Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tool Review: Task Force mini locking pliers

Edit: Brevity! I got this mini locking pliers (Vise-Grip knockoffs) at Lowe's for $2. It is awesome. I keep it with me all the time. It's saved my ass on more than one occasion, and I haven't had it more than 2 months. Highly recommended. The End.

These were an impulse buy at Lowe's. Cost me all of $1.99. They've really small, but fully functional locking pliers. These are also known as Vise-Grips, though that's a brand name.

This thing is cheap, but surprisingly well built. The jaws line up like they're supposed to, the rivets hold tight, it doesn't wiggle or feel insecure when you lock it up.

It does everything you expect locking pliers to do. They open, close, adjust, lock, and unlock. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw how wide the jaws open; they open wide enough to grab the thick part of the Miata's shifter, and you can lock them down tight enough to mar the living fuck out of said shifter. Yeah, those jaws have real, functional teeth that get excellent bite.

They do not open far enough to grab a spring-type radiator hose clamp, however. When I went to procure a radiator hose at a junkyard last week, I used these along with my multi-tool to open the clamp up. The locking feature came in handy there.

That multi-tool and these locking pliers are the tools I keep with me nearly at all times. They take up little space and are excellent performers. And at a tenth the price of that multi-tool, these locking pliers are a performance bargain.

Off Topic: Power supply fire

A little over a year ago, Amanda bought a new Dell Studio desktop. During an electrical storm recently, it awoke from standby and started smelling of burning electronics. This smell woke Amanda up (it was the middle of the night), and she, naturally, woke me up. She had tracked the smell down to her computer by this point, and noted that one of the fans was running loudly.

I opened the thing up so I could tell Amanda something comforting and go back to sleep. I made sure important components weren't actually on fire.

The smell dissipated by morning and her computer was still working, though it would regularly hang for a few moments, the power supply fan would kick on high speed, and it would then it would continue working.

The following evening I opened up the power supply and found these things:

Burn marks on the board (center, dark brown spot), and...

capacitors and other components showing signs of overheating. The capacitors are swollen, though that's hard to tell here. That small ring with the wire coiled around it and the cracking white stuff is called a choke, and, as I suspected, is used for reducing electrical noise/interference. I didn't know what it was until I went looking on the magical interwebs. The white stuff is not supposed to be flaking off like that.

I don't know what, exactly, sprayed onto the heatsink (large aluminum block) like that. Anyway, all these stressed components resulted in the power supply working inefficiently and causing the fan to kick on whenever you demanded processing power from the computer.

I found a replacement among mine and my dad's pile of computer parts. All is well.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pocket multi-tools actually ARE useful

I changed the fuel filter on the ZX2 today, using nothing more than this, a Leatherman knockoff using the Columbia name. I did this on my lunch break. It took no longer than it would have with the proper tool(s): about 10 minutes, including hand-washing. All I would've needed was a flathead screwdriver, and my tool has one. Sort of. It did the job, anyway.

On a related note, I've discovered that my skin doesn't really like gasoline. It turns red and blotchy where I come in contact with the stuff. 

Pardon the shitty photo. I don't think my cell phone camera focuses at less than a few feet.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Timing Belt Blues

This was the tensioner spring for the timing belt on Amanda's new car. Look closely at the clip on the right. Scary, huh? That's crazy worn out. It's also stretched beyond spec: the spring coils should be touching each other.

With 90k miles, the timing belt had not yet been replaced on her new 2000 Protege ES*. This is a 100k mile service in California (with inspections every 30k); a 60k mile service everywhere else**. So it was due. In ordering the parts, I neglected to order a new tensioner spring. It's only $3. To get it locally, however, it costs $90, and you can only get it with the two pulleys. Circumstances being what they were, Amanda had to buy the $90 set.

Next time, I will know. And so will you, dear reader who happens to own a Mazda product with this type of spring tensioner, and happens to replace his/her own timing belts, and is expecting to do so soon.

You can get this spring at RockAuto.com. If you work at RockAuto, please send me free stuff. I need to fix a lot of stuff. Come on, what's a Miata steering rack between friends? We are friends, right? Right? ....


*Pedantic aside: that's the F-series 1.8L engine, the same family used in forthcoming Proteges; the 1.6L engine was a B-series, related to the Miata and Protege engines of previous years, and also the Ford Escort GT.

**I'm sure this has to do with California laws more than engineering.