Tools & Materials
The Top Automotive Tools Every Mechanic Needs
If you work on your own vehicles, do yourself a favor and check out these cool tools. It’s a collection that should be in every serious mechanic’s tool chest.
Light Up Your Project
Although the Bayco Nightstick is called an under-hood light, it’s an even better under-vehicle light. Just unsnap it from the bracket to use it down under. The strong magnets hold it in place, and the tube rotates 200 degrees, so you can aim the light exactly where you need it. Click the switch to choose either 650 or 1,200 lumens. The 120-LED light is rechargeable and comes with an under-hood bracket and a charging transformer. The internal battery runs the Nightstick for 4.5 hours at 1,200 lumens, and 8.5 hours at 650 lumens. As a bonus, it’s a perfect emergency light for the house during power failures.
Reach into Tight Places with a Ratchet Extender
When you’re working in areas like engine compartments, sometimes you just can’t get your socket into the tight places. That’s where this Tite-Reach tool comes in handy. Slap your socket onto one end of the extension tool and attach your ratchet to the other end. Then loosen or tighten the “unreachable” bolt. The extension tools are available for 1/4-in. and 3/8-in.-drive sockets/ratchets.
Big, Beefy, Buy-Once Mechanic’s Tools
DeWalt, a brand known for its heavy-duty power tools, is now making sockets and wrenches as well. After giving them a try, we can tell you that these are no ordinary tools.
As soon as you pick up one of these ratchets, you’ll notice that it’s heavier and has a beefier handle that fits better in your palm. The fine-tooth 5-degree ratchet has recessed quick-release and reversing mechanisms so the ratchet head fits in tighter spots.
The sockets and wrenches are deep laser-etched before they’re chromed instead of surface-etched afterward, like most run-of-the-mill tools. So the size markings will be readable forever. Plus, the ratchets, wrenches and sockets all have antislip features so you “get what you grab.”
DeWalt offers two socket/wrench set configurations, a 204-piece socket/wrench set and a 118-piece set. DeWalt mechanic’s tools have a lifetime warranty. But from the feel of them, we doubt you’ll ever need a replacement.
Needle Scaler Blasts Off Rust
This air tool may look like a sea monster with tentacles. But the tentacles are actually nineteen 1/8-in. needles that hammer off rust, scale and dirt at 4,600 blows per minute. Move the adjustment collar forward or backward to vary the needle force and coverage area. Use it to knock rust and old paint off your car, wheelbarrow or other metal object. You’ll still have to deal with the pits from the corrosion, but at least the flakes will be gone. Wear hearing and eye protection and leather gloves, because this baby kicks up a lot of dust and debris, and it’s loud.
The scaler comes with a set of needles and a chisel attachment. Find the Chicago Pneumatic CP7120 Needle Scaler at a local air tool supplier or online.
Split a Nut
A nut splitter will crack any no-go nut without damaging the threads of the bolt or stem that it’s screwed onto. Just slip the ring over the nut and turn the tooth into the nut until it breaks. Find it at auto parts stores or online.
Locking Extension Bars Hold onto Sockets
It’s a drag when you pull your ratchet and extension bar out of a tight spot only to discover that the socket is still stuck on the bolt head. That’ll never happen if you use locking extension bars. Pull back the locking ring, snap on a socket and let go. The socket is locked on and will always come out with the extension bar. The Neiko Pro-Grade Locking Extension Bar Set (3-, 6-, 10-in.) is available online.
OK, so you already own needle-nose pliers. But have you ever noticed how your hand is always in your line of sight when you’re trying to grab small things with them? Well, so did the guys who came up with these Kiwi pliers. Grab these pliers and go after clamps, clips and retainers and still see what you’re doing. Get the E-Z Red No. KWP2 2-Piece Kiwi Pliers Set.
Flexible Sockets Get in Tight Places
With engine compartments more crowded than ever, we find ourselves reaching for our flex sockets quite often. They have a much shorter profile than an ordinary socket and universal joint combo. Yeah, they’re a bit pricey. But they let you remove and install bolts in really inaccessible places. What’s that worth to you? Get the KD Tool No. 80565 set, 3/8-in. drive online.
Disconnect Stubborn Electrical Connectors
Many electrical connectors in late-model vehicles are locked together with plastic pins and slides. Going after them with needle-nose pliers can wreck those “locks.” But you can easily finesse them out with one of these picks. They’re also good for snatching O-rings and hors d’oeuvres. Get the Pratt-Read No. 82061B Precision Hook and Pick Set online.
Spark Plug Pliers Prevent Boot and Wire Damage
Grab hold of plug wires with pliers and you’ll for sure damage the boot. But the padded jaws on this spark plug boot pliers let you get a firm grip on the spark plug boot without tearing it. Slide it onto the top portion of the boot near the wire and clamp down. That’ll apply force to the metal clip inside the boot. Then twist and pull. No more torn boots or wires. You can buy the Lisle No. 52990 Spark Plug Pliers online.
A Floor Jack That Can Lift in Two Places
If you do your own repair work on a newer vehicle, you know you usually need two floor jacks. Ixnay on that! Just remove the saddle from your Pittsburgh 3-ton floor jack and replace it with this Pittsburgh cross-beam lifting accessory. Extend the arms and rotate the lift pads to meet a cross member. Then pump the handle and your vehicle is up in the air. The Pittsburgh 68052 3-ton aluminum floor jack with RapidPump and the Pittsburgh 60762 cross-beam twin arm adapter are both available online.
