Drivetrain Heeltoe Explains You Can Do It! DIYs

No Clutch Alignment Tool? No Problem!

NOTICE: This blog was written as I was installing a clutch and the alignment tool was mysteriously missing from the kit. I’ve gotten agitated calls about this relatively normal issue enough to have a lightbulb moment…this is not a huge deal, folks!

When installing a clutch it is necessary to align the disc with the flywheel before installing the cover (pressure plate). If you don’t, the input shaft from the transmission will not engage the disc properly and you will never get the transmission lined up and installed!

A clutch alignment tool is a specific tool with splines that match your transmission and a snout that fits in your flywheel. It holds the disc perfectly centered on the flywheel. Most clutch kits come with a clutch alignment tool matching your application.

But it happens rather often that you are not supplied the tool on accident, or you are doing a non-standard install, or are installing something used…no tool! Many customers get upset and concerned that they need the tool to complete the install. Getting the tool outside the kit is sometimes difficult and can take time…time you don’t have.

Instead of freaking out, grab a socket or tube of some sort which is a bit smaller size than the flywheel snout, and wrap some tape around it to fit into the flywheel and disc size. You might even have a different toll from a past job that is smaller and can be used. In my example, I am using a socket adapter that was rolling around in the toolbox. The splines are really less important…it is all about getting a snug fit.

Build the tape up a wrap or two at a time and test it a few times. Add tape as needed. You’ll find that you can get the disc pretty firmly in place by adding the right layers of tape.

There you have it! Installing a clutch with a clutch alignment tool is definitely preferred, and in some cases may be required. But for many installs, a little ingenuity is all you need to install your clutch without relying on tools you don’t need.

Heeltoe Explains Universal Fit Blogging You Can Do It! DIYs

8 tips to get you going on that FWD Honda Transmission removal/rebuild

Based on the recent and disheartening news that the transaxle in our HTSpecTSX needed to be removed and rebuilt, we decided to put together this post to show some handy tips that might arm you with some knowledge you need to get the transmission out of your FWD Honda with that much smaller of a headache.

Factoid: A transaxle is a combination of the differential and the transmission in one unit. Front-wheel-drive cars generally all have transaxles, not technically transmissions!

1. Safety is cool

First and foremost, please please please, wear safety glasses. They might be uncomfortable to wear at first but once you get into your job with tools in hand, you’ll forget they are even on your face. If you don’t put them on I promise you will regret it the very moment you are on your back in a compromised position working on a very difficult bold, and a piece of crud will fall in your eye. It sucks. This is the best-case scenario. Worst case you’ll be like an old coworker of mine who was hammering on a ball joint and a piece of shrapnel shot into his eye and blinded him on that side.

Safety is cool. In addition to the glasses, gloves are a great idea as well. Other important things to have are proper jack stands, and most of all, brains. This job involves some very simple but very real forces of physics. Look at the load system in front of you, and decide where your forces and counter forces are going to be. If this last comment flies over your head, consider leaving the job to a professional.

Now that we have the basics mentioned, let’s talk about some more specific topics.

2. Get the right manual

If you have a Honda or Acura, that means buying a real Helm service manual and read it a week or two in advance of doing the job at hand.  Honda sends a team of people to their production plants with these manuals and literally disassemble an entire car to make sure it reads and works correctly before selling the cars and publishing the books. It will tell you everything you need to know, and nearly every step to take, in order to properly perform any job on the car. If special tools are needed, they will tell you. Need to replace a bolt, or use a specific grease, or need torque specs? Buy the book. Get your very own copy at or on eBay.

A Genuine Helm Manual is full of detail.

3. Tools are your key to success

The manual will tell you what special tools are needed and which are proprietary Honda ones. Now, before you go out and buy all these expensive and hard-to-get tools know that there are good aftermarket substitutions out there. Sears, Harbor Freight, Amazon…you can get good tools to work on the car other than the factory. And also know that you don’t need ALL the tools they are suggesting. Overall these manuals are written for dealers and dealers have a huge cache of tools that they get from the manufacturers. You won’t have access to these tools. And they are pricey! So look for good alternatives. The trick is knowing which ones REALLY need to be OEM ones…that might just be something you figure out in the trenches. For example, expensive seal and bearing drivers can often be substituted for pipes of various sizes or sockets. Be resourceful and get tools, but if you don’t need to buy them that is all the better.

