By on September 11, 2017

zip ties, Image: NorGal/Bigstock

Most of us reading — and writing for — this site have found themselves in possession of a complete and utter beater car at some point in their lives. Whether through necessity (young kid with no money) or choice (strange attractions to unreliable British machinery), roadside repairs often figure into our past in some form or another.

The most versatile of all roadside repair items? Zip ties, of course.

In my Mr. Noodles days, I always kept a pack of dollar store zip ties (buy expensive ones at Canadian Tire? Hah!) in the trunk of my car. The first beater, an ’89 Ford Escort purchased new by my parents when I was nine, had a nasty habit of burning more oil than gas. I quickly started sourcing used motor oil for free from local garages to support my thirsty hatchback.

I sold the ’89 to a man who promptly drove it in such a fashion that the local constabulary were on my doorstep a few short days later. Apparently, he didn’t change over the registration, which is why you always keep records of this stuff, kids. I showed the cops my sale documents and they left me alone, with the car turning up at an impound lot a few days later.

Anyways, I inexplicably bought another Ford Escort, this time a manual shift ’92 wagon. Damn thing was even the same color: light blue. This penalty box had the nasty habit of failing to activate its cooling fan even when underhood temperatures reached those found inside Reactor Number Four, so I zip-tied a terrifying array of wires and relays to hardwire the fan directly to the battery. In this fashion, I could switch the fan on myself when the situation got nuclear. I’m surprised the whole thing didn’t burn to the ground.

What’s the strangest or jankiest repair you ever made with zip ties? Whether it lasted for five seconds or until you sold the car, zip-tie repairs sometimes make for good stories.

[Image: NorGal/Bigstock]

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61 Comments on “QOTD: What’s Your Greatest Zipped-up Repair?...”

  • avatar

    I used them to tie cables that came down from the dish on the roof to a down spout. I found that weather make them fragile. So, when I needed to tie under-body plastic I used 15-gauge electrical wires.

  • avatar

    I used a pair of Vice Grips to attach my negative battery cable to the terminal after the cheap crappy clamp split in half one dark lonely night.
    That was my 1996 Mitsubishi Galant.

  • avatar

    It’s a bit early and my coffee hasn’t really kicked in enough to remember “the greatest”.
    My most memorable was zip tying the starter motor back on to a Ford 4.9 in a service van I used to have to drive.

  • avatar

    …the only “repair” for which i’ve ever used zip ties was to temporarily attach a license plate to the front grille in order to have a ticket dismissed, after which it was promptly removed…

  • avatar

    I used 3 zipped together when an intercooler boot clamp failed on my 98 Dodge Ram. I was 400 miles from home running through west Virginia hauling an international 656. Bad time to lose a clamp.
    The first repair only lasted until about 3/4 of the way up a long 6% grade before the high boost blew it back off. The second attempt I tethered the make shift clamp to a hole in the front clip to prevent the boost from blowing the hose off. It leaked a little under heavy engine load but it got me home.
    I replaced every single clamp to the tune of about $300 after that little adventure.

    • 0 avatar
      Wagon Of Fury

      On a smaller scale but same idea, used a really teeny tiny ziptie to secure the vacuum line on the intake of my WRX. Was throwing codes for months until I found that problem !

      Also used much larger series of zip ties to secure a battery on a rusted out mount.

      • 0 avatar

        To gain the real benefit of zip ties, you have to use multiple. I used four to fix up a radiator hose. You just lace one into the head of the next; I did four together and then you pull the two on opposite sides, then pull the two others. All four pulling together will hold as tight as you’d like and it’s easier to get a better grip when you spread the load. The only problem is that they will eventually melt depending on where they are, so short term only.

        • 0 avatar

          “To gain the real benefit of zip ties, you have to use multiple”

          That’s what I did. You’d be surprised what a 3-1/2″ outlet pushing 40+ lbs of boost will do to 1/8″ zip ties (all I had).
          I’ve seen people use standard worm gear clamps that fail under those pressures. They simply do not have the holding power and literally blows the boot off like it did with my zip tie fix, hence the tether job. Spring loaded T bar clamps are practically mandatory at higher boost.

