I n his book, All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot mentioned the children of the village tallow man, who grew up playing among dead animals and the tallow works. Though that might not have seemed like the best of environments, they were the healthiest kids in the village.
My dad was in the scrap iron business, and I grew up amid dust, soot, old motor oil, battery acid, spilled diesel fuel, and tottering mountains of sharp rusty junk. Being a rather chubby boy and not the most graceful of creatures, I was always cutting, scratching or damaging myself. Yet, I never got infections, was seldom sick, and usually received “perfect attendance awards” for not missing school all year. I learned to drive our 1947 Reo 2-ton truck as soon as my feet could reach the pedals, as well as how to operate friction cranes, front-end loaders, and a cutting torch. While many parents discourage their kids from collecting junk, my dad was always happy when I brought home some discarded treasure like a rusty wrench or a part of some old mechanical thing. My room and our garage were filled with junk that always came in handy for building or fixing something.
Kids made a lot of their own things in those days, versus now when possessions are not considered cool unless they have a designer label and a three-figure price tag. My dad built my first skateboard from an old roller skate and piece of plank fence (I still have it), and I built several improved models myself. Like most kids, I often took my toys apart to see how they worked, but I was usually able to put them back together again. In these respects I haven’t changed much: I seldom get sick (thank the Good Lord!) and after having lived in several “less-fortunate” countries, it often surprises me what folks in this nation throw away.
A few weeks ago, I spotted a Mac Performa computer and monitor set out with somebody’s trash on the curb. Naturally, I took it home. (I have an old Performa just like it, as well as several other electronic dinosaurs.) I expected something to be wrong with the Mac, but other than a badly fragmented hard-drive–fixed in fifteen minutes with a Norton Disk Doctor–not only did it work, but it had an excellent monitor and several useful programs that I transferred to all my computers. It’s amazing that we live in a country that throws computers out with the trash, while ninety percent of the world’s population have never ridden in a private car, or even made a phone call.
My salvage philosophy has always been useful when it came to keeping old machinery running, and old vehicles, including MVs, on the road. As one might guess, my vehicles are generally loaded with tools and spare parts, and even more so when going on trips or into the bush. I can’t even begin to remember all the times I have come across someone stranded just because they didn’t have a few basic repair items like a new set of ignition points, a condenser, or a coil. Just as often, I’ve found people helpless in breakdown situations because they didn’t have a few basic tools…not to mention the knowledge to use them. And, many folks don’t seem to realize that vehicles usually break down because their owners didn’t perform a little routine and preventive maintenance.
Thousands of books and manuals have been written about repairing, maintaining and restoring virtually every make, model and vintage of vehicle from the Model T Ford to the newest SUV. In regard to military vehicles, there are usually several manuals for each type, from WWII Jeeps to present-day HMMWVs. It’s funny that some people pay thousands of dollars for a Jeep, MUTT, M37 or M35, yet they won’t pay twenty bucks more for the appropriate service and repair manual! While one should always have the manuals that apply to their vehicle, I have found that keeping an MV in good, dependable running condition is not always a matter of doing everything by the book. Instead, one will usually find that maintaining a reliable MV is mostly an ongoing, common sense process of checking things out, performing basic service at fairly regular intervals, and fixing things before they break.
Good MV maintenance is a matter of getting to know one’s particular vehicle. The latter point seems to be a new concept for many folks in the U.S.A. who’ve been raised to accept planned obsolescence, where things (such as old computers) are often thrown away simply because a newer model has come out, and/or it is cheaper to buy something new than to fix something old.
This process should start as soon as one gets their vehicle home. Control that adolescent urge to drive the vehicle right away and show it off to all one’s friends like a teen with his or her first car. I once bought an M38A1 Jeep that seemed to be in very good condition and ready to drive, but when I checked the transmission I found only rusty water inside… no gear oil at all! Had I given in to the urge to drive it around, I would have destroyed the transmission within a few miles.