Use a large socket as a bearing or seal driver.

Here you can see my solution for removing this sealing bolt for which I did not have a 14mm hex driver. Of course, I bought one on Amazon and it arrived, along with a new bolt from Acura, in time for me to reassemble properly. This technique has long been a favorite of mine for removing stripped brake rotor screws.

A hammer and chisel made quick work of this sealing bolt that I did not have a 12mm hex driver for.

4. Manage your time and be realistic

Now is an opportune time to mention time management. The prime thing to keep in mind is to be realistic. A professional can take a trans out and put it back in in a day. Maybe call it two days if there is a rebuild in there. You need to expect that this job may take you twice as long, or longer. The reason is not because of anything besides experience and the quality and variety of tools. Professional technicians (even the mediocre ones) spend more money on their personal tool collection than you’d believe (I’ve known guys to amass a tool collection of $100,000 or more). To techs, tools are time and time is money. The better the tools and experience using them, the shorter the time to do jobs. They have lots of shop equipment at their disposal (vehicle lifts, to say the least). You’ll save a lot of money doing jobs yourself, but look at your tool collection and understand that you CAN do the job, but it is going to take a lot of time if that collection is not extensive.

You could be hanging around for a while...mostly waiting for parts. Use time wisely.

5. Save the beer for the fat lady

So, you are following instructions in the service manual, using some handy tools, taking your time, listening to music. Things are going well! Don’t crack a beer!

Even if your intentions are not to get drunk, a casual beer makes for casual work which is both inefficient and unsafe. Save the beer for when you are done working for the day. Because once you start the beer, it is the start of the end. Trust me; beer is a great tool, for celebrating. Not for working.

I wanted to rotate this pic, but my photo editor was drunk.

6. Get an impact wrench

One of the tools that will come in handy is an impact wrench. Commonly, impact wrenches are powered by air thus requiring an air compressor. I’ll tell you that since getting my electric one, my life has changed. I use the air compressor mostly for filling tires these days. While things like an air hammer and air rachets can be handy, nothing beats the convenience of an electric impact wrench. I have a Bosch one and I highly recommend it. It is compact, lightweight, and powerful. There are cheaper ones but they are more bulky and heavy. But, it won’t make you superman: Some fasteners need to be removed by hand so have a breaker bar also.

Say hello to my little friend.

7. Special fasteners can throw you a curveball or ruin your day

Watch out for left-hand threads. Righty-tighty-lefty-loosey applies almost universally, but there may be left-hand threads inside the transmission. Actually, the TSX trans is held together by them! Special black-coated bolts designed to prevent galvanic corrosion against the Magnesium case cannot be substituted and are distinctively left-handed. Usually, these special fasteners have arrows on them telling you to turn the opposite way you are used to. Also, some fasteners require special sockets to remove. The flywheel and clutch are held on with 12-point fasteners. The important message here is that if you need to cut one off, or break it by doing the wrong procedure for removal, you won’t end up with a new one by doing an 11th-hour run to the hardware store. Most likely your dealer won’t stock these parts, either. Again, read the book!

Arrows mark the direction to tighten.

8. The aftermarket provides more unknowns

Are you installing aftermarket parts in your transmission? If so, realize that no matter how good they are they probably are not going to fit exactly the same as OEM parts. I found out the hard way that the differential in my TSX transmission needed a different shim than the OEM one did, and had to order new shims at the last minute. Even though I’d given myself plenty of time, this little curveball could have really ruined things for my deadline. Tools can be improvised but actual components inside the trans have to come from specific manufacturers and substitutions won’t do. All the research in the world can’t protect you against Murphy’s Law. You don’t want to get details like this wrong because it could mean taking that transmission back out again sooner than later.

That is a good list to get you going. Be prepared by getting a manual and doing as much shopping as you can ahead of time. Expect to have something like a transmission rebuild to take a full week; this is in addition to the time to remove and install the trans from the car. Don’t be afraid to call Heeltoe if you have any questions or need advice!

Brakes Heeltoe Explains You Can Do It! DIYs

How To Remove The Rotor Screws From Your Honda/Acura’s Brake Rotors

Brake rotor retaining screws are a pain to remove. They are soft, and strip easily, despite having large Phillps heads and generally not being on very tightly. Heeltoe’s got a surefire way to remove them using simple common tools that works 100% of the time. You’ll never reach for an impact driver again. And, luckily, once you get them off you don’t need to re-install them!

