Hooniverse Asks- What's the Dumbest Specialty Tool Required Maintenance Issue You've Ever Encountered?

Do you remember back in the olden days when all racers required a riding mechanic, and all the riding mechanic required was a stout Stillson for running repairs, and maybe a flue brush to de-coke the cylinders between races? Oh my, how times have changed.
If you happen to own a Volkswagen CC, and it comes with an electronic parking brake – or any number of VW, Audi, or even Volvo with this feature, then in order to change the rear brake pads, you will need the VAG.com – or other computer interface tool – to complete the job. Let me repeat that, to change the brake pads, you’ll need to hook the car up to some sort of computer. That’s a long way from banging on it with a hammer to emake a repair.
As cars and trucks have become ever-more complicated, and their systems more closely intertwined, hurdles like this to regular maintenance continue to rear their ugly, and expensive, heads. The VW dunderheadedness is just one example of this, and today, I want to hear about any others of which you are aware. Aside from the computer brakes, what’s the dumbest specialty tool required maintenance issue you’ve ever encountered?
Image: Auto-Tool-Shop

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 64 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop files here

  1. Kiefmo Avatar

    I don't have a specific instance I've encountered, however I'd be happy to rant about something that has always bugged me.
    Since OBD2 and digital odometer readouts became a common thing about 20 years ago, we've been "blessed" with a car computer that can tell us what it thinks is going wrong with certain car systems.
    Difficulty: it does this with a light that does no more than tell us to rush quickfastandinnahurry to the nearest dealership (if they had their way) to plug into their fancy computer, which can read and interpret the otherwise-meaningless alphanumerical codes.
    For many, that's fine. They don't want to get their hands dirty anyway — leave it to the professionals.
    But for those of us who like to get our hands dirty, or simply can't afford not to, one simple step (Mechanics Hate It!") could have made our lives simpler: have that digital readout give us the code. OBD2 has standardized codes, so we could cross-reference and decide whether that P0420 (my van's havin' a toke!), which on our 150k motor could mean a new cat convertor (and thusly, a new manifold because they are one) or a new oxygen sensor, is something about which we give a rat's rear end (yay no emissions testing!).
    Instead, I had to shell out $100 (I know they can be had cheaper now) for a little computer that would tell me what that little sad engine light actually means. It means nothing. It means run a tank of high test through the motor and watch the light disappear magically on its own. It means it's damned cold and perhaps that old sensor isn't too happy in the cold anymore. It means I know why my gas mileage has gone to poo, but I'll be taking a screwdriver to the guts of that catalytic convertor and paying for the 'spensive gas before I pay Honda more than it costs to feed my family for two months for a new one on an aging van.
    [deep breath]

    1. buzzboy7 Avatar

      I bought the 20$ bluetooth adapter from amazon and got Torque on my phone. It is fantastic being able to read my, and other peoples' codes.

      1. Kiefmo Avatar

        Well, I bought my scanner pre-smartphones, whippersnapper.
        My point is that it should be built in to the cars, since the computer knows the code and has a means to display it.
        My understand is there are a handful of cars that actually do this, but I don't recall off the top of my head which 'uns.

        1. buzzboy7 Avatar

          I agree completely. It would be very simple in modern cars.
          My friend has an OBDI rangerover and it has a small port that displays fault codes. Great design.

          1. Irishzombieman☆ Avatar

            My Metro has an empty fuse slot. When the Check Engine light comes on, I stick a fuse in there and one of the dash lights blinks out the trouble codes.

          2. Preludacris Avatar

            My Prelude can do this too, only with a *special tool* (paper clip) instead of a fuse. There aren't very many codes and they can be misleading, but I think I'd rather have that than no codes.
            The only one I've seen was for the MAP sensor, which actually turned out to mean, "You dummy, your intake manifold is only screwed on finger-tight and there's a massive vacuum leak!"
            I have been thinking about buying an OBD2 scanner even though my car is too old, because every time a friend or family member's engine light comes on, I feel dumb not being able to read it.

        2. ezeolla Avatar

          Chryslers do this. They will show the code on the odometer with the right combination of key turns

          1. alboalt Avatar

            It works on my 2001 Caravan–three key turns, then the codes display in the odometer window. But it doesn't for my 2008 Grand Caravan. Unless they changed the formula.

