Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 74

Once a week we’ll send out a page from Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. The tools might be outdated or obsolete, and the links to them may or may not work. We present these vintage recommendations as is because the possibilities they inspire are new. Sign up here to get Tools for Possibilities a week early in your inbox.

Re-inflates tires on the go

Campbell Hausfeld 12-Volt Tire Inflator

I have a Campbell Hausfeld 12-volt tire inflator that has kicked around in the back of my car for years. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve re-inflated a tire with a slow leak, and then gone on my way. The brand isn’t nearly as important as the fact that it runs off your car battery; it has a tire pressure gauge built in, and it has a work light.

Small 12-volt compressors like this run from between 15 to 30 bucks new, and will do a fine job of re-inflating tires or rubber rafts or volleyballs.  Most compressors come with attachments that will do all of these things.  In my case, we often travel on industrial roads that lead to the local dump, so we tend to pick up more than our share of nails and screws. My little compressor has lasted through several cars and many tires. — Amy Thomson

Flat prevention and repair


Yes, this little thing really will fix your flat. Even huge pick-up and SUV tires. No need to jack up. Just press the nozzle — whizzzz — and it repairs and re-inflates your tire. You definitely should carry one in your car or truck. At $8 it is cheaper than getting your tire repaired at a shop.

But that’s not the best thing it offers. This amazing can of stuff will also PREVENT flats and slow leaks. Fix-A-Flat inserts a complex liquid into your tire. Leaking air instantly polymerizes it to plug up any hole. This magic material is similar to the stuff which keeps bicycle tires intact — see the amazing video in this review. Although I have not used the industrial version of this invention, farmers and the army use a similar compound to keep their gigantic tires going.

This consumer version works great as a flat cure. I need to pump up my treated tires far less often, even the tires with chronic leaks in them, and have had no flats on well-worn tires.

For non-emergency prevention you can buy the sealant in a non-aerosol squeeze bottle, but I found this hard to find in stores. They make a bicycle version which I have not tried yet…* — KK

Optimal source for tires

Tire Rack

Maybe Costco has cheaper tires (I’d have to be convinced) but I suggest you check out Tire Rack online for real bargains on tires. What Costco can’t deliver is the peace of mind that you have actually bought the optimal tires for your car, ones where you have made the correct trade offs regarding handling, ride, quietness, and tread life. And when it comes to your car, these can literally be life and death decisions.

You can’t get this information by looking at a tire. You have to find reviews. So who is actually testing tires for your car? Well, it seems like Tire Rack is; their reviews are both quantitative and qualitative, based on user response. Plus they also do their own direct comparison tests, with different tires put on the same car driven over similar conditions to try to achieve objective, repeatable results. And their inventory isn’t just the mainstream, largest selling tires, but many more specialized, performance-oriented, or just plain excellent but less popular tires.

How, you may ask, do you buy tires online — like who mounts them? They have local tire retailers they work with who will mount your tires for a fixed fee you know ahead of time. Tire Rack ships direct to the retailer; you bring your car and they mount the tires as if you bought them there. Even with shipping and mounting, the cost of Tire Rack tires is competitive with local prices, even discounters.

I’ve bought tires for both our cars now through them. Using their surveys and tests, I ended up deciding on Pirelli PZero Neros, which are definitely not available at Costco, at prices which I believe were completely competitive with more readily available Michelin or Bridgestone brands. The process was entirely painless, from online ordering to final mounting. And the tires have been nothing short of a revelation, changing the handling, ride, and quietness of our cars significantly for the better. — Louis Rossetto

Accurate tire inflator

Tire-Pressure Nozzle and Gauge

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

Emergency puncture fix

Tire Plugs

What happens if you’re on a trip in middle of nowhere and you get a flat? You swap to your spare, right? OK, now you are in the middle of nowhere, with no back up. Your only option now is to head to civilization to get your tire repaired, which can wreck a camping trip fast. This weekend I was reminded how few people know about these tire plug kits or how to use them. For under $10 and a few ounces, you can use the same tools that the tire repair shops do. They are available at almost every gas station. You just find the leak (a little soapy water works best) remove the obstruction, rough up the hole with the rasp tool, and push in the sticky rope plug with the other, then re-inflate (which requires a pump of some kind, but even a bike pump will work). This is the same thing they do in the repair shops, but is no harder than changing a tire and sometimes easier as you don’t always have to take the tire off the car (but you will have to jack it up or somehow take the weight off of it). This won’t work for really large blow outs or slashes, but will fix 90% of all tire punctures you encounter and keep your weekend from getting ruined. — Alexander Rose


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