I hate these screws. Most European cars don’t even have them, but for some reason, the Japanese feel the need to equip their cars with them. The reason they are there is to hold the rotor securely to the hub of the car once the wheel is removed. If you look at how the whole assembly of hub/studs, rotor, wheel, and lug nuts fit together, you will see that these screws serve no purpose once the wheel is installed. The screws exist merely as an unnecessary assembly aide.

Their function is so superficial, in fact, that they are made out of what must be the softest metallic substance on the entire car. Under any load from the brakes, I can imagine these screws’ heads popping off instantly. Alas, they are on the car holding the rotor in place and must be removed in order to change rotors (another insufficiently designed component of the Honda/Acura braking system, but that is another blog topic...) The process of removing these screws appears to be as simple as grabbing a Phillips head screwdriver and giving them a twist.

Unfortunately, life creates its own interesting moments when it is realized that even a very minimal amount of unseen corrosion or galvanic action LOCKS these bad boys in place, causing the screws to strip with ease. Once these guys are stripped, you need to grab a drill and bore out the heads to get them off. I have done this drilling more often than I have had the miraculous joy of actually removing the screws properly. I never want to do it again.

Let’s say, I was to stop writing here. One might no doubt search their favorite message forum and read all of the wonders of a tool called an impact driver. This tool is a sort of screw-driver with a spring-loaded twisting action that works when the handle is hit with a hammer. The idea is, the hammer forces the driver into the screw while the spring action twists the screw just enough to break it free. Much of the time an impact driver is the perfect tool for the job. But I content this method is no sure-fire way to unscrew these screwy screws without possible need for the drill.

Problem one with the driver is, not everyone has one, and not everyone who changes brakes every 2-3 years wants to buy one. In order to get one that works reliably, you’ll need to spend enough money that you might well have paid someone to do your brakes for you. I’ve used cheap ones and broken them almost instantly. Bonus…before they broke, they stripped the screws.

Problem two, even with a good driver there exists an estimated 10% chance you will strip a screw anyway because the screws are just that bitchy.

So here is my SUREFIRE, WORKED EVERY TIME I DID IT WITHOUT FAIL way of removing the rotor screws from your brake rotors. It involves two simple tools nearly everyone has in their toolbox.

Now it is all about technique. Make a dimple in the screw head near the outside diameter of the screw. You just need to dent the screw a little, not chop a chunk into it.

Using the dimple for “traction,” hold the chisel about 45 degrees from the rotor hat (make sure you put the dimple in a place not directly adjacent to a stud) and give it a few good whacks to work it free, and you’ll need to rotate your position as you hit to walk the screw around.

Use a screwdriver to spin the screw out! No new tools. No special tools. Hell, you can use the crappiest hammer and screwdriver you have. The real trick is not to get too wily with your chisel because you can make mince-meat out of the screw, making the job harder and making the potential for getting that drill out a reality. With a bit of practice, you can get this process figured out before you are done changing 4 rotors.

With the screws removed, go about the business of changing rotors, and if you are re-installing the screws. You’ll have to deal with them again later though. For this reason, I usually toss them in the trash. If these are intended to make my life easier, I wonder how things would be designed if designed to work against me.

GEEK TIME! Why does this work?

It works because when driving a screw with a screwdriver or an impact driver, the majority of the twist happens very close to the center of the fastener, imparting a minimal amount of torque to the screw (remember, torque is force x distance). In order to get the amount of torque needed to remove the screws easily, force must be applied to a point on the fastener as far from the center of the fastener as possible. In T = Fd, you are increasing d.

Likewise, a screwdriver has a tendency to impart minimal grip on the screw itself, which is why when you turn it the driver wants to naturally pop out of the head as you twist. This reduces the force you are able to put into actually turning. In order to get a screwdriver that really grips screws well, you need to come out of pocket more than you might want. You will find yourself putting lots of effort into shoving the driver into the screw to prevent this action even with better tools. A quality impact driver that will handle the extreme hammering that is needed sometimes is even more costly than a good screwdriver! When using the chisel method, the force you impart on the screw is concentrated in a localized area where it does the most good without any “fighting.” It is easy to remove the screws because so much of your effort goes into doing work, not to counter ancillary tendencies. In T = Fd, you are effectively increasing F.

There you go. All you wanted to know about getting the rotor screws out on your Honda/Acura…and more. Too much maybe.