Low-Buck Tech Tips From the Clever Readers of Grassroots Motorsports

By Staff Writer
Nov 18, 2021 | Low-Buck Tech | Posted in Shop Work | From the April 2009 issue | Never miss an article

If necessity is the mother of invention, then a tight budget is the tequila that makes that mother particularly frisky. Our $2008 Challenge competitors brought cars that showed off a variety of clever, low-budget solutions to both aesthetic and performance-related problems.

These are the kinds of fixes that get a car back in the game—or get it to the big show in the first place. Sure, the factory might have intended its vehicles to go together in one particular way, but who says that’s the only way? After all, innovation and ingenuity are the American way.

Our Challengers aren’t the only clever ones, as GRM readers have also been submitting their favorite low-buck tips via our website. We didn’t want to keep all of these nuggets of genius to ourselves, so here are 35 of our favorites.

Paper Trail

Tired of losing small bolts or nuts in tight spaces? Well, here’s a tip to keep them in the socket: Just put a small piece of paper between the socket and the bolt or nut, and it will stay in there snugly—even upside down. 

Sean Dittmer • Rohnert Park, California

I Tumble for You

For easy, gentle cleaning of rusty parts, use a brass tumbler (available at most gun shops). Load in the parts, add media, plug in, and walk away. Won’t mess up threads or damage chrome. 

Dutch Kluge • Stuart, Florida

A Knob’s a Knob

  • Challenger Tip

A surprising variety of items can be used as shift knobs, but Randy Knick’s solution was actually designed from the start to be grasped by a human hand. He bought a $7 doorknob from Lowe’s and filled it with lead to add just the right amount of serious, gear-rowing heft.

Randy Knick • No. 29 Toyota MR2


Got your wheels off but don’t know where to put your wheel nuts? Just hang them back on the studs so you don’t kick them all around your garage.

Eli Chen • Foster City, California

Storage Solution

Store your glues and adhesives (as well as automotive paint hardener) in zip-lock plastic baggies. This will keep them from hardening during storage.

Aaron Meisner • Baltimore, Maryland

Planetary Alignment

Need to align your clutch but lost the alignment tool? Find a half-inch short socket that fits the disc and a quarter-inch deep socket that fits inside it and inside the pilot bearing. Using a long quarter-inch extension, you can center the clutch in the pressure plate while tightening it down.

Chris Abbott • Ridgefield, Connecticut

The Daily Grind

Ever round out a Phillips-head screw? Apply a dab of valve grinding compound to the tip of your screwdriver, tap lightly, twist, and 98% of the time the screw will come out.

Matthew Studer • Branchville, New Jersey

Trap Light

Fluorescent lights are a nice addition in an enclosed race trailer. To keep them from coming loose in their sockets and not working or, worse yet, falling on your car, tie zip-ties all the way around the tubes and the light housing. The ties will keep the lamps in place, protecting them and your car. Two ties per fixture will work just fine.

Joe Gonzalez • New Berlin, New York

Positively Shocking

  • Challenger Tip

When dealing with lightweight cars like original Minis and Locosts, why waste money and weight on expensive automotive dampers? Motorcycle shock absorbers are generally cheaper and lighter, plus they have high-tech features like remote reservoirs and aluminum construction. Mike Guido put them to good use in his Nissan-powered Mini.

Mike Guido • Exhibition Class Minissan

Under Pressure

  • Challenger Tip

Team Westside built a simple PVC and metal pressure tester to ensure that their ultra-quick Colt made the most of its prodigious turbo boost. At 15 psi, the system seemed fine; at 20 psi, leaks in the turbo plumbing were revealed. A little JB Weld fixed the situation.

Matt Step and Brian Jules • No. 37 Plymouth Colt

Cast a Net

Small camouflage nets can add just the right amount of side or overhead shade while you watch a race or work on your car. Use cheap spring clips to attach the net to a raised hood, the side of a canopy, or an innocent bystander.

Lyndal Davis • Lubbock, Texas

Scavenger Hunt

Getting rid of an old engine, transmission, or similar unit? Pull the heads, oil pan, etc., and rob it of miscellaneous bolts and brackets—particularly things like hollow dowels, alignment pins and Woodruff keys. I keep a box of this kind of stuff, and it’s saved a project more than once.

Mike Smith • Goose Creek, South Carolina

Drawing Outside the Lines

  • Challenger Tip

When David Brown merged the body of a Mirage with the hardware of a turbocharged Talon, he was unsatisfied with the amount of negative camber allowed by the stock strut tower holes. Since the car was a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster already, cutting the strut towers to increase the available camber was an easy choice.

David Brown • No. 35 Mitsubishi Mirage

Nitrous? What Nitrous?

  • Challenger Tip

Want to run the juice but don’t want Johnny Law or your competitors to know? A cheap plastic toolbox makes a great hiding place and looks right at home in the trunk of an old car. 

