Tech Articles

Household Remedies for Automotive Maladies

Everyone who works on cars has had a “MacGuyver moment” or two, from an emergency field repair to saving an extra trip to the store. Here is a collection of effective household remedies for common automotive repair challenges.

Many high-performance enthusiasts have a garage full of tools, but why would anyone stash a can of shaving cream, fish scale, paper clip, vanity mirror, baking soda, freezer bags, hair dryer, coat hanger, or turkey baster in their toolbox? Although these seeming random items don’t seem to have a place in the garage or at the race track, all of them can actually be very helpful household remedies in an instant.

Common household remedies for automotive repair tasks include a hair dryer, a fish scale, paper clips, a vanity mirror, baking soda, freezer bags, a coat hanger, and a turkey baster.

A collection of effective household remedies for different automotive repair challenges.

Every time you install a set of cylinder heads onto an assembled short block, you may be unknowingly dropping cooling system deposits into the cylinders.  Although the cylinder head may have been thoroughly cleaned, it’s not  uncommon for cooling system deposits to remain in the water jackets, and each time the heads are installed (or removed), these deposits can fall into the cylinders, doing harm to the cylinders and rings. This is of particular concern on engines with cylinder head studs where the heads have to be literally wrestled past the studs. Many engine builders avoid this by rotating the short block 90 deg. on the engine stand prior to installing each head. Another method involves wiping SHAVING CREAM over the deck surface, effectively sealing the water jackets and preventing contaminants from falling into the cylinders. It’s simple, effective, and the shaving cream doesn’t hurt a thing.

Commonly found at bait shops, a FISH SCALE can be helpful when analyzing piston oil ring tension. Race engine builders often experiment with low-tension oil rings in the quest for more horsepower. Too much oil ring tension creates excessive internal friction that robs horsepower, while insufficient tension causes excessive oil consumption and combustion chamber contamination, however, the correct tension can provide significantly more horsepower. 

To measure ring tension, simply remove the connecting rod from the piston, replace the wrist pin, and install the oil ring package on the piston. Lightly lubricate both the piston skirt and cylinder prior to installing the piston into the cylinder upside down. Push the piston toward the bottom of the cylinder and hook the fish scale onto the piston pin. Gently pull the piston up the cylinder using the scale, noting the reading as the piston travels up the bore. Oil rings with varying tension can then be swapped and the process repeated. Compression rings can be checked as well. Just be sure you don’t loan your 20-lb. fish scale to your co-worker that decides to weigh the 40-lb. sturgeon he just pulled out of Lake Michigan…its accuracy may be compromised.

Anytime a camshaft is installed into a high-performance engine, it should be properly degreed to ensure that the valve timing events are as the manufacturer suggests. During the process, a degree wheel must be installed on the front of the crankshaft and a timing pointer positioned to check valve timing events. A pointer can be made quickly from a wire COAT HANGER, cut to a length of several inches and secured to the front of the block under the head of a timing cover bolt. After TDC has been located, simply bend the pointer to “zero” on the degree wheel and you may begin the camshaft degreeing process. Step-by-step instructions are available on-line from most camshaft manufacturers.

Changing starters is rarely fun, particularly if the vehicle is fitted with headers and a deep oil pan. Many enthusiasts readily change starters without checking pinion gear to ring gear clearance, yet improper clearance can cause repeated starter or ring gear failure. Checking clearance is relatively quick and easy. After the starter has been installed, use a screwdriver to pull the pinion gear into the ring gear. Follow by using your opposite hand to slide a PAPER CLIP, typically .035″, in between the “valley” of the ring gear and the starter pinion gear. If the paper clip can be slipped in between the gears, you’re “good to go”.  If not, place a shim in between the starter and engine block, and re-check the clearance.

While on the subject of starting systems, if you use a traditional lead/acid battery and encounter a no-crank condition, it could be caused by battery terminal corrosion. Often visibly evident as white or white/blue crystals, corrosion can be quickly removed without the need for elbow grease. One of the most popular household remedies in the kitchen, BAKING SODA is just as deserving of a place in the workshop. Simply disconnect the battery, sprinkle a light amount of baking soda on the terminals and proceed by pouring a small amount of water over the soda. The mixture quickly dissolves the corrosion without having to expose your hands to acid. Coating the terminals lightly with white lithium grease can prevent future corrosion.

Crawling head-first up under the dashboard of most vehicles can be challenging when inspecting fuses, wiring, etc. One item that can aid in the process is a VANITY MIRROR. Simply hold the mirror under the dash at the desired angle to aid viewing. They are particularly helpful when viewing the rotary dials found on aftermarket digital ignition systems. Allstar Performance offers a telescoping mirror (ALL14174) that can be useful in these situations.

Most racers are familiar with the headaches involved with removing decals. One wrong pull and you not only remove the decal, but the paint right along with it! By simply warming the decal with a HAIR DRYER, the glue is softened and allows the decal to be removed without harming the paint.

Looking to pick-up those last few hundredths of a second in E.T.’s at the race track on grudge night? Simply fill several FREEZER BAGS up with ice and place them on the intake manifold prior to racing. The ice helps create a cooler, denser air charge for more horsepower. The warmer the day, the greater the improvement. Be sure to have a friend remove the bags just prior to pulling out onto the race track. Dumping liquid onto the track can result in an instant DQ.

Ever spill fuel onto an intake manifold during carburetor service? Rather than mopping it up with a rag, simply use a TURKEY BASTER or BULB SYRINGE to remove the fuel. They work equally well for coolant spills that need to be cleaned up quickly.

There are many more of these “home remedies” that can help make your life easier in the garage or at the race track. Just don’t hand the turkey baster back to your significant other smelling of gas and full of greasy fingerprints! For some helpful tips on preparing your race or performance car for the summer, check out this article, full of valuable spring maintenance tips!