Good Parts -

and Magic Tools

Magic is a complicated thing, and a lot of people don't believe in magic.

I, on the other hand, once spent 2 hours hammering the daylights out of my spindle assembly, trying like the dickens to get a balljoint to spring loose. The old-timers will tell you, "just whack the spindle assembly with a hammer, it'll pop right out!" I figure that it would've worked fine 15 years earlier, when the car was 15 years old and not 30 years old, and before corrosion and "sticktion" set in.

I got a pickle fork. Blessa my soul. 30 seconds later, all 4 balljoints were loose! Maybe it's not magic in the classical sense, but I truly believe that the pickle fork is a magic tool.

Something similar can be said about a heavy-duty steering damper when you hit that big rock just the wrong way, and the steering wheel tries to get ripped out of your hands, and the wheels try to turn and send you over the cliff. That heavy-duty steering damper slowed down that particular reaction just enough to save you, and that sounds like magic to me!

Here's a start on the list of good parts and magic tools I've encountered.

And, as always, if you see any items that should be added, Email the SandLizrd at SandLizrd@BAJA.COM!

Pickle Fork

The wonderful, indestructible, amazingly versatile pickle fork!
The day I bought a pickle fork, I was all bent out of shape. I figured I'd just spent $10 on a tool that I'd only use once. Lo and behold, the pickle fork is now one of my favorite tools!

The primary purpose for the pickle fork is to remove ball joints (or steering rod ends, depending on the size of the pickle fork). Not too hard to fathom: two forked flat tines, increasing in thickness, wedge under the balljoint and force it upward out of its socket.

It's relatively critical to get this right. The balljoints sit in a cone-shaped socket and are tightened to 100 ft-lbs (minimum) torque. If you pound the bolt from below, not only do you have to be concerned about messing up the threads, but the physics imply that pounding the bolt makes the balljoint THICKER thus TIGHTENING it into its socket for that split-second of time. Wrong physics for the problem. Pulling the balljoint is the only correct way.

As stated at the top of this document, the old-timers tell you to hammer the spindle assembly, thus flexing the socket and working the balljoint loose that way. And it did work for a couple of the balljoints. The other two, however, were incredibly stubborn. I imagine I was creating stress fractures in the spindle assembly, I hammered so much. Again, not the desired effect. And then there's the time factor. I spent literally 2 hours trying to pop those balljoints loose! A royal waste of time doing things the wrong way. So hey, the pickle fork was $10 or $12. That made my wasted time worth $5 or $6 / hr? With the pickle fork, it took 30 seconds!

So I owned a tool that I thought I'd only use once. WRONG! I've since discovered numerous uses for the lowly pickle fork:

- it's designed to be hammered on, and makes a WONDERFUL drift! What are you using for a drift nowadays? Maybe a socket extender? And how does it feel having just a couple of fingers to hold that diminuitive drift in place, right under the hammer? Consider the advantage of a whole handful of tool, with lots of room between hammer and body parts. Granted, the offset of the tines is not always an advantage.
- it has increasing-width flat tines. It's a natural wedge! What do you use for a wedge nowadays? Maybe a screwdriver? Hardened steel is a bit too brittle for serious wedging action. The increasing width of a screwdriver is not what you're looking for when you need to pry a torsion arm off of its stop.
- it's a pry bar. See above - reasons not to use a screwdriver.
- it's the perfect tool to remove the pittmann arm from the steering box. Pittmann arms are known to get wedged on in a serious way, and the split-tines of the pickle fork (large) fit around the steering box shaft perfectly!
- it's a dull chisel, of sorts. I have no desire to break my good chisels trying to break welds or something.

OK - SandLizrd will get off of his soapbox now, but always remember and never forget -

The pickle fork is your friend!!!!!


Every VW mechanic loves a BFH. (That's a Big Far-out Hammer to you and me.) The reason is simple: you can swing a regular hammer with all your might, and hope that it doesn't mess up your aim too much - or you can swing a BFH in a regular fashion.

Not to mention - sometimes a regular hammer simply Will Not Do The Job.

My favorite BFH has a fiberglass handle, so grease & oil won't soak in to it. Wood handles are OK but have this drawback, especially when the handle gets chewed up a bit. I recommend you go to your favorite hardware store and just swing a few around, to find the one that fits you best!

(And while you're there, inquire into the MFBH - the Muther-Funloving Big Hammer - also known as a sledge)

17mm allen wrench

It's a common question here at the Baja Page - what's that gigantic allen wrench for removing the transmission drain/fill plugs? The answer is, you need the BFA - Big Freaky Allenwrench. It's 17mm. I walked in to my Sears Craftsman department, and asked for the 17mm allen wrench, and the man said, "oh, working on a Volkswagen? Yeah we stock those."