A safe rule of thumb is to always assume the worst with a newly-acquired vehicle. Assume that the gear oil is low, and/or dirty and worn out, in the transmission, transfer case and axles. Likewise, the engine oil and power steering fluid. Assume that the wheel bearings need repacking, the vehicle is decades overdue for a lube job, and the brake fluid is twenty years old. (More on brake fluid later.) Assume that all components, connections, drive belts, hoses, and nuts and bolts are loose. Inspect all the brake lines, the steel ones for rust or damaged spots, the rubber lines for cuts, cracks or simple old-age.
If your vehicle has a vacuum or air brake booster, inspect it for leaks and deteriorated parts. Check all the universal joints for looseness, and put a wrench on their mounting bolts to make sure they’re tight. Check the tightness of the engine, transmission and transfer case mounts. If a mount is badly deteriorated or broken, it should be replaced before driving the vehicle. Jack each wheel off the ground to check for looseness of the stub axle bearings…excessive play here can result in losing a wheel.
Most common MVs have drain plugs on the bottom of their fuel tanks. Make sure the plug isn’t rusted in place, then drain a little fuel to check for water. Inspect the muffler and exhaust system for damage and leaks. Also check the engine block to exhaust manifold gaskets for leaks.
With the engine off, grab the fan and try to wiggle it to check for loose water pump bearings. Also check that the fan isn’t bent…a bent fan wears out water pump bearings. If the brake pedal goes more than halfway to the floor the first time you step on it, you may have worn out brake shoes, or shoes that simply need adjustment. Of course, make sure that all the lights, including the service stop light, are working. The same goes for the horn and windshield wipers.
On any MV, check everything that uses gear oil, not only the transmission, transfer case, differentials, and reduction gearboxes (HMMWVs and Unimogs), but also the steering knuckles, steering box, and the winch gear case. You should be able to check most of these things in a day, which should give you a good idea of your vehicle’s overall condition. This inspection should also reveal how well–or not–the former owner cared for the vehicle.
Most common collector military vehicles, such as Jeeps, MUTTs, Dodge WCs, M37s, M715s, CCKWs, M211s and M35s, are simple machines by today’s standards, and easy to work on with basic tools and home shop equipment. To some degree the same can be said for the M998 HMMWV. While a Hummer may seem very high-tech compared to a Willys MB, ninety percent of the machine is still basically nuts and bolts.
The concept that one size doesn’t fit all, and one book of laws, rules, values or standards doesn’t work for everyone, also applies t o servicing and maintaining most common collectible military vehicles. Unless one’s MV is a daily driver and/or is used off-road or for actual work, its service and maintenance should be more a matter of common sense than doing everything by the book… including when to do it.
For instance, there are some maintenance tasks that should be performed on every vehicle no matter how much or how little they are driven. Examples are changing the brake fluid, renewing the engine coolant, and checking the battery water levels.
The reason is that conventional brake fluid attracts moisture whether or not a vehicle is driven. Therefore, the brake system should be drained, flushed, and the fluid renewed at least every two years. The simplest way to do this is to remove most of the old fluid from the master cylinder–as one reader suggested, a “turkey baster” may come in handy–add new fluid, then bleed the system, either using the two-person method, or solo with a power bleeder or vacuum pump, adding new fluid to the master cylinder until the system has been completely flushed and refilled. On most common MVs, the whole process takes about an hour (a detailed how-to description may be found in MVM no. 96, “MV?Hydraulic Brake Systems”).
All brake systems, whether small, like on a jeep, or something as large as these on an M26 Pacific, should be checked often for wear, condition, and adjustment. Examine all hoses and flexible lines. Brake shoes should be adjusted whenever the brake pedal play becomes excessive. Brake drums should be removed once a year on vehicles that are driven regularly to check the condition of the shoes, as well as to check for grease or oil that indicates leaking wheel bearing seals. The wheel cylinders should also be checked for leaking brake fluid or deterioration of their rubber parts.?John Adams-Graf
The question often arises as to whether one should use conventional brake fluid or silicone fluid. The main advantage of silicone brake fluid is that it doesn’t attract moisture. On the other hand, I have found that silicone brake fluid tends to leak out of a system because it doesn’t swell the rubber parts in the master and wheel cylinders (at least not as much) as conventional fluid. Silicone brake fluid is considerably more expensive than conventional types, and usually harder to find… especially when traveling. Silicone fluid may also give a spongy feel to the brake pedal, and is often not recommended for the types of vacuum or air-assisted brake systems found on common MVs such as the Chevrolet G506 or the Reo M35… though I have used silicone fluid in these vehicles without any apparent problems. Silicone fluid seems ideal for MVs that are not driven much–as long as one remembers to check the level often.
