Whether you're restoring an old Jeep or you've got brand new Prius, you can eschew the dealer or auto shop for some tasks and start doing your own car maintenance. You'll find working on your own car saves time and money—and if something breaks you'll have the confidence and know-how to fix it.
That said, you can't just drag your basic around-the-house toolbox out to the garage. An auto mechanic's tool set differs from woodworking and general DIY tool you may have already accumulated; here are the basics you'll need to get started.
A socket set is arguably the tool you'll need most in order to work on your car. 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.
There are a ton of electrical projects you can take on with a vehicle, such as, installing a stereo head unit, speakers, or wiring new headlights. You'll need pliers of various sizes to achieve this, as well as wire cutters and wire strippers. and offer a full-range of hand tools to get the job done.
Setting nuts to the proper torque is often over-looked by beginner mechanics. 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 are 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—you risk screwing up the settings on your torque wrench otherwise.
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.
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.
A dead blow mallet is many times 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. This mallet is covered in molded poly to prevent marring metal surfaces.
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 their M18 battery and can be rotated 240 degrees.
Latex gloves are preferable to regular work gloves as they are disposable and you are working with clean gloves every time you start a project. Reusable work gloves get greasy and grimy real fast and there's no easy way to clean them.
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've got plenty of options when needed.
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.
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.
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 can unstick stubborn bolts and prevent rust from accumulating; dries quickly and can be used to clean any metal parts including brakes; eliminates squeaking and friction and won't attract dirt; and is sprayed on and then washed off to remove oil based products from skid plates, axles, and steering components.
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 floow and drive your car over it.)
Keep a bag of desiccant or kitty litter handy 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.
Duct tape has a million uses, so it's common knowledge to keep a roll with you at all times. Electrical tape is also useful when connecting wires and covering up any bare and exposed wiring.
The most valuable tool when working on your vehicle 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 s.