  • avatar

    Autocross cones get pretty hard when it’s 45 and raining. So do automotive trim plastics. I had to zip tie the front end of my car back together. Front undertray, fender liners, bumper cover… That was in 2007 and it’s still held together that way now.

    I haven’t counted but there’s probably 15-20 of the magical things holding everything together.

  • avatar

    I zip tied the entire front clip of a Mk4 Golf GTI back on when I knocked it off going over a railroad crossing one day.

  • avatar

    Drilled a line of small holes on each side of a lower fascia crack on the front bumper, and zip tied it back together.

    The van just goes up and down the mountain all winter, and snow driving always seems to get that spot, eventually.

    Used black zip ties for extra ugly points!

  • avatar

    First time I went to put gas into my then brand spankin’ new 2006 Sierra. I hopped back in with quite a bit of slush on my boots, pushed in the clutch to fire it up and my foot slipped off. Of course, I’m in the habit of always parking a manual trans in reverse so my brand new truck jerks backward and almost hits the next guy waiting behind me.

    My solution was a quick trip to Canuck Wheel looking for some grippy aftermarket pedal pads for winter use. What I ended up with is a metal serrated mountain bike pedal zip tied to the clutch pedal. As Red Green used to say, “This is only temporary unless it works.” It’s still there 11 years later with the original zip ties so there we go.

  • avatar

    I use zipties to change the tires on my motorcycle. On modern bikes they’re used extensively for holding wiring and cabling in place, so it’s routine to clip and replace..

    Like all things, there are good ones and bad ones. The ones at Home Despot are generally brittle and bad. The ones at McMaster Carr are in various grades, and very good.

  • avatar

    After lots of replacing hose clamps and plastic pins with plastic zip ties. I moved onto the Stainless Steel zip ties which are not just stronger but heat resistant. So when the bolts holding the O2 sensor into the exhaust of my 92 Toyota pickup broke. I was able to reattach the O2 sensor good enough to keep driving it for a few weeks until I had the time to cut the old exhaust off and install a new one.

    • 0 avatar

      Stainless steel zip ties? Why have I not heard of this?

      I know hose clamps, but not zip ties. I googled them and I can’t quite figure out how the lock mechanism works or holding power. It looks like some have holes that clip and others are just a solid steel band? seems like either way you go you’d have durability concerns, but it sounds like yours hold up OK.

  • avatar

    I keep them in my driver door panel, however that’s less to do with roadside repairs than it has to do with keeping them somewhere I can remember/find them when needed.

    I’ve used them for minor stuff, nothing epic that I can remember. However, just recently I reattached a fog lamp to my friends BMW when the clip that held it snapped off. There was no way to properly fix it, there was nothing to do but either buy another front bumper, or bust out the zip ties.

    When my ex was driving my Taurus (the 95 I have now), it came home one day with the passenger headlight pointing to the ground. I drilled a small hole in the top of the header panel, and zip tied it to it. Its still holding and with the hood closed, it looks very much in line with the other one, and upon checking its alignment on the side of a building, its spot-on.

    Yes, I plan to replace that entire header panel, and upgrade the headlights to the more modern-looking clear reflector type that was used on the SE and LX models that year.

    I don’t know how he managed to break that. He also cracked the rear bumper a little, claimed someone lightly rear ended him in traffic. It was clearly not that, due to where it is and how it cracked. He had obviously backed into something. Lying was a consistent theme of his.

    Its amazing that both the car and I survived that relationship as well as we did, or at all for that matter.

    • 0 avatar

      Good play on the headlight. I’d worry that it could cause vibration issues and blind oncoming traffic, but if not, excellent!

      Lying does no one any good… better an ex in that case!

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah no kidding (about lying). It never fails to amaze me how people can lie like its nothing. If I’m in a situation where I must lie, I feel guilty as hell until the truth comes out. 99.9% of the time, lying is just unnecessary unless you’re trying to get away with doing something wrong, which of course you shouldn’t be anyway.