Al Johnson • No. 85 Audi 4000

Flex Offensive

I use flex sockets a lot, and after a little use they get very loose. To tighten up the joint, I slip an O-ring over the socket and into the joint. It works very well, and O-rings are cheap.

Adam Hasler • New Braunfels, Texas

Spare Room

I drive an MR2 Spyder, so I’m always looking for more cargo space. I doubled my trunk space by inverting the spare tire. All that was required was cutting down the hold-down bolt and cutting new threads. This should give a little more cargo space or a cleaner look in a lot of different cars. The same trick worked in the wife’s Solara for hidden space to put roadside emergency supplies.

Richard Nye • Old Town, Maine

Bar None

  • Challenger Tip

Strut tower bars can add much-needed strength to a car’s front end, and they can be made from a variety of materials. Team Mini Me chopped up a hand truck to transform it into a killer multipoint strut tower bar.

Patrick Culkin and Dave Skrab • No. 25 Dodge Shadow

Get Grounded

Have a weird electrical problem? Look at your grounds. With modern engine management, a bad ground can have really unusual effects. On older cars, it’s not a bad idea to clean the grounding points so they’re on bare metal.

Keith Tanner • Grand Junction, Colorado

Fast Funnel

Oil filters on Hondas and Miatas are in the hardest-to-reach places. To prevent messes or spilling oil on the exhaust manifold, use aluminum foil to either make a bowl or cover to catch all the oil that drips down after removing the oil filter.

Brian Maeng • Charlottesville, Virginia

Beat the Heat

  • Challenger Tip

When modifying a car, remember that certain changes will affect nearby components. Turbochargers make lots of power, but they also produce gobs of heat; Tucker Ryals sheathed his brake fluid reservoir in header wrap to keep the contents from getting too toasty.

Tucker Ryals and Charlie Osterhout • No. 10 Mazda Miata

Itchy and Scratchy

When working with carbon fiber and/or fiberglass products, wash your hands before you use the restroom.

Matt White • Tampa, Florida

Scrub Style

A surgical cap works great for keeping the head and hair clean when working under cars. Spring for one with a built-in sweatband to keep from wiping your forehead every couple of minutes. Compared to a baseball hat, the surgical cap stays on well, even when you’re rolling around underneath the car. Plus, they’re cheap at discount medical supply stores. 

Bryan Wilcox • Champaign, Illinois


For repairing cracked or damaged wiring, use silicone fusion tape instead of traditional electrical tape. It stretches, conforming to the shape of whatever you’re applying it to. It has no adhesive but is self-fusing, creating an air- and watertight, nonconductive seal. It’s particularly durable in high-temp environments.

Jim Rybar • Bellevue, Nebraska

Just in Time

  • Challenger Tip

Adjustable cam gears allow tuners to fine-tune engines for peak performance. Rather than spend any of their precious budget on fancy aftermarket pieces, the $2008 Challenge-winning Hong Norr team made their own. They carefully measured and then cut the OEM cam gears. A jig allowed them to re-weld the gears in the desired position.

Matt White, Matt Prescott, George Garcia • No. 9 Honda CRX

Let There Be Light

Don’t bother with hanging trouble lights. Buy a tiny LED flashlight, wash it and scrub it thoroughly, and hold it in your mouth.

Charles Kaneb • Worcester, Massachusetts

Señor Clean

Mr. Clean Magic Erasers clean light-colored steering wheels and other interior parts fast and easy without making them slippery. 

Wally Miller • Poughkeepsie, New York

Stuck Sensors

A common problem with 1991-’94 Sentra speed sensors is, well, they’re darn hard to remove. Most people end up chipping off the flange when prying off the sensor with a screwdriver. The easiest (and least damaging) way is to slide wire under the flange, wrap it around, and pull up. This may help on other makes and models.

Chris McGlaughlin • Union City, California

Washer You Doing

  • Challenger Tip

Git-R-Dun Racing has gotten a lot of mileage out of a great big metal road sign. Most of it became their rear spoiler, but they took a hole saw to the scraps and created great big washers for their hood pins.

Matthew and Matt Wojtkowiak • No. 21 Ford Mustang

Fire in the Hole

You can quickly locate a cylinder that is not firing by using a spray bottle. With the engine somewhat cold, fire it up. Then, with the sprayer set on stream, spray each header pipe with water. As soon as the water hits the pipe, it should turn to steam. When the water sits on the pipe and runs off, you’ve found the cylinder that is not firing.  

Justin Abbott • Richmond, Virginia

Deep Freeze

If applying multiple coats of paint, rather than cleaning, drying and storing the brush between coats, just pop it into the freezer (the garage one). It thaws out in minutes and is ready to go again—no fuss. 

