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As avid do-it-yourselfers (DIYers), the thing we most love to do is to check out the latest tools and gadgets at our favorite parts retailer or local tool merchant. But with the overwhelming choices, how can one select and invest wisely on the optimal DIY mechanic toolbox? To answer this question, we decided to consult with our expert team of ASE Certified technicians and experienced DIYers to come up with the ultimate DIY toolbox. What was our criteria? Find the best tools that will adequately tackle vehicle diagnostics, basic repair, maintenance, and hobby work. Below are our findings.
Through the years we’ve seen how computers have taken over our vehicles to create driving efficiencies, convenience, safety, engine performance, and enhance our entertainment. Long gone are the days where you could open a hood to quickly identify what’s wrong. Luckily for us, automotive tools have also kept up with technology to simplify how we diagnose our computerized vehicles. Here are the top diagnostic tools our experts recommend:
A good and versatile under hood light is necessary to view and inspect parts under your car when performing repairs – particularly at night or in other dark conditions. There are lots of choices out there, but you’ll want to select one that offers different brightness (Lumen) settings, is weatherproof, and can be mounted with hooks and magnets for a hands-free work experience.
You cannot repair a vehicle without the proper socket and wrench set. There are a lot of choices out there, but for automotive use you will want to look for a set that has a drive size of 1/4”, 3/8”, and 1/2" to give you the most flexibility. Another factor to consider is the type and size of sockets you’ll need. Options include:
As a rule, the more pieces it has the better options you’ll have. However, budget can play a big role when selecting your ideal set. Just make sure to select one that offers at least a 1/4" and 3/8” drive size and includes both imperial and metric sizes to get the most range. Here are some of our picks (with estimated 2021 prices) that meet our criteria:
Protect yourself from the frustration and potential hand injuries by using a ratchet extender to maneuver around tight compartments and access unreachable bolts. Simply attach your ratchet to one end and the socket on the other to reach for that distant bolt.
With vehicle age and the harsh elements, you will ultimately encounter vehicle corrosion. A needle scaler is an air tool accessory that uses metal rods to vibrate at 4,500 blows per minute to quickly buff out rust, corrosion, and scale from metal surfaces. Our experts see it as the must tool to have if you love restoring cars. It is a bit of an investment, but it will save you a ton of money and time if you do lots of metal body work.
A nut splitter is a practical tool that easily removes a rusted and seized nut by breaking it in half. It works by attaching one end to your ratchet and the other to the rusted nut; then by turning it clockwise, it uses a small chisel to cut into the nut. Sayonara nut!
The worst scenario is when you’re installing a spark plug that is deep inside a well (like on a dual overhead cam engine), the socket falls, and you can’t get it out. Ouch! A locking extension bar saves you the trouble by using a spring-loaded mechanism to lock onto the socket. This makes it impossible for the socket to come loose while you are replacing items like spark plugs.
A pick and hook set are a group of hand tools that aid in pulling wires through holes, removing connectors, removing O-rings, cleaning crevices or groves, and other areas that require delicate handling. Their small, curved tips allow for more precise alignment–versus using a plier or screwdriver–to prevent damage to fragile clips, wires, or fasteners. Sets come in a variety of group sizes, but a 4-piece set is a good starting point.
Spark plug pliers, or spark plug boot pliers, are special tools designed to remove a spark plug cap easily and safely. Never use a standard plier to remove a spark plug boot because you run the risk of damaging the spark plug cap and/or cable.
A floor jack is an investment you will use again and again. The typical scissor car jack that comes with a vehicle is not really designed for continuous use – it only helps change a tire. A floor jack can lift at various heights and its wheels makes it easy to reposition it anywhere around the vehicle. You may wish to consider adding jack stands for working under the vehicle – never use a floor jack on its own while under a vehicle. Another option is to accessorize it with a lift cross beam, which reduces the chances of undercarriage damage, and adds stability by being able to lift the vehicle in two simultaneous places.
An annoying situation is when you lose a nut or metal fastener while performing a repair. A magnetic belt clip solves this by keeping those loose small metal pieces right on your belt. No more blowing a gasket for lost nuts!
Now that you’re ready to add the perfect tools to your mechanic DIY toolbox, what’s first on your repair list?