      2. dukeisduke Avatar

        What is that $20 part called? Is it an ELM 327 kinda thing?

        1. buzzboy7 Avatar

          Yep. I've got the cheap ELM327. It has worked flawlessly for me on my phone, but was unhappy with my tablet.

          1. dukeisduke Avatar

            Can you post the Amazon link, pretty please?

          2. buzzboy7 Avatar

            This is the one I have but from what it sounds all the ELM327 ones are the same underneath http://www.amazon.com/BAFX-Products-Bluetooth-dia

          3. Wildcat_445 Avatar

            Some appear to be better than others–the BAFX I believe was one of the better ones out there, although many do look the same. Maybe it's the luck of the draw? I had one die on me when my battery died–that "fluttering" in the power when I turned the key apparently fried something in it. Got it replaced though, and it's ready for use.
            The Honda codes are a bit more involved–a Honda-specific scanner will tell more information about other car systems (transmission, SRS, etc.). But is it worth another $100++ for it? Not for me. The ELM327 works well enough, in the rare event I get a code. Works equally well on the phone and tablet for me. Easy to buy a spare and toss one in the car.
            I've done the paperclip trick in the past. But with my attention span lately, I'm counting light flashes…1…0…3…oh look, a squirrel! Then I have to start over.

          4. C³-Cool Cadillac Cat Avatar
            C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

            I have the BAFX one…had to get a Bluetooth reader for my ancient IBM laptop, but it's nice to be able to have no cable.
            I have a cabled one, too…don't remember why, now.
            I don't do the whole "smart" phone thing, so that may be why I have a cabled one, too.

          5. dukeisduke Avatar

            Thanks. That looks like a decent one, but it's Android only. There are some iOS ones (Wi-Fi rather than Bluetooth) on Amazon. I had looked awhile back at some here:

    2. PotbellyJoe ★★★★★ Avatar
      PotbellyJoe ★★★★★

      Adding to this fun discussion. When your check engine light comes on in the Vibe/Matrix (and a few other Toyotas, but I can't quote the exact ones so I will speak to my knowledge) it turns off VSC and traction control because of the error and that all of these systems talk to each other.
      (Ever since my wife had that Progressive Data Logger in our OBD II port) Half-a-tank of fuel after filling up my CEL comes on because the cap can't be tightened enough to, for some reason, not leak. According to the code it spits out. Even with a new cap. So that day or two, and for the following ~50 miles, I have no VSC and a blinking VSC/Trac light and a solid CEL on my dash.
      I can get an OBD II thing and clear the code, or I can ignore it and drive around as I normally would.
      Just strange.

      1. yesthatsteve Avatar

        1st gen xB turns off VSC and traction control, as well.

      2. Wildcat_445 Avatar

        >> When your check engine light comes on in the Vibe/Matrix (and a few other Toyotas, but I can't quote the exact ones so I will speak to my knowledge) it turns off VSC and traction control because of the error and that all of these systems talk to each other. <<
        Our Acura did that also. At first I'm thinking, oh great, something else went bad. But once I fixed the problem, the TCS started working again. I realize they're likely tied together, but the TCS was integrated more with the ABS system if I recall.

    3. nanoop Avatar

      I understood that the obd2 is prescribed by law, to avoid brand-specific connectors and codes? I would nearly understand when today's engineers are like "meh" about that.

    4. giannibu Avatar

      They probably can't offer such a readout keifmo proposes or would come under intense government pressure if they did. OBD was driven by the US Government and at the beginning the manufacturers were going to have a check emissions light. The EPA put the kibosh on that and had it changed to a check engine light, since they reasoned everyone would ignore a check emissions light, but check engine would be much more serious and people would be inclined not to ignore it. The manufacturers went along as they could keep their dealers happy, in that the dealers could charge people to read the codes and reset the light.
      I would guess the government would frown on giving people easy access to the error that caused the CEL, they would probably ignore it if it was emissions related and the manufacturers (dealers) would as well since they make more money on service than on car sales.
      As it is now, most non-petrol heads probably don't know you can either buy a cheap reader or have O'reilyZoneBoys read the codes for you.
      I miss OBD1 where you could mouth some magic incantations and see the codes flashed on the dash.

