Jalopnik Gift Guide

The Best Tools To Give The Illusion You Know What The Heck You're Doing On A Car The Ultimate Gift Guide For The Aspiring Automotive Moviemaker The Gift Guide For Drivers Who Like To Break The Law The Ultimate Gift Guide For Chevrolet Cavalier And Pontiac Sunfire Owners

The Best Tools To Give The Illusion You Know What The Heck You're Doing On A Car

If you have no clue how to fix cars, but don’t want anyone else to know, here are some wrenching gadgets that will have your buddies convinced you’re a master in the garage, even if you really have no earthly idea what a “compression test” or a “torque spec” is.

But! Just because you’re clueless doesn’t mean you have to look clueless. Plus, you can’t just have an empty garage; your cars will get lonely. So here are some tools you can buy to keep your vehicles company, and to make yourself look like a legit mechanic. You might even pull off some repairs while you’re at it.

3 Ton Heavy Duty Ultra Low Profile Steel Floor Jack

3 Ton Heavy Duty Ultra Low Profile Steel Floor Jack

Let’s get straight to the item that defines the difference between a true wrencher and a poseur: a hydraulic floor jack.

Anyone who doesn’t have one of these bad boys and instead tries using the death contraptions that are scissor jacks and bottle jacks isn’t fooling anyone.

So the first thing you need to do if you want your friends to take you seriously in the garage: grab yourself a floor jack like this excellent, inexpensive one from Harbor Freight, then immediately thereafter, get some jack stands so you don’t die or suffer a horrible, horrible injury.

Because once you’ve been crushed by a car after scissor jack failed, your reputation is soiled: good luck ever convincing anybody that you know what you’re doing with a wrench! Also you might be dead, so.

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AC Delco Digital Torque Wrench

AC Delco Digital Torque Wrench

Okay, so now that you’ve got the basic floor jack out of the way, you’re going to need a torque wrench, because “good ‘n tight” doesn’t always work, and real mechanics tighten bolts to spec.

But because we’re trying to show off a bit, a regular click-style torque wrench isn’t going to cut it. Instead, we’ll need the accuracy and precision of a digital one like this example from AC Delco. Nobody will for a second doubt your wrenching prowess if you’ve got this snazzy gadget in your tool set.

Just look at it: the thing’s got a screen, and buttons that let you set the torque level between 4 lb-ft and 99 lb-ft—enough for most automotive tasks like changing spark plugs and installing car or light truck wheel lug nuts. The wrench can be adjusted to show four different units (kg-cm, N-m, in-lb, ft-lb), and even works clockwise or anti-clockwise (lest you, god forbid, ever have to deal with right-hand threads.)

Once you’ve set your torque, you’ll start tightening your bolt until you’ve reached the recommended spec, at which point this fancy wrench will buzz at you, and you can just put the thing away: no need to zero it out like on click-type wrenches.

Do you really need to spend $70 extra for the extra precision and ease of use of a digital-style torque wrench versus a click-type one? Probably not, sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with buying fancy for the sake of fancy.

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Lisle Compression Tester

Lisle Compression Tester

A compression tester is a mechanic’s stethoscope: all you have to do is attach this thing to your car’s heart, turn over the starter motor a few times, and you’ll be able to diagnose all sorts of illnesses.

A compression tester can tell you if you’ve got a bad head gasket, a cracked cylinder head, a leaky or broken valve, or worn piston rings. And since compression is one of the four basic ingredients your engine needs to run, having a way to check it is crucial in investigating why your car left you stranded in that creepy Walmart parking lot.

And like a doctor with a real stethoscope around her neck, your skills will never be doubted if you’re wielding one of these. Anyone who owns a compression tester ain’t playing around.

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Tekpower Multi-functional Digital Multimeter

Tekpower Multi-functional Digital Multimeter

If a compression tester is a mechanic’s stethoscope, then a multimeter is an electrocardiogram machine. Like that machine you see plugged up to patients in a hospital, a multimeter is there to monitor your vehicle’s vital electrical signals.

You can use it to track shorts in your wiring, internal resistance of sensors, battery’s voltage, alternator output and a whole lot more. This is the only known kryptonite against terrible monsters known as electrical gremlins, but it’s a weapon that can only be handled by skilled, patient wrenchers capable of reading wiring diagrams. Learn how to use this thing, and you’ll be way ahead of most backyard mechanics, including me.

This one from Tekpower isn’t your ordinary multimeter, though, as it can also measure light output, sound volume, temperature and humidity. You might not need all of these functions, but who ever complains about having a tool with too many functions? Answer: nobody.