Antifreeze also breaks down over time and is always being diluted by the addition of new water. Rust often forms in the cooling systems of vehicles that are only trailered to shows, just as it forms in vehicles that are driven daily. Therefore, engine coolant should be drained once a year by opening or removing the radiator drain cock and all the drain cocks or plugs on the engine. Then, with the engine running, new water should be added to the radiator until all the water coming out through the radiator and engine block drains runs clear. Then, all the drains should be closed, or the plugs replaced, and the cooling system filled with the proper mix of new antifreeze and water. One may also want to add additional anti-rust products, which usually contain a water pump seal lubricant.
Many older MVs that have not had their engines completely rebuilt in a shop–where the engine block is “boiled”–may suffer from overheating problems due to lots of rust scale and debris in the engine water jacket. One is seldom able to flush this stuff out through the small drain plugs. While there is really no substitute for “boiling” an engine bock, I’ve had good success by removing all the soft (“freeze”) plugs and digging out as much scale and debris as possible. (Soft plugs are another item that should be checked occasionally for leakage or serious rust.)
Likewise, old radiators often get clogged with scale and debris that simple flushing can’t remove. The only way to thoroughly clean an old radiator is to remove the tank and bottom (or the side tanks on cross-flow types) and “rod-out” the tubes. But, unless one is very skilled in the art of soldering, I don’t recommend trying this. Unfortunately, I have also found that taking an old radiator to many modern radiator shops often results in one being sold a new or rebuilt radiator core. Always try to find a shop that specializes in vintage vehicle radiators.
If your vehicle has an expansion tank, be sure to check that it isn’t half full of sludge and rust scale. Radiator caps should be replaced about every five years, or when their gaskets begin to rot or become brittle. Keep both the gasket and the filler neck clean, or the gasket may not seal and hold pressure.
The cooling system of most HMMWVs consists of a “cooling stack” composed of the power steering fluid cooler, the engine oil cooler, and the radiator. This should be checked at least once a year, and more often if a Hummer is used off-road. The coolers and radiator should cleaned with low pressure water or low pressure air. Just like all radiators and coolers, the fins should be kept straight and free of debris such as dead bugs, leaves and grass.
While there are many cooling system flush products on the shelves of auto parts stores, I have found that most are not very effective, and thus a waste of money. I have also learned the hard way to avoid any such products that require a “neutralizer” after flushing. If they are strong enough to need neutralizing, they are often strong enough to eat an old radiator. On the other hand, there are many modern “stop leak” products that work very well, and may literally hold an old radiator together until one has the money to have it re-cored.
Battery water evaporates, whether or not a vehicle is used, so the cells should be checked frequently, and at least once a week in hot, dry environments. One should add distilled water whenever possible, but any water is better than letting the cells get low. Once the plates of a wet cell battery are exposed to the air, they lose whatever percentage of power the exposed area produced. For example, if the plates in a battery cell are ten inches tall, and one inch of those plates is allowed to dry out, then that cell will lose ten percent of its power. This is a permanent loss, and simply adding more water will not restore it.
Your vehicle’s battery, or batteries, such as shown in this M41 tank, should be kept clean; dirty or greasy battery cases can leak voltage. Likewise, all battery cables and terminal connections should be kept clean and tight. Check your battery’s water level at least once a month–weekly in hot environments–and keep it topped off with distilled water. However, ANY water is better than letting the level get low. Don’t forget that battery grounds are connections too, and it’s just as important to keep them clean and tight. John Adams-Graf
The useful life of vehicle batteries varies a lot. How long a battery will last is dependent upon many factors, including the quality of the battery to begin with, extreme heat or cold, and how the vehicle is used. Shock and vibr ation can shorten battery life, as well as hard-starting problems in which a battery is often run low. This can be compounded if the battery is not fully recharged. An example of this is a vehicle that sits most of the time so it doesn’t start easily, and then is not driven very far.
