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The Car Tools You Need to Keep Up With Vehicle Maintenance

Whether you’re fixing an old car or you have a brand new model, with the right car tools, you can skip the auto shop and start doing your own car maintenance.

You’ll save time and money with your own car tools, and if something breaks, you’ll have the confidence and know-how to fix it. But you can’t just drag your basic around-the-house toolbox out to the garage; an auto mechanic’s car tools differ from, say, a woodworker’s.

Here are the best car tools you’ll need to get started.

You love badass cars. So do we. Let’s nerd out over them together.

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1

Socket Set

Any list of car tools starts with a great socket set. A proper mechanics tool set will include standard and metric sizes and 3/8-inch, 1/4-inch, and even 1/2-inch drivers and sockets. Extensions and thin-walled sockets are also useful for certain situations. This DeWalt socket set is full-featured and a great kit for beginners and grease monkeys.

2

Pliers and Wirecutters

There are a ton of electrical projects you can take on with a vehicle, like installing a stereo head unit, speakers, or wiring new headlights. So you’ll need pliers of various sizes, plus wire cutters and wire strippers. Craftsman and Milwaukee Tool offer a full-range of hand tools to get the job done.

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3

Torque Wrench

Beginner mechanics often overlook setting nuts to the proper torque. Over-torquing a nut can cause the bolt to shear off and also makes it much more difficult to remove when needed. Use a clicker-type torque wrench to ensure you’re tightening to the proper specifications.

To adjust the torque simply turn the bottom handle and align the top of it to the specified torque which is imprinted on the tool. Tighten until you hear two-clicks and then you’re done.

Never use a torque wrench to remove lug nuts. Instead, use an impact wrench or breaker bar; otherwise, you risk screwing up the settings on your torque wrench.

4

Wrenches

A wrench set is an invaluable addition to any mechanical tool box. We like this ratcheting wrench set from Craftsman, which features an open-ended side and a ratcheting box end, so there’s no need to remove the wrench on each turn.

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5

Screwdrivers

A screwdriver set is as useful around the house as it is in your garage, but you may need to expand out what you already have. Get a complete set that includes a larger flathead which can double as a small prying tool, and the very small screwdrivers delicate enough for electronic work.

6

Dead Blow Mallet

Most of the time, a dead blow mallet is the only solution when it comes to removing stuck bolts. A few smacks with this hammer—and maybe a little heat—will loosen almost anything.

7

Work Light

Working into the night is common during the winter, and you need a good work light to prevent losing parts and to spotlight your project. This LED flood light from Milwaukee Tool runs off its M18 battery and can be rotated 240 degrees.

8

Latex Gloves

Latex gloves are better than regular work gloves, as they’re disposable and you’re working with clean gloves every time you start a project. Reusable work gloves get greasy and very quickly, and there’s no easy way to clean them.

9

Zip Ties

Zip ties are great for bundling cables and wires together and away from hot and moving parts. They also keep everything nice and tidy, which makes it easier to work on a vehicle, as opposed to staring into a rat’s nest. Buy a bundle of zip/nylon ties of various sizes so you’ll have plenty of options when needed.

10

Multimeter

A multimeter is necessary to check whether you’ve got a hot wire, as well as how much juice is running through it. It removes the guessing game and is vital for tracking down those gremlins that seem to infiltrate the electronic systems of many cars. This Klein digital multimeter is easy to use and has a nice large display.

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11

Impact Wrench

An impact wrench can make quick work of removing lug nuts as can drive nuts in an instant. Just be cautious above overdriving nuts. Kobalt has a new line of brushless impact wrenches available in both 1/2-inch and 3/8-inch sizes. These are competitively priced and will save you a ton of time.

12

Lubricants and Cleaners

Mechanical moving parts need to be cleaned and lubricated regularly, so you’ll need to acquire a few liquid sprays to help with this process.

A rust penetrant can unstick stubborn bolts and prevent rust from accumulating; brake cleaner dries quickly and can be used to clean any metal parts including brakes; silicone lubricant eliminates squeaking and friction and won’t attract dirt; and citrus degreaser is sprayed on and then washed off to remove oil-based products from skid plates, axles, and steering components.

13

Drip Pan

Use a drip pan, or at the very least a piece of cardboard to catch oil and fluids falling from your car. This will prevent stains on your garage floor and make it less likely you’ll step in something that gets tracked into your home. (If you really want avoid stains, you can also put large piece of plastic tarp down on you garage floor and drive your car over it.)

14

Desiccant

Keep a bag of desiccant or other absorptive compound handy (even kitty litter works) to absorb any oil or fluids that may have missed your drip pan and spilled onto your floor. The faster you react, the less likely you’ll have an unsightly oil stain on your nice cement floors.

15

Duct Tape & Electrical Tape

16

Factory Service Manual

The most valuable car tool of all can be a factory service manual. All of the exact specifications for your make and model vehicle are included in this manual, and many times, there are tutorials for common jobs like changing brake pads and adjusting a carburetor.

These manuals are far superior to the Chilton and Haynes manuals that you’ll find at your local auto shop, and sometimes Google and forums don’t always have the right answer. If you can’t immediately find one locally, check eBay or hunt around the internet—a surprising number of factory service manuals have been scanned in as PDFs.

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