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Without question, the applications for specialty tools are endless—there’s always a tool for that special job at hand. We plan on purchasing a hand-held vacuum pump to check vacuum actuators used on automotive HVAC systems. What other...


Without question, the applications for specialty tools are endless—there’s always a tool for that special job at hand.

We plan on purchasing a hand-held vacuum pump to check vacuum actuators used on automotive HVAC systems. What other applications does this tool have?

For starters, you can also use a hand-held vacuum pump for checking vacuum brake boosters, vacuum solenoid valves, vacuum reservoirs and checking the integrity of vacuum control circuits. With some special adapters, you can also use a hand-held vacuum pump to bleed brakes and hydraulic clutch actuators, check the sealing of engine valves, check for a leaky heater core and scavenge air from diesel fuel filters during replacement.

We’ve always bled brakes manually without any real issues. Our equipment rep wants to sell us a power bleeder, but is it really necessary?

When anti-lock brakes came along, focus on brake fluid integrity finally received the attention it deserved. This was long overdue, considering the fine passages and exacting tolerances used in the valves and controls of anti-lock brake systems. So although the answer to your question is "yes," it’s not so much about merely bleeding a system as it is about flushing it.

During use, brake fluid breaks down over time, reducing its boiling point and the fluid also suspends contaminants within the hydraulic system. Since the hydraulic fluid moves throughout the system, these contaminants go with the fluid. This can cause hydraulic system problems if the fluid is neglected long enough. There are numerous approaches to exchanging brake fluid, depending on the tool’s manufacturer. Some use vacuum to extract the old fluid, while others push the old fluid out under pressure. The main thing is that the old fluid comes out, the new fluid goes in and there’s not any air. To find out the virtues of bleeder/flushing equipment, get a thorough walk-through from your equipment rep so you fully understand how the product works before voting with your hard-earned money.

Is there any sort of tool to determine the current condition of brake fluid without guesswork?

As a reminder, it’s always best to replace brake fluid according to the vehicle manufacturer’s suggested interval. Sometimes, however, there’s no way of knowing vehicle history so you may not know when the fluid was last changed. There are brake fluid testers available for this purpose. Some use a chemical strip that renders an identifying color when dipped in brake fluid. This color is then referenced to an identification legend to determine the fluid’s condition. There’s also a refractometer-style tester, similar to the type used for checking coolant, where you place a couple of drops of fluid on the tester and then read the condition through the tool.

Our state has a safety inspection program and we periodically get vehicles with their headlamps out of alignment. Can we just align the lights by shining them on a garage door and taking measurements?

Although states usually publish information on aligning headlights by taking measurements, your best bet is to invest in a headlamp alignment system. With the right equipment, you can perform this task quickly on a multitude of different makes and models without a lot of setup hassle or time.

We want to incorporate fuel pressure diagnostics into our drivability work. We don’t want to go overboard, since we only work on certain makes of cars. What’s the best way to get started?

Fuel pressure is a vital sign of engine performance that simply cannot be underestimated. Despite its importance for good performance, it’s often overlooked during a diagnostic scenario. Fuel pressure should always be checked when checking out any performance-related issue. Fuel pressure readings can help you determine if there’s a bad fuel pump, fuel pressure regulator or to isolate a bad injector. Depending on the system and the test procedures for it, fuel pressure readings can also provide important information about other fuel injection components.   

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