There are some essential tools that no garage should be without, whether you plan to tackle a large-scale project or just handle basic maintenance on occasion. No matter the size of the job you’re working on, having the right tools on hand can be the difference between success and frustration. Here’s a look at five essential tools that should be in every home garage.
1. Socket and Driver Set
Nuts and bolts are the basic fasteners of car construction, and a good socket and driver set is a must-have for your tool kit. Make sure you have a full range of metric and imperial sockets, along with quarter-inch and three-quarter-inch drivers. Start with a set of six-point sockets as these can handle the bulk of jobs you will encounter. Shallow sockets are the most common depth you will come across, but it never hurts to have a basic set of deep-well sockets for jobs like changing spark plugs. This tool set should be enough to handle all but the most esoteric of bolt sizes you might encounter during a project. While you’re at it, pick up a set of socket extensions for accessing hard-to-reach fasteners. A socket universal joint is also a great addition to a socket set.
For hand-powered drivers like ratchets, thumb wheels, or breaker bars any socket will do, but if you step up to power tools you need to also step up your sockets. Impact sockets are specially designed for use with power tools. Due to the extreme forces an impact gun can create, normal sockets can crack or even shatter. Use the right tool for the job.
2. Floor Jack and Jack Stands
Getting your car off the ground to access the undercarriage greatly increases the amount of maintenance projects you can perform on your own vehicle. Your factory spare tire jack was never meant for maintenance work. A safe hydraulic floor jack that’s low enough to fit under your car but tall enough to give you the clearance you need to work is an essential tool for your home garage. Floor jacks are available in a variety of weight capacities and designs. Always pick a floor jack that is rated for more weight than you plan on lifting, but there’s no need to overboard. A two-ton or greater capacity floor jack will handle most jobs.
Don’t forget to also add a pair of jack stands to safely hold your automobile while you are underneath it. Again, match the jack stands with your needs with some extra safety margin. Jack stands are sold in pairs and should be used in pairs. Never rely solely on a jack when working on a car project.
3. Screwdriver Set
You’re likely to encounter three types of screws while maintaining your car: Phillips (plus-sign head), flathead (slotted head) and Torx (six-point star). The first two are the most common, while the latter always seems to crop up at some critical juncture in a project when it’s least expected. Screwdrivers are not a “one size fits all” tool and even within a single design there are multiple screw head sizes. Don’t risk stripping a screw head by using the wrong size screwdriver tip. It’s a good idea to have a full set of screwdrivers that can handle each of these screw specifications, with both short and long handles so you can get the tools where they need to be with minimal hassle. You can also opt for a bit driver set which uses one handle with interchangeable bits. This can be a great option for portable tools sets while also saving space in your toolbox.
4. Inspection Lamp
You can’t fix what you can’t see, and all the overhead lighting in the world won’t help you peer into the depths of your engine bay or up into a brake caliper from beneath the car. Gone are the days of balancing a searing hot work light while working under a car. LED lighting delivers a bright work environment without the heat. There are lots of options on the market to suit your your needs. An inspection lamp with a long extension cord is an essential tool for accurately diagnosing and fixing a problem with your car, and you’ll greatly appreciate the additional illumination.
5. Torque Wrench
No home garage is complete without a torque wrench. This simple device allows you to tighten fasteners to their original factory torque specification. This is crucial for two reasons: You always want to make sure a wheel lug is tight enough to withstand normal driving, and you never want to over-tighten a sensitive component and risk damage. Dialing in the right torque with a torque wrench gets both jobs done without any need for guesswork.
Depending on the type of work you plan on doing you may need two different torque wrenches, one for heavy work and one for lighter work. Heavier jobs usually call for a fastener to be tightened to a foot-pound specification. Lighter jobs usually call for a fastener to be tightened to an inch-pound specification. There are also different types torque wrench designs as well. The most basic unit is a beam wrench which simply uses a pointer on a scale. But the most popular units look like a ratchet and will “click” when the desired reading is reached. On top of the list are digital torque wrenches which can read read in different scales and can actually allow the user to slowly approach a target reading with an audible beep.
With these essential tools in tow, you’ll be prepared for whatever your repair jobs have to throw at you. Remember: A craftsman is only as good as their tools.
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Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.