Valentine One Radar Detector

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I carry a Valentine One radar detector in my day bag. I drive multiple cars, so I can I transfer it from one car to the other, and I use it for rental cars as well. A radar detector may seem a wholly unnecessary item for a law-abiding citizen, but as police departments see their budgets threatened, they have become more active in pulling people over for small infractions such as failure to come to a complete stop at a stop sign, or even driving just a few miles in excess of the limit. Modern police radar is designed to be kept in standby mode, activated only when the officer points-and-shoots, but in my experience, many police are lazy and leave their radar guns active all the time.

Since I like to know where they are, the Valentine One is the only detector that shows me the direction of a radar source (whether ahead, behind, or either side). It’s very expensive at $495, but can easily pay for itself, depending on your driving habits. The after-sale service is remarkable; when my detector’s frequency setting drifted after about 8 years, I sent it in and they fixed it and sent it back without charge. They will also upgrade older models for a small fee.

-- Charles Platt  

Valentine One Radar Detector
$495

Available from Amazon

Also available from Valentine One



Nylon Oil Filter Wrench

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This is the only oil filter wrench anybody will ever need. I’ve used one similar to the one available at Amazon since a mechanic friend suggested it to me over 20 years ago. There’s no adjustment necessary. It doesn’t slip. The tighter you turn it with a ratchet, the tighter it grips. And you don’t need to keep several sizes of socket around, unlike the previously reviewed Oil Filter Sockets. Best of all, it’s cheap and it will last practically forever.

-- Michael Farris  

Nylon Flotool Oil Filter Wrench
$8

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Hopkins



Torque Engine Diagnostic App and OBDII Reader

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For years, every time I had a “check engine” light pop up I thought about plopping down $100 or more for an OBDII code scanner. I could never rationalize the cost of the the device and the limited benefits that it could give me (being limited to simply reading and perhaps resetting codes).

However, that’s all changed. Now if you have an Android phone or tablet there is a much less expensive and much more useful alternative. An app called Torque Pro available in the Android Marketplace provides an amazingly customizable dashboard of information. Among others, and depending on the vehicle you own, it can display transmission temperatures, 0-60 speed timings, and track CO2 emissions. The application is capable of graphing all the analytics, or outputting to a PC. Recently, the things that I have been using the most are instant and average fuel economy statistics.

The OBDII interface that connects your car to the Torque app can be used by any bluetooth enabled code reader (Torque has provided a list of all compatible devices). The one I use and recommend is the ELM 327 bluetooth OBDII scanner that I picked up on Amazon for around $20, but most compatible units will work just as well.

-- Karl Hafer Jr  

[If anybody knows of an equivalent iOS, Windows Mobile, or Blackberry application, we'd love to hear about it. --OH]

Torque Pro
Android application
$5
Available from Android Marketplace

ELM 327 Bluetooth Scanner OBDII Car Diagnostic Tool
$25

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Elandpower

Sample Excerpts:

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The application has a customizable dashboard that can be used to track horsepower, CO2 emissions, and transmission temperatures among other variables.




Oil Filter Socket Set

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Sometimes, a tool comes along that makes you wonder how you ever got along without it, even if it’s a sole-purpose tool. This Oil Filter Socket Set is one of those tools.

Instead of trying to remove filters with oil-covered hands or those silly floppy metal band wrenches in terrible positions, these cup wrench sockets make changing oil filters a snap. If there’s enough space around it for your hand to reach it, you can reach it with one of these, and they allow you to apply leverage with a 3/8″ socket wrench, a regular crescent wrench, or even a thumbwheel ratchet so even the most stubborn filter will come off easily. They have little grippy bits inside somewhat like a nut remover socket so they grip really well.

This $5.99 set of wrenches has fit every round filter I’ve tried them with. Sure, they’re cheap, but oil filters aren’t an application where strength and precision are required – all that’s needed is “good enough” and that’s what these are.

-- Jon Braun  

Oil Filter Socket Set
$6

Available from Harbor Freight



303 Aerospace Protectant

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Back in the early 1970’s Armorall was introduced and quickly adopted by car owners and others who wanted to keep plastic components looking their best and lasting as long as possible. 303 Aerospace Protectant is the professional-grade version of this kind of product, and I have yet to find anything better.