The average life of most modern wet-cell vehicle batteries is three to five years. I have found that most bargain batteries don’t last long beyond their warranties, while more expensive batteries may outlast their warranties by several years. As a general rule, one usually gets what one pays for when it comes to vehicle batteries. Spending twenty dollars more for the biggest and best battery might save you money in the long run, since a top-quality battery may outlast two cheapies. A large good-quality battery may also save you the price of a towing bill, jump-start service, or an off-road rescue by being strong enough to start your vehicle in extreme conditions… or if you simply forgot to turn off the lights.
Even though all looks pristine about the battery in this Ford GP, don’t forget that battery terminals also corrode between the battery post and the inside of the cable clamp. The cables should be removed occasionally to check for this. And, even nice, clean battery clamps may loosen over time. John Adams-Graf
Keep in mind, while an old battery may still start a vehicle and appear be strong, it might not have enough reserve power for long periods of starter cranking. While there are ways to test batteries, I have found that most of these tests only give one a general idea of a battery’s condition. If one has any doubts about a battery’s condition–and/or the warranty period has been exceeded–one should consider replacement if the vehicle is going on a long road trip or out into the bush.
On the other hand, thousands of perfectly good batteries are replaced every year because they are thought to be the cause of hard-starting problems, when the actual cause is something as simple as loose or dirty terminal connections. Look at the battery clamps for fuzz or corrosion every time you open the hood, and make sure they are tight by trying to move them by hand. If your battery (or batteries) is located somewhere else on the vehicle, check it as often as you check under the hood. Also check battery cables for tightness where they connect to the starter, starter switch, solenoid, engine bock, or vehicle frame. The negative, or ground cable, is just as important as the positive cable. If your vehicle has a ground cable or strap between the engine and frame, then also check that for tightness.
Many vehicle components age and become unsafe or unreliable regardless of actual mileage or engine hours. Common examples are wiring (especially the Hypalon wiring of most vintage M-series vehicles), radiator and heater hoses, and fan and accessory drive belts. Things like these should be examined frequently. The key word is “frequently,” but not necessarily on a schedule that one might mark on a calendar… though that is not a bad idea. One should simply get into the habit of checking a few things every time you are in or around their vehicle.
For instance, when you open the hood to check the water and oil before that Saturday drive, take a few minutes more to check the condition and tension of the fan and accessory drive belts. Examine the belts for cracks, fraying, or glazing on their inner surfaces. The latter usually indicates that a belt has been slipping. The most common cause of drive belt slippage is the belt being loose. Other more serious causes can be a generator, alternator, air compressor, or water pump with bearings that are becoming stiff and about to seize up. This can be checked by removing the drive belt and turning the accessory by hand.
Get into the habit of checking hoses and belts whenever you open your vehicle’s hood, such as on this CCKW. Examine the hoses for rot and deterioration, squeeze them to see if they are excessively soft, or hard and brittle. Hose clamps loosen over time due to heating and cooling. Clamps should be kept firmly tight, yet not so tight they cut into the hose. Drive belts should be checked for condition and tightness…too loose and they’ll slip, too tight and they put an excessive strain on water pump and accessory bearings. The fan should be checked for trueness and condition: a wobbling fan wears out bearings. A cracked fan blade can break off at high RPM and slice through a hood…or a person. JAG
A generator, alternator, water pump, power steering pump, air compressor, or any other accessory with stiff bearings should be rebuilt or replaced immediately. There is no way to judge when it may fail. Likewise, rebuild or replace any such accessory that has bearings that squeak or feel rough.
