7 Mechanic's Tools That Should Be In Every Project Car Garage
Beyond a standard mechanic's tool kit containing screw drivers, sockets, ratchets, and wrenches, you might have wondered what other additional helpers you might need when tackling a given project.
Having the right tools on-hand will keep frustration at bay, and help you move forward with the repair or modification you're working on so that you don't lose that crucial momentum required to sustain your progress. It also stops you from having to make repeat trips to the local hardware store or auto supply shop while your vehicle is down for the count.
What tools do we recommend every project mechanic keep handy? We've put together a list of the ones we use the most often. See how many of these are already in your garage.
'Finger tight' just isn’t going to cut it when attaching nuts and wheel lugs to your project car. Almost every fastener on a vehicle comes with its own torque specification, which translates into exactly how tight it needs to be in order to ensure that it keeps things connected and operating properly. In some cases, fasteners rely on exact torque to crush fit or snug in another component, making the right amount of torque an even more important consideration.
A torque wrench is an indispensable element of any garage's tool kit. There are three primary designs: dial-type wrenches that track the amount of torque being applied as you twist, click-types that let you set a desired torque value past which the wrench will not turn, and digital designs that use a sensor to monitor torque application.
Of these, the dial type is considered the most accurate and require the least maintenance, due to their simple design. Digital models are also quite accurate, but you'll have to decide whether you want to stock a tool that requires batteries and risk being stuck with a dead torque wrench when you need it most. Click-type wrenches are the most affordable, but due to their mechanism and the forces acting on it they need to be regularly re-calibrated to maintain accuracy.
Although not precise enough to tighten bolts, impact drivers can significantly speed up the amount of time it takes to remove a fastener—particularly if it's old, corroded, or simply stuck. Think about how quickly you can remove a wheel using an impact driver versus hand tools, and suddenly that brake job doesn't have to take up half the afternoon.
At the same time, an impact driver can be a life saver when it comes to dealing with frustrating chassis bolts that have seen more than their fair share of moisture and gunk, often making them difficult to remove with a ratchet (especially if they're buried where a breaker bar just can't fit). Affordable electric impact drivers strike a good balance between the power of air and the portability of battery units, without the need to stock extra batteries for longer jobs.
Jack and Jack Stands
This might seem like a bit of a no-brainer, but not all jacks are created equal, nor are they appropriate for every job you might have to do on your project.
The type of jack you use should match the specs of what you're trying to accomplish. Need to fit under a low-slung sports car? A low-profile floor jack is your best bet. Looking to lift an axle on a truck? A bottle jack will give you the stability and height you're looking for. Seeking to change a tire on a lifted 4x4? A bumper jack is most likely going to be required.
In addition to matching the type of jack to the job at hand, also ensure that it's properly rated for the weight that it will be holding up. Finally, even though you've heard it a thousand times already, it's worth repeating here: never work under a vehicle that is supported exclusively by a jack. Always use a mechanical jack stand to safely keep a car or truck in the air.
One of the joys of owning a more recent project is that it likely comes with OBD-II functionality. Post-1996, most vehicles offer an onboard diagnostic system that stores trouble codes when something isn't right with an aspect of the automobile's operation.
These codes can relate to anything from an oxygen sensor failure, to a lean condition, to an ABS issue. They take much of the guesswork out of trying to diagnose a particular problem, and they can also trigger the dreaded 'Check Engine Light' before more serious symptoms appear, allowing you to avoid disaster with a quick repair.
Although some vehicles provide a way of accessing codes through their infotainment screen, or sometimes even the gauge cluster or horn, the easiest way to take a look at what codes are waiting is with a scan tool. This handheld device connects to a vehicle's OBD-II port (usually under the dash on the driver's side) and speaks directly to its ECM. Basic scan tools are fairly inexpensive, but you may also want to consider a more featured unit that will let you run diagnostic tests on specific systems.
Multimeter and Test Light
Even if you own an older vehicle without a computer diagnostic feature, you're still going to want some assistance when troubleshooting electrical issues.
With this in mind, a multimeter can tell you a lot about what's happening with your 12-volt electrics. Is your battery holding a charge? Is your alternator putting out what it's rated to? How much of a draw is a particular accessory pulling? Using a multimeter's probes to get actual numbers on the voltage and amperage used by your car's charging system and electrical components gives you an accurate picture of where a potential trouble spot might be.
Even something as simple as a test light, a small circuit that lights a bulb when completed, can be handy when you're not sure whether you're getting power across a harness, switch, or relay.
Heat is often a very useful tool when trying to loosen up a stuck fastener. One of the easiest ways to introduce heat to a chassis bolt that just won't give up its grip is with a portable butane torch.
Inexpensive, easy to fit into smaller spaces, and not hot to the point where you can do serious damage, a propane torch is also helpful for burning out worn bushings and other rubber components slated to be replaced.
Bolt Extractors / Grips
It's inevitable on almost any project: a bolt that sees its head either snap off or become rounded to the point where it's impossible to spin it. There's little that's more frustrating than a bolt seemingly stuck forever in place, which is why a host of extraction tools exist that can remove this kind of roadblock.
Some extractors feature grooved sockets that bite into a rounded bolt head, while others twist down into a bolt that's lost its head, gripping it from the inside. It's a good idea to have a set of each type of extractor on-hand so that a broken bolt doesn't stop you dead in your tracks.
Now that you know what tools you need in your garage, what should be in your car's emergency tool kit? Check out our list of potentially life-saving must-haves.