You may not think of yourself as a gear head. You may not know the difference between a johnson bar and a torque wrench or you may even have trouble finding the engine oil dipstick under your ride’s hood. The only tool you may own might be a church-key. Regardless of how mechanically challenged you might think you are, if you drive a vehicle, you do own a critical tool set and knowing how to properly use it and maintain it can mean the difference between being stuck at the side of the road for hours waiting for a service-truck, or getting on your way on time with just a couple of skinned knuckles as your medal of honour.
If all drivers used their autos’ wheel wrench/jack set even once, this little feature would likely soar to the top of the most-hated vehicle component list in seconds flat. Regardless of what you drive or how much it cost, these kits often appear cheesy, flimsy, and hard-to-use. Fortunately for most of us they collect dust in hidden compartments in the cargo area. But when you’re away from home or travelling in less serviced regions, this little kit can sometimes mean the difference to being stranded or getting on your way.
Scissors don’t always cut it. The most common wheel jack is the scissor style made out of stamped steel. They use a long threaded rod and captive nuts to extend their reach to lift one corner of their vehicles up. Problem is that their storage areas on vehicles often are plagued by moisture causing rust and seized actions. These jacks need to be pulled once a year and extended to their max and then lowered to ensure the moving parts keep moving. A quick small shot of any spray grease such as lithium lubricating compound on their threads and captive nuts can keep things working easily. You might want to take the opportunity to try it out once or twice before you actually need it to familiarize yourself with exactly where on the vehicle it should be used and how much force it takes to operate it. At the same time you might want to consider alternatives to the manufacturer supplied jack handle. This is where most of the skinned knuckles and swearing comes in as it’s almost impossible to use a scissor jack without scraping your hands on the ground as your raise or lower it. Some jacks use a nut-shaped adapter to affix the wrench, so a suitably sized socket drive and socket might be a wise investment.
Wheel wrenches suck. No question, the geniuses that designed jack-kit wheel wrenches probably never had to use them, especially in the rain/sleet/snow on the side of a darkened road. There isn’t any useful way to improve most of them, so get a properly weighted ½-inch-drive bar and a good quality socket of the correct size. Direct drives (those without the ratcheting feature) are cheaper and will work just as well. Make sure the handle is at least 12” long to provide a foot step area to help remove uncooperative nuts. If you don’t want any of this new hardware to rattle in the truck, wrap it in a small plastic tarp which will come in handy as a knee rest/ground cover to keep you relatively clean while swapping out a flat tire