An auto mechanic needs many essential tools to do a repair job efficiently. Just like the pros, home auto mechanics also need to make sure they are properly equipped to handle most repair jobs. While there is a myriad of specialty tools out there, outfitting your garage with the basics is a surefire way to save yourself time and frustration. The following is a list of tools that everyone who wrenches on cars should consider having in their garage.
1. Socket SetSocket sets will most likely be the one set of tools that you will use more than any other. Having the right set will make sure you have what you need when you need it. A good socket set will have both SAE and metric sizes. With today’s automobiles, more and more you will need metric sockets. Even the big three are using metric, and in rarer cases SAE and metric appear in the same vehicle. In general, 6 point sockets provide better gripping power than 12 points (meaning you are less likely to strip bolt heads) at the expense of some ergonomic convenience. Also, make sure the kit includes deep well sockets as these prove invaluable for hard to reach bolt heats. Nothing more annoying than a long bolt or stud when you don’t have the right tools. As far as brands are concerned, Craftsman is our favorite due to an awesome warranty that allows you to walk into local stores that stock the brand and swap out anything that may break, even if it has been mistreated.
To make sure you get a set that covers everything you need, we recommend getting one with 200 pieces or more, such as this Craftsman 220 pc. Mechanics Tool Set with Case.
2. Breaker BarsThere will always be that one bolt or nut that is seized up from rust, requiring a supreme amount of force to break free. Using a ratchet to break stuck bolts free is sure to damage your tool, particularly if you tend to break out the mallet to help coerce the bolt into breaking loose. Enter the breaker bar. The handles are long for extra leverage that you need and there no ratcheting mechanisms to break by abusing the tool. Many people slide a cheater pipe over the handle to get that extra leverage when needed or tap away with a mallet as breaker bars are designed to take substantially more load than your average ratchet. A breaker bar with an 180 degree swivel head is very handy because you can’t always get at your work with a 90-degree head. For convenience, we recommend having one in 1/4″ drive, one in 3/8″ drive at the minimum. If you work on offroad vehicles you may also benefit from having a 1/2″ drive in your tool chest.
When it comes to breaker bars, any major brand will do the job. Considering that this tool takes a beating, get one that doesn’t cost too much and is robust enough to stand up to some hard use.
We like this Tekton Breaker Bar as an example as it represents a balance between quality and value.
3. SwivelsAlso known as universal joints or u-joints, your tool box won’t be complete without a set. These great inventions will help you get around just about any obstruction. Sometimes universals are the only way to get a socket onto an off-angle nut or bolt. Just imagine having to take off a part just to get it out of the way. A three-piece set will do the trick (1/4″, 3/8″, 1/2″) to match up to the ratchets in your socket set.
You can splurge and get some nice ones, but we find that the Tekton 3-Piece U-joint Set meets our needs just fine without spending big bucks.
4. Torque WrenchTorque wrenches are pretty important to an auto mechanic especially when you have to rebuild an engine or transmission to manufacturer specifications. The same is true when working on safety critical items such as brakes where you need to accurately torque caliper and carrier bolts to spec. Undertorquing bolts runs the risk of having a bolt unexpectedly back off, whereas overtorquing bolts can weaken a bolt or strip threads, thereby weakening the integrity of the bolted joint. Accordingly, it is important to tighten to the predetermined torque to prevent failures.
Some torque wrenches will have a scale and needle to determine where you need to be, and are known as beam style. The problem with this style of torque wrench is it’s easy to damage the needle and scale and difficult to read precisely. The best torque wrenches out there today are either click-type or digital due to their ease of use. These will either click or beep when you reach the set torque and are typically held to high standards for accuracy. For most applications a 3/8″ drive will do just fine.
When it comes to torque wrenches choices, we like this CDI 3/8-drive Click Type Torque Wrench. CDI wrenches rival some professional grade tools (like Snap-On) at a substantially better price. We recommend starting with a 3/8″ drive and a range of roughly 10 foot-pounds to 100 foot-pounds. You may also read our guide to buying the best torque wrench here for more info.
One more note is that should you drop your wrench or exceed the recommended range, it is good practice to have your wrench calibrated before using it again to maintain accuracy. This should be done about every year as well, depending on how much you use your wrench.