A badly glazed drive belt will almost always slip, and therefore should be replaced. Drive pulleys may also become glazed because of a slipping belt. If so, then sandpaper can be used to roughen them slightly for a better grip. Over tightening a drive belt to compensate for slippage caused by glazing puts a lot of strain on accessory bearings, which makes them wear out faster. There are various “dressings” that may help keep a drive belt from slipping, but they are only a temporary fix: the belt should always be replaced as soon as possible. Another thing to look for is lots of black dust on the front of the engine. This usually indicates that a drive belt is wearing out because of a loose or misaligned accessory. This is especially common on vintage vehicles that have had their original generators replaced with alternators; and is something to check when buying a vehicle.
Also while under the hood, squeeze the radiator and heater hoses to see if they are getting hard and brittle or developing cracks. On the other hand, a radiator or heater hose that feels soft and squishy may also be ready to fail because it is decomposing. Old heater hoses usually break at their connections. When replacing such hoses, always leave a little extra length. Then, if the hose breaks years later out on the road, you will have enough extra to get going again.
Most hose clamps loosen over time due to expansion and contraction caused by heating and cooling, as well as vibration, and should be checked occasionally. Over-tightening hose clamps can cause a hose to break. Sometimes, a radiator hose leaks, not because it is too loose, but rather because a water inlet or outlet is rusty and rough, or badly pitted and corroded. Cleaning and smoothing a rust-scaled fitting with a wire brush, or replacing a badly corroded fitting, is better than over-tightening its hose.
No matter if you own a Kubelwagen or an M35, check the vacuum or air line hoses and connections to the windshield wipers for tightness and condition. Vacuum wiper leaks can affect engine performance, and in extreme cases can even burn valves. Leaking air lines make your vehicle’s air compressor work harder and wear out faster. John Adams-Graf
Gasket sealer is another alternative to over-tightening a hose on a badly corroded fitting. Hose clamps should be installed about a quarter to a half an inch from the end of a hose, not at the very end. Position the clamp so its ti ghtening mechanism is easy to reach, even if that may not be the “correct” position shown in a manual. Remember that most manual pictures and illustrations were made under factory conditions when a vehicle was new and untested in actual use. Also, many connections and fittings were positioned for fast assembly rather than for easy service in the field. PS Magazine is filled with field modifications that advise moving something to a different position. All of the above applies to rubber fuel and vacuum hoses as well.
Air cleaner hoses, clamps, and connections should be inspected regularly and kept tight. Dirty air leaking in due to loose air cleaner connections causes unnecessary wear in your engine. Air cleaner cases should be inspected for damage and rust. John Adams-Graf
Eyeball the engine for potential problems–failures-in-progress–such as ignition wires, heater hoses, fuel or oil lines, fraying against something. Pay special attention to wires or hoses near exhaust manifolds. The wire or hose might look fine everywhere else, but may be stiff, brittle, or even charred within an inch or so of an exhaust manifold or exhaust pipe. The same applies to areas under the vehicle. When replacing such items, always try to route them as far as possible from heat sources. Keeping fuel lines away from heat sources can also prevent vapor-lock.
In regard to the ignition system, get into the habit of checking the distributor point and spark plug gap once in a while–also the condition of the spark plugs–even if the vehicle is starting and running all right.
Gear oil ages, breaks down, loses its lubricating qualities over time, and is another example of something that should be drained, flushed, and renewed about every two years. Although pricey, synthetic gear oil generally lubricates better and lasts longer than conventional oil. Like a top-quality battery, synthetic gear oil may be worth the extra money if you plan on keeping your MV for many years. I don’t use it myself, but I’ve had good luck with “Pro-Long” gear oil additive, as well as their engine oil additive.
Engine oil doesn’t only break down and become dirty from use, it also gradually breaks down over time. And, in vehicles that aren’t driven much, or are not driven long distances so the engine never fully heats up, moisture forms in the crankcase. Moisture also forms in engines, axles and gearboxes simply because of temperature changes. Water not only dilutes engine oil, it also reacts with the oil to form acids that soften and eat away bearing material. Therefore, one should change the engine oil at fairly regular intervals whether or not the vehicle is driven a lot. I would say at least once a year, even for pure show vehicles that may only accumulate a few hours of annual running time.
