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The car is selected; everyone is wearing smiles. Then, with a crocodile grin, a salesman asks you to see the finance person in the “closing room.” Many folks start to feel the pressure come on and a slight uneasy feeling overtakes them. What many don’t know is that this is your time to shine. This room is where you, the customer, have them by the throat and you don’t even know it.

If I may be permitted a fishing metaphor here: if it’s the salesman’s job to hook and reel you in, it’s the finance person’s job to land you in the boat. I don’t begrudge either one of them their jobs because everyone needs to make a living — however, that doesn’t mean I don’t have fun messing with them just as hard as they’re messing with me. I normally start by calling them by a different random name each time I address them: Jimmy-Ray, Sam, Mike, Steve, Riley, Jack, and so on – just to keep things interesting.

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In the last five years we’ve experienced a lot of growth in our automotive preferences. Some lessons readers handed to us like a pie to the face, and others we’ve come to on our own. In my case, I learned I needed a small truck, not a V8-powered monster that got 10 fpg (feet per gallon). So to fix that I had to square up, lose the big beast, and opt for a more sensible ride. Enter one sweet little 2008 Ford Ranger.

The way I use vehicles has changed somewhat, but the big factor in the shift was overall cost. A smaller truck is just cheaper all the way around. Over time, the 2.3 liter, four cylinder Ranger is cheaper than the 350 V8 in my old Chevy. The little Ford uses less gas, less oil, and in many cases features less expensive replacement parts, such as one head gasket instead of two, four plugs instead of eight, smaller tires, cheaper insurance when compared to trucks of the same year, and so on.

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So as those of you who saw his awesome crib build know, Sean has a lovely young daughter that recently turned one. He’s been out in the shop like a madman recently building her all sorts of cool stuff, mostly (as you’d expect from Sean) out of wood. Well, back before she was born, we discussed making her something a little more unusual — something she probably won’t be able to enjoy until she’s at least five, or maybe three if her mother is at work and we don’t tell her what we’re doing: a pink tank.

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Back in ’06 we were glued to shows like Monster Garage, American Chopper, and Biker Build-Off with guys like like Jesse James and (shudder) Billy Lane — until we realized they were all complete jack-holes.* We languished in automotive purgatory until we found Top Gear, the proper British version. In what seems like a reversal of the laws of physics, we Americans loved the show so much that History brought it over here for our own colonial-style version.

I would totally agree the Brit version is more polished, better funded, and staffed with some of the best writers on our gravity sphere at the moment. They have style, a long list of famous euro-personalities waiting to grace the show with their eminent star power, and, let’s not forget: awesome British accents. What have we Americans got? Well, a drifter, a redneck, and a short Italian guy with a v8 fetish.

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Palm Ratchets

Palm or thumbwheel ratchets came up in casual conversion around the Toolmonger shop recently. Some hold that they’re extremely handy and can be a serious saver when attempting to remove bolts or nuts in constricted areas. Others think they’re little more than bait for tool fanatics with a burning need to stock a toolbox. Here’s what we think: Both can be true.

I have personally reached for thumbwheel ratchets in automotive situations where a ratchet handle just gets in the way and whatever part I’m trying to remove from an engine bay can’t be simply coaxed out. However, to be fair, extensions and universals on the end of a traditional ratchet will normally get the job done as well.

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We’ve covered OBD-II readers before on Toolmonger, and it’s our experience that they generally fall into two categories: the inexpensive ones which offer a read of instant data only, and the expensive ones which show and record real-time data. It makes sense, as it takes a lot more computing power and design to handle the real-time data than it does to just show you the current readings. But what if you’ve already spent a few hundred bucks on a pocket computing device that has plenty of juice to drive such a display — like, say, an iPhone?

Griffin launched a “car monitoring sensor” this week at CES that plugs into your OBD-II data jack and connects to your iPhone via Bluetooth. Their app records and displays the data via the iPhone’s pretty high-res touch screen. Total cost: about $90.

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Many cables these days are Teflon coated or don’t require lubrication, so you probably don’t have to oil them anymore — but if you do, a cable oiler seems to be the way to go. Of course, you should check with the manufacturer before you try to lubricate it or you could just make things worse.

You clamp the first type of cable oiler over the end of the cable and spray lubricant through a straw into a small hole in the block — though I’ve read using this method can be quite messy. Another method is to use a hydraulic cable oiler. You stick the cable into the end of the oiler and tighten down the cap, which compress the rubber disks around the cable to make a seal. Then fill the tube with oil and screw in the end with the T-handle. Twisting the T-handle forces oil into the cable.

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Sure, you can buy better quality ratchet straps. And if you’re tying down containers of nuclear waste before barreling full-tilt-boogie down a bumpy mountain road, I’d definitely suggest spending for the best. But let’s face it: Most of the time you’re tying down something stupid like a mattress you’re moving for a buddy, and it’s pretty likely he’ll “accidentally” end up with a couple of your straps after the experience anyway. That’s why there’s Harbor Freight.

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Black & Decker announced a couple of new automobile power inverters recently, but the one pictured above caught our eye. It’s small, plugs right into a forward-facing 12V outlet (which means no cables strung around the cockpit), and it includes a USB jack for device charging. At 100W rated output, this inverter would easily power a small laptop — and charge a phone at the same time.

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After some of the worst nose-dives in terms of sales percentages in the Detroit automaker’s history, Ford is pulling in slightly better profits than expected. We won’t pretend to know the full extent of the borrowing and repayment structure they worked out and the impact it will have on the long-term economy of the Michigan area — we’re just in it for the trucks.

Toolmongers turn to trucks to get supplies and tools where they’re needed most. Ford has always been a solid companion alongside the working tradesmen and DIYers need to haul crap about with the Ranger, Courier, and the mighty “F” series. Go to any job site and there will likely be an “F” series of some kind there pulling duty.

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