5. Combination WrenchesWith today’s vehicles, combination wrenches come in very handy because car manufacturers are packing so much stuff in such small spaces these days. Many times a socket won’t fit in tight spots and in these cases, a wrench is often your answer. Now there are many configurations of wrenches out there, whether it is open, box, ratcheting, etc. A combination wrench should do most of the work you need as it combines a box wrench on one end with an open wrench on the other. We recommend that the box end be 12 point with at least a 15 deg angle to help access tough to reach place. The 12 points will allow you to work the nut or bolt in tight spaces. The angle will help keep your knuckles out of the way.
Although some socket sets come with combination wrenches, if yours doesn’t we would recommend a set like this Tekton Combination Wrench Set, which nicely balances value with performance and comes well equipped with many different sizes in both metric and SAE.
6. Slotted and Phillips ScrewdriversScrew drivers come in many sizes and lengths. It’s important to make sure you have the right size and length for the job. Having a good set of screwdrivers is important because you don’t want them to get bent, rounded, or chipped easily. Cheap screwdrivers will wear and bend very quickly making your job harder over time. It can be frustrating when a worn screwdriver strips out a screw head and you have to resort to destroying the screw just to get it out.
Get yourself a set with handles that feel comfortable and provide maximum turning power. It will also be important to have the correct tip size for the job. Having various length screwdrivers with different tip shapes and sizes in your toolbox will prepare you for all types of scenarios. Those hard to reach screws will be a piece of cake if you have a longer screwdriver.
Because of the ergonomic concerns, we recommend a nicer set like this GearWrench Screwdriver Set, which has great ergonomics and solid quality. You may also opt for Craftsman due to the fact that they are easy to replace under warranty locally should you have a mishap.
7. Torx SocketsCar manufacturers are starting to use torx style screws and bolts more often these days. As far as screws go, this style has some advantages. It is more difficult to strip out the head of a torx screw because you have better seat of the torx bit. Having torx bits and sockets in your toolbox is essential when working on today’s autos as you will no doubt encounter them at some point. Some sets come with individual bits that are interchangeable in a driver handle. These are good for smaller screws that don’t require much torque to break loose. That said, you will likely run across torx bolts that get rusted and require more leverage. Torx sockets are the tool for that problem. Look for a set with different drive sizes that be used for both situations.
There are a lot of ways to skin this cat, but we have used this Neiko Torx Socket Set before and it has performed great with a pretty low cost.
8. Hex KeysHex head bolts and screws are becoming more popular as auto part fasteners. For a mechanic, being prepared to deal with these type fasteners is essential. Having a hex key set in your toolbox is the answer. A good set will have SAE and metric sizes. Although the SAE sizes are fading out more and more every year, make sure these sizes are in your set. You will still run into them eventually. Along with different sizes you will want a set in long and short lengths. You will run into situations that require long length to access a bolt head.
We find this Tekton Hex Key Set to be a decent value, and it has the advantage of ball ends so you can work off-angle . You may also get a set with square ends if you find that you have trouble with stripping bolt heads.
9. Regular and Needle Nose PliersPliers are essential tools for automotive work, as well as general work around the house. There are three standard types of pliers you need in your tool box. The channel lock pliers are great for using when you need to grip larger parts. Channel lock pliers help when you need a little more leverage to get a part to move. The slip joint pliers are helpful with smaller pins and holding a nut when you need to get a bolt out. They work well when you need to hold and bend something like a bracket or a clip. Use them to hold a part while you make some adjustments. Needle point pliers are will come in very handy when you get into those tight spaces to remove clips or pins. Needle nose pliers also help when you drop a bolt and can’t get your fingers in there to get it out.
Craftsman’s Evolv line makes a pretty nice 5 piece set that will get you everything you need in one shot.
10. Wire Strippers and CrimpersElectrical repairs are part of the job as an auto mechanic , and can range from stereos to lights to sensors. As such, no good mechanic should be caught without a good pair of wire strippers. There are some auto parts that will not function properly if all the wires in a strand are not there. You can prevent this problem with a pair if wire strippers instead of using a knife. The best pair would be one that not only strips the insulation but also crimps your connections. Wire strippers today are multi tool devices. Look for the ones with a comfortable handle for a good secure grip. Your tool should strip and crimp multiple size wires and will have a wire cutter built in.
One such example of a decent wire stipper is this one from Vise-Grip, which should provide you with all the capabilities you need.
