Working on and maintaining your car can be rewarding and can save you money on mechanics bills. It’s a solid skill to have, which can help you out in a sticky road-side situation or if you have plans to customize and modify your car.
If you’re just getting into car repair, the amount of tools, equipment, and supplies needed can seem pretty daunting. Don’t stress out, the vast majority of maintenance and repairs on your vehicle can be done with a basic set-up that won’t break the bank. Here’s a list of tools and toolsets that will get you on the road to DIY repair.
Socket Set With Ratchets
What It Does: The vast majority of your car is held together with nuts and bolts. A good socket set with ratchets will give you the ability to remove and install all of those fasteners. The longer the ratchet, the more leverage it has to help with removal.
What To Look For: Start with a basic set that includes both metric and standard size sockets. You’ll want to have an assortment of 1/4″, 3/8″ and 1/2″ sockets and ratchets. You don’t have to buy every size now, you can add more to your set as you get more skilled.
What It Does: A breaker bar is used as extra leverage, and amplifies the force you apply to it, to remove stuck nuts, bolts, studs and fasteners that have been secured with high torque (on really tight!), like wheel lug bolts.
What To Look For: Breaker bars come in a wide range of sizes, but start with a 30″ long, 1/2″ drive bar. That should be sufficient to handle just about everything you can throw at it. If you want to expand your tool set, look for a 3/8″ drive breaker bar as the next most useful tool.
What It Does: Most nuts and bolts on your vehicle have a “torque spec.” That’s a manufacturer recommendation of how tight to tighten a nut or bolt on a specific component. The torque spec is based on the size of the bolt, how it’s used on the car and how it’s loaded while in use. A torque wrench allows you to precisely tighten bolts to the correct tightness, this includes wheel lug bolts/nuts.
What To Look For: Start with a 1/2″ drive torque wrench rated to 250 ft./lbs. That will handle just about every bolt. A 3/8″ drive torque wrench that measures in./lbs. is a good second tool to get for smaller fasteners.
Tire Pressure Gauge
What It Does: Checking tire pressure is an important part of maintaining your car or truck. Over or under inflated tires can have a dramatic effect on the handling, behavior and safety of your ride and it’s important to check tire pressure regularly. To do that, you’ll need a pressure gauge.
What To Look For: Don’t buy a “stick gauge.” They are shockingly inaccurate and unreliable. Instead, opt for a dial gauge with a range from 0 to 100 psi. An even better option is a digital tire pressure gauge. They’re more accurate, easy to use and you can store it in the glove box.
Torx Bit Set
What It Does: Think of a Torx bit as a cross between an Allen wrench and a Philips screwdriver. The bit has a six-pointed star pattern and can be male or female. Male Torx bits will start with the letter “T” and female bits will start with the letter “E.” Torx head bolts and screws are designed to make sure that the tool doesn’t slip out while tightening.
What To Look For: Torx bits come as both male and female, and if you’re driving a newer car or truck, there’s a chance it will have both. A good basic set is all you need with the standard common sizes.
What It Does: Combination wrenches, like sockets, allow you to remove nuts and bolts. Some fasteners of cars can be tricky to access and there may not be enough room to get a socket and ratchet on the bolt, that’s where a good wrench comes in handy. It’s the standard-issue tool of bolt removal everywhere.
What To Look For: Just like your socket set, you’ll want to find a set of wrenches in both metric and standard sizes. Most off-the-shelf sets will have all the sizes you need, and you can always add more later. If you’re looking for an upgrade, a set of ratcheting wrenches makes removing bolts in tight spots easier.
What It Does: Most of us are familiar with the humble screwdriver, next to a hammer, it’s likely to be the first thing that comes to mind when we think about tools. Screwdrivers come in an infinite number of sizes and lengths and are a must have for removing screws on cars.
What To Look For: A good set of screwdrivers should have both Philips and Flathead designs in a number of sizes and lengths. Screws are not all created equal, so having the right screwdriver for the job is critical. A set of small electronics screwdrivers is also a handy addition to your tool box.
What It Does: There is no substitute for a well-lit workplace. Having enough light to be able to see what you’re doing is important for any job, but crucial for auto repair. Engine bays are dark, especially if you have to get to a component deep inside the car.
What To Look For: There are a ton of options when looking for a work light. Some of the best are LED and have magnetic bases allowing you to move and position the light anywhere you need it. No more having to worry about it moving or needing someone to hold a flashlight.
What It Does: Pliers are essentially a gripping tool and are used for everything from cutting electrical wires to gripping components that are being installed or removed. Needle nose, slip joint and tongue and groove pliers are likely to be the ones that you’ll use the most.
What To Look For: You’ll want a good assortment of pliers with different functions. A Tongue and groove pliers for large components, a needle nose for smaller parts and some electrical pliers for dealing with electrical wiring and connectors. Start with a basic assortment and add more later as you encounter different problems.
What It Does: Vise grips or locking pliers are similar to normal pliers with the addition of a locking function that maintains their grip even when you let go. Super helpful on tough bolt removal and for holding components in place while you’re working. They’re a lot like a third hand.
What To Look For: Like normal pliers, vise grips come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. You can start with just one or two in standard sizes. Those will be useful on 99% of the projects you work on and you can add specialty pliers to your tool collection when the need arises.