The same allen wrench fits the transmission fill plug, transmission drain plug, and IRS swingarms. It's a magic tool because - you can't live long without it! You should change your transmission oil every year, they say - most of us go a bit longer - but remember that if you immerse your VW in water, there's a slight chance of water getting into the tranny and rusting out its guts. Not to mention - the drain plug of the VW tranny is magnetic and picks up metal shavings. Good to keep it clean, and it serves as an indicator of sorts when metal shavings pile up on it unexpectedly.

You can get either the allen wrench-style (maybe 6 inches long) or a 3/8" socket variety. Personally, I recommend them both. The transmission fill plug is hiding just above the rear frame horns, and is a bit difficult to get to. If it's real tight, the socket variety is hard to work - thus, the allen wrench with an 18-inch cheater could be the solution. Vice versa, when removing swingarms, it takes a half-hour with the allen wrench, but just a few minutes with the socket variety. The allen wrench is a big beefy tool, and I personally have no qualms about banging on it with a hammer. The 19mm wrench works as a lever arm, but the angles aren't real advantageous and a small-diameter cheater is better.

B12 ChemTool

B12 ChemTool is my favorite carburetor cleaner. And parts wash, floor cleaner, brake cleaner, you name it! There's a lot of spray-type products on the market, and one thing to note is: brake cleaners have more strange additives that might not be the best thing to use in a carburetor.

It's magic because it works so well! Greasy stuff turns into clean stuff. Clogged jets become unclogged jets. No hassle. It also comes in a one-gallon can for parts cleaning.

Optima battery

I haven't invested in the optima battery yet, but it's on the SandLizrd's baja list. The OPTIMA is a sealed-cell gel-type battery, and is impervious to bouncing around! I've lost a couple of batteries due to cracked cases, and definitely need one of these. It's also impervious to strange positions, since it has no fluids to leak out. Mount it upside-down if you want to - just don't let it ground out! An excellent feature in the case that the shiny-side of your baja should end up down someday - battery acid is not a nice thing to be dripping around the interior of your baja.

The OPTIMA battery has 800 cold-cranking amps and deep-cycle, which is an incredible amount of power for a baja. Considering that VW generators don't produce much juice, this could be an excellent advantage for anyone running KC lights, big stereos, or carburetors that like to flood. The 7-year warranty is another big plus.

John in Portland, OR provides this info: in three years' time, Mike's Auto Parts store has only seen 2 optimas returned. Neither one was the battery's fault - they both checked out OK! He tells me that the optima is a bit too tall for the VW and must be laid on its side, but again, as long as it doesn't ground out, this is no problem. The price is $115 to $140, a bit steep, but look at the advantages! This is custom-made for offroad bajas.

Thanks for the info, John!

Hammer tool

Another classic VW-unique problem: How to remove the rear drums? There's a 36mm nut torqued to 200 ft-lbs. I've snapped a Craftsman breaker bar on one. You could drive to the gas station and have it loosened with air tools, but the average air-wrench doesn't get that kind of torque - you better hope they have one of the big ones. Then, you have to drive home with a loose drum, and if the splines strip, you will be STRANDED!

Hot VW's magazine has ads for neat "helping hand" tools and so on, but they're a bit pricey for my taste. Instead I recommend the simple Hammer Tool. Its real name is the rear axle nut tool. It's a flat piece of steel with a 36mm hex cutout, and a 1/2" square hole. Here's how it works: put the hammer tool on the 36mm nut, put a 1/2" breaker bar in the square hole, put a long cheater on the breaker bar, and as one person presses the cheater, the other wails on the specially-designed impact spots on the hammer tool with a BFH! 200 ft-lbs are no problem.

If anyone has a "helping hand" tool, tell me how it works for you - however, for $10 the hammer tool has done me just fine.


The cheater is nothing mysterious. It's a 10-foot piece of steel pipe that will slip over the end of a socket wrench, 17mm allen wrench, 19mm open end wrench, or breaker bar. I recommend 1 1/2" conduit, but there's been times when I wanted smaller diameter, so see what sizes of pipe you can find & keep 'em all! ALSO - see about acquiring some shorter pieces for those hard-to-fit places.

