was on), so I bought tools and a Haynes manual, and set them myself.

  7. I have a headlight adjustment kit that allows the setting of sealed beams with a system of suction cup, mirrors and viewers to properly set headlamps. When was the last time you had your headlights adjusted?

    1. How many people even know that’s what the little nubs on the lens are used for?

    2. A lot of halogen setups still used those adjustment kits with the alignment bumps on the lenses, up until the mid to late 90’s, when OEMs started putting bubble levels in the headlight housings.

  8. When I bought a ’74 Ford F250, I had to buy a 3-13/16″ 8-point socket to get into the rear brake drums.
    Available for ~$25 on Amazon now, in pre-internet days I had to buy it a Napa for something like $90.

    View post on imgur.com

  9. When I bought a ’74 Ford F250, I had to buy a 3-13/16″ 8-point socket to get into the rear brake drums.
    Available for ~$25 on Amazon now, in pre-internet days I had to buy it a Napa for something like $90.

      1. Oh yeah! I remember seeing those, usually hanging on the Cal-Van tools rack in the parts store.

  10. I still have an OBD code reader from when I had my ’87 Crown Vic wagon. I haven’t had an OBD vehicle in 14 years what with that newfangled OBD II and CAN protocols.

  11. I have a more or less complete set of Whitworth stamped steel sockets. Despite not owning a Whitworth car, I still use them fairly regularly for adapters and such.

    1. I hope not. My click type wrench stops at about 80 ft. lbs., so I have to dig out the beam type for other applications.

    2. Not to me — I very much like having a reasonably-accurate torque wrench that’s cheap and dirt-simple enough to toss under my trunk liner with the spare, so if ever I need the spare I don’t have to just whale on the tar arn and hope for the best.

  12. Not quite automotive, but we have a manual drill press in one of our sheds. Actually that shed itself might qualify. It’s a garage (with manual, wooden, barn style doors) built before my family moved onto the farm, (they bought the place in the 50s).

    Just recently I found a bunch of signatures and ages on the back door. My dad only recognized one name, written when the author was ten. That same author is now in his eighties.

  13. At first I was going to go with my Silver Beauty armature tester. Then I realized that I have something that I actually have never used, and don’t expect to ever use.
    I have a tool used for testing individual plates in a battery. It has a wooden handle. From this extend two forks, with a probe on one and two probes on the other. Mounted between the probes is a voltmeter that reads + and – 0-2 VDC.
    When was the last time you saw an end-user rebuildable lead-acid battery?

  14. Oh, I have a full set of tach/dwell meters, a timing light, and the like, though I stopped carrying this about 17 years ago:
    They’re more accurate when the cover is worn a bit, but a matchbook cover is the near-perfect points gap measuring tool when you’re in the field, and can’t do it by ear/feel.
    Here’s another, though I have the new version, too:
    “Obsolete” is relative, however. I fully expect to again own a car with points and which has an R-12 A/C system*.
    Pro-tip: An excellent R-12 substitute is camping stove propane. Mineral oil is the lubricant, which you can get at the drug store. Fill a line with it, and that’s likely enough for a depleted system.
    No, it doesn’t explode if you crash. BTDT.
    Also, if you put about 3/4 of an ounce of mineral oil in your non-“sealed” battery, it keeps the terminals from corroding. Yeah, I know, sounds bogus…I’ve been doing it for 15 years, and it really does work.

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