Here are ten tech tips – from fuses that clearly show you when they’ve failed, to a tool to reach into very difficult places, from buying cheap 15 amp mains cable to a brand-new use for stubby holders – they’re all here.
Whenever you install a new electrical item in a car – whether that’s an instrument, head unit or ECU – you should protect the circuit with a fuse. Blade fuses are the most widely used of car designs and dedicated in-line holders are available to allow easy integration of the fuse into the circuit.
But one of the problems with blade fuses is that it’s very hard to see if the fuse has blown. In fact, you need to pull the fuse out and examine it against the light to check if the internal wire has melted.
However, there’s a solution. You can now buy blade fuses that come with a built-in LED. When the fuse is fine, the LED stays off. But if the fuse blows, on comes the LED! It’s as easy as that!
Hang ‘em up!
If you have vehicle ramps in your home workshop, you’ll find them awkward things to store. Even nested inside each other, they still take up a lot of space. The trick is to get them off the floor and onto the walls!
Here on the wall are two sets of ramps, a pair of lead-on ramps for low cars, a traveller, and seven jack-stands (there are places for eight stands, but one is in use).
Timber supports are bolted to the shed horizontals, with the equipment hung on steel rods driven into slightly undersized holes in the timber.
Long handled pliers
We’ve all dropped a nut or a bolt or a socket deep inside the engine bay. Retrieval can be a nightmare – what with using magnets dangling from string, hooks fashioned from wire and so on. If only you had pliers that could reach! In the same way, when feeding a wire through a firewall or trying to loosen a buried spring hose clamp (wastegate hoses are a good example!) sometimes you want a pair of long-nosed pliers where the handles are immensely long.
Well, you can buy just such tools. They’re not available at all tool shops but if you find a specialist tool supplier you can get long-nose pliers that use handles two or three times as long as conventional pliers.
You won’t use them every day but when the need arises, you’ll be damn’ happy to have them around!
Spray grease and wax remover
Over the years I’ve used plenty of grease and wax remover. Not to be confused with degreaser of the sort you’d spray on a dirty engine, grease and wax remover is used on items before painting, or to clean bits and pieces that have to be literally squeaky clean before use (for example, removing the protective oil coating from new brake discs).
I’d previously always bought the stuff in a can or bottle and applied it with a rag but the other day at the shop the liquid was available only in an aerosol - so that’s what I bought.
And isn’t it useful in a spray can! Why? Well, it goes much further than using a cloth and bottle – with a spray can you apply just a very thin coating. Secondly it penetrates into nooks and crannies that a rag slides over the top of. And finally, it’s a lot quicker to use.
A few years ago I picked up some threaded rod that had been discarded – it was free and I like collecting free things! It was fairly large in diameter (say 10mmm thick) and I thought it might come in handy one day. And I was right – in fact, I now frequently use threaded rod (and matching nuts) of all different diameters.
So what sort of uses is it put to? Well, threaded rod is excellent as an adjustable spacer when welding parallel pieces of steel, as a clamp for pushing-in suspension bushes, and even as the equivalent of a long bolt.
It’s the kind of stuff where you don’t realise how useful it is until you have plenty lying around.
Cabin Air Filters
Many cars have cabin air filters – filters that remove dust and air from the stream of air entering the cabin. However, as with engine air filters, these filters cause a small but measurable restriction to flow. That restriction increases when the filter hasn’t been changed for a long time.
Rather than replace the filter, in my cars I’ve started just taking it out – and leaving it out. As someone who loves lots of airflow through a car, removing the filter quite noticeably improves the action of the ventilation (and air-conditioning) systems, and the downsides of dust and odour penetration are easily cancelled by judicious use of the ‘recirc’ button.
Of course, if you live in a polluted city, the results of filter removal may not be so good – so consider the environment in which you drive before taking this step.
Stubby holders - especially when picked up at op shops and the tip - are a very low cost (no cost?) purchase. And, if you have a turbo car, they can be a very useful addition to your car’s intercooler plumbing.
So how do you use a stubby holder on your intercooler pipes? By cutting out the bottom of the stubby holder and then turning the resulting sleeve inside-out, you make an effective neoprene buffer that can be stretched to fit over a pipe and then slid along to the correct location. There it can stop vibration being transferred to the bodywork or act as a heat shield where the plumbing runs past the radiator.
If the stubby holder is coloured inside (most are black) a quick spray with some paint will fix that.
Neon on workshop sub-board
If you’re getting your home workshop wired for power, there’s a very simple addition you can ask the electrician to make. If it’s done at the time of the other wiring, it will also cost you almost nothing.
And what is it? It’s a pilot light on the workshop sub-board to show when power at the shed is switched on.
Putting a light on the board means that you can tell at a glance whether the power is on or off. That’s particularly useful if you’re in the habit of flicking the main power switch as you exit the workshop – the only certain way to ensure that nothing has been left turned on.
(The other day I exited the workshop in the evening, turning off the main lights as I left. On this occasion I didn’t turn off the power at the switchboard – and when I came in the next morning, I realised the small light over my drill-press had been on all night…)
If you use a neon indicator as the pilot light, it will be bright enough to be seen at a distance but the running cost will be near enough to nothing.
If you’re working in a workshop – home or otherwise – you should always wear the right gear. That means not only eye and ear protectors as required, but also steel-capped boots, long-sleeved shirts and long trousers.
But even then accidents can easily happen.
This is my toe after I dropped a piece of hardwood (only about a metre long and perhaps 100 x 50mm) onto my foot from the height of my workbench.
But what about the steel-caps? Yes I was wearing them, but I hadn’t realised how my little toe wasn’t quite protected by the steel.
The result? A very bruised toe. In fact, it was sore for so long that I think I may have fractured it.
So wear the right gear – but make sure it fits perfectly!
Need heavy duty mains cable?
When wiring-in some hanging power-points and a portable high-powered fan heater, I needed some 15 amp flexible cable.
I looked at the price of such cable as sold by the metre – then went and bought a high power ‘caravan’ extension cable. As the name suggests, these are used by caravan owners to hook-up to the mains at a powered site.
Not only is the cable of good quality, but it was cheaper to buy the extension cable (complete with a plug and socket) than it was to buy bare cable!