Bottom Line
Tool Talk
Having the right tools on your truck can save you time and headaches

By Jeff Barker
Contributing Writer

 

Any trucker knows that it often becomes necessary to make a few minor repairs yourself to avoid downtime and exorbitant labor costs. It can get downright irritating to have a headlight decide to burn out just before you get to a scale or pass a cop and get their attention – only to find out that you don’t have the tools to replace it on the spot and maybe avoid a citation.

In other cases, you may come across a loose accessory drive belt under the hood while doing your pre-trip inspection. It may need just a few minutes of your time to tighten it – but do you have the tools required to do that?

While company drivers may be limited as to what repairs their employers will allow them to make on their trucks, there are still enough reasons to carry a small toolbox with you to help you get out of an occasional jam.

Owner-operators who want to avoid costly downtime and repair bills will usually opt to carry more tools. But, you don’t need to overload your toolbox with enough stuff to inframe an engine or do a clutch job on the road. Admit it, there are some repairs that are impractical to do out there yourself. You should exercise a bit of reason and not put 2,000 pounds of stuff in the boxes “just in case.”

GOOD QUALITY FIRST

“You get what you pay for” has a lot of meaning to it, especially when it comes to tools. Inferior-quality tools can often create more problems.

If you buy cheap tools, you can wind up with a socket or wrench that rounds off the corners of a bolt head because of a bad design, or a screwdriver tip that breaks off while putting some torsional beef on it to loosen a tight screw.

Besides, you don’t want to bet your ability to make minor repairs on tools that may fail when you’re dealing with a roadside emergency and trying to get that truck back on the road before an overzealous law enforcement officer comes along and decides to have your rig towed.

Something else to consider is that cheaply made tools can often break and injure those who use them. This isn’t something any of us want to think about, but it’s reality, folks. To give you an example, I was tightening some cross-member bolts on one of my trucks several years ago using a ½-inch breaker bar and a black impact socket. The head of the breaker bar handle near where the socket attaches to it broke apart under pressure, and as it shattered, some of that metal flew toward me and sliced the hell out of my left forearm.

It would be worth your time to ask a few veteran truck mechanics what brands of tools they prefer to use, as many of them know firsthand how important it is to have good quality tools. Brands like Snap-On, Matco, Mac Tools, S-K Wayne and Cornwell Tools are well known to those of us who have been involved in the truck repair business.

COMPANY DRIVERS

If you’re a company driver, it may not be necessary for you to carry much more than what is needed to install or remove your CB radio equipment and to do minor repairs. Some repairs to consider could be replacing lights, adjusting brakes if your employer will allow you, bypassing a defective air dryer, and maybe tighten a few loose screws and bolts on occasion.

Usually, a small toolbox with the following will be sufficient:

  • ¼-inch, ⅜-inch and ½-inch drive ratchets;
  • Sockets up to 1 inch as most
    areas of a truck aside from engines
    and driveline components still
    use SAE-size bolts;
  • Phillips and flat-tip screwdrivers
    (stubby and medium-length);
  • Torx and Allen wrenches; and
  • Two 12-inch adjustable wrenches.

OWNER-OPERATORS

In addition to what I mentioned for company drivers, those who have the ability to do minor repair work on their own equipment should, at minimum, carry the following tools:

  • Eye protection such as goggles or a face shield;
  • Combination wrenches from ¼ inch up to 1¼ inch;
  • Hacksaw with two blades suitable for cutting metal;
  • ½-inch drive breaker bar;
  • Extension assortment in ¼-inch, ⅜-inch and ½-inch sizes;
  • ½-inch drive impact sockets up to 1¼ inch;
  • Pry bar and/or wrecking bar;
  • Soldering kit for splicing wiring together the right way and yes you will need a suitable power inverter for it;
  • Heat shrink tubing in assorted sizes;
  • Portable pocket torch for applying heat shrink tubing to wiring connections;
  • Flashlight with two sets of batteries;
  • 12-volt fluorescent drop light with alligator clips (for connecting at battery terminals), or a 120V fluorescent drop light will do the trick if you have a power inverter;
  • Wire strippers;
  • Terminal crimping tool;
  • A decent-sized ball peen hammer and another one with a heavier head;
  • Two flat-jaw and two curved-jaw vise grips;
  • Pipe wrench;
  • JB Weld – yes, this stuff comes in very handy when doing many types of temporary repairs;
  • Wire brush;
  • Jumper cables;
  • Funnel;
  • Electrical multimeter;
  • 12-volt test light to check for power availability; and
  • Teflon tape that’s needed when reinstalling air line fittings and coolant system fittings.

Last, but definitely not least, pack a good pair of coveralls, some shop rags and a bottle of good-quality hand cleaner. LL

Editor’s note: This article is for information purposes only. If you’re not sure about performing the work yourself, it’s advisable to seek the help of a competent professional. And one more thought – being as it’s getting close to Christmas, why not put some of these items on your holiday wish list?

Jeff Barker is an OOIDA member and a former certified diesel mechanic. He may be reached at truckmaintenancestuff@yahoo.com.

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