Don’t forget the oil bath air cleaner. Such air cleaners should serviced whenever the engine oil is changed, as well as checked and serviced more often if the vehicle is driven. The same applies to dry type air cleaners. Both oil bath and dry type air cleaners may even need service on a daily basis if the vehicle is used off-road in dusty environments.
Components such as tie-rod ends and ball joints, steering knuckles, spring shackles, and universal joints obviously need to be frequently greased on vehicles that an driven; and even more often if a vehicle is used off-road. During use, grease is gradually worked out of components and bearings, as well as contaminated by dust, dirt, mud, water and slush. But, grease also ages, breaks down and dries out on vehicles that sit most of the time. So, greasing all the vehicle’s fittings should be a fairly regular duty. Just like changing the engine oil, the oil filter, and servicing the air cleaner, grease is one of the cheapest forms of insurance against a vehicle breaking down. Most things break because of wear, and clean, good-quality lubricants replaced often and maintained at their proper levels, considerably slows the wearing process.
I’m not a fan of static museums for mechanical things, no matter what they might be. From steam locomotives to Liberty ships, I have always been a lot more interested in seeing something run or work than looking at it sitting on display. Whether I owned a Douglas C-47 or a Dodge M37, I would want it to not only be fully functional, but I would also want to know that I could drive or fly it anywhere with a reasonable certainty that it would get me there and back. Even if your MV is only for show, there is no reason why it should not be mission-capable (“MC”).
Carburetors should be checked for tightness where they mount to the engine intake manifold. Likewise, all carb linkages should be inspected for looseness, wear, and proper operation. The best way to protect a carburetor is to regularly service your fuel filter. JAG
Keeping your MV “MC” includes mundane items like windshield wiper blades. The place to discover that they are hard or rotten and won’t clear the glass is at home, not during a rainstorm out on the road.
Another item often neglected in MV maintenance is the speedometer drive cable. For vehicles in fairly regular use, the drive cable should be cleaned (inside and out) about every two years, and assembled with either light grease or a graphite lubricant… though I prefer grease.
Generally speaking, the simpler your vehicle’s wiring system, such as on this KdF-wagen Typ 82E, the more important it is that everything be kept in good condition and all connections clean and tight. There may not be much to go wrong, but therefore whatever does go wrong may leave you stranded. John Adams-Graf
Don’t use heavy grease: this can cause an erratic or “jumpy” speedometer, especially during cold weather. It is usually best to not grease the last six inches of the cable at the speedometer end because the grease may work its way into the speedometer mechanism. The same applies to the service of mechanical tachometers.
Just as important as doing these simple checks, catching problems before they happen, and fixing things before they break, is having a few basic tools at hand…and I stress “at hand.” Every smart MVer has a basic tool set aboard their vehicle, but this usually means a tool box; and that box is often stored in a locked compartment or under a seat. Being human, we may not want to go to the bother of digging out the tool box every time we find a minor problem or something loose. Often, we decide to fix it later…and then may forget about it.
Wiring should be examined frequently for loose connections, fraying, and overall condition. Loose wires, like these on a CCKW, are often shorts waiting to happen that may damage generators, alternators or voltage regulators, or burn up part of a wiring harness. JAG
Several years ago, I found a leather carpenter’s tool p ouch in someone’s trash (“salvage philosophy” again). I attached the pouch to the inside of the driver’s door of my Nissan Patrol L-60 with two sheet-metal screws. I filled the pouch with several screwdrivers of different types and sizes, a combination wrench set from 3/8 to 3/4 inches, a six-inch and a twelve-inch Crescent wrench, a pair of pliers, Channel-Locks, wire cutters, and Vise-Grips, a tire pressure gauge, a valve core tool, a feeler gauge, ignition points file, a little knife, and a few other items that I’ve found to be handy, such as a roll of electrical tape and a small wire brush. Now, every time I open the door, there are all the tools usually need to tighten a hose or battery clamp, or a lose nut, bolt, screw, or connection, or to wrap a frayed something with electrical tape. When I go to a service station to check my tires, there is my tire pressure gauge right at hand.
