What’s the best mechanic’s tool kit for your money?

Buying a set of car mechanic’s tools is as confusing as buying cereal. There are so many options, and they all look the same. It’s tempting to just grab the cheapest one and run to the register.

Don’t give in!

When you break it down to assortment, strength, and, usage, there’s a big difference between sets. I’ll show you what you need to make a good decision. And don’t take that lifetime guarantee at face value! But I’ll get to that later.

This is an excellent example of a start-up set. It comes in 4 sizes, 41, 90, 101 and 230 pieces, and all are Metric and SAE. The sets include a ratcheting socket handle, wrenches, and sockets. Made of alloy steel, this is a good solid set that should last you for years.

Pros

  • Ratchet for socket requires only 5 degrees of movement to turn.
  • The sockets load off of the corners to eliminate fastener rounding
  • Large, quick-release button for changing sockets.

Cons

  • No specialized tools for mechanic work.
  • Measurements on sockets are hard to read.

Looks great, doesn’t it? Actually, this is exactly what you are trying to avoid. Yes, there are tons of options, and all of the necessary parts are included. But these parts are made of chrome vanadium, not steel, so they may not hold up under the stress of working on cars. Plus the extra tools are for household use, and not even good for that. The hammer is rarely used on cars, but it’s not big enough for general use. Plus, you just don’t need that many heads for screwdrivers. If you’re looking for tools to invest in, it’s better to let this one pass.

Pros

  • Plastic grips can be comfortable.
  • The price per piece is tiny.
  • Great assortment of tools.

Cons

  • Tools are not made of steel.
  • Few special tools for mechanic usage.
  • Cheap add-ins keep the allow them to inflate the cost and still advertise it as “low”

Now we’re getting somewhere. Dewalt got its start in the power tool business and is now working towards regular tools as well. Again, this set comes in four selections of assortments. They are made of lithium ion added to steel, one of the stronger metals used in tools. Notice the bells and whistles like the extension arm for the ratchet and the separate, ergonomically designed screwdriver handle. These are tools that are a permanent investment.

Pros:

  • Solid assortment (SAE and metric)
  • Very strong construction.
  • Nice accessories designed for actual work on cars

Cons

  • Sizes are hard to read.

If you have the means, and if people can bring their cars to you, this set will save you years of trips to the store. Never mind wrenches and sockets. This set has hooks to remove hoses, circuit testers, gear pullers, and everything else under the sun. This is really intended for a professional, but if you see your life headed in that direction, why not?

Pros:

  • A truly beautiful assortment of tools.
  • Nearly everything you would need to fix any car.

Cons

  • The price is astronomical.
  • These tools aren’t easily transported to another location.
  • You might end up buying another toolset for work on another site.

If you are looking for a low price, this might well be the best choice you can make. It has a nice variety of tools, SAE and metric. You may run into problems with more complicated projects for your car, but this will get you started. It also has nice add-ons for your house, good quality items that means you won’t have to buy another set of tools. You won’t be able to replace your transmission with this set, but you can certainly do any general maintenance, and the price is low enough to let you upgrade as you go without guilt.

Pros:

  • Stanley has a good reputation for tools.
  • The assortment will take care of most small tasks.
  • The price can’t be beaten.

Cons:

  • Some tools are household, not mechanic
  • Nothing special to help with fixing cars.
  • Not enough assortment for all jobs.

A little bit more expensive than the Stanley, this has a really awesome socket set. Rather than round out with other tools that aren’t needed for a car, this one has concentrated most closely on the sockets that are hard to get. Both SAE and metrics are included. Also, note the various ratchets. These have 84 teeth, more than any other product in this article, so you hardly have to move the watchet to turn the nut. There are sufficient wrenches to get you through. This is a set that assumes you already have a basic toolbox with screwdrivers and pliers and need something that will specifically help you fix cars. For the price, I believe this is my favorite.

Pros:

  • Large assortment of sockets
  • Three ratchets with 84 teeth!
  • Includes basic wrenches as well.
  • Good price

Cons:

  • Barebones selection when it comes to tools.
  • Will need to be complemented by other purchases

This is much more reasonable than your previous work pro set. It focuses on sockets, SAE and metric, and has a nice assortment of attachments and extensors. It also has a nice assortment of wrenches. The screwdriver looks comfortable, though I still think it has too many heads. The Allen wrenches are nicely contained, and if you’ve ever tried to keep track of a set, you know that can be a very nice option.