    5. Wildcat_445 Avatar

      I am thinking they do not want to give the public too much information. Not to boost repair bills, but the information in the wrong hands could be a real problem. The old adage about "knowing just enough to make myself dangerous." Sort of like setting a bricklayer loose in a hospital with surgical tools, and free license to "fix" any patient they see fit. I swear I didn't that lobotomy…and why is my leg still broken??

      1. C³-Cool Cadillac Cat Avatar
        C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

        At the same time, I sure as hell don't need to be protected from myself…usually.
        That's what this smacks of.

  2. PotbellyJoe ★★★★★ Avatar
    PotbellyJoe ★★★★★

    <img src="http://www.electricalengineeringschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Electrical-Engineering-School.png"&gt;
    When I was working on my friend's new BMW, I needed a degree in electrical engineering.
    I thought that was a little excessive.
    In all seriousness though, an S60 that I worked on from time to time always had to have new bolts everywhere. Why? Because Volvo requires them to be over-tightened, intentionally. So the stretch makes them basically impossible to reuse. I never really considered bolts as wear-and-tear items. But having most of my experience previously on American trucks and a 1989 Mercury Sable, well the You'reAllPeons make cars a little differently and then Volvo one-ups them.

    1. audiofyl Avatar

      Most highly stressed bolts in the VW community are of the same type. They're called torque to yield or stretch bolts and are purposely designed that way from the beginning of engine development. I'm sure there's a fancy engineering meaning to their importance and use over standard torque to spec bolts.

      1. Scout_dude Avatar

        The purpose of torque to yield bolts are to ensure uniform clamping force. Using torque to infer the clamping force is inconsistent at best. With TTY bolts you torque them until they reach the point where they start to elastically deform but not to the point where they break. This ensures that the clamping force is uniform across the surface and that force is in a very tight range.
        Many non TTY fasteners are recommended to be replaced when ever they are removed. Sometimes it is because they are self locking like a Stover nut or nylock or they have factory installed locking compound. Other times it is just to increase the dealer/mfg profit.
        You can ID a TTY bolt by the recomended torque sequence. If it just says torque to X then it is TTY. If it says to torque to X and then rotate the bolt X more degrees then it is a TTY bolt.

    2. nanoop Avatar

      Cars are optimized for assembly. Stretch bolts allow for fewer bolts for the same clamping force, and they don't require any rings or glue. Cheaper.
      Edit: and they tolerate temperature swings better, which makes sense for engines.

      1. PotbellyJoe ★★★★★ Avatar
        PotbellyJoe ★★★★★

        Yeah, these were for the brakes specifically. So heat is an issue.

  3. buzzboy7 Avatar

    The older BMW M engines use a normal 13mm wrench to change the oil filter. The non-M versions of the BMW M50, M52 and M54 require a 36mm wrench. That's not a normal size socket/wrench of keep around.

    1. Mzaite Avatar

      You should see the N series engines. They got rid of the hex nipple. Now you need a big goofy tool AND an oversized clown socket to change a filter. Yes the tool still needs a big socket, presumably to keep the BMW techs from rising up with flaming prybars and revolting.
      Or, ya know, a strap wrench. That's what I use.

    2. Batshitbox Avatar

      It's a normal size for headset bearings on a bicycle, if you haven't found one already. They're super thin and not that strong, though.

      1. buzzboy7 Avatar

        Lucky for me, I've got an M3 engine so it's only a normal 13mm. My friend with a base spec engine uses a weird combo of whitworth sockets to do his.

    3. Preludacris Avatar

      36mm happens to be the axle nut on my car so I actually do have a socket, along with a 30mm one for the oil cooler. It's kind of expensive buying these things one at a time.

      1. danleym Avatar

        I've acquired a variety of large or specialized sockets, bought piecemeal for whatever one off automotive job. Every once in a while I actually find a use for them other than what I bought them for in the first place, at which point I get all excited because the purchase has just been justified a little more.

  4. Mzaite Avatar

    All special computer hookups. The cars now have plenty of display and input capability, I shouldn't have to plug a GT1 unit into my car just to tell it I replaced the battery.
    It's a clear money grab by the manufacturer. There's no reason even with all the fancy electronics, that the owner can't interface with the system without proprietary, dealer only equipment.