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Weller Soldering Station

Weller Soldering Station

There’s no point in having that $50 multimeter to track down shorted wires if you can’t even properly fix the problem once you’ve found it.

And patching up or replace bad connections means using a soldering iron— none of this Twisting The Two Strands Together And Wrapping Them In Electrical Tape nonsense. Remember, we’re trying to put on airs, here; we’ve got to have the a tool that lets us fix cars the right way.

And the right way to fix shorted wires is by soldering them together, and then covering the joint with heat shrink tubing to keep out the elements.

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Pneumatic Impact Wrench

Pneumatic Impact Wrench

There are few sounds in this world as satisfying as the zipping of an impact gun. This one from AC Delco has received good reviews on Amazon, in part because it works well even with cheaper, low-volume air compressors.

While old-school hand ratchets are great, hooking up the impact wrench to the air compressor, and just quickly zipping bolts from their rusty holes is a beautiful feeling, and it’s impossible to not look like a total badass doing it.

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Lincoln Electric Mig Welder

You want to look like you know what you’re doing? Buy a welder and learn how to run a beautiful bead. It’s an art, really, and one of the single most respected skills a wrencher can have in her repertoire.

This Lincoln welder isn’t the most powerful one on the planet, but it’s not expensive, uses a regular 110V house outlet, and has received exceptional reviews on Amazon.

You’ll need to buy a tank of shielding gas and some welding gloves, and it will take some time to master this craft, but once you have, you will be among the wrenching elite.

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Grizzly Dial Indicator

Grizzly Dial Indicator

A dial indicator is a precision instrument; anyone who’s got one of these suckers in their tool set means business.

That’s because a dial indicator is used to measure very slight imperfections in endplay, runout and backlash. Just knowing what these words mean will make you look like a pro, but being able to use one of these suckers? Please, your friends will start calling you for car advice.

Endplay is axial movement in a shaft; you might, for example, place the dial indicator against an engine’s flywheel, and push the crankshaft fore and aft— the tip of the dial indicator will plunge, and the dial will tell you how much the shaft has moved— that’s called endplay.

Runout measures roundness of a shaft, and can help you identify strange vibrations in your drivetrain. And backlash is the amount of play in a gear mesh— an important parameter when doing work with differentials or transmissions.

So yes, a dial indicator is a bit specialty tool, but considering how many rotating components and gear meshes there are in a car, these things can come in very handy. Plus, it measures in thousandths of an inch— nothing like some precise instruments to make you seem like you know what you’re doing.

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Craftsman 75 Piece Tap And Die Set

Craftsman 75 Piece Tap And Die Set

One of the worst feelings in the world of wrenching is trying to loosen a bolt that won’t budge, only to snap that sombitch flush with the hole.

You can try using an EZ-out bolt extractor, but you really shouldn’t, because you’ll break it, leaving your children with the daunting task of consoling a weeping adult curled up in the fetal position in the corner of the garage.

Don’t do that to your kids; forgo the EZ out and just drill a hole into that broken bolt. Then use this tap and die set to tap new threads, and all will be well in the world. Including your dignity.

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Bernzomatic High Intensity Torch

Bernzomatic High Intensity Torch

If you want to avoid having to use that tap and die set in the first place, heat that rusty stubborn bolt before trying to remove it. Get yourself one of these torches and a canister of mapp gas, and light up those rusty bolts until they’re red hot.

Heating up the connection will break the bond between the bolt and the female thread, and you’ll impress everyone when you emerge triumphantly from the dark shadows beneath that rusty car with a fully intact bolt in your hand.

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OEMTOOLS 26 Blade Master Feeler Gauge

OEMTOOLS 26 Blade Master Feeler Gauge

Feeler gauges are basically like pocketknives, except instead of having multiple tools, they have multiple hardened steel blades of various thicknesses. That may sound boring, but they’re very handy.

The idea, here, is that if you want to set a gap between two surfaces— say the ground electrode and the center electrode on a spark plug, you simply choose the appropriate thickness called for in the repair manual, put that blade in the gap, and squeeze the two surfaces together until they touch the blade. Then pull out the feeler gauge, and you’ve got the perfect gap.

And feeler gauges can be used in all sorts of different applications, not just spark plugs. If you’ve got a vintage car, for example, you’ll probably need a feeler gauge to set the points on the ignition system, or to adjusting your valves properly.

Yes, it’s just a bunch of thin hardened steel blades, but it’s a serious precision tool that every seasoned mechanic has in his set.

