Every mechanic, professional or DIY, from Schwinn to Maserati, needs a socket set. True, a wrench set can take you places, but there are some places where only a ratchet and socket will work. Professional mechanics might have multiple socket sets, and you’d be surprised how useful it is to have a dozen 10-mm sockets and several accessories in multiple configurations.
Basic socket sets come with the most commonly used tools. The 3/8-inch drive set is the most useful, and there are also 1/4-inch and 1/2-inch drive socket sets. Each set starts with a ratchet; some add breaker bars or T-handles to apply torque to the sockets. For an even more effective DIY auto repair toolbox, check out these socket set accessories.
Extend and Wobble
Sometimes, the only way to get the job done is from a distance. Socket extensions extend your reach up to 4 feet. Some extensions also feature wobble, swivel, lock or adapter ends.
Wobble extensions are particularly useful. You use a socket with the ratchet perpendicular to the fastener, but sometimes you can’t reach it straight on. A wobble extension gives you a little bit of play, so you can go at it up to 15 degrees off-center.
When your ratchet only has room to swing 6 degrees, on the other hand, a fingertip driver can be a lifesaver. Instead of spending 10 minutes moving a bolt 6 degrees at a time, spin it on with your fingertips.
If you’re trying to reach your car’s power-steering or brake lines, a crowfoot wrench can help. These also make great super-stubby wrenches in a pinch.
Swivel and Adapt
Universal joint or swivel sockets give you more play than wobble extensions — up to 45 degrees off-center. They’re especially useful for working on spark plugs in cramped quarters.
Socket adapters let you drive a 3/8-inch socket with a 1/2-inch ratchet or vice-versa. You could even drive a 1/4-inch socket with a 1/2-inch breaker bar, but don’t say we didn’t warn you when you snap the bolt off.
Similarly, bit adapters let you use 1/4-inch bits with a standard ratchet. That means your sockets aren’t just for hex nuts and bolts, but also Phillips and Torx bolts.
Light and Attract
If you want to avoid the agony of losing a bolt down an engine cavity or between body panels, then magnetic sockets and bits are an absolute necessity.
To further reduce headaches while working in the tight confines of an engine bay or behind the dash, sometimes you need extra light. A magnetic pocket light can help you zero in on that near-hidden fastener.
Finally, make sure you have a well-organized storage system. What good is a socket set and accessories if you can’t find what you need? Ready-made socket rails, magnetic plates and homemade socket trays help you keep it all organized.
Check out all the tools & equipment
Photo courtesy of Flickr.
Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.