By Jeff Barker
Truck owners who do their own maintenance and repairs may not realize it, but they are their own best friends. What they probably do realize is that making things happen on their own instead of letting their trucks sit on someone else’s back burner helps them avoid downtime and gives them peace of mind. Regardless of the reason behind the desire to wrench it yourself, one thing’s for certain: No one can do the job right without the right tools.
Although there’s clearly no justification for a single-truck owner to invest in an alignment rack or a transmission jack, it’s just as obvious that no one can do practical maintenance or repairs with only a pair of pliers and a couple of screwdrivers.
A do-it-yourself mechanic needs a garage furnished with the essentials. But why stop at mere essentials? Dream big by using this list as a jumping-off point.
Air Compressor: This item may make a bit of noise and annoy your family every time it comes on, but once they see that it’s mandatory to operate those time-saving air tools, they will appreciate it and the extra time you have for them. Go ahead and spring for a decent-sized unit with enough power to run a hungry 3/4-inch air impact gun at full torque. Be sure to get a dryer unit to remove moisture from the compressed air so that it doesn’t trash those expensive motors in your air tools.
Air hoses and couplings: Until someone invents something comparable to wireless technology for air tools, you’ll need two good-quality 50-foot air hoses and quick-disconnect couplings. Get hoses with spring bungs on the ends so you can’t bend the hoses too far and break them. When they break off, they resemble wild, out-of-control snakes and they have a nasty bite if they hit you before you shut off the air.
Acetylene Torch: Anyone who’s spent as much time repairing trucks as I have knows the value of the “hot wrench.” They come in handy for loosening rusted nuts, not to mention cutting those bolts that just won’t cooperate otherwise. They’re also great for brazing as well as soldering copper tubing if you’re doing plumbing work on your air system.
BernzOmatic torch: If you don’t want to part with the money to build an acetylene torch setup, a BernzOmatic hand-held torch will suffice for those situations where you need to heat up something but are not too worried about doing any cutting. I have used them for heating up and loosening stubborn nuts and for soldering copper tubing. They’re also handy for warming up heat shrink tubing when doing electrical work.
Jack stands: With most modern trucks being built lower to the ground because of aerodynamics, not to mention the impact of truck stop food on the beltline, it’s obvious there’s a need to raise that truck up in the air and support it safely. Make sure jack stands are each rated for at least 3 tons. They should have wide tops to support truck axles in such a way that they won’t slide off. You should have one pair of jack stands for each axle on your tractor.
Floor jack: Bottle jacks are the choice of most tire technicians because they need to raise only one end of an axle at a time. For repairs and maintenance you will often need to raise an entire axle and that’s where a good-quality floor jack comes in. It’s advisable to get one rated for at least 6 tons or more.
Workbench: If you’re handy with woodworking, you can build your own. Be sure to anchor it to the floor. I’ve had great luck with those that are constructed with a 4-by-8-foot deck with dense 2-by-4s that are covered with heavy-gauge sheet metal so the wood isn’t pounded to hell too soon.
Bench vise: These are frequent lifesavers in any shop. Install a large one to give yourself a third hand when that need arises.
Bench grinder: These usually have both a wire wheel and a grinding stone, which are both quite useful.
Drop lights: These are an obvious no-brainer. I’m partial to fluorescent tube drop lights after having roasted my arms a few too many times on incandescent units that always get too darn hot and often get smashed easily. Keep spare bulbs on hand to avoid aggravating interruptions when one burns out.
Creeper: These do make life a lot easier in the garage. The newer units made of fiberglass are much more comfortable than those old ones with metal frames (like I still have). One big word of caution: If you have long hair, it’s to your benefit to tie it up and put it under a ball cap so you don’t experience the excruciating pain of getting scalped if it gets caught under a creeper wheel. Trust me, it’s not a pleasant experience.
Oil drain pan: What kind of true do-it-yourselfer would be caught dead without a good oil drain pan? Most Class 8 truck engines hold 44 quarts (11 gallons) of oil, so don’t think that the old 6-quart pan you use for your family car is up to the job. Get one with rollers so you can move it out from under your truck easily when it’s full.
Toolbox: Keeping your tools in check demands a locking toolbox. With a well-stocked box containing upward of $15,000 in tools these days, you don’t want those precious contents to grow legs, do you? I can’t stress this enough. I specifically remember an incident at a shop I worked at where thieves attempted to break into several of our tool boxes, including my rolling Snap-On box that I had paid dearly for. I saw how important that toolbox was because they didn’t get any of my stuff. Those mechanics who had bargain-priced toolboxes lost almost everything.
Cabinets and shelves: These are great for organizing your cans of chemicals and spare parts. You will be better off with your parts in a locking cabinet to help keep honest people honest.
Heater: If you live up north, you know how much fun it is to work on anything when it’s bone-chilling cold in your garage and your hands are numb. A good-quality heater will make doing your maintenance and repairs during the wintertime more tolerable, not to mention coming in handy when you need to keep your tractor from having a gelled fuel system and frozen air lines.
Several different types are available, which run on propane, butane or even waste oil if you’re one of those who would rather do your own oil changes, too. There are also a lot of electric space heaters on the market, but they often pull enough juice to require you to take out a second mortgage to pay the electric bill. Be sure to avoid anything that would pose a danger if you store chemicals in your garage, and make sure those are stored as far away as possible from any ignition source.
Box Fan: These are mandatory in the southern parts of the nation when the summer heat and humidity roll in. Also, when used with an open window or door, they can help provide ventilation when you need to use chemicals. In Texas, where I live, many repair shops use portable swamp coolers that provide a cool mist to help make the work environment more bearable.
Refrigerator: When spending a lot of time out there in the garage, there comes a need to take a break for liquid replenishment. A small dorm-sized refrigerator will usually suffice for keeping your beverage of choice at the right temperature.
Keep it clean
Trash cans: In a shop environment, two used 55-gallon drums will be much better than the plastic variety used elsewhere in your home.
Broom and dust pan: These are a definite necessity when it comes to keeping the floor clean and safe.
Mop and bucket: Messy stuff happens when doing repair work, and these will be needed often.
Oil absorbent: If you have an oil or chemical spill, this stuff will help with quick and easy cleanup. LL
Jeff Barker is an OOIDA member and a former certified diesel mechanic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.