When it comes to pure bliss, little can rival wrenching on your ride. Build a vintage piece from the ground up, keep your family sedan running like an untamed stallion, tweak the horsepower on your import bike, or mod out your friend’s car, you’ll find the satisfaction of getting your hands dirty on your rig is DIY heaven. Unless you’re using cheap, inferior tools to do it. Then there is scant little under the sun that is half as frustrating as trying to get that project piece to turn over.
The saying goes that it is a poor workman who blames his tools, but since it’s just you and the ratchet in the garage, it’s obvious that bastard is to blame. A tough job is infinitely easier with the proper gear, and when you’re working out of a home, there’s no such thing as an easy job. The good news is that you can upgrade and outfit any driveway, car port, or fixin’ bay with a few items that will add infinite ease to the next oil change, alternator swap, or tranny drop you’ve got on the agenda.
Omega 91000 Foldable Z Creeper
Mobility is going to be a major issue when it comes to climbing in, over, and around your vehicle. The best way to save yourself some joint pain is to have a way to get under the car, or sit down beside the car comfortably. Your body is tool #1, which makes caring for it priority 1. Purchase: $90
Arcan XL2T Black Low Profile Steel Service Jack
Besides being able to move, you’re going to need to get your car up off the ground. Don’t waste time and money with little bottle jacks or scissors that take hours of twisting; get a real hydraulic jack. It’s a scant amount more and the time and back pain you’ll save will be worth many times what you spend. Purchase: $200
BlueDriver Bluetooth OBDII Scan Tool
Learning to read the codes that your car spits out whenever that Check Engine light comes on is a lifelong skill that everyone should have. The Scan Tool is a simple way to learn more about your car through technology that turns jargon into actionable ideas. You don’t need to know a lot. It will hold your hand through the tough spots. Knowledge is invaluable, so have plenty on hand. Purchase: $100
Whatever level of experience you have, the internet knows more than you ever will. Do not be afraid to look up videos on how to do anything and everything. Minimize muddling through on phone, tablet, laptop, or whatever. Get a cheap streaming tablet just for use in the garage. You’ll thank yourself later.
A work light is a must, and in our humble travels there’s nothing with the features and price of this compact package. You might want a larger light for in your repair bay, but this can hang from a belt, stick under a hood, dangle, latch, and work directed or ambient depending on the job. Mobile and good for shadetree types. Purchase: $18
Fluke 117 True RMS Multimeter
Get a multimeter model that knows how to read Amps, and learn to use it. Knowing when and where power is flowing in a vehicle – or home for that matter – is a smart way to avoid electrical injury. Purchase: $175
Neiko 00206A Breaker Bar
Though it is nothing but a hunk of metal, a breaker bar is easily one of the most glorious tools ever devised by the hand of humankind. It adds leverage for yanking off stubborn or rusty bolts. Even better, you can add an even longer cheater bar to it for mountains of leverage. Purchase: $18
Ratchet Swivels and Extenders
The key to being able to tighten or loosen a bolt is often in being able to reach it. When it literally comes down to nuts and bolts, you need every extender and swivel you can to access every hidden piece inside your ride. Prices vary.
Don’t go light here. Get a big daddy socket set from a reputable name. Make sure it has both metric and American sizes, a comfortable carrying case, all three of the main ratchet sets, and an organizational structure you like. Better steel matters here, so don’t let price influence you, since it could literally put your car and therefore your life on the line. Starter: $40 Serious: $200
A corroded nut can put a whole job on hold, stubbornly refusing to budge, or to even allow a grip to be found upon it. You gotta break that cowboy in two, and you do that quickest with a nut splitter. It hacks away the nut without damaging the threads of the bolt underneath. Tighten and rejoice. Purchase: $13
It goes without saying, but an adjustable wrench, or even a few of varying sizes, will be used more times than you expect. Get a small one for inside the house too. Purchase: $20
DeWalt Impact Wrench
Breaker bars and nut splitters are good for dealing with removal of bolts and dealing with nuts, but they aren’t as keen on putting things back together. For a tighter grip than you can get with just a drill, and a smoother, faster way to get bolts off, the impact wrench is power right where it’s most necessary. Purchase: $349
Torin Jack Stands
The stands for your vehicle are going to be holding a few tons of metal up and away from your body, so get the best. We like Torin thanks to their pin-through design which distributes weight directly to the ground and cannot unhook at a moment’s notice. Splurge here, because, again, it’s tons of metal over your little melon. Purchase: $79
Briggs & Stratton Oil Extractor
Getting fluids into and out of an engine is about as unpleasant a task as there is, but one you’re going to need to do if you’re serious. Also helpful for spill cleanup, this saves you the expense of a motorized pump, and has kinder operation that’s more modular. Purchase: $34
Dremel MultiPro 7.2-Volt Cordless Rotary Tool Kit
Grinding isn’t the first thing a wrencher thinks about, but it should be on the list. Whenever a part won’t quite fit, or a hole needs to be an 1/8th of an inch larger, grinding that away is the path of least resistance. Purchase: $40
Irwin Vice Grips
Vice grips are the final answer to any solution. They’re an extra pair of hands when you need them. They’re a buddy and a few more pounds of torque wherever they grab a hold. Don’t be a hero, get some. Purchase: $15
Organize and color coordinate your whole engine block with a set of smartly placed zip ties. Cords, fluid conduits, tubes, wires, cables, and anything else under the hood can be held better with a slick zip-tie system. Do it once and you’ll be set until you junk the car. Purchase: $10
Metal / Electrical / Duct Tape
Holes in your firewall require metal tape to fix. Exposed connections can only be made right with electrical tape, and if you’re going anywhere without duct tape, you’re a fool who shall die a fool’s death. Or not. I’m not a fortune teller. Metal: $8 Electrical: $2 Duct: $10
Commercial Grade Shop Towels & Kitty Litter
That thing that doesn’t leak? Leaks now. That thing that doesn’t have fluid? Just dumped those fluids it doesn’t have onto you. Whatever that crap is, sop it up, mop it up, soak it up. Towels: $17 Litter: $4
Your choice of big mallet hammer. You can’t often use it, but when you can, it makes life worth living. Get a Dead Blow to reduce shock. Purchase: $94
Local Car Store
AutoZone, Napa, O’Reilly are all nationwide branches. They have tools you can borrow for free, people who know their stuff and are happy to help, and all kinds of industry information to save your sweet ass. Don’t be afraid, just find your favorite. AutoZone has impressed us consistently, but every store is going to be a little different. Wherever possible we also suggest trying mom & pop or father & son shops.
I laughed a little on the “Crescent” wrench that showed a Bahco adjustable wrench (my favorite brand other than Crescent), and when you graciously gave Irwin tools the original “Vise Grips” brand, for free, since Vise Grips are much better than Irwin. Other than that, great article.