The magic of a cheater is like this - the power of a breaker bar is force times length. With a 10-foot cheater, you can exert 10 times the force to tighten/loosen bolts! (Not scientifically accurate - but you get the point - 20 lbs. of pressure on a 10-foot cheater should loosen a 200 ft-lbs-torqued axle nut if only your breaker bar could handle it - see Hammer Tool.)

18mm 1.5mm pitch tap

The rear carriage bolts of a baja use an 18mm, 1.50mm pitch thread. Shoud these threads / bolts ever get messed up and you lose a bolt, your motor will fall to one side, allowing the CV (IRS style) to grind on the rear frame horn, slowly grinding it away.

I searched the internet, and could not find any reference to what size these bolts were. I searched around town until I found the Bolt Room at Lenhart's Ace Hardware in Mesa, AZ. The bolt room is GREAT! Not only do they have every nut & bolt known to man, they found the right die for that bolt, then they found the tap to match. Three cheers to the bolt room!

This particular tap is magic because noone knows about it, I guess.

Duct tape and zip-ties

Most everyone knows the wonders of duct tape, so no need to carry on here - I'll just relate the story of the man who duct-taped his front end together, and left it that way for some 2 years!

Zip-ties are those neat little platic strips that you feed back into themselves and they go ZIP when you tighten them. Place these in the same class as duct tape.

Assorted magic wrenches & sockets

- 36mm socket - removes rear brake drums and fan bolt (squirrel cage). Much easier to deal with than a hammer tool & BFH, but no 200 ft-lbs of torque.
- 27mm socket - removes tranny carrier bolts. Converts to 1 1/8" socket rather well.
- breaker bar - 1/2", 18" or 24" length, is a great lever-arm for the 27mm or 36mm socket.
- 19mm wrench - fits many, many big bolts on your baja! Torsion arms, most fan belts, shocks, pittmann arm, the list goes on and on. Plus, used in conjunction with other wrenches or the 18mm allen, it's an extender tool / lever arm. Doesn't come in the new Craftsman sets, so deserves a special mention.
- matchbook - even if it's not full of matches to light a fire and keep you warm, it's very close to the .016 gap of points.

Helping Hand tool

This tool is used to help loosen/tighten the axle nuts on the rear drums. It has a long handle, maybe 36 inches, a large hole to go over the axle nut, and two holes to go over the lugs of the drum. When trying to get 220 ft-lbs of torque on the axle nut (or to loosen, more than that, due to stiction), this tool holds the drum still for you.

The alternative is to get the neighbor kid to stand on the brake for you, but even that's difficult. I had to adjust my brakes before I could take off the axle nut, then I had to un-adjust the brakes to pull the drum. Most irritating. I'll be shopping for one of these!

John in Portland, OR sent me the suggestion to add this tool to the magic list. On his buddy's project, the rear brake wasn't working on that side so he bought one figuring he couldn't use the brake to help hold the wheel. To quote John, "THIS THING IS GREAT! No more setting the e-brake, blocking the wheels, putting it in gear and still hoping that it doesn't roll forward when I push. It also slips over most breaker bars for an effective cheater bar. Besides, it's been quite the conversation piece in the toolbox! All my non-VW friends say "What the @$#!$#%^ is that thing!?!?!? It looks like some sort of big-rig tool!!" They are pretty suprised that my little v-dub has bolts that require torque specs usually reserved for earth moving equipment!"

Railroad Spikes

Keith & Sharon in Calgary BC CN sent this idea. It's a hammer. It's a chisel. It's a drift, it's a prybar. And it's less cumbersome and massive than a BFH. Good to have in the offroad tool kit. Carry two, one to drift on and another to drift with.

Fire Extinguisher

My belief in the magic of fire extinguishers came while welding on the rear frame horns. The fuel line output from the frame was capped off, but the heat melted the cap. Voila, fuel fire!

A little while later I vaccuumed up the mess. No damage to the garage, to the car, tires, magnesium-alloy transmission case, nothing.

A cheap fire extinguisher is $20. How much is a garage? What happens when a tranny starts fire? Ever seen a magnesium flare?

Vise Grips

Vise Grip pliers have magic of their own. They stay where you put 'em! When adjusting the clutch cable, it's a bad thing to twist the cable around, since it weakens the cable. Regular pliers would be difficult, since there's not much room to reach around in there and two hands at once would be a strain. Vice grips clamp onto the cable, hold it stationary, and make the adjustment much easier.

Of course, they can be used for those rounded-off nuts also. The problem is when vice grips are used instead of wrenches. They are known to gouge the bolts until wrenches don't work any more, and crush threads until nuts never come off again. Use with care.

I believe in magic!

What magic is Missing?