    1. Kiefmo Avatar

      Um, ditto?

  5. JayP2112 Avatar

    The Audi used to require a tool to drain the oil from the manual transmission. Used it once, never again.
    About 10 years ago a Service Manager pal gave me a tour of the new Audi dealer by my house. He pointed out a special rack which was to be used for the RS6. I think he said it cost $16k and was required for the dealer to sell the RS6. Dang.

  6. johnf1979 Avatar

    Current BMW's require a proprietary BMW scan tool to check the engine oil level, no more dipsticks.

    1. Kollege_H Avatar

      That's new to me – for at least my 2011 BMW requires just the push of a button on the control stalk. Which is annoying because after you parked your car (and foolishly turned the engine off) you have to restart the car and wait for at least 5 mins until the program gives you the oil level… checking it while driving is possibly fine… I still miss a simple dipstick 🙁

      1. Kiefmo Avatar

        I don't have anything to add, I just want to express my amazement at your negative points. I've never seen that before.
        Either there's an error, or you're one of the world's foremost troll-masters.

        1. Kollege_H Avatar

          Sadly it's no error… long story short:
          The situation in which I accumulated these negative points was comparable to a lover of Detroit muscle cars arguing with a pool of avid ricer-fans 😉
          But I don't mind – at least I stand out from the crowd.

  7. nanoop Avatar

    In order to check the tension of the timing belt on a Porsche 944, there's a precision tool available, with a detailed procedure to determine whether the belt is OK or not. It costs several hundred dollars, and there are aftermarket suppliers that are slightly cheaper and better.
    Alternatively, you can just twist the belt at its longest stretch by 90deg (balance belt:180deg). Was it hardly doable: too tight. Easily more than that: too loose.
    It really works.

    1. spotty Avatar

      latest trick for adjusting the cam timing belts on a ducati m/cycle – download a guitar tuner app on your smartphone and as you tighten the belts you 'twang' them and when they're right they resonate at the same frequency as a guitar string (not sure which one but i'm sure a V-Twinist could find out should they desire to)
      personally i'll stick to Honda's infamous manually adjusted automatic cam chain adjuster as fitted to many of their single cam bikes back in the 70s (not to mention their unadjustable primary drive chain)…full of bright ideas they were

  8. Mark Avatar

    After reading some of those Audi/BMW/Porsche horror stories, I can't say it's a surprise, but it does still strike me as extraordinary how the German car companies allow/encourage their engineers to run wild with little or no concern to anything beyond the initial warranty period. Talk about planned obsolescence.

    1. pursang Avatar

      What about the story about replacing athermostat on an Audi A4 (not sure if a four or a six) where the first instruction is:Remove entire front end of car (grill, bumper facia, radiator and condenser and supports)…….

  9. P161911 Avatar

    On 1980s BMWs you need a special tool to reset the service lights. Aftermarket ones are about $40. Or you can run a jumper wire between two of the pins on the port where the reset tool plugs in.

    1. buzzboy7 Avatar

      Yep, that's how I reset my oil service light. 2" length of wire

  10. Alan Cesar Avatar
    Alan Cesar

    To repack the rear bearings on my Mercedes W123, a special tool was required to loosen the axle nut so I could access it.
    Which means I never repacked the rear bearings on my W123.

    1. buzzboy7 Avatar

      Yep. I just replaced a rear w123 trailing arm and we decided that the new one was well enough packed.

  11. Slow_Joe_Crow Avatar

    The first thing that leaps out is replacing the battery on modern BMW cars which requires a trip to the dealer computer to "authorize" the new battery before everything works right.

    1. neight428 Avatar

      This fills me with unquenchable rage and I would never buy a new BMW anyway.

    2. HTWHLS Avatar

      A friend has 8 BMW's and he flipped when this happened. He invited the dealer to have carnal relations with a farm implement after they quoted a 170.00 price to "authorize" the battery. He found a local shop who did it for 10.00. He's rethinking his love affair for the roundel cars.