Torque with Digital Accuracy
Tighten a bolt without a torque wrench and you can do major damage to your car, truck or tractor. But doing it the right way can mean buying several sizes of torque wrenches. Now you can safely torque without spending a lot of dough. Buy a digital torque adapter (Pittsburgh No. 68283) and use it with a 1/2-in.-drive ratchet or breaker bar. Just set the specified torque and crank away. The digital display shows the rising torque, and the LED readout and audible signal let you know when you’re done. The digital adapter fits 1/2-in.-drive sockets and comes with 3/8-in.- and 1/4-in.-drive adapters.
Organize with Magnets
Most socket organizers lock you into a standard configuration. But Triton MagClip socket storage trays use magnets to give you maximum flexibility. Leave the centering pins in place to store sockets, or remove them and just let the magnets hold your socket extensions and ratchets. The trays are available individually and in sets.
Pry Tools to Remove Knobs and Crack Cases
This tool kit is designed to repair cell phones (E-PRANCE 17 in 1 Repair Disassemble Toolkit). But it works great in your shop to remove small buttons and trim pieces from your radio, door panels, dash or other interior trim parts. It can also crack open plastic cases that hold electronics.
Keep Fasteners Handy
How many hours have you spent looking for nuts, bolts, washers and other small parts spread willy-nilly around the garage? Quit wasting time! Just slap them onto a magnetized belt clip and they’ll be there when it’s time for reassembly. The MagnoGrip 310-994 Magnetic Belt Clip is available online.
Mark Before Disassembly
Seasoned mechanics can disassemble and reassemble just about anything. Know how they do it? They mark each piece as they disassemble. That’s where this inexpensive carbide-tipped scriber comes in (No. 88CM Carbide Tip Scriber With Magnet). Just scratch alignment marks or numbers or whatever you need on the parts as you remove them so you won’t have to remember where they go when it’s time for reassembly.
Newer sockets come with large laser-etched size markings. But that’s no reason to ditch your old sockets. Just clean them and slap on gas- and oil-resistant foil labels with easy-to-read color-coded sizes. A package of Chrome Foil Socket labels includes 60 labels in fractional and metric sizes and can be found online.
Socket Set in a Handle
Keeping a small emergency socket set in the glove box of your car or boat is very prudent! This compact socket/ratchet combo does the job (Kobalt Xtreme Access Ratchet, item No. 568267). Slide off the handle to find four splined sockets that cover the most common fractional and metric nuts and bolts. Then slide the handle back on and you’re in business.
Get a Leg Up on the Job
Sure, shade-tree mechanics can stand on a peach crate to work on the truck engine. But if they lean a little too far over, the crate will go flying. That won’t happen with the TireStep 4040 from Heininger. We tested several brands of tire-mounted steps, and this one is tops in its class. It has more adjustments, a larger step and higher-quality construction, and it comes with its own storage pouch. Just unfold this baby (it folds flat for storage), pop it over your front tire, adjust it to the right height and hop on. Or use it on a rear wheel to secure loads to your roof rack. The Heininger Automotive 4040 HitchMate TireStep is available online from multpile retailers.
See Around Corners and Retrieve Lost Parts
OTC-4650 Telescoping Mirror and Magnet Set: This mirror and magnet set belongs in every DIYer’s toolbox for car, appliance and home repairs. The telescoping handles pull out to 25 in., and the screw ends let you swap out attachments. The kit comes with two handles, two swiveling mirrors, two fixed magnet heads and one swivel magnet.
Get Maximum Leverage in Tight Places
Sunex 9710M 3/8-in.-drive 10-piece Metric Crows Foot Set: A sardine can is roomy compared with your average engine compartment. Mechanics need all the help they can get trying to work in such cramped quarters. These “crows foot” wrenches attach to any 3/8-in.-drive extension bar and let you remove nuts and bolts from far away. Their flare nut design is great for removing brake and power steering lines. Just slip the line through the opening and the wrench will encircle the flare nut to give you extra turning power.
Test Your Circuits–Safely
Sheffield Research CT8002 Cordless Computer Safe Circuit Tester: We’d bet the rent that your family mechanic is still using an analog circuit tester—and that can wreck your car’s computer. This digital, computer-safe unit is one of the best because it doesn’t need a grounding cable. You just touch the probe to the electrical contact and your hand to any metal portion of the vehicle to complete the circuit. The stainless steel tip is sharp enough to pierce wire insulation (seal the puncture after testing) and detects 3 to 24 volts DC. Set the tester to buzz when it finds voltage, or use the LED as your alert.
Rescue Those Hoses
OTC-4521 Hose Removal Tool: After years of being clamped in place, most radiator and heater hoses are usually welded to the pipe. If you want to reuse the hose, you can easily spend 30 minutes finessing the hose off so it’s still in good enough condition to reinstall. That’s where this cool hose remover tool pays off. Just slip the pointed end into the lip of the hose and pull the tool around the pipe. The rounded edge breaks the hose free. Then use the tool to pull the hose off. This baby will save you a lot of time and at least a good 25 curse words for later use on a different repair.