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The Weird World of Old Car Tools

Old tools

Find a set of old car tools at a flea market, garage sale or just kicking around your grandparents’ basement and not sure what exactly you’re looking at? There are several specialty tools out there that were used regularly in the past, but now aren’t as easy to find in a working mechanic’s toolbox. Occasionally these tools are still employed now and again to deal with classic vehicles or tackle specific problems where a regular ratchet won’t do, while others are more curiosities than anything else.

Check out these unusual old car tools that you can still buy today.

Brake Cylinder Hone

Once upon a time, it was common to hone out brake calipers and wheel cylinders in a vehicle’s braking system, rebuilding them right in the shop to as-new specifications. To do this, it was necessary to use a brake cylinder hone to resurface the pieces in question, making it one of those old car tools you can still find on the shelf, but will most likely never use. Today, it’s much cheaper to simply replace these brake components, rather than pay for the labor needed to rebuild them.

Drag Link Socket

Steering systems today are almost exclusively rack-and-pinion designs, but there used to be a wider variety of options, including units that required the use of a drag link. A drag link was a component used to transmit rotary motion from one plane to another — say, from a steering box to a linear motion that can actually move the front axles. Drag link sockets, which were used like giant screwdrivers to disconnect and mount this type of steering gear, have almost vanished today (outside the classic car or 4×4 world), but they remain in catalogs across the country.

Dwell Meter

Old carElectronic ignition systems have been around for decades, and have grown increasingly sophisticated thanks to computer controls that allow for precise fuel and spark delivery in the engine. Prior to the advent of electronic ignition, however, there existed something called a “points” ignition system, which relied on the mechanical action of the distributor to open and close when regulating spark. Over time, these points tended to wear out, creating a peak on one side and a valley on the other, which made it difficult to tell when the points were closed using a standard feeler gauge. A dwell meter is a piece of electronic equipment that can measure the closure period, or dwell, of a given point when it has become worn. Almost no cars built since 1975 have relied on a points-based ignition, but dwell meters are still out there.

Check out all the tools & equipment available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on old car tools, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.


Benjamin Hunting View All

Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time.  I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

One thought on “The Weird World of Old Car Tools Leave a comment

  1. I have all of the above mentioned EXCEPT the drag link socket. i use them every so often on older vehicles and it’s nice to be able to fix things like ‘back in the day’.

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