I would like an expert opinion about assembling a selection of adhesives, chemicals, and other products most useful for overland vehicle field repair issues such as cracked hoses, radiators, or fuel lines, and for replacing gaskets, joining metal or plastic pieces, sealing electrical repairs, and so on.
Alexander in Florida
Alexander’s question brought to mind the old aphorism about the perfect two-piece tool kit: WD-40 (to fix the things that are supposed to move but won’t) and duct tape (to fix the things that aren’t supposed to move but do). Kidding aside, it’s an excellent question—a very large number of field repairs involve some sort of leak or breakage that requires a chemical or mechanical fix. I looked in my own kit, enlisted the help of two of our OT&T experts—Duncan Barbour and Graham Jackson—and also queried my nephew, Jake Beggy, a master Toyota mechanic and fabricator. Here’s what we came up with, first in the way of commercial products and then in “bodge” fixes when nothing else is available.
Gary Haynes repairing a door stop on a Land Rover Defender 110. South Rift, Kenya. Note two essential lubricants at hand: WD-40 and bourbon.
No matter what brand of vehicle you drive, Toyota’s FIPG (Form In Place Gasket) sealant/glue—which Toyota mechanics refer to as “FI-PIG,” is markedly superior in adhesion, sealing, and durability to the generic silicone RTV gasket sealant found in most hardware and auto supply stores. It comes in two colors: black, used to seal parts that will come in contact with oil or water, and a thicker red formula specifically designed for applications involving gear oil—transmissions, transfer cases, and differentials. The black stuff is the general-purpose tube to carry for most field repairs. It dries to a tough, rubberlike consistency and so can be used for about a zillion fixes besides vehicle problems. However, once the Toyota parts man tells you the price, you probably won’t think about using it to repair your Hi-Tecs.
AlumAseal radiator sealant
Available in a mess-proof powder form, AlumAseal will effectively squelch any but the most grievous radiator or heater core leak. It’s compatible with all types of antifreeze and any radiator material. Duncan mentions Bar’s Leaks as an equivalent.
Rescue Tape self-fusing silicone tape
There are other self-fusing silicone tapes on the market; this brand just happens to be the one I carry. I’ve used it once to repair a split radiator hose and it worked brilliantly. I’ve heard of it being used to seal high-pressure air lines and even fuel lines as well. It only sticks to itself, thus getting it off to effect a proper repair back home is no trouble. I know of someone who completely mummified a distributor in it for a (successful) deep-water crossing.
It’s easy to forget just how strong two-part epoxy can be. Graham once epoxied a nut to the stripped head of a stuck timing cover bolt and was then able to remove it. He also used it to repair a stripped hole for an oil pump bolt, by filling the hole with epoxy, then drilling and tapping it once cured. Graham and Duncan both mentioned fuel tank repairs with epoxy; Duncan specified that by first plugging the leak with bar soap you can then clean the area and apply epoxy to further seal and reinforce it.
Sort of a three-dimensional epoxy, since it can be built up to cover frighteningly large holes in things that shouldn’t have holes in them. I actually have sort of a love/hate relationship with it. Why? Because it’s so effective it seems to be the material of choice for unscrupulous people attempting to unload vehicles with serious problems. I’ve read account after account of victims finding cracked engine blocks sealed with it, oil leaks covered up with blobs of it, and worse. Nevertheless, such stories perversely confirm the versatility of the product. The standard formula is the strongest, but takes up to 24 hours to cure. The quick-set version is nearly as good.
There are all sorts of acceptable substitutes for gaskets, but why not have a sheet or two of the proper item? The thin cardboard material is good for many applications; I also carry one of slightly thicker reinforced material, and one of thin rubber sheeting.
Yes, there is a difference in duct tape. This stuff beats “Duck” tape and all the generic gaffer tapes by a mile. Yet it’s still easy to tear by hand or teeth—as it should be when you’re single-handedly attempting to secure the cracked center ferrule of a sea kayak paddle while bouncing around in the middle of the Gulf of California. True story.
Yes, believe it or not, there are also differences in cable ties or “zip ties.” You want the kind with a metal, rather than plastic, locking tab. The Ty-Rap ties from Thomas and Betts are arguably the best. The little ones secure wiring, medium sizes are good for fuel and air lines, and the really big ones will lock down just about anything, with a tensile strength of up to 175 pounds each. T&B also offers heat- and UV-resistant versions.