Predominantly sold to aerospace and marine users, it’s widely available online and at marine supply stores. It does not gloss up plastic, doesn’t leave gummy residue, and actually does work to extend plastic life. The proof for me has come in the fact that I am one of the few owners of a Porsche 924/944/968-series cars whose dash has not cracked over time: my car’s almost 19 years old now and all the treated plastic and rubber components are doing just great.

-- John Etnier  

303 Aerospace Protectant
$15

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by 303-Products Material Safety and Data Sheet: MSDS (PDF)



Kroil

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Kroil is an extremely effective penetrating lubricant. Almost every professional machine shop I’ve been in has a bottle of this sitting prominently beside the workbench. I first saw it about 8 years ago, and asked the mechanic why he used it. His words are the same I now say to those who ask me: It will unstick ANYTHING.

I frequently take apart antique machinery or general equipment. There is almost always rust, grime, burned grease, metal shavings, and the wear of decades that prevent me from separating bolts from nuts, pins from holes, or keeping sliding surfaces from doing anything BUT sliding. I’ve used every possible penetrating lubricant on the market. Some worked OK, but nothing really was “magic” until I found Kroil. Not many products make me laugh with glee. But the satisfying twist of an otherwise impossible-to-remove bolt or the turn of a shaft that was rusted solid now make me smile because of this little orange can.

Kroil doesn’t work instantly. It takes between a few minutes and a few days (for extremely large bearing surfaces) to work its magic. I once let it sit for a week on a 300 pound flywheel that was being very stubborn, and it came right off.

Kroil is not for general lubrication purposes. It’s very thin (which is part of how it works) and is not very sticky. But that’s not the reason I use it; I use it to get things apart. Kroil has a weird creeping capability, it finds its way up and across metal surfaces like some sort of strange science fiction amoeba. After I use Kroil to separate things, I’ll typically clean them completely (dip in mineral spirits) air-blast to remove residue, and then re-oil with a more permanent lubricant. The Kroil won’t hurt anything if it stays, but I like to get a thicker material in everywhere to avoid having to fix the problem again in a few years.

It’s somewhat hard to find in a retail setting. I’ve never seen it in a hardware store, but that doesn’t mean some don’t carry it. (The label on my bottle says “For industrial use only – not for retail sale” which is somewhat antiquated.) I typically get it directly from kanolabs.com, though eBay also might have some good deals. There are now several variants of Kroil including graphite and silicone, but I stick with the old-fashioned stuff since I haven’t read the data enough on the other mixtures to figure out if it’s worth changing.

If someone asked me what critical items I’d want for my toolbox, this would be among them. It comes at an even higher value than general-purpose sprays like WD-40. Simply put, Kroil is the most useful lubricant I know of.

-- John Todd  

Kroil Penetrating Oil
$10

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Kano

Material Safety and Data Sheet: Kroil MSDS (PDF)

Sample Excerpts:

A recent example of when I have used Kroil came when I bought an Ideal #3 Stencil machine on eBay, which is used for cutting out cardboard or paper letters and numbers for making paint stencils. I purchased the machine for $40, which is about 1/5th the normal price, because the machine was rusty and jammed.
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I took the risk because I knew Kroil would work. Indeed, when I opened up the box, the rust was pretty severe. All of the vertical punch letters were rusted in place, and the dial didn’t even spin at all to change letters. I liberally dosed all of the moving component interface areas I could see with Kroil, and then started to take it apart. After an hour or so of time, I was able to get all of the moving components back into fully operational condition after slowly working them through a few gritty and then progressively smoother cycles with the Kroil finding its way into the nooks and crannies.
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Even the central shaft which was frozen solid with several hundred pounds of turning force, after two hours or so I was able to feel a little movement, and after another hour and some huffing and puffing I was able to get the assembly off the shaft.




Fantastic Ice Scraper

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I bought the one I have now in 1982 at a gas station in Wisconsin. It’s such a superior scraper that I’ve been careful to make sure it transferred from disposed-of vehicle to replacement vehicle four times since then. The thin, stiff, but mildly conforming brass blade slides easily between ice and glass and does so without scratching because brass is softer than glass. Oh, yeah, it still costs $2. Important: don’t use it to hack at the ice because you may deform the brass blade, after which it won’t slide between ice and glass well at all.

