“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” - Albert Einstein

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Right Tool

"Get the right tool for the job." I don't know if Ben Franklin said it, but he should have. I've preached this statement as well. At least I preached it to Brenda when I was on my way to Home Depot. Part of the fun of doing a project was finding the excuse to buy "the right tool" I needed to complete it. As a perpetual DIY person I always had a wish list of cool toys.

But it seems I sometimes ignore my own advice in little things and it turns out to cause a big problem. I've refused to give up on changing my own oil in my vehicles. I'm picky about the kind of oil and filter I use, and auto service companies don't have what I want. And changing oil doesn't take that long. At least it didn't until yesterday.

Auto makers have for years designed cars no normal-jointed person can work on. This allows tool manufacturers to make a living selling tools to reach into places no human can touch. When I bought our first Expedition I found this to be the case with the oil filter. I had to buy a new filter wrench to get the old oil filter off. It worked, sort of. I had to put the wrench on the filter and thread a hammer up between the frame and the engine and tap the wrench sung on to the filter. I then prayed the wrench wouldn't pop loose as I unscrewed the old filter. It always worked, after the fourth or fifth try. That is, until yesterday.

I always put the new filter on "hand tight". It's what I learned way back in high school shop class. I don't know if it is because of my recent strength training, but "hand tight" was now impossible to get off with my marginal tool. Of course the oil was already drained so I hopped into Brenda's Expedition and was off to the parts store to buy a better tool.

The only one they had was made of plastic. It did fit snuggly on the filter and I reasoned that the plastic industry has made great innovations in creating strong polymers. I bought it and headed home with visions of an easy job now that I had a better tool. I slid back under my car with my new tool in hand. This tool didn't have great innovation or strong polymers. It must have been made from recycled milk jugs. It promptly snapped leaving my old filter still smugly bonded to my engine. Another trip to the parts store and I found they only have plastic filter wrenches. I got a refund and went to Wal Mart.

Wal Mart had an old-style filter wrench with a new twist: a swivel handle. I did some quick mental calculations and decided it might just fit. It was under $4 so I wouldn't be out much if it didn't work. When I got home, I slid under my care and had the old filter off in less than a minute. Of course the whole oil change process had now taken 2 hours.

There is no substitute for the right tool.


Florence and Gary Deeter said...


What an interesting blog entry. Even though I can't remember the location of Expedition oil filters, I knew exactly what you were going through. I have accumulated about eight or nine filter wrenches, and still I encounter some that need some special attention. So far I haven't had to impale a screwdriver through the filter to get an obstinate one off. I was a little surprised (and quite pleased) that you still change your own oil. For our cars, I can't imagine letting someone else do it.



Elan said...

I have the same trouble with screwdrivers. The one I need is always the one I cannot find. I just got this auto emergency multi-purpose tool that contains a set of 11 drivers, most of which are shapes I don't recognize. I don't know what all the drivers are used for, but at least I feel more confident and prepared to handle that I-need-a-screwdriver-now kind of situation, which usually involves fixing some kind of mechanical toy for the boys.