Since my Patrol’s doors don’t lock, the tools in the pouch are either oldies or cheapies, so I won’t burst into tears if somebody snatches them. I keep my good tools in a locked metal box, which is chained in the back of the truck. But, months often pass before I need those tools. Most repairs and preventive maintenance can be done with the stuff in the pouch. If the engine isn’t idling right, I simply snag a screwdriver from the pouch and adjust the carburetor in a minute… sometimes while waiting at a stop light.
An often overlooked item in routine vehicle maintenance is the steering box. Its oil level should be checked at least as often as you check the transmission and transfer case levels. Most steering boxes should never be pumped full of grease. If the box is leaking oil, it should be disassembled and the seals replaced. Most steering boxes are adjustable for wear…read your vehicle’s manual. Likewise, check all of your vehicle’s steering system components for tightness and wear, and keep them well lubricated. John Adams-Graf
For those new to the MV hobby and acquiring their first vehicle, there is no shame in not knowing what basic tools to carry in your vehicle. In many years of owning and driving various common collector military vehicles, I have found the following tools to be the most useful for doing roadside repairs on everything from WWII Jeeps, M151 MUTTs, M37s, M715s, M561s, on up to CCKWs, DUKWs, M35 and M211 trucks, and, yes, HMMWVs too. Not surprisingly, many of those tools are the same as I carry in my L-60’s door pouch, but are generally of better quality. Redundant, perhaps, but tools are like dollars: one can seldom have too many, but problems along the road of life are often compounded by having too few.
Here is a list of what should be part of a basic MVer’s tool box:
1. Set of combination wrenches, 5/16″ to 13/16″.
2. 3/8″ drive socket set, 3/8″ to 13/16″, including a spark plug socket. (Make sure the latter fits your waterproof plugs!)
3. 3/8″ ratchet wrench.
4. 3/8″ breaker-bar.
5. 3/8″ socket extension 3-4″ long.
6. 3/8″ socket extension 6-8″ long.
7. Pair of slip-joint pliers.
8. Pair of Channel-Lock type pliers.
9. Pair of wire-cutters or lineman’s pliers.
10. Pair of Vise-Grips.
11. 8″ Crescent wrench.
12. 10-12″ Crescent wrench.
13. Pipe wrench that opens farther than your largest Crescent wrench.
14. Three or four good screwdrivers, including a Phillips-head. (A good “four-in-one” screwdriver is also quite handy.)
15. Medium-sized ball-peen hammer.
16. Feeler gauge for setting spark plugs and ignition points.
17. Ignition points file (and/or some emery cloth).
18. Pair of very small Channel-Lock pliers for working on things like the distributor.
19. Small chisel.
20. Probe type electrical tester..one that’s right for your MV’s voltage.
For vehicles in daily use and/or vehicles that travel off-road, here are a few other repair, emergency, and troubleshooting items that I’ve found will come in handy:
21. Roll of electrical tape.
22. Roll of duct tape.
23. Roll of baling (“mechanic’s”) wire.
24. Roll of 14- or 12-gauge electrical wire.
25. About six feet of 5/16″ or 3/8″ rubber fuel hose, plus a few mini clamps. You can make emergency hose clamps from your bailing wire or nylon cable ties…another handy multi-use item.
You should make up a pair of test leads about six feet long from 14-gauge electrical wire with alligator clips on each end, and preferably of different colors. Besides testing purposes, these leads can be used as emergency jumpers to bypass damaged wiring or to hot-wire your engine if necessary. Naturally, you should always carry a good set of battery jumper cables and a fire extinguisher.
An air compressor can come in handy. Those inexpensive electric models found at most auto-mart stores will work on 24-volt systems if you take a lead off the “first” battery. If you are lucky enough to find one of the ancient types that work off a vehicle’s engine, treasure it… I have one that has saved me a lot of time and trouble for over thirty years. If your MV has an air brake compressor, rig up a hose with an air chuck… a hose long enough to reach all your tires. And, always carry a tire pressure gauge, a valve core tool, and a few extra valve cores and caps.
