The automotive resolutions only an idiot (like me) would need

Kyle Smith

It’s that time of year when we all get a little misty-eyed—trapped between reflections on the year past and the imposing future represented by that fresh calendar hung on the wall.

I used to view New Year’s resolutions as something of a joke, but as the years march onward, it’s become clear that laying out a few ground rules at tidy one-year intervals might not be the worst idea. So for the last few weeks, I’ve been pontificating on the changes needed in my garage life.

I’ve arrived at three resolutions. Their absurdity didn’t sink in until I wrote them down. How did I get here, and why do I want out?


1. No more motorcycles! (Kind of.)

It’s impossible to promise anyone—especially myself—that I won’t buy another motorcycle this year. The arrival of more bikes is a natural fact. Some two-wheeled machine will inevitably find itself into my big red van for a one-way shuttle ride to the three-door garage in Michigan.

In fact, I’ve already paid for one machine—a bike I haven’t picked up yet. We’ll discuss it here at a later date.

XR250R project bike
This bike is still sitting in more or less this same condition despite me owning it over a year. Kyle Smith

Of course, rideable bikes have never really been the problem. The real issue is how I tend to stockpile parts. And then decide that it only makes sense to build something out of those parts. My garage now holds two “spare” Honda XR250R frames and enough parts to build at least one of those frames into a full running motorcycle. There is no reason for me to bring home another parts bike . . . yet I scroll classifieds and Facebook Marketplace, multiple times a week, in search of the perfect parts bike. A machine that could donate another set of wheels, or a good spare cylinder head, or more NLA engine-mount hardware.

Do I need this stuff? No. Will I one day? Probably? And yet, that’s not really a good reason to sink the money.

So with that this resolution already out the window, I’ll scale back: Let’s just say no more parts bikes.


2. Make everything run—if only for a day.

This one is actually fairly easy on paper. Only time will tell if it is actually something like reasonable.

The manufacturing dates for my eight-vehicle “collection”—and I use that term loosely—span 85 years. Getting everything running is not a monumental task. But with such a wide range of technology—a Ford Model A, Honda singles, a Honda flat-four, a Corvair—that ask is more than a little time-consuming. There’s always something on the back burner, awaiting parts, research, or a cash infusion.

A smarter person would cull the fleet to a manageable level, the point where time matches needs, no vehicle ever left in the corner to languish. But we all know that’s not going to happen. Instead, I think it’s worth striving to make everything functional.

After that, the real goal is to take one day and drive everything. Is that possible? Not sure. I’ll update you with the attempt when the weather shifts and our local roads no longer have the salinity of the Atlantic Ocean. At least four carburetors need to be rebuilt between now and then, along with a handful of smaller projects that center on the theme of keeping fluids inside the engine.


3. Stop farting around with subpar tools.

There is only one quarter-inch-drive ratchet in my toolbox. It’s missing a couple teeth after an incident years ago that everyone involved would rather not discuss. The ratchet still works, but from time to time, it hits a dead spot, those missing teeth, and won’t ratchet.

It’s frustrating. Borderline infuriating. It’s also sad, how it takes a New Year’s resolution to get me to focus funds on the implements that enable me to pursue the things I enjoy, but here we are. There’s always something else to spend money on, right? Still, the fact that a few of my tools are a little janky . . . it’s grown from an occasional annoyance to a solid inconvenience that can take a project’s motivational wind from my sails.

Rarely are resolutions hung on spending more money. In this case, though, it’s a matter of spending a little now to reap rewards forever. A set of quality ratchets stands a chance of making the significant amount of time I spend in the garage more enjoyable.

To make a long story short, I’m more “buy once, cry once” about tools than I ever have been. I have a sneaking suspicion this resolution will not be kind to my bank account, but good tools are easy to properly maintain, and to make last. My current set didn’t live a long, healthy life only because it entered my life with unfortunate timing. (Teenage idiocy is tough on a lot of things.)




As car enthusiasts, we’re all a little off from the start. There are weirder hobbies, but in the grand scheme, if you know the secret car-guy handshake, a goal like “make all of my vehicles function” sounds entirely normal. Most of us tend to enjoy the challenge of a project as much as the result, which primes us for making and keeping resolutions—at least, the reasonable ones.

None of these “resolutions” are earth-shattering or ambitious, you say? That’s on purpose. Change is best done incrementally, in steps. These resolutions aren’t changing who I am. They’re attempting to slightly alter that person into a more tolerable and more focused version.

You can’t fight who you are. Trying usually just means you slide even further toward what you don’t want to be. In this case, that would be a hoarder of esoteric machines destined to never run again. So I’m going to resist that slide for another year.

I hope your resolutions—whether you call them that or not—are so focused that you can stick to them like a slick on an NHRA starting line. And if you have any motivation left over, send it my way. I’ve already got a listing for another parts bike bookmarked.

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    Well said. Owning several cars I get annoyed when more than one at a time is down. I at least want them to be able to move on their own.

    About 6 years ago I had a friend give me a snap on swivel ratchet. I could not believe how much better it was than my craftsman. Night and day. I bought a set of snap on screw drivers- same thing. No more stripped heads. I don’t need all of my tools to be high end but a few key ones really make the hobby more enjoyable.

    Exactly! You get it.

    I’ve been poring over the Snap-On catalog pages for ratchets and am just waiting to pull the trigger. Might try and find the local Snap-On truck and buy from them since they are small business people and there is no reason to cut them out.