        Back to the headlight, it doesn’t vibrate, I checked for that because I know how annoying it is to have someone behind you, or coming towards you on a two-lane, with that going on.

        Its as tight and solid as it can be, but as I said, its temporary anyway. If this was just some beater I was slumming with until I could get a better car, I wouldn’t worry about replacing that header panel. But, I plan to keep this car, so eventually, it’ll get fixed properly.

    • 0 avatar

      Had a similar problem as your Taurus with the junk repro headlight buckets on my Volvo 240. One of the mounts for the left side broke and the bucket was flopping around. Stuffed about five wadded-up plastic grocery bags behind it a few years ago and it’s still in place.

      • 0 avatar

        Ha! I had actually put a small piece of wood under the headlight to hold it up, but the results were not to my liking, so I broke out the drill and zip ties.

        Honestly, without the hood being open (where you’d see the bright yellow zip tie), there is no indication that it was ever broken.

        I also used a zip tie to secure the EEC diagnostic connector under the hood (remember, its a 1995, so not OBD-II).

        It actually wasn’t broken/loose, yet, but I learned from experience with my old 1993 Taurus that it could come loose, fall down on the exhaust manifold and melt. It throws the PCM way out of wack if that happens. That car was still drivable, but it ran weird and had a habit of stalling when coming to a stop.

        Once I found the issue on that car, I separated the wires and taped their ends up with electrical tape to prevent them from touching each other. Afterwards, it ran normal and the stalling was no longer an issue. However, the CHECK ENGINE light never came on again, even with KOEO and even after swapping in a different instrument cluster (to gain a tachometer).

  • avatar

    Umm…. my 2004 Buick Rendezvous blew the fuel inlet line off the fuel filter and I didn’t want to figure out why the latch failed in the pouring rain, so I ziptied it in place and drove it home.

  • avatar

    I used several to secure the radiator overflow bottle in place. Which itself was a re-purposed Trader Joe water bottle. Sold the car early this year. Saw it recently. Same water bottle still in place, with the same zip ties.

  • avatar

    I spun out at Nelson Ledges slamming my C5 Vette into the wall.

    I drug dangling auto parts back to the pit. Armed with Zip ties and and a drill (so you can drill through parts in order to zip tie them back together), I managed to remount:

    -Front Bumper
    -Front Air Dam
    -Plastic underside piece
    -Cold air Intake pipe with mount
    -Damaged side skirt
    -Damaged headlight bracket
    -Turn signal and wires
    -Side air vent
    -Bumper Grill

    But the one I was most proud of? The driver side mirror.

    And it was all done well enough for the safety steward to give me the “A-OK” to head back out.

    • 0 avatar

      Pure awesome.

      I also ziptied a lower plastic splash guard on a 1997 Taurus, your story reminded me of that one. I guess she ran it up on a curb and busted the clips, I dunno.

  • avatar

    The “zip tie A/C fix” is famous in Volvo circles. The A/C compressor clearance tends to increase over time, eventually making it so the clutch won’t engage anymore. A few strategically placed zip ties reduces the clearance enough to allow the A/C to keep working indefinitely, at a cost of a few cents compared to $500+ for a compressor replacement.

    Kinda ghetto, sure. But effective and cheap!

  • avatar

    Friend of my son parked his POS ’77 Nova behind my pickup one day. This car doubled in value when you filled it with gas. Had a load of junk for the dump in my truck and backed into the left front of the Nova, smashing the headlight and neighboring parts. Picked up a cheap 6024, and using the straightened chrome trim bezel to hold the bulb in, I zip tied it through some random holes and called it good. It wasn’t exactly aimed right and shined up and to the right into passing trees. Whenever I saw the kid I always asked him if he’d found any raccoons in the trees at night.

  • avatar

    In the mid 1980’s while driving back to college from a weekend spent at home one of the alternator mounts on my Plymouth Horizon broke. Was able to use zip ties to at least get it back to town.

