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Tech tips

Ten tech tips to help you in your car modification

by Julian Edgar

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Tyre tread depth tool

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Ensuring that your tyres have enough tread depth is a basic aspect of good car safety. Everyone knows that – but you may not realise how significant tread depth actually is. Some research shows that tyres with a tread depth of 1.6mm have almost no grip at all on wet roads (in fact, a longitudinal friction coefficient of just 0.1 in 1.3mm of water). So here’s a handy tool to check tyre tread depth. It quickly and easily shows you actual tread depth and has reminders for minimum (1.6mm), recommended minimum in summer (3mm) and recommended minimum in winter (4mm). Cost of the tool is a few dollars on eBay.

Custom seats

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It’s rarely done but often easier than it first appears. If you are getting seats re-trimmed, consider modifying their shape before the trimmer does their job. Here, additional tubular steel components (arrowed) have been added to the frame, giving vastly better side support. The standard foam is slitted to fit over the additions, and then further foam is glued over the slits before the seat is re-trimmed. It’s not hard to match the comfort and support of expensive aftermarket seats – and still be fully legal.

Bump rubbers

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Especially if your car is lowered and/or is used on rough roads, keep an eye on your bump rubbers. This pic shows (at left) one that has been mangled through age and use – the one on the right is how it should look! If you regularly destroy these, look at changing material e.g. to polyurethane.

Testing MAP sensors

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If you suspect that a MAP sensor is faulty (or is flat-lining with increased boost), use a large syringe (available from chemist shops and vets) to provide vacuum and pressure to it. Before you connect the syringe, place the plunger in a mid-position. That way, when you pull on it, vacuum is developed, and when you push on it, ‘boost’ is applied. Leave the MAP sensor in-circuit and monitor the output with a multimeter.

Underbonnet jump-starter terminal

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If you are moving the battery to the boot, provide an underbonnet jump-starting terminal. Especially if the relocated battery is mounted in a box or under trim panels, this makes it much easier to jump-start the car. Here an insulated stud has been used to also terminate the original battery and starter motor leads. Ensure that the terminal is insulated with a removable cover.

Heat shielding

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Especially if you’re running a turbo in a compact engine bay, heat shielding is critical. Here heat shielding has been used for the ignition coils (stainless steel sheet positioned beneath the coils), turbo (special pressed steel sandwich material shaped to match turbo), dump pipe (exhaust wrap lagging) and fuel and brake booster lines (Velcro-attached thermal sleeve).

Shifter bushes

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If your car is getting a sloppy gear change, check the shifter bushes. In a FWD, watch the underbonnet cable linkage as you have someone in the car go through the gears. Slop in the bushes can come from perished rubber or worn pins. If replacement is needed, you might want to upgrade to a firmer material (eg polyurethane) at the same time. Don’t forget to check the shifter end of things too!

Squeezing-in HID bulbs

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If you have conventional halogen driving lights and would like to upgrade them to HID bulbs, you may run into a problem. Many HID bulbs have a greater depth behind the bulb holder, so fouling the driving light’s housing. But if the bulb only just fouls the housing, you can do as has been done here. A hole was drilled in the plastic housing and a blanking grommet inserted. The flexibility of the centre of the blanking grommet accommodates the longer bulbs.

Small rubber mounts

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If you need to mount a small item and would like the mounting to have a degree of vibration absorption or allow some movement, these may interest you. They’re sold on eBay as motorcycle windshield mounts and comprise a rubber-mounted nut and fastener. The rubber nut is pushed into an oversized hole and then when the fastener is tightened, the nut expands and holds the rubber collar in place. These are M5 in size.


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It doesn’t get much easier than this. Want to monitor your car’s battery voltage? Want to see how much voltage an old battery charger is cranked up to? These two-wire battery voltmeters are now available on eBay for literally only a few dollars, including postage! Unlike older digital voltmeters that had issues like requiring a separate isolated power supply, these just connect straight across the battery – red to positive and black to negative. (Make sure you buy a two-wire design; this one is a three-wire.)

Transfer punches

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So you have some holes drilled in one item – say a bracket. You want to mount the bracket and need to drill some matching holes in a panel. But how do you transfer the location of the bracket’s holes? You could use a scribe and then centre-punch the marked holes - but it’s very hard to do that accurately. The trick is to use transfer punches – a punch that fills your first hole and has a sharp, point to mark the centre of the new holes. Transfer punches are available in imperial and metric sets.

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