    Project Farm on YouTube is a guy that does very thorough testing on all kinds of tools and equipment. Great channel. Look at his video on ratchets. Gear wrench was great for the money if I recall correctly

    Kyle – The Snap On truck has made zombies of many full time mechanics over the years. It magnetically pulls them from the shop floor into its chamber of seduction where paychecks are willingly handed over each week to chip away at the past purchases and where the next object of desire is fondled.

    The tools are fabulous, no question. In my late teens working at a shop to pay college tuition, I was sucked in to a few things that Craftsman just couldn’t provide – namely 6 point deep well 1/2″ drive impact sockets. Cost me three weeks wages, but nearly 45 years later I still have them. A few have been replaced under warranty over the years. So a great investment.

    My recommendation is to also factor in the years of amortization for the tool investment. Craftsman has now broadened the market availability through Lowes and Ace Hardware and still honor the lifetime warranty. They aren’t what they used to be but they aren’t bad.

    I will admit to picking up non critical items at Harbor Freight. I will also admit to recently paying over $40 for a single Snap On 10 mm combination wrench because that is a critical tool.

    In closing, I’ve never regretted buying good tools. I may have gone a little hungry, but never regretted it. So think long term on critical items and consider lower cost options for non critical. Just my $0.02.

    I hear ya on the siren song of the Snap-On truck. I have a large amount of USA Craftsman and love most of it, but the ratchets just haven’t gotten better with time and the new Craftsman is just sad. Long been considering a set of screwdrivers from a tool truck brand but I was gifted a set of Facom screwdrivers recently (thanks again Merl!) and have been loving them, so the only thing coming off the truck is ratchets for me.

    As a GM dealership technician I make my living with my tools. I have recently decided I’m a tool snob, as I can’t stand some of my cheap tools at home. That being said I love Matco ratchets. I kinda have a thing for ratchets and own probably over 20 professional grade ratchets. Snap On, Mac and Matco. My favorites are the Matco 88 tooth with the locking flexible head. The come in various lengths. They are the best in my opinion.

    Oh Kyle! How is it that you, of all people, will make me look at my vehicle hobby reasonably and rationally this year?!
    I am officially embracing “Make everything run, if only for a day.” (That announcement was more for my benefit than anyone else’s!)

    Good luck on #1. When you got the bug bad it’s hard to fight.
    #2 – Yep, make them all run!
    #3 – Stop farting around with subpar tools. Hehehe, I agree on the tools but keep tooting away.

    I tell myself every time I power up my laptop, no buying parts this time. In the past week , I picked up an E4OD trans with 9k on it since rebuild, complete with torque converter, electronic controls, basically ready to swap into my 94 F150 when the original finally dies. 500$ and the gas to go get it two hours each way. Earlier last year, a 3 cat Y pipe for my 97 Thunderbird that retails for 1200$US, NOS for 250$ Canadian. And, just yesterday, a brand new in the box ,plastic wrap still on it, Noco 2000 amp booster unit for 175. Retail is 315$ Canadian. I am trying to tap out from Kijiji and Marketplace but damn….

    It happens so fast, doesn’t it? There has to be part of my brain that is wired to never pass up a good deal that I know I will need eventually and that little bit of gray matter seems to be really powerful…

    After a lifetime in the auto business, I never tire of watching the ice cream truck (Snap On, Matco, Cornwell truck) pull on to the lot and all the little kids (the mechanics) come quickly out to see what flavors of tools are available!

    Luckily I’m not going to tell that ice cream truck my home address so with any luck I can keep them at bay a little bit!

    A quick Craigslist search turned up a terrific assortment of used Snap-On tools available locally at import prices. It doesn’t help the ice cream (truck) man but it helps you.

    Sadly, Marketplace and Craigslist are fairly dry around here when it comes to quality tools like I’m hoping for. I considered eBay for a second but question if I’ll end up with legitimate products at some of the prices I see. It’ll end up being a bit before I actually hand over cash so I’ll be keeping an eye on second hand markets in the meantime. Who knows what may pop up.

    I – like probably 90% of the rest of you DIYrs who aren’t pro mechanics – have a really eclectic set of tools. Some are gennie Craftsman items bought in the ’60s through ’80s, when Sears was kind of the go-to place to stock up. Some are odds and ends of items procured through various means (like yard sales) opportunistically as opposed to purpose-trip-to-the-tool-store. Just a precious few are inherited from deceased loved ones – and many of these are more of the wall-hanger variety than “users”. But for the most part, all have served me well enough. Oh sure, I’ve bent or broken a few things that were under-top-quality (like pullers, prybars, etc.) and replaced with upgraded stuff over the years. But really, most of my tool walls and boxes hold things I’ve had and used for years if not decades. While I don’t pooh-pooh buying high-grade tools, I also find it hard to justify having gobs of money sitting in a drawer that only see use once in five years. So I temper my buying with – I hope – judgement and common sense about what my needs really are.
    But my concern is, where will all of my carefully curated acquisitions go when I’m gone? Today’s demands for tools – with so much planned obsolescence and lack of user tinker ability – is surely a diminishing curve, is it not? For the same reasons that I hardly ever even look at my dwell meter nowadays, will my grandkids even understand (let along use) my “carburetor rebuild and adjustment tools” kit? Will my friends cool old Atlas distributor machine just get turned into a bar cabinet/conversation piece in his son’s basement man cave? And I’m 900% sure that none of my progeny are going to make use of my father’s plier-type sawset. Heck, how many of you readers out there even know what a sawset is?
    I fear that all of our wonderful collections of tools – cheap or expensive – are doomed to landfills or at best recycle bins in the next generation or two!

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