— Jeff Morrow

Brass blade is the real deal. I’ve given these to friends and family because they are so much better than the crappy plastic ones. Brass is soft enough to not damage the glass. The blade is thin and not really sharp to the touch, but is great on ice. The plastic scrapers get dull pretty quickly and then just skip over really tough ice.

— Scott Christensen

Had one of these for years and it was the best I have ever used. You just have to be careful about hitting the rubber gasket with it – it will cut. That is the reason the blade is not as wide as the blade holder.

— Jim Sheafer

 

Fantastic Ice Scraper
$7

Available from Amazon



Footbike

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I have used this scooter for three years. I use it to commute to work, about eight miles each way, and it takes about 35 to 45 minutes. It gives an all-around workout much like cross-country skiing. It works the core, glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, shoulders, and arms. It’s different than the previously reviewed Xootr in that it handles and reacts more like a bicycle – and it brakes more safely than a smaller-wheeled scooter, too.

I own the more expensive and higher-end Track model. It is made with aluminum and is lightweight at 14 pounds. I chose it originally because of it’s efficiency and performance. They do make a more affordable Express model which is almost a third of the cost but comes with lower-end components.

As far as sizing, it’s pretty much a one-size-fits-all type of design. If you’re shorter than about 4’8″ or taller than 6’2′ or 6’3″ you can adjust the size somewhat by using a different stem for the handlebars. So they accommodate a pretty wide range.

I carry it in my car just by taking off the front wheel with the quick release. It’s a lot lighter than a bike and doesn’t have any of the associated grease from a chain, gears, or pedals. Because of this it easily allows for multi-modal transportation: on the days I do drive to work in my car, I park over a mile from my office and take the scooter in from there.

When I go out on the recreational trails, people often want to know what it is and how it works. I have found that it’s a great way to meet people! People often call it a “scooterbike” when they first see it.

I recently joined the FootbikeUSA racing team. We are amateur racers and we do it because it’s something that’s fun and healthy. While racing the marathon distance (26.2 miles), I’ve averaged 16.3mph, and in a sprint, I’ve reached 22.6mph.

-- Gary Schmitt  

[Update: For those looking for a more utilitarian version you can find one at Amish Scooters. They are made in the USA by an Amish family and come in three different sizes with a variety of different colors. Prices range between $170-$250.-- OH ]

Footbike Track
$434 (with shipping)
Available from Footbike

Manufactured by Footbike

This video demonstrates how to use the Footbike while illustrating the form and amount of speed you can generate.



Tire-Pressure Nozzle and Gauge

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I have always hated inflating my tires. It’s always a struggle to keep the inflator nozzle pressed against the tire valve stem while alternating between inflating and checking the tire pressure.

I recently got one of these clip-on tire inflators. It lets me quickly and easily inflate my tires without needing to remove the nozzle to check the pressure. You clip it on, and your tire pressure appears on the gauge. Then you just pull the trigger to inflate. If you over-inflate, you can easily bleed off pressure.

It’s an inexpensive addition to your air compressor and well worth the $9.

-- Mike Polo  

Tire Inflator and Gauge
$9

Available from Harbor Freight Tools



Overland Journal

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Last month I helped out a guy stuck on Tioga pass get his vegetable oil powered Gelaendewagen back on the road. He showed me a copy Overland Journal and I was so impressed I subscribed and ordered all the back issues once I got home. To give you an idea of the flavor of the magazine, one of the contributing editors is the author of my previously reviewed Vehicle Dependent Expeditions book.

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For anyone who does car camping, 4×4 exploring, vehicle trips abroad, or just enjoys armchair exploration, I cannot recommend this publication enough. It has amazing comprehensive comparison reviews of the type of gear no other publication would cover, ranging from vehicle rooftop tents to converting a LandCruiser to bio-diesel. On top of the fantastic information and writing in the magazine, it is gorgeously designed and features beautiful expedition shots from around the world. It is the first publication I have come across in years that has me reading every word, review and even advertisement. They publish four issues per year, plus a gear guide and back-issues are available to ’97.

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-- Alexander Rose  

Overland Journal
$45, one-year subscription (5 issues)

Available from Overland Journal