Pros:

  • A solid assortment of sockets with good accessories.
  • Nice collection of other, mechanic related tools.
  • Parts made of Chrome Vanadium Steel.

Cons:

  • Sockets may not be large enough for some car jobs.
  • Nothing special in accessories for car work.

I know, drill bits have nothing to do with working on cars. This is a good general set. But it has one serious advantage, and that’s the black chrome on the outside.It’s actually possible to see, even in this picture, the markings showing the size of the sockets. It’s my hope that more sets will go this way. Anyone who has a socket set can tell you that it will get dumped at least once. Being able to put it back together easily is a pleasure.

Pros:

  • Black chrome makes identification easy.
  • Dewalt makes high-quality tools.

Cons:

  • Assortment of tools is not designed for fixing cars.

When all is said and done, it is the DeWalt mechanics tool set wins the day. Reasonable in price, it is built to last and has a few of the accessories that seasoned mechanics would consider necessities. Again, it’s a permanent purchase.

Buying Guide

This buying guide assumes that you are looking for a toolset to help you fix your car. If you are looking for a socket and wrench set to have around the home, your considerations will be different. Some car repairs require very large sockets. Others involve hard-to-reach places. Many require several wrenches at once. Cars are complicated machines, and they need specialized tools to get the job done.

There are three aspects to consider when buying a toolset. The first is a strength. Tools that break are just not useful. Remember that one of the selling points was extension rods. These work as levers when nuts are difficult to move. So you need ones made of good, solid steel to hold up to your tougher jobs.

The second is flexibility. Flexibility in tools comes through add-ons like adapters, extension bars, etc. Some socket sets even have adapters to change the socket’s size. .The more of these you can get in the original set, the fewer that you’ll have to search for and buy separately.

The third, naturally, is a simple assortment. But not just any assortment. I swear, you almost never use a hammer on a car. Your set absolutely must be SAE and Metric so that you can be sure you can work on more than one car. Sockets and wrenches are considered necessities.  Allen Wrenches, screwdriver heads, extension rods, hooks for hoses, spark plug pliers, and a torque wrench are all pleasant editions that give you more for the money you are spending.

There are two schools of thought when buying tools. One is to get inexpensive tools because you’re bound to lose them or you can’t afford the best. You can always upgrade later.

The second is to buy the best tools you can afford, dipping deep into your pocket if you must. Good tools are strong and won’t fail you when you need them most, extending jobs and causing endless frustration. Get good tools in the first place and you won’t need to buy them again.

With mechanic’s tools, the best set you can afford generally wins the day. We’re not talking about buying screwdrivers for 10-year-olds who will leave them all over the place. Mechanics tools will be kept where your car is. If you are old enough to care about fixing your own car you can put your tools away.

Let’s talk for a minute about that lifetime-replacement guarantee. It’s not a novel feature; many tools have them. There are two problems with them, though. One, is the company still going to be around long enough to keep its promise? If Sears can do down, any company can, and while Sears sold the Craftsman tools brand and their warranty is still probably valid, not all companies have that option.

Two, what is more important, a tool that will be replaced, or a tool that won’t break in the first place? If you are working on a car and a socket suddenly strips, the fact that you can get it back in several weeks for free is pointless. This is a car we are talking about! We depend on them. No, you’re going to head for the store and buy a new socket, paying whatever price they charge. The guarantee is not a top selling point, it’s a fallback for the rare chance that you get a defective part in the first place. Don’t buy because of it.

Conclusion

Mechanic’s tools seem to come in two categories, just fewer than you may actually need and everything under the sun. This is extremely frustrating. The important thing is to buy what you are going to need for the jobs you are going to tackle.

For example, most of the sets sold here went as high as 1-1/2”. Yet it’s possible to get sockets as large as 3-1/8 “ Now you don’t need the larger sizes unless you are doing really big jobs, like replacing an engine, in which case you’d probably be investing in other specialized types of tools as well.

Another important fact is that you don’t always need exactly the right fit for the nut in a socket. If you have something close that might be enough, especially if you can convert between the metric and SAE. Sockets are just flexible in measurement that way.

Wrenches are flexible too, though not as much. This is why all good tool boxes will have an adjustable wrench for a perfect fit when it’s absolutely necessary.

You will never have all of the tools you need. This is why both professional and DIY mechanics know the people that sell tools in their neighborhoods by name. Buy the best set you can to get started and enjoy having them to work with.