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The Ultimate Gift Guide For The Aspiring Automotive Moviemaker

So, you wanna make car videos? Are you planning on shelling out your life savings on the best camera on the market to get sweet, sweet slo-mo footage? If you are, this gift guide is not for you. This is for those of us who want the best bang for our buck in terms of production equipment.

To make a video, you’re going to need a camera. To make a car video, you’re going to need an action camera. (A car of some sort is also helpful.)

Sure, you can use your phone or DSLR, but I know an action camera will have a better chance of surviving the inevitable fall off a speeding vehicle, which can happen. Manufacturers like Kodak, Vivitar, and Panasonic all make their own versions, but GoPro has always been the frontrunner and still is.

Ram Mount & GoPro Adapter For The Ram Mount

Ram Mount & GoPro Adapter For The Ram Mount

Since making car videos requires strapping a camera to the car, you’re going to want a good mount. Fun fact: GoPro does not make a good mount—it’s shit. But this one from RAM is excellent, because you can adjust the entire apparatus by using one knob. The downfall is you have to purchase the GoPro adapter separately (linked above), but the upside is being able to use this as a normal phone mount when you’re not using it for your GoPro.

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GoPro HERO5

GoPro HERO5

It’s a great time to buy a GoPro because they updated and simplified their entire lineup of cameras just a few months ago. Now, your options are limited to the Hero5 Black edition, or one of two “Session” cameras, which are basically the normal Hero5 Black without a screen. And trust me, you’ll want the screen.

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GoPro HERO5 Extra Battery

GoPro HERO5 Extra Battery

Because the GoPro is so small and powerful, battery life isn’t that great. One will last you a few hours of shooting (depending on what mode you’re recording in), but having a second one charged and at the ready is always a good idea.

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Polarizing Filter For HERO5

A polarizing filter is a little trick to make the footage from your GoPro look a little bit better. It’s a simple device that slaps onto the outside of the lens, and while that might not seem like much, it cuts some of the reflection you’d normally see when filming a shiny vehicle. It’ll make the colors in the vehicle’s surroundings a little bit richer, too.

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External Microphone For HERO5 & Adapter Cable

External Microphone For HERO5 & Adapter Cable

The Hero5’s audio quality is better than that of the previous Hero4, but nothing will be as good as a dedicated, external mic. I zip-tie mine to the case of the GoPro to keep everything contained in one unit. Don’t forget to buy the adapter to make it work with your HERO5 (Hero4's don’t need the adapter.)

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Tackle Box To Hold All Your Little Camera Stuff

Tackle Box To Hold All Your Little Camera Stuff

Because cameras require a bunch of screws, cables, and small accessories, you’ll want somewhere to hold them to keep everything tidy and accessible. I’ve found the capabilities of a plain tackle box far exceeds that of a purpose-built case that’s made for a GoPro. Buy one with adjustable dividers so you can customize it to fit your specific needs.

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This All-In-One Kit That’s Inexpensive But Comes With A Bunch Of Stuff You Probably Won’t Need

This kit is $339 because it includes last year’s base-model camera and a bunch of cheaply-made accessories. This is the kind of thing I’d recommend for my little cousin who really wants a GoPro, but doesn’t have any idea what to actually do with it. Plus, you’ll look like a hero giving someone 100 individually-wrapped presents.

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Another Polarizer, For If You Have A GoPro HERO4 And Just Want Your Footage To Look Better

Another Polarizer, For If You Have A GoPro HERO4 And Just Want Your Footage To Look Better

This polarizer provides the exact same benefits as the HERO5 polarizer I mentioned earlier in the gift guide, just for last year’s model, the HERO4.

In the world of making videos, we are only scratching the surface in terms of production equipment, but this list will at least get you started. After all, according to our friends Jeremy Clarkson and James May, it’s the story (not the visuals) that make a great car video.

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SanDisk 128GB MicroSD Card

Unfortunately a microSD card, the device needed for the camera to actually record, isn’t included with the purchase of your new $400 GoPro HERO5. So that means you’ve got to buy one. I recommend this SanDisk option, which is fast enough to record in every format the GoPro Hero5 offers, and big enough to not immediately run out of space after you press record.

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The Gift Guide For Drivers Who Like To Break The Law

Driving is fun. You know what else is fun? Breaking the motherfucking law. Here’s some shit you should get if you plan on doing it, and also for when you inevitably get caught.

Please note that none of this should be taken as tacit encouragement to actually break the law! No, far from it. But if you’re going to engage in such activities on your own, for any reason, here are some ways to be prepared.

