There's the old joke that says you only need two things in your tool box, duct tape and spray lube. If it moves and it shouldn't, use duct tape. If it doesn't move and it should, use spray lube. While both of these products have their uses, neither of them is a 'one size cures all'. Our real topic for today is "chemicals", as in, what should I be stocking in the household repair shop?
When one scrolls through the plethora of choices you can find in our Automotive Chemicals online store, it's easy to become overwhelmed. We break out the choices into categories such as Adhesives, Cleaners, Lubricants, and the like. Unless you're doing this as a full-time profession, it makes no sense to purchase one of every single product out there.
So what should you, the weekend workshop warrior, have on the shelf as an absolute minimum? Glad you asked that! We have compiled a list of the half-dozen must-have products, broken down by category. In fact, we'll provide you with both our first and second choices in each category. Here we go:
Things break, and when they do, some sort of glue or adhesive will make an effective repair. There are specialty glues, such as wood glue, which are indispensable if you are a woodworker. But we want the one glue that can serve your needs at least 90% of the time.
We have seen many households rely on 'super glues' as the primary glue. It has its uses, but we do not use it a lot in automotive repair. Our preference is a two-part epoxy, both for its strength, and for its ability to fill a gap. These are sold in two separate tubes or cans. Put an equal amount from each container onto a piece of scrap wood or cardboard, mix with a wooden paddle, and apply. There's little waste; mix up only as much as you need. Different epoxies have different "pot lives": one-minute, five-minute, and so on, indicating how much working time you have with the material.
It's hard to beat the Permatex 5-Minute General Purpose Epoxy. If you need longer working time, look at the Permatex 30 Minute High Strength General Purpose Epoxy.
Second choice: Permatex contact cement. Just spread on both mating surfaces, and press them together. Be aware, this stuff bonds on contact, so you have one chance to line up the two parts!
There are plenty of specialty lubes: you can buy lubricant designed for your garage doors, your chain saw, or your air compressor. Just scroll through our lubricants category. What if you don't own any of these? What if you need just one, all-purpose lubricant that can serve many needs?
We may joke about how ubiquitous it is, but there's no beating WD-40 as a great all-around lube. The handy aerosol can with the built-in straw is so useful, I have three of them at home; one in the garage, one in the basement, and one in the attic (I obviously don't want to climb stairs just to find a can of the stuff). The WD-40 company has recently expanded their offerings. Check out their full line of products here.
Runner-up? I use silicone spray a lot on all my automobiles. It's handy, effective, can be used on most surfaces, and leaves no residue. The CRC brand, in a 7.5 oz. can, will last a long time.
A Rust Penetrant
Sooner or later, if you're working on a car that's more than a few years old, you will need to remove a fastener that's held in place more by rust than by the tightness of the threads. Metal rusts, and that rust can have a tenacious grip on things. Here, advance planning is your friend. You will want to soak the affected area with a rust penetrant at least several hours ahead of time; 12 to 24 hours is even better, and multiple soaks are best.
My dad swore by Liquid Wrench. He had so much of it in his workshop (in non-aerosol cans), that the stuff started to eat through the cans and leak! So we knew it worked. Today, the spray cans are a lot more convenient, and are available in several sizes.
Second choice is another popular brand that's gotten rave reviews: B'laster. Their penetrating oil, like Liquid Wrench, is available in aerosol cans.
Most households are well-stocked with a variety of cleaning products, from dishwasher soap to laundry detergent, bathroom cleaners, and so on. Be forewarned that the vast majority of "household" products are NOT safe for use on your vehicles!
Staying with the presumption that the one cleaner/degreaser you need is for automotive work, we heartily recommend a spray "brake cleaner" as an all-purpose product. This might be one of the better kept secrets, though. Since the product is labeled "brake cleaner", many might presume that it's used ONLY on brakes. That isn't so. A spray can of brake cleaner will quickly and effectively remove dirt, grease, and other nasty things off most hard surfaces, requiring only a quick wipe with a cloth. It evaporates quickly and leaves no residue.
The 3M High Power Brake Cleaner gets the job done, as does the Permatex Non-chlorinated Brake and Parts Cleaner.
Second place is awarded to a water-based all-purpose cleaner, which requires you to mix and rinse, but still can get a lot of cleaning done. Check out the 3M All Purpose Cleaner and Degreaser, and keep in mind that this is a concentrate that is to be diluted with water.
A Gasket Maker
Similar, yet different than, a glue, gasket-forming material has been available in tube form for many years. Perhaps you're familiar with the "RTV Silicone" label that many of these products wear. RTV stands for "room temperature vulcanizing", and it's the almost magical way that the paste-like material becomes semi-rigid like rubber, forming a leak-proof seal between two components. It can serve either as a replacement for a gasket, or as a supplemental sealant for an existing gasket.
It should be obvious that a "gasket in a tube" has many automotive uses. The Permatex Ultra Blue Multipurpose RTV Silicone Gasket Maker is as good as an all-purpose product can be. There are many, many variations on the theme, all found in our Gasketing Product Category.
The second-place product in this category would be an anaerobic gasket maker. "Anaerobic" means that the product cures in the absence of air, which again, has many automotive applications. We would pick the Loctite Anaerobic Gasket Maker, available in a handy tube.
A Thread Locker
Let's see, we already have a glue, a degreaser, a lubricant, a penetrant, and a gasket maker. We should be good, yes? Not so fast, cowboy. There is one more "must have" chemical, a magical elixir, that is your safety net for difficult or critical repairs. I've used it on driveshaft bolts and exhaust manifold studs. I've used it on my snow thrower, which vibrates like an old washing machine! The secret sauce is thread locking fluid, and it literally "locks" fasteners together, preventing them from vibrating loose.
There are different strengths available, distinguished by color. 'Red' thread locker is designed to require heat as well as physical effort to remove. More useful is 'blue' thread locking fluid, which does a great job securing parts, but is still removable with hand tools.
All of our thread locking compounds can be found here. Our first choice is the Loctite Blue Stick Medium Strength Threadlocker. The semi-solid application makes it easier to use in places where drips are a problem, like overhead. Looking for a second choice? Then go with the Loctite High Strength Threadlocker, but we'll again remind you that heat is needed to break the fitting loose.
I saved the best news for last: choosing the six primary recommendations above, and adding up their costs (before tax and shipping), the total is less than $50. Obviously, one does not need to spend hundreds of dollars to have an adequate selection of the most important shop chemicals on hand. Feel free to stick with our choices, or make your own. Either way, you'll be pleased that these job-savers are on hand!