Dan Senecal • Ballston Spa, New York

The Air Affair

  • Challenger Tip

Engines love cold air, and there’s no need to spend a fortune drawing air from the cooler regions of the engine bay toward the throttle body. About $10 will get you 4 feet of 8-inch flexible aluminum ducting from any major home improvement store; just such a duct fed the engine in the Wojtkowiaks’ powerful Mustang with ease.

Matthew and Matt Wojtkowiak  No. 21 Ford Mustang

Hammer Time

When removing torsion bars from their tubes, use an air hammer with a small, round tip that will fit into the depression at the end of the torsion bar. Instead of wasting time hitting it with a mini sledge for hours, the air hammer will push it right out!

Chris Abbott • Ridgefield, Connecticut

All Aligned

Sometimes getting the wheel aligned with the studs can be difficult, especially with truck tires and when the lighting is not all that good. A small dab of white paint on the end of each wheel stud makes them much easier to see.

Bob Cowan • Colorado Springs, Colorado

Precision Application

When I got my wisdom teeth pulled, the surgeon gave me a little syringe with an angled tip for squirting water to clean my gums. This syringe is now full of moly grease and is perfect for precision grease applications such as shifter bushings and door latches. 

Neil Trigg • Glen Allen, Virginia

Artistic Genius

  • Challenger Tip

Want to transfer elaborate artwork from a small page to something larger, like the hood of a car? Jonathan McCreery and team used an overhead projector to enlarge the GRM Angry Shifter Guy design and create a template for painting the image on their Honda’s hood. They did a fine job with the materials at hand, but in hindsight they say they would have hand-cut some vinyl rather than masking and painting.

Jonathan McCreery • No. 17 Honda CRX


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View comments on the GRM forums
Vajingo New Reader
9/8/20 4:38 p.m.

Let's see... now to find an overhead projector in the grade school's abandoned closet. 

KentF (Forum Supporter)
KentF (Forum Supporter) Reader
9/15/20 8:15 p.m.

God, good, good. Would like to see more of this stuff!

DjGreggieP HalfDork
4/1/21 5:46 p.m.

One to add:

Small tubes of gasket maker silicone RTV. 

When finished with the tube for the day, remove the supplied nozzle, and push a piece of mechanics wire through the nozzle and leave it there. Let it dry and pull the wire out after and boom, it pulls the silicone out and you can reuse the nozzle. 

malibuguy GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
4/2/21 10:16 p.m.

Here is a trick that should apply to alot of cars


Way back in my 1st Gbody Malibu I went thru a couple rears, and always loathe at the thought of wrestling the ebrake cables out of the backing plates, then one time VIOLA!  Used a small hoseclamp to compress all the little "fingers" to get it started and bam pop them right out everytime with no fuss. 

Curtis73 (Forum Supporter)
Curtis73 (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
4/3/21 10:25 a.m.

Keep a cheap candle or canning wax in your arsenal.  When you have a rusty/seized nut, heat it with a torch... propane, MAP, OxyAcetylene.  Not glowing, just good and hot.  Touch the candle to it and the molten wax will wick into the threads.  You want it hot enough that it instantly melts the wax.  A little smoke is ok, but sizzling/flaming is too hot.

Want to run wires to the back/front of a vehicle, like trailer wiring, rear battery, or a backup camera but you're afraid of wire chaffing?  Buy a cheap stick of PVC pipe and zip tie it to the frame and run your wires inside that.

Want to protect the wires on your 4-pin trailer harness?  Separate the 4-wire ribbon into 2 and 2 and stick it through a piece of 3/8 fuel hose.  Shrink tubing or electrical tape will seal up the ends and keep the hose in place.

Isolating a noise?  3/8" fuel hose again.  Stick one end in your ear and trace around gaskets to find exhaust leaks, vacuum leaks, noisy bearings on a belt drive, rocker arm taps, fuel injector clicks, etc.

Have a second battery in your work van/truck/conversion and want to make it super useful?  Hook it up to a continuous-use high-amperage solenoid with the main battery on one side, aux battery on the other side, and a DPDT switch on the ground side.  One pole of the switch goes to ground, the other pole goes to an oil pressure sensor that is normally open until it gets pressure.  This way you can connect the batteries always, never, or only when the vehicle is running.  You can abuse the aux battery and let the car charge it after you start it.  Dead battery in the car?  Flip the switch for an instant jump start from the aux battery.

Need a long piece of heavy cable for hooking up a high-draw device like a winch or an aux battery?  Old jumper cables can often be found for free or $5 online and at yard sales and come in a variety of gauges from 8 to 2.  Even if you have to buy new jumper cables, it's often much cheaper than $/foot of new cable

GM > MG New Reader
11/18/21 3:16 p.m.

I call this "Bungie Stick". Basic, not an life changing idea...

2" PVC x 48" w/ holes every 6" or so.


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