A Radar Detector

A Radar Detector

Now that you’ve used your crowbar for non-nefarious deeds, it’s time to go out for a leisurely drive and not run from the police at all. A radar detector will help you keep a low profile for awhile, give you enough time to find a safehouse. Don’t call your friend Steve, his phone has been tapped. Just don’t do anything crazy, alright? When the thing beeps or makes noise or whatever just slow down. It’ll be fine. This will all be fine.

People have bought Valentine Ones for years. You can pick one up for about $460.

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A Speedometer That Only Goes Up To 55 MPH

A Speedometer That Only Goes Up To 55 MPH

Cops catch you anyway? Just point at your speedometer furiously. “You see officer? My car only goes up to 55 mph. There is no POSSIBLE way I was going 193 in a school zone.”

I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t guarantee this works?

Anyways, $32 is cheaper than a speeding ticket.

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A Toothbrush

A Toothbrush

Alright, so my speedometer idea wasn’t exactly legally sound, and you’re probably going up the river for a while. To the hoosegow. The slammer. The joint. Con college. The pen. The pokey. The rock. The clink. The graybar hotel. The castle. The stoney lonesome. The lockup. The nick. The stockade. The big house. Jail.

You’re going to want a toothbrush, which can be used for teeth or other things.

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Prison Guide: Prison Survival Secrets Revealed by Angelo Pisano

Prison Guide: Prison Survival Secrets Revealed by Angelo Pisano

You’re probably going to be there a while. Might as well bring a book, if you want to live.

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A Crowbar

ook man, I’m not telling you what to do with it. It’s a legitimate tool with legitimate purposes. Just enjoy it, cherish it, give it a hug. It’s your crowbar. Own it and love it. Have fun. You can even pick one up damn cheap.

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Look, I get it. Even one-off track days are expensive. Not everyone has a couple of hundred bucks laying around just to blow it all in one day. You need to express your lawbreaking fantasies somehow, and you need to do it without the risk of actually totaling your car when you drive it like an idiot.

Get a video game. We think Forza Horizon 3 is good. Pick it up on Amazon for about $60. It’ll be worth it, trust me. Lawyers are way more expensive.

How About Just A Track Day?

How About Just A Track Day?

Dreaming of that which was lost, of freedom, of not listening to blogs that suggest a defense of “my speedometer doesn’t go any higher, therefore the laws of physics let alone the laws of man do not apply?” Speed legally, on a race track.

We like going to Lime Rock Park. You can become a member of the drivers club for the low, low price of a $55,000 initiation fee plus $3,630 in annual dues. Which sounds pricey! But it gets you 20 track days a year, along with unlimited coaching from people who actually know how to drive. So you can either purchase a brand new BMW M3 and drive it slowly, or an old, beat-up M3 and a membership, and you can have way more fun.

Or you can just go on a regular track day with your local club, which usually costs on the order of hundreds of dollars, and not thousands. Either way, enjoy.

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The Ultimate Gift Guide For Chevrolet Cavalier And Pontiac Sunfire Owners

Road & Track. Evo. Top Gear, The Grand Tour, all of them. Carl has no use for these “buff books” and “enthusiast shows.” He has no love for the self-professed journalists and how they sling seven-figure McLarens and Ferraris and Porsches around race tracks in countries he’ll never visit.

Carl knows all of them are out of touch. They trade in an elitist fantasy of a world that will always be out of his reach. Their business is the marketing of a dream, nothing more. And he hates what it all implies: why should the love of speed belong only to the spoiled millionaires?

No. Above all things, Carl is a realist. He doesn’t lust after that fantasy, doesn’t care about the chase for the best lap times around Monza and the Nürburgring; he knows what he likes and he likes what he knows.

And for him, that’s his prized 1999 Chevrolet Cavalier.

There’s a lot of Cavaliers in Carl’s town. Some of them litter front lawns in front of double-wides, while others limp around in various states of disrepair. Things have been hard here since the Walter Mondale face mask plant closed. People have been saying that since Carl was a kid, implying something fleeting and temporary about all of it. Carl often wonders when the hard times slipped into just being the way things are.

But Carl takes pride in his Cavalier. He keeps it running right, doesn’t care what the critics and message board commenters—or his asshole cousin Tim who owns a Plymouth Neon—all say about his car. To him, it’s a fine car, and more than that, it’s his.

Forget the supercar kids, the track day cowboys, the Instagram heroes—Carl, this gift guide is for you and for the Pontiac Sunfire owners. Everyone deserves a joyful holiday, even the J-body owners.