As near as I can tell, there’s no better or worse brand of this. Its uses are legion—I’ve successfully secured a broken motor mount on a 600-pound 2F Land Cruiser engine with it, and I know of situations up to and including a broken chassis crossmember that were stabilized with baling wire. Unlike duct tape, it’s heat resistant—how many dodgy exhaust systems have been semi-permanently repaired with baling wire? Where we live I’m not even sure it’s considered a “repair.”
Paracord has become quite fashionable among the “tactical” crowd lately, especially for wrapping knife handles. The idea is that in a survival situation you can channel your inner Bear Grylls, unwrap the cord and use it to lash the knife to a stick as a spear, then go out and break or lose it altogether by hurling it at a large game animal. Seriously, paracord is an astonishingly versatile light rope, and worth buying in bulk—however, there’s a lot of substandard product out there. Make sure you get the genuine all-nylon kernmantle with seven three-ply inner strands. Type III paracord is the standard—called “550” for its rated strength in pounds. The proper military designation is Mil-C-5040H TYPE III, and current authentic military-contract paracord has one inner strand with black and yellow threads woven into it, if you want to be really picky (I recommend the excellent aviation survival equipment company Best Glide as a source: Best Glide). I carry it in 50 or 100 foot lengths, but if you want a way to have 10 feet of it always at hand, and also support a good cause, the Veteran’s Museum (Veteran's Museum) sells handsome braided paracord bracelets with Fastex buckles (although I haven’t checked to see if they’re using true military issue paracord).
Synthetic wheel bearing grease
You don’t really need the synthetic version, but it’s not that much more expensive. On an extended trip you’re likely to have numerous opportunities to use proper grease—on wheel bearings, CV joints, bushings, leaf spring pads, etc. A dab of it smeared on the back of disc brake calipers will stop squealing, and, well . . . it’s grease. You’ll find lots of other uses for it.
Graham mentioned this product, which used to be common but is rarely employed any more. Too bad, because it’s excellent for preventing threaded parts that need to be unthreaded now and then from rusting or otherwise locking up—especially threaded parts constantly exposed to road grime and moisture. Wheel lug threads are a perfect example, as are tie rod ends.
And, yes: WD-40
Did you know the name means “Water Displacing,” and the “40” refers to the number of unsuccessful formulas before they hit on the right one? There are actually a number of decent spray lubricant/water displacers on the market; a can of any of them is a must.
In a perfect world we’d always have the correct glue or sealant or tape to properly repair a broken component. Alas, such is not always the case. Ergo, a few suggestions from our panel on bodge substitutes.
Just weeks ago Jake successfully sealed a leaking radiator using the prosaic but effective two-egg procedure. Just dump the whites from a couple of eggs (yolks won’t hurt but they’re superfluous) in the filler cap (making sure the pressure has been relieved). The hot water cooks the whites, and they migrate naturally toward the leak. Duncan reports that pepper works well too. Add some mushrooms and you’ve got an omelette.
Duncan notes that repair patches and glue for inner tubes work just as well on radiator hose, although he recommends reinforcing the patch with duct tape or something similar. He also suggests a fix I think I first read about in the classic Land Rover manual Working in the Wild: If your alternator brushes go bad, remove the carbon rod from the center of a dry-cell battery and carve new ones. I simply must try that one some time. On the other hand, I’m intimately familiar with a ubiquitous African fastener Duncan mentions: leggans—cut strips of automotive inner tube. (I was delighted to learn his term for them—I’ve always called them “cut strips of automotive inner tube.”) The ultimate in recycled cordage, leggans can easily be made 20 or 30 feet long simply by slicing the inner tube in a spiral. When wrapped tightly and tucked under itself, it binds naturally and doesn’t require a knot. Anyone who’s been in the bush anywhere in Africa has seen monstrous loads secured effectively with this homemade elastic cinch strapping.
I could have collected bodge-repair ideas for weeks, but for now I’ll wind up with a habit I’ve cultivated for years. Friends have at times noted with amusement that I always use Grade 8 bolts and nuts (or the equivalent Grade 10.9 in metric) to mount even the most modest accessories—radios, fire extinguishers, air compressors, driving lights, and more. My reasoning is this: If I ever need a bolt or nut to replace a missing or broken one on a critical component, and I don’t have the correct one in my spares kit and need to cannibalize something, I can be sure of having a selection of high-strength potential candidates close at hand. Meanwhile, I can be absolutely certain my fire extinguisher and radio aren’t going to fall off.
Oh . . . okay. Duty compels me to include just one more. Jake finished off his list with the following note: “I discovered that Keystone Light beer makes a good emergency lube for a sticky Hi-Lift Jack.”
Comment would be superfluous, except to mention that lubing a Hi-Lift jack is absolutely the best use I can think of for Keystone Light . . .