  • avatar

    I think the one I’m most proud of was using zipties to make an expedient door handle on my Grand Prix. I still have no idea how it happened, but somehow the pull had been smashed to splinters, so with a little creativity, I managed to hook some ties to the latch rod inside the handle to make it functional again. Eventually I did replace it properly, but the zipties were on there for longer than I care to admit.

  • avatar

    Waiting for those retired engineers with stories they can talk about….

    Zip Ties are life savers during launch….

  • avatar

    There is a difference when it comes to quality of zip ties. I’ve had really bad luck with the really cheap ones at places like Harbor Freight.

    When I buy name brand ones at like Home Depot, they seem to actually hold up better.

    But I had some side mirrors that extended “out” too far, it was a common failure and a new side light from the dealer was like $1,000 per side. A zip tie locked it in and the car was dark enough you couldn’t really tell it was there.

  • avatar

    1992 Volvo 240

    When the secondary muffler rusted-free I grabbed some zip ties, many zip ties, to hold up the pipe to keep it from dragging, it worked like a charm.

    And yet, after this when I went to have the exhaust repaired at a shop, I told them to “throw on their performance exhaust” deal. This got me an abomination of an exhaust pipe routing that acted as a snow plow in winter time, bottom out like mad too. I think it was Midas?

    One moment I’m crafty, the next I’m a dummy.

    This is reminding me of the one Golden Era” Camry I looked at, where the grille was held in by zip ties, call me crazy but I usually avoid used cars with zip ties in place of the factory holding tabs.

  • avatar

    Plowing through a foot of snow on a forest service road in my Subaru STI broke off a large portion of my Subaru STI’s front bumper.

    After watching some amazing videos on youtube of Autocrossers fixing their bumpers with zip-ties, I tried the same.

    Mine didn’t turn out quite as nicely as the youtube videos, but it did hold for the next year until I traded in my STI. And I’m pretty sure it gave me some street cred with the fast and furious crowd as well, until they noticed the pudgy late 30s driver.

  • avatar

    Once, while my wife was driving through a busy highway interchange, the hood on our beater 1987 Nissan Stanza flew up – the latch gave away. Luckily she had the same thing happen on her VW Rabbit and was prepared – my wife stuck her head out the window and took the next ramp off. We parked on the side of the road. I was at a loss on what to do, but on the ground I spied some plastic ties – the sort of things used to bundle newspapers together.

    I soon had the hood down again and tied to the front grill. We then drove home slowly through the 25mph back roads.

    Also – my current beater car, a used and abused 2009 Clubman began to leak through the sunroof drain and into the driver’s side foot well, causing many electrical gremlins. I pulled down part of the roof, found the rubber boot that wasn’t attached to the drain line, and reattached it – adding in a zip tie to keep it in place.

  • avatar

    I never used zip ties, I’ve always kept a couple old wire clothes hangers, pliers, and snippers in the car. I’ve used them on a muffler, tail pipes, alternator bracket, hoses, and as a battery tie-down. Zip ties wouldn’t work in several of those applications, but stiff metal wire did, at least in some of the early ’60s clunkers I’ve owned.

    There are very limited uses for zip ties or wire hangers. The engines are covered in plastic to keep you away, everything is electronic, and automakers don’t even supply spares. Technically they do, but they’re worthless, and so is the flimsy jack they supply, minus the wheel blocks that are necessary to change a tire safely. Plus, nobody knows how to change a tire anyway.

    The automakers don’t want you to do ANYTHING but call a tow truck or take it to the dealer. Cars are designed for lowest cost and ease of assembly, not owner maintenance/repair. Just whip out your cell phone, then your checkbook and/or credit card, and nobody gets hurt, okay?

  • avatar

    During a long weekend of camping and off-roading in the Mojave, my (much-missed) 2000 Jeep Cherokee somehow managed to suck the hose running between the radiator and coolant overflow bottle into the engine fan, shredding most of its length. Add this to the combination of a slightly weak radiator cap, 115°F ambient temperatures, and the XJ’s naturally-high underhood temperatures and coolant was running out of the remaining six-inch stub of hose still attached to the radiator cap neck at an annoyingly-efficient rate.