OE Replacement Chevrolet Cavalier/Pontiac Sunfire Passenger Side Mirror Outside Rear View

OE Replacement Chevrolet Cavalier/Pontiac Sunfire Passenger Side Mirror Outside Rear View

Carl never quite figured out who it was, the son of a bitch who took a baseball bat to his Cavalier back in ‘05. Maybe it was one of those guys from two towns over, the ones who never let go of a grudge after losing the state championship to Carl’s team in extra innings. Maybe it was a jilted lover who mistook it for someone else’s car.

Carl used to wish he could’ve caught that person in the act, but as he’s gotten older he’s come to realize that sometimes things just happen and all we can do is deal with them as best we can.

Luckily, the replacement mirror wasn’t an expensive fix, which is more than you can say about a lot of things.

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Money Can’t Buy Happiness 1999 Chevy Cavalier Dark Distressed T Shirt

Money Can’t Buy Happiness 1999 Chevy Cavalier Dark Distressed T Shirt

“Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy you a ‘99 Cavalier—and that’s close enough.” Carl found that online one day and had to buy it. Truer words, he thought, had never been written on any t-shirt anywhere.

He once wore it out to a bar with Tim to watch the UFCU title fight and got made fun of mercilessly, until Christine told him to shut up. Carl wants to buy her one too, just to annoy Tim, or so he says, but the real reason is how much he clings to that inside joke between the two of them.

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Covercraft UVS100 - Series Heat Shield Custom Fit Windshield Sunshade

Covercraft UVS100 - Series Heat Shield Custom Fit Windshield Sunshade

There’s no fancy story here. Carl just likes to keep the inside of his car cool in the summer, and this does the job just fine, even though the preview picture is clearly not a Cavalier. Someone at Amazon should fix that, Carl thinks.

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OE Replacement Chevrolet Cavalier Front Driver Side Fender Assembly (Partslink Number GM1240287)

OE Replacement Chevrolet Cavalier Front Driver Side Fender Assembly (Partslink Number GM1240287)

Tim absolutely fucked up this time, Carl thought. Not only did he take the Cavalier without permission—they call that stealing, Carl was quick to remind him—he got nailed by the State Police doing 105 mph on the turnpike with a couple of 8-balls stashed under the fender assembly.

Carl spent months fighting with the Staties to get his Cavalier out of impound. Civil asset forfeiture, turns out, can be a real motherfucker, even though Carl repeatedly told the cops that it was his car and not Tim’s. Didn’t matter.

But even though Tim got sentenced to five years upstate (minus time served for good behavior), and even though he got Carl’s car involved in a complicated drug smuggling case, Carl believes in forgiveness.

Plus things are looking up these days. With Tim gone, Christine’s been coming over to see Carl more often, and she’s even helped him fix up the Cavalier a few times. He’ll keep it going forever, if he can.

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Haynes Workshop Manual Chevy Cavalier Pontiac Sunfire 1995-2005

What kind of person pays to get their oil changed or have their transmission serviced? Not Carl. Nobody touches his Cavalier but him. He knows every inch of it, and a lot of that is thanks to his trusty Haynes shop manual.

Everyone who wrenches needs a good manual, even in the age of YouTube videos and forums.

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Keyless Entry Remote Fob

The Cavalier and its Pontiac twin were basic, affordable small sedans. Were they as good as the competition from, say, Honda or Toyota? Almost certainly not. But taking pride in a vehicle made in America, basic as it is, still has value.

That basic nature of the Cavalier doesn’t mean Carl doesn’t enjoy some of the finer things in life. He installed a keyless entry system a while back to make getting in and out a little quicker. And if he loses the fob, it’s a cheap and easy replacement.

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Detroit Axle - Brand New All (4) Front & Rear Complete Strut & Spring Assembly - 1999-2005 Chevrolet Cavalier & Sunfire

“I told you my Neon was better, you pussy,” Tim screamed at Carl one night, his breath soaked with the smell of vodka, after launching the Cavalier off the overpass and blowing all four struts. “Could’a took that jump just fine.”

There was more to their argument than Tim’s consistent failure to grasp the meaning of the term “designated driver.” There was Christine, and her complicated feelings for both men, and how that increasingly drove a wedge between them. Carl and Tim had known each other their whole lives, but for Carl, seeing the two of them together—especially when Tim would crawl deep into a bottle and give in to his baser instincts—was heart-rending. But no matter how complicated things got, Christine was with Tim, and there was nothing Carl could do to fix that.

Fortunately, Carl could fix his struts, thanks to the fine people of Detroit Axle.

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