Trim Removal Tools
What It Does: A trim removal tool kit is a set of plastic mini pry bars that are used to remove interior and exterior trim pieces without damaging them. If you need to remove and replace a piece of interior dashboard trim, a metal screwdriver or pry bar could crack and break it, that’s where the trim removal kit comes in. These are also handy for stereo and speaker upgrades.
What To Look For: Trim removal tools are relatively inexpensive and should come as a complete set. They should be able to accommodate all types of trims and be able to remove the clips as well without damaging the parts.
Allen Wrench Set
What It Does: Allen wrenches, also known as hex keys or Allen keys, are a simple tool used to drive screws and bolts that have a hexagonal socket on their head. They’re common on interior trim parts and on engine component covers, splash pans and plastic covers. They are typically available in three styles: L-shaped wrench, T-handle wrench or as a socket set for use with a ratchet.
What To Look For: The style is user preference and each version has it’s pros and cons, but whatever style you choose, you’ll want to get a set of metric and standard sizes. Most modern cars will use the metric sizes.
Cordless Impact Wrench
What It Does: A cordless impact wrench is an indispensable tool that can make quick work of removing tough nuts and bolts. It uses a series of sudden twisting motions that apply much more force than you’re capable of to remove and install fasteners. Racing teams use pneumatic impact wrenches for tire changing, but a cordless impact will offer you more freedom of movement.
What To Look For: It’s best to go with a reputable brand, like Milwaukee Tools, Dewalt or Bosch. You’ll be looking for an impact wrench that’s powered by an 18V or 20V battery, and it’s nice to have more than one. Check the torque rating and consider a set of dedicated impact sockets.
Floor Jack And Jack Stands
What It Does: Sometimes you’ll need to perform work underneath your car or will need to remove the wheels. For that, you need to get the car off the ground, and the easiest way is with a floor jack. Floor jacks should always be paired with high capacity jack stands. They will support the vehicle and prevent it from crashing to the ground while you’re underneath.
What To Look For: Make sure you get a jack and stands that can lift and support your vehicle properly. If your car or truck weighs more than 4,000 pounds, you’ll want to make sure they can cope. A quick jack is a nice upgrade and can lift a car in one to three pumps.
OBDII Scan Tool
What It Does: If your car or truck was built after 1996, it has an on-board diagnostics system that gives access to the functions of many of the vehicle’s systems. Mechanics use it to diagnose problems, and if you’re in an area with emission testing, it’s the primary mode of checking a vehicle’s status. In order to access the OBDII software in the car’s computer, you need a scan tool to read the code.
What To Look For: A scan tool from a reputable manufacturer that can read the diagnostic codes on your specific car. The scan tool will help diagnose and turn-off “Check Engine” lights and give you access to a wide variety of systems on your car.
What It Does: A digital multimeter is just an electronic measuring tool. It’s used for measuring volts, current and resistance in electrical systems and is an invaluable tool for testing everything from your battery to switches to wiring and engine sensors. It can help you pinpoint a fault in the electrical system of your car or truck.
What To Look For: Brands like Fluke make multimeters specifically for mechanics but can be pricey. A good quality meter from a known brand is a must, but what is more important is that you learn how to use it properly. There are tons of great “How To” videos that can get you up to speed quickly.
What It Does: A simple funnel is one of the forgotten heros of the tool box. It allows you to pour a liquid, like brake fluid, engine oil, transmission fluid, engine coolant or washer fluid into the vehicle’s reservoir without spilling it all over the engine, the car, the ground and you. Simple, effective, easy.
What To Look For: Funnels are pretty cheap and available everywhere. It’s nice to have a set with a few different sizes that can accommodate the different reservoirs on your car. Remember to clean them after use, you don’t want to get coolant in the engine oil or engine oil in the washer fluid.
What It Does: Changing fluids like the engine oil, transmission fluid, differential oil, and engine coolant in your car is part of a good maintenance regime, and one of the easiest DIY tasks for the home mechanic. Since you can’t let those fluids drain all over the ground, you’ll need a good drain pan to catch everything, allowing you to dispose of it properly.
What To Look For: Drain pans come in different sizes and you’ll want to make sure that the one you buy has enough capacity to comfortably handle the amount of oil, coolant and other fluids in your car. Drain pans with a spout make it easier to pour liquids into disposal containers.
Hammer And Mallets
What It Does: A good hammer and a rubber mallet, often referred to as a dead-blow hammer, is a great tool for fitting parts and freeing stuck parts. When used correctly, the application of a little force with a hammer can make your repair job easier.
What To Look For: Rubber mallets or dead blow hammers come in different sizes and weights, a small to medium sized one will work perfectly for you. When it comes to metal hammers, look for a ball-peen hammer. You don’t need a roofing or demolition hammer for working on your car.
What It Does: Safety first. Remember, you’re working on a machine that converts flammable liquids and electricity into heat and movement. If you’re working on the fuel system, electrical system or anything that can burn, it’s always a good idea to have a fire extinguisher nearby. Gas and oil float, so grabbing the garden hose and spraying water is only going to bring the fire to the top of the puddle.
What To Look For: There are four classes of fire extinguisher, Class A, B, C and D. Class B and C is what you’re after, Class B is designed for flammable liquids and Class C is for electrical fires.