11. MultimeterAs an auto mechanic, there will times that an electrical problem will come your way. Save your sanity and get yourself a good multimeter so you can check resistance, current, and continuity. This tool is what you need to diagnose circuits or test a battery or switches. Without a multimeter you could end up swapping out parts that are good to go and cost you a lot of time troubleshooting. Its nice to have a multimeter that’s easy to read and has a back lit display.
There are some cheapies out there that might get you by, but in reality a nice multimeter is going to be more robust, accurate, and reliable. We use the Fluke 115 Compact for this reason as you will eventually have to replace the cheapies.
12. Work LightUnless you have an expensive lighting system in your shop you are going to need a work light to get your work done, especially when working underneath your car. There are several types of work lights on the market today. The popular ones today have LED lights. If you ever had one of those work lights with the standard bulbs, then you know how hot the work light can get and how poor the light quality is. The LED lights of today are much cooler and put out so much more light. A good work light will be cordless and have a swivel head so you can direct the light where you want it. A magnetic base is very nice to put your light where you want it while you work. A handle is a must have for hanging your light.
Stanley’s BarFlex Light is one of our favorites as it offers a lot of flexibility when it comes to mounting as it can be hung or set on the ground. It’s a pretty nice light for the money.
13. Dead-blow Hammer or MalletUnfortunately, sometimes a hammer is needed to get those stubborn parts unstuck when a little penetrant and forearm strength isn’t enough to get you by . A great tool to help you out would be a dead-blow hammer or a rubber mallet. These hammers give you the punching power you need without damaging the part or cracking a casing. Dead-blow hammers are lighter then steel hammers. The steel shot that is made inside the head will eliminate rebound and really packs a punch.
Having a set of different sizes, is nice but I would highly recommend the 24oz Tekton if you only have one. This hammer is large enough to provide the power you need but small enough to be useful in tight areas. The handle has a diamond textured for easy grip that won’t slip which is important when your hands are greasy.
14. Floor JackFloor jacks are another essential tool for your shop. An ideal floor jack will be able to get under low profile vehicles. It will get the vehicle up quickly and safely and handle the weight with no problem. The first consideration should be the weight rating of the floor jack. Even though you wouldn’t pick up a whole vehicle at one time, your floor jack should be rated for the weight. The construction is another big factor. You don’t want your floor jack bending or breaking after a couple of repairs. The height range is also another important factor. For more detailed information on selecting floor jacks, we have written an extensive guide regarding our top floor jack picks.
15. Jack StandsA good set of jack stands is important to have in your shop as they are critical to your safety. Anytime you have to crawl under an vehicle, you want to be sure you are safe and jack stands are your ticket. The most common type of jack stands have a wide base with four legs. A good stand will have a wide enough head to set the vehicle on safely. A jack stand will be adjustable using a pin through design or a ratcheting design. The weight capacity is very important as it must be able to support whatever vehicle you are working on in your shop. The height range will be important to you when you are under the vehicle and need to work. For more in depth information, we have written an extensive jack stand tutorial with reviews of our favorites.
16. MirrorIf you ever been in a situation where you have to see behind or around a component, a mirror is very handy to own. A mirror can be your best friend when searching for lost bolts, trying to locate a small fluid leak, or just probing around without having to contort your body. I would suggest a round mirror that’s about two inches in diameter and has a telescoping handle. It’s also best to get a mirror that pivots to get just the right angle so you can see your work. I like to keep two in my box because sometimes your mirror can get scratched or broken.
In all honesty, there is not much special about a lot of the automotive mirrors out there on the market. Any mirror that looks like this one should fit the bill.
17. Safety GlassesLast but certainly not least, it’s always a good idea to have a pair of safety glasses handy in the event that you need to protect your eyes. The reality is that when working on cars, there are some pretty nasty fluids that can easily drip or splash in your eyes, particularly when you are working under the car. The last thing you want is to have to spend time flushing coolant, oil, brake fluid or other debris out of your eyes so do yourself a favor and be religious about your glasses. Just get some nice clear ones with good eye coverage. You can see some options by clicking here.
So there you have a complete list of tools to properly outfit your home garage for fixing your car. The list may seem like a lot to digest at first, but it’s important to remember that you don’t have to get all these tools at once. We suggest buying them as you need them and collecting them over time. Happy wrenching and stay safe!