    The fix: two zip-ties and the case from a spent 9mm round, the latter being the only item to hand that would suitably plug the end of the hose.

    Having performed the fix early on a Friday evening, it held up through returning home Sunday evening. Probably put around 200 miles on it like that.

    If anyone is ever in a similar situation, I strongly recommend the use of a *spent* round, not a live one.

  • avatar

    Late one evening two years ago, my then 22 year-old daughter executed the perfect freeway shunt on Interstate 5 driving between LA and OC. She immediately pulled off at the next exit. The car she hit decided not to stop. Over the phone she said that the front grill was shattered, bumper drooping plus both the passenger-side headlight and turn signal on her beateresque ’98 Mazda Protege were dangling in the wind but operational .”The car was making weird noises when moving” (bumper cover). My 20 year-od son set off in his car to provide aid. A bungee cord and copious amounts of duct tape got her the 20 odd miles to our house. The next morning’s repair session utilized 7 or eight zip ties to secure the lighting in relatively immovable and surprisingly good alignment. The grill was gone and the bumper cover excised. The derpy, little- old-man brown, Protege actually looked kind of bad ass or like it got its two front teeth knocked out. The repair lasted about two years and up until the car’s recent crushing demise at the hands of a state of California designated dismantler/recycler. Those bungees were worth about 20,000 bonus miles.

    • 0 avatar

      Guy probably had no insurance, or was on the lam.

      Those Protegès were not bad cars, excellent beater material that flys under the radar. While everyone else is gaga over a Corolla or Civic (and are priced accordingly), the little Mazda wasn’t a bad alternative.

  • avatar

    I have a few of those stainless steel zip ties in the garage. I haven’t used them yet because, well, they’re too good to waste!

    Guess I’ll recognize the worthy project for them when it happens.

  • avatar

    I’m the father of three girls. You want a pony tail? Zip tie.

  • avatar

    There was a recall for my dash warping on my 2000 Mystique. My dash seemed fine, so I didn’t bother. I should have.

    A few years later, the dash warped just enough so that the defroster vents were popping out. Several black zip ties, not only fixed the defroster vents, but also pulled the dash back into shape. Sold the car eight years later and it still looked good.

  • avatar

    The best – 2 narrow ones strung together clamping socket/plug on the engine wire harness. Fixed the misfire issue that 2 shops could not figure out (at my expense and probably with detriment to the engine in my ZX3). Later on, I’ve found replacement wire harness section in the junkyard, but for last 60k it’s been shelved as the “fix” is not broken. Countless zip ties attaching retrofit engine bay bottom shield, probably too late in the life of the vehicle (as the corrosion in the bay – likely because of the water treatment that one of the shops applied while troubleshooting the misfire issue – had already taken hold). Bunch of ties attaching bottom and fuel tank heatshield panels (that wore around rusted screws). Some ties holding coolant lines (in place of broken clips). Great, durable, easy and cheap fix. In many places zip ties are better than original/OEM fasteners.

  • avatar

    I don’t think I’ve ever ziptied anything for a repair, but I sure went overboard with them for cable management for my PC, my HTPC/AV/TV and my home network/server cabinet. There’s nothing I hate more than a nest of cables.

    Speaking of which, there are several switch racks on the fourth floor at work that are just completely repulsive. I hope I never have to change anything out or find myself in a position to have to change/troubleshoot VLANs for whatever reason since it’s a big tangled mess. Can’t even read the ports and nothing is labeled, but it’s not worth bringing down the network to correct it. I’ll have one of my support engineers under me deal with that if/when the time comes.

    It’s one of the older hardware deployments so I’m looking forward to 2019 when it all is ripped out and replaced so it can be done the right way.

  • avatar

    Not zip ties, but garden hose clamps and cut-open Campbell’s soup cans make for a lasting exhaust repair.

  • avatar

    10 years ago, repaired window regulators on my BMW E46 330i.

    The plastic clips that fasten the glass panels to the cables are not beefy enough and eventually will break. Several zip ties will either fix it or prevent it from ever happening. Every E46 owner should know this.

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