Tool Q&A: Using the right chemicals, cleaners and lubricants

Dave Cappert discusses the importance of using the right chemicals, cleaners and lubricants.


A. You will need to use several different cleaning products for the various services you perform. These cleaners contain different chemical mixtures and some can damage vehicle components or paint. Match up a cleaner by comparing its stated purpose to the task at hand. Never use a chemical any stronger than what’s needed to do the job. You should also be aware of the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) information for any cleaning products you use.

Q. We’ve heard about broken spark plug nightmares when removing spark plugs in Fords with 3-valve, V8 engines. Are there any tricks we can use avoid problems when tackling one of these jobs?

A. Ford V8 engines from 2004 through 2008 with 3-valve cylinder heads cause technicians grief everyday during spark plug removal. These vehicles use a unique spark plug design that tends to seize and strip threads in the cylinder head if you're not careful. To reduce problems during removal, Ford states that you should only remove the plugs with the engine at room temperature. First. blow out the spark plug well area with compressed air. Then, back out the spark plugs about 1/8th of a turn, but no more than ¼ turn. You then apply ½ to ¾ of a teaspoon of approved carbon cleaner to each of the spark plug wells. Let the cleaner soak for for at least 15 minutes. Do not use more than than the recommended amount of cleaner. After the waiting period, alternately tighten and loosen each spark plug, continuing until turning effort becomes noticeably less. Remove the spark plug the rest of the way.

Q. Over the years, engine oil service grades have come and gone. What current grades and rating certifications do I look for to ensure I'm using the right oil for a given application?

A. First of all, engine oil viscosity ratings are set by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). These ratings come in the form of 10w30, 5w40 and so on. Service grade certifications, on the other hand, are set by the American Petroleum Institute (API) and these grades denote an oil's suitability for a given application. API periodically changes its service grade classifications and did so again recently by establishing the SN service classification. Introduced in October 2010 for 2011 and older vehicles, designed to provide improved high temperature deposit protection for pistons, more stringent sludge control, and seal compatibility. API SN with Resource Conserving matches the ILSAC GF-5 standard by combining API SN performance with improved fuel economy, turbocharger protection, emission control system compatibility, and protection of engines operating on ethanol-containing fuels up to E85.

            Q. We service some Volkswagens that have a VW oil spec of 505.01. We've found a few oils that say they meet this specification but we want to be sure. How do we know?

A. Volkswagen has its share of in-house specifications and it's critical to pay attention to details. You will find there are numerous oils that claim to meet the 505.01 specification, but that doesn't mean a given oil has been approved by VW as meeting that standard. To be sure, ask the oil manufacturer for documentation that their oil has been approved for 505.01 applications by VW. The same holds true for other VW oil specs.

Q. Purchasing chemicals seems to be a lot like buying “snake oil”. There are so many products that claim to do all sorts of miraculous things. How do I begin to find the real products among all the smoke-and-mirror stuff?

A. The only real way is to try different products, to separate the truth from the fluff. Try one company's penetrating oil and if it works well, imbed the use of that product into your everyday workflow. With the right choice, it can save a lot of labor and frustration when working with stubborn fasteners during undercar work. If you have good results, perhaps try cleaning and solvent products from the same company to see if you have good results there as well. When it comes to solvents, always err on the side of caution. While an aggressive solvent may work well at attacking carbon deposits or other unwanted debris, solvents can also attack certain materials and damage them.  

Q. How often should we lubricate air tools?

A. It's best to lubricate your air tools with every use, adding about a teaspoon of air tool oil to the tool's inlet. An automatic lubricator is an even better bet. Make sure your shop air supply is dry to reduce the likelihood of moisture wreaking havoc with your air tools.

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