What tools are you packing, and which ones can you live without? Here, we’ve got a list of the top tools every man should have in his toolbox but – like all lists – these are by no means essentials. It depends on what jobs you’re planning on doing – you wouldn’t bring a knife to a gun fight, would you? Or rather, you wouldn’t bring a utility knife to a flat head screwdriver fight,right? Anyway, here are 10 tools every man should have in his toolbox that are useful for a wide range of automotive (and household) jobs.
A torque wrench is an absolute must for every automotive enthusiast’s tool box, even if all you’ll ever do is rotate tires. It’s function is to allow the operator to tighten a nuts and bolts to an exact specification. Torque wrenches come in a wide variety of types and sizes, but it’s important to note that more expensive doesn’t necessarily make it better for your application. Going back to our example, if you’re just rotating tires, then a simple, old school beam torque wrench is sufficient, as long as its used properly. For someone with greater needs, split beam torque wrenches are extremely popular and can be purchased at a reasonable price.
A Selection Of Wrenches
A torque wrench is a great tool to have, but if you’re really going to be doing a lot of automotive work, you’re going to need a large selection of quality wrenches to help you remove, replace, and repair your car and motorcycle parts. A couple of good adjustable wrench (crescent wrench) units are a good start. We recommend a heavy duty one with a long handle for additional leverage, and a smaller hand-sized one for when you’re working in small spaces. A socket wrench, and a full socket wrench set, is a good investment. If you’re serious, a combination wrench set would be ideal. If you don’t own any of these things and want to get into car repair, you’ll find it’s time to invest in some of these wrenches. Other cool wrenches to buy include a little Allen wrench set (Allen key set, hex key set) these are tools you’ll need. A pipe wrench? Not so much…but you never know.
The tire gauge on the end of the gas station air hose can be wildly inaccurate. The little pencil gauges tire dealers used to give away aren’t much better. If you really want to take the best care of your tires, you need an accurate gauge at home, because tire pressures need to be checked when the tires are cold. Look for the following items when shopping for a gauge: the factory recommended inflation pressure of your tires is around the middle of the range of the gauge, where it’s most accurate, that there’s a rubber boot around the gauge to protect it, there’s a bleed-off valve, in case you over-inflate, and the hose is long and flexible enough even if the vale stem ends up in the 12 o’clock position.
If you’re going to be doing any electrical troubleshooting on your car, you’ll need a digital multimeter to measure voltage and current into to diagnose the source of the problem. While there are plenty of multimeters to choose from, most are geared toward use by electronics technician. As an automotive DIYer, the following are the functions you’re most likely to need: measuring Volts DC and AC, measuring resistance in OHMs, measuring Frequency Hertz (Hz). and a 10 megaohm (MΩ) impedance (to be able to diagnose sensitive automotive electronics).
A good idea any time you’re working around a car, and even better idea when you’re working under a car and rust or dirt can flake off and get in your eyes. And think of protective glasses not just as a safety item, but a productivity tool. Think of the time you’ll save if you’ve not in the bathroom trying to rinse a flake of rust out of your eye. You can buy these in any hardware, building, construction, or paint store.
You you spend any time coming in contact with the fluids in your car, you need to be wearing gloves. All the smart professional mechanics already do so. Why? Some of the fluids in your car are toxic to start with, while other are benign when they go into the car and become increasingly toxic with use – motor oil being an excellent example. So be smart, buy a box, they’re cheap protection, and you won’t have to worry about being poisoned by your own car.
Sometime you need to hot things hard, and for that a metal-faced hammer is a great solution. There are other times when a more subtle solution is required. A hammer with two faces, one hard plastic the other softer rubber is the perfect choice for those situations. For example, if you need to tap a metal cover back into place a metal hammer will leave scratches or dents. The plastic end is perfect for that use. And if there’s a small click that needs just a little more encouragement to drop into its hole, the rubber side is the way to go. Unlike a claw hammer, a double sided and dual-material hammer is good for way more DIY projects than when you want to hang a picture or nail a piece of wood or two.
Remember the movie “Christmas Story”? Of course you do, everyone does. Remember the scene where Ralphie is helping his father change a tire for the first time, holding up the hubcap so his his Old Man could keep the lug nuts together? And then Ralphie drops the hubcap and says “Oh Fudge” but doesn’t really say “Oh Fudge”? Think of a magnetic dish as a Oldsmobile hubcab that’ll never make you say “Oh Fudge.”
If you’re doing any sort of electrical work inside a car, whether it be a restoration, installation of stereo equipment, or just general maintenance, you need to invest in a good pair of wire crimpers – not to be confused with wire cutters. The best ones can be purchased at an electricians’ supply store or online, not necessarily an auto parts store. In this case look to the brands of tools that electricians buy. You’ll find you crimps are tighter, more even, and less likely to come loose when you use a good tool. Couple your wiring efforts with a good set of needle-nose pliers and you can start tackling electrical wiring with confidence. Needle nose pliers are also an essential tool you should own for your man cave, but the old needlenose pliers should go without saying, really.
If you haven’t noticed, screws on cars are getting smaller. Carmarkers are looking to shave ounces everywhere they can and that includes fasteners. And you might have noticed that smaller screwheads are easier to damage. As a result, you really need a set of small, precision screwdrivers to attack those little buggers, especially those buried deep down into a hole. A nice selection of Phillips screwdriver heads and flathead screwdriver bits should save you a lot of trouble further down the line.
Wheel Chocks, Jack Stands
True story: a few weeks before high school graduation, our beloved shop teacher was working under a car using only a bumper jack. The car slipped and of course killed him. Since then not only have I always used four sturdy jack stands when working on a car with four wheels off the ground, I use two wheel chocks and two jack stands when working on just one end (and that’s only for the briefest time and just reaching underneath). It’s the cheapest investment you can make on your own safety.
Mole grips, locking pliers, vise grips (not vice grips), are one of the most essential tools for men that the hardware store has to offer. They’re often forgotten on these lists. Sure, they’re clumsy tools that are often misused, but good god, they can get you out a bind. If you’ve stripped a bolt head, they’ve got your back. If you need a basic vise in a hurry, they’ll cover you. Need some extra leverage? No problem. They’re the Ace in your hand tool hand – but that’s because they can be a life saving tool, but they can also be the wrong tool for a million jobs. It depends how you’re playing the game, and how you use them. Still, as hand tools go, they’re indispensable.
What Other Tools Are Worth Having?
Naturally, there are thousands of tools that you should have, from obvious things like a tape measure, to specialist tools and proper power tools too. A cordless drill is always welcome, a measuring tape should be an essential in your tool box, a chalk line (or laser these days) to help you keep things straight, and duct tape for…everything. But these tools are better featured in general tool kit “must-have tool” articles, because there are plenty of essential tools out there that aren’t particularly useful for automotive repair, but might be perfect for cutting wood. In our opinion, any tool is an essential, providing you’re using it for the right job. The right quality tools go a long, long way.