  12. cap'n fast Avatar
    cap'n fast

    Bleeding and flushing the brake system on the MB 211 E-Class requires the patience of Job and the use of the MB diagnostic box to access the procedure to power up the SBC system. The Servo Brake Control system was a nightmare design that was supposed to be the forerunner of the all-electric braking system powered by the still-borne 42 volt automotive controller. The bean counters found out that the costs of cannon plug connectors and mil-spec wiring required for the use of a 42 volt electrical system would double the price of the car. The SBC died a quiet death somewhere around 2006-2007. The 42 volt idea is still out there in the weeds somewhere waiting to rear its ugly head again. Not one of MB's shining moments in automotive history.

  13. grantman321 Avatar

    Just to add to previous stories of VW/Audi madness… how bout the proprietary puller for the timing belt pulley on Audi 2.8 and 2.7T V6s?? When I changed the timing belt on my B5 S4 (with an experienced mechanic's help – it ain't even close to easy even for a moderate weekend warrior), it was something like $200 to RENT plus (!) a several-hundred-dollar deposit!

  14. salguod Avatar

    Changing the timing belt on my 1999 Odyssey required a $50 special pulley holder. I used it once and loaned it to a coworker and haven't seen it since.

    1. Wildcat_445 Avatar

      I only paid about $29, including shipping, for mine. The crankshaft removal tool, right? I've seen one that was homemade that looked quite clever. But since the price was right, I had no reservations with keeping it (and NOT loaning it out 😉 ).
      On my '88 Accord, however, they did not yet use the hex opening on the crank pulley. In fact, the dealers I called had no clue as to what I was supposed to use to get the crank pulley off. (Sure they did–they just wanted me to come in and pay to have it done.) After fumbling around with it a bit, i found a small hole at one spot on the side of the crank pulley, against the engine. It then occurred to me that what I needed was a spanner wrench. I worked for a local industrial distributor, and we carried Martin sprockets. Martin also sold a spanner wrench, and I got it at a discount. Worked perfectly! It held the pulley right where I needed it.
      My craptastic Merkur had no such thing, at least that I could find. After fighting the crank pulley for a couple of days, I stuck a brick against the frame, put the breaker bar on the bolt, laid the handle on the brick, and tweaked the starter–that bolt zipped right out with no effort whatsoever. Not ONE mention of this in the service manual either–"remove crankshaft bolt" was the extent of it.

      1. salguod Avatar

        Yeah, that's the one. Large external hex that fits in the pulley and an ear with a square hole for a 1/2" drive ratchet.
        Even with the tool, I had one heck of a time getting the pulley off. I ended up wedging the tool against the frame, putting a breaker bar on the crank pulley nut and using my floor jack under the breaker bar handle. The van lifted off the jack stand almost an inch and I got nervous and was about to give up when it broke loose and settled back down on the stand.

        1. Wildcat_445 Avatar

          Mine was a bit sticky as well, but I may have just stood on the breaker bar (CR-V–I had plenty of room). My jack was already holding the engine up, so there was no other way. I am due for another timing belt in the CR-V, and the Civic is going to need one also (recent purchase with unknown repair history).
          I can't recall what I used on the tensioner, although I'm not sure if the 4 cylinder has a different requirement than the V6.

    2. danleym Avatar

      Same on my Discovery. But I fished around and found a tool (read: metal plate with holes) I bought a while ago to hold a pinion still while tightening the crush sleeve on a GM 10 bolt rear end (and marketed to do the same on a wide variety of rear ends). I widened one of the holes, bought a couple different bolts, and it made a perfect Land Rover crank pulley remover.

    3. salguod Avatar

      I forgot about the special compressor for the timing belt tensioner (I think). It was a simple bent metal part that held the tensioner compressed while you installed it. No Honda dealer would sell you one, I ended up making my own out of sheet aluminum.

  15. danleym Avatar

    My Land Rover Discovery has no transmission dipstick or fill tube. So you need a fluid transfer pump (all of $10 at Harbor Freight) to fill it. And, if you talk to the dealer, the transmission has to be at a precise temperature when you fill it (until it starts leaking), otherwise it might be over or under filled. And of course, there's no trans temp gauge, so you need some specialty tool for that, too.
    I went with the, start the car, fill it until it leaks, go for a drive, come back, fill it a little more, go for another drive, come back, it won't take any more so I guess it's good method. Transmission seems to be fine, but I'm sure the dealer would tell me it's about to explode.