Plastic or Bakelite components, such as steering wheels, shift levers and dashboard knobs, will dry out and crack on vehicles that sit a lot, especially if exposed to sunlight. “Armor-all” is a good protectant for such items: but simply wiping them with a rag soaked in engine oil will also prevent drying and cracking. John Adams-Graf
You should have at least one good-quality flashlight with an extra bulb; and for a trip into the bush, extra batteries would be wise. If your MV is not equipped with a sound system, carry a cheap little radio, along with extra batteries for it. In addition to keeping up with current events while out in the wilds–assuming you want to–a radio can help pass the time if you’re stranded somewhere or making repairs. Of course, if you own a wireless phone you probably take that wherever you go.
You should always carry at least three road flares. Breakdown triangles like those required on heavy trucks are a good safety item if you have to work on your vehicle along a freeway at night. Without question, make sure you have a proper jack and lug wrench… and know for a fact they will work!
By now it should be obvious that vehicles that sit for long periods need regular inspection and maintenance just as much as daily-drivers, though often for different reasons. All of a vehicle’s moving parts, whether in the engine, transmission and axles, wheel bearings, steering or brake systems, are constantly being polished during use and kept clean and free by their various lubricants. When a vehicle is sitting, oil drains away from piston rings, rocker arms, timing chains and transmission gears. To recap one important point: Most engines, gearboxes, fuel and air tanks contain some moisture caused by normal condensation. This moisture builds up over months or years of seasons and temperature changes, and contributes to internal rust. This moisture also breaks down and reacts with engine and gear oil to form acids that eat away at metal and bearing material.
In addition, ferrous metal rusts, while copper wiring and brass electrical contacts in voltage regulators, te rminals and switches oxidize and corrode. Fuel, whether gasoline or diesel, loses its volatile hydrocarbons and goes “flat,” forming varnish and sludge in fuel tanks, lines, pumps and carburetors. Another hazard to vehicles that sit is the insulation on their wiring can be gnawed or eaten by rats, mice and insects.
Dust settles into everything that has even the smallest opening to the air. Of course, this also happens to a vehicle in normal use–but in use this dust is constantly being shaken out of electrical contacts and small moving parts. The grease in universal joints, wheel bearings, drive shaft slip-joints, and steering and suspension systems breaks down and dries out, leaving these parts to stiffen up and rust, often making the vehicle unpleasant or cranky to drive. Brake fluid, as we know, goes bad over time–besides the fact that it attracts moisture–forming gum and sludge in master and wheel cylinders, brake lines and hoses.
Rubber parts dry out, shrink and crack, in everything from weather stripping on doors and windows, to the internal parts of vacuum and air-powered windshield wipers. Tires contain a certain amount of oil that is continually being brought to the surface while rolling and flexing. When sitting, tires dry out and rot, and may become unsafe even if they still look good. Tires may also develop flat spots on the bottom, which may not roll out when the vehicle is driven. The Bakelite or plastic of steering wheels and shift knobs dries out, shrinks and cracks without the constant touch of human hands. Products such as “Armor-All” seem to work well in protecting these items.
Humid climes are extremely hard on vehicles that are not driven much. This is mostly due to temperature changes that promote condensation in fuel and air tanks, transmissions and axles.
So, all of these things should be checked, serviced, or repaired or replaced at regular intervals no matter how little the vehicle is used. How “regular” is regular? It is really up to one’s own common sense, based upon the vehicle’s use and the environment in which it is used.
Common sense is one of the most important factors of MV maintenance. One simply applies common sense in caring for their own vehicle in their own situation. It is often a matter of realizing that it has been five years since one replaced the radiator hoses or changed the gear oil. In other words, it is not always necessary to replace something just because “the book” says it’s time. Rather, use your own eyes and experience to determine if something actually needs replacement. Common sense balances “fix it before it breaks” against “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
If one needs any more advice about basic MV maintenance, here is the single most important bit I can share:
“It’s better to be safe than sorry.”