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Police car mechanical work guides and tools

Hello, all. I'm back with another edition of Police Car Collecting.

Last week I talked about doing bodywork yourself, but what about mechanical issues? Again, there are sources for self teaching materials on this subject. Also, again, another important consideration is tools.

Rotary tool Machine Tool

You absolutely have to have good quality tools to do any job correctly. If you are new to being a "shadetree mechanic", you might start with one of the mechanic's tool kits sold at Sears. These vary in price with the amount of tools in each kit and the type of tool case included. There are often put on sale, so the discounts get even better. These Craftsmen kits are excellent quality, lifetime warranted (if you break one, just take it to any Sears store for an immediate replacement, never a hassle), saves you big bucks on purchasing separately, and always does the job well.

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Stay away from imported tools as they are usually inferior quality and with things such as wrenches and sockets, often are not cut to exact size tolerances. I've seen cheap foreign tools easily round off nuts and bolts as well as break more easily than the better quality ones. This is one place where the adage "When you cheap out, you pay for it twice" holds very true.

Just because the cheap imports sometimes (not often) carry a lifetime warranty, doesn't mean that the quality is there. Even though the warranty is usually legitimate, this is more of a marketing thing than a real bargain and peace of mind for the purchaser. They bank on the fact that these warranted tools are usually sold in catalogs and online so when they do break, the purchaser usually won't go through the hassle of returning it through the mail at their expense to get a replacement. He'll just buy a new one most often because he needs the tool now, not in a week or three waiting until the return is received and processed and another shipped out via slow boat from China.

The extra money you put out for top quality tools will pay for themselves many times over by doing every job well and lasting for many years. There are some more specialized tools that you can get away with buying from your Harbor Freight catalog, but be careful what you get. Know your product before opting to buy cheap. Sears does have a limited selection (more than they used to now) of good quality garage tools along with their general tool line available at their stores and online. Don't forget the swap meets for finding tools, both general and specialty.

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You can also get high quality automotive tools from the Matco, Snap On, and K-D Tools salesmen. You've no doubt seen their mobile showrooms at garages and dealerships. If you approach one, they will sell to you. Just be warned here also…..they are expensive tools, the best quality, but costly.

You can also opt, for general or air/power tools, to go with Home Depot (Husky) or Lowe's (Kobalt). These tools are also lifetime warranted and are good quality. From a personal experience, I was recommended Husky air tools by a diesel mechanic that repeatedly destroyed Snap On impact guns. He finally bought a Husky for much less and hasn't been able to kill it. I bought one and have beaten the snot out of it for four years or so now and it'll be around for a long time to come. Hey, can I get on a Home Depot commercial with Joey Logano now?

As to specialized tools, these are tools made for specific purposes and, often, nothing more. You will find that there will be times that there is little choice other than getting a special tool for a specific task. Older cars have less uses for specialized tools, but the occasion still does come up. You can get these through auto parts retailers, the tool trucks and Sears as well through many online suppliers.

One place where many hobbyists are hesitant to tread is in wiring electrical items in their car. This is completely understandable as by wiring accessories incorrectly, you can not only permanently damage the accessory, but can cause damage to the car's electrical system as well. It is even possible to create an electrical fire which could destroy a valuable vehicle.

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The newer the car, the more complicated the electrics have become. Back in the '70s, the most complicated part of the car's electrics was the electronic ignition module, which is prehistoric by today's standards. Now, cars have become more like rolling cybermachines with computerized everything. You can do more far reaching damage in a modern vehicle with improper accessory wiring than even 10 years ago.

Again, there are books, etc. which can help you to master the basics of wiring accessories. The truth is that this process is not complicated or difficult to learn what you need to know. Everything you would need to wire up items like sirens, lights, and radios is easily available everywhere that auto parts are sold or online.

I want to mention one company that has virtually everything one could need to restore their car in one place. This retailer is the epitome of one-stop-shopping. It is the Eastwood Company in eastern Pennsylvania. No place else sells the selection of restoration supplies and tools that they do. Quality is guaranteed, customer service is excellent, and the selection is extraordinary. There are things for sale there which will make your project come out better, and often easier, that you will have significant trouble finding elsewhere, if at all. You will see that little is cheap, but that's the price of restoration supplies. Paper catalogs are available free by mail.

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Hey, the holidays are coming soon. It might be a good time to start making a list of some of the things you need to complete that project. There's nothing better than opening that first Hanukkah or Christmas gift and finding that new set of open end wrenches you wanted. Just make sure you specify metric or SAE on that list. Then again, you might want to buy yourself a present, also. Hmmm….what to get, the sander or the new spray gun. Decisions, decisions.

With every process that would need to be done to your project, often it is easy to find someone that would be glad to help you learn what you need to learn. I and others have helped many to complete their projects. That's one great thing about our hobby….there is usually someone willing to help when the need arises.

So, keep an open mind and if you're in any way good with your hands and a bit mechanically inclined, it is not hard to learn what you need to so you can complete at least some of your project by yourself. Not only will you see a very significant cost savings, but you will be able to say that you did it yourself. It always makes the end result that much sweeter.

Other columns

Introduction | The basics of police car collecting | Who are collectors? Why do we collect?

Emergency lighting | Sirens | Where to find retired police cars | Emergency vehicle shows | Investing in police cars

Restorations: Rules and regs for restorers | bodywork | Do-it-yourself mechanical work

Shows: Chicagoland Emergency Vehicles Show | Aquidneck Island Police Car Parade (2008 | 2009)

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