Despite MicksGarage.com not actually being a garage, a large percentage of the team here are died-in-the-wool petrolheads who regularly spend time fixing and maintaining their own cars. The selection of tools required, even for the home mechanic can be quite extensive. For the vast majority, the contents of your toolbox is not something you just go out and buy in one go, it’s transient and continually expanding, it’s something that gets built up over years and years. Some tools get handed down from generation to generation and the enthusiast’s toolbox can end up being an extremely valuable asset both financially and as daft as it might sound – emotionally too!
With all that in mind, we thought it would be interesting to find out which tools our team of car enthusiasts and amateur mechanics simply couldn’t do without. What do they use the most and which ones do they have an emotional attachment to?! Interestingly, the combination of all the answers makes up pretty good ‘must have’ tool checklist for any aspiring automotive DIYer!
19 Tools Every Home Mechanic Needs In His Garage
No tool box is complete without some basic consumables. Every single member of the MicksGarage team we surveyed for this post mentioned the four items below!
WD40: The world’s best-selling spray lubricant. WD-40 stands for Water Displacement, 40th formula. That’s the name straight out of the lab book used by the chemist who
developed the product back in 1953. There are literally thousands of uses for this stuff.
Duct Tape Otherwise known as gaffer tape. It’s available in a range of colours but the old reliable black and silver are most popular. If you haven’t used duct tape, you’re missing out! Its popularity stems from the fact that it’s extremely strong, very sticky and super easy to tear off by hand rather than having to cut it or use your teeth like regular tape! Race teams with multi-million-pound budgets still rely on this stuff to patch up their race cars.
You may have seen the Engineering Flow Chart before – Pretty accurate!!
Cable Ties: Another multi-use product for attaching one thing to another thing. Cable ties are incredibly strong and are available in a huge range of colours and sizes. Cut the tail off your cable tie at the wrong angle though and you’re left with the sharpest object known to man!
As the saying goes:
“If you can’t fix it with cable ties, you’re not using enough cable ties!!”
Bag of Rags: To be honest they’re a bit of a luxury but once you’ve had a bag of rags, you won’t look back! You’ll be finding uses for them that you’d never thought of, whether you’re soaking up spills, handling hot things, wiping off grime or using them as impromptu knee pads. A 10kg bag of rags will be one of the best tenners you’ve ever spent!
Essential Hand Tools
Socket Set: A quality ratchet and socket set is the backbone of a good toolbox. Spend a bit more and get something with a lifetime guarantee and it genuinely could last you a lifetime – a great investment if you look at it that way! Ideally, you want a set which includes 1/4″ drive, 3/8″ drive and 1/2″ drive sockets and ratchets. Pay attention to the case they come in, if the sockets can fall out of their location when you open the box up the wrong way, move on – it’s such a monumental pain in the arse repeatedly having to put them back into position.
Spanners & Ratchet Spanner Sets: A full range of combination spanners from 8mm to 19mm are another bread-and-Butter part of your tool kit. You’ll want to double up on some of the more popular sizes like 10mm, 13mm and 17mm. The 10 and 13mm spanners are always go missing for some reason! A set of Ratchet spanners, although fairly expensive, can make life so much easier when you’re working in hard-to-reach places.
Bit Set: Increasingly, plastic bits of car trim and engine bay paraphernalia are held on with an array of Torx, Hex and Posi bolts. It’s extremely frustrating when you have a simple DIY job to do like an air filter change but you can’t get it done because the air filter box is held on with some random, star-shaped doo-hickey with a nipple in the middle of it. Seriously manufacturers – what was wrong with the hex-head bolt? Anyway, a good multi-piece bit set solves 99% of these problems. The Draper set pictured below is what I have and is one the most frequently used pieces of kit in my toolbox and soft rubber case holds the little feckers in place tightly so they don’t fall out and go missing. They’re pretty good quality too.
Vice Grips: Whether you know them as vice grips, vise grips, mole grips or locking pliers, this is one multi-purpose tool you shouldn’t be without. Vice grips can work as pliers, they can clamp things together, you can use them to hold very hot things or things that you don’t want your fingers anywhere near and you can use them to remove snapped off studs and rounded off bolt heads. They really are life savers! My Dad gave me the set I have when I got my first tool box, they’re over 50 years old and I hope I can pass them down to my sons too.
Breaker Bar: If you’re working on your cars running gear, nine times out of ten the bolts will be tight as hell or seized due to corrosion. If that’s the case, leverage is your friend! Available in various lengths and drive sizes, the breaker bar is one of our most frequently used tools. Choose the size wisely and it will double up as the handle for your trolley jack when that goes missing (as it always does!)
Hammers: Jeremy Clarkson’s tool of choice – the trusty ‘persuader’ comes in many shapes and sizes. I have 3 different hammers in my toolbox that I use regularly and there’s a couple that I need to add to the shopping list. I have large ball pein hammer that gets most use, I’ve a smaller version of this too and a short handled lump hammer which is great for use with the impact driver. I could really do with a soft faced mallet for more delicate jobs and a claw hammer for DIY jobs around the house.
Stanley Knife: if for nothing other than opening those impregnable plastic blister packs, a sturdy, retractable Stanley knife is a must. Don’t even think about getting one of those ridiculous ‘nanny state’ safety ones with the round-ended blade and spring back action, whoever invented those needs a stern talking to. The old fashioned Stanley as pictured below would be my knife of choice. The metal housing makes them pretty much bomb-proof and you can store spare blades inside too.
Specialist & Automotive Tools:
Torque Wrench: Torque settings are a numerical value, measured in Newton Metres (Nm) or Foot Pounds (ft-lb) and indicate how tight specific nuts, bolts or fasteners should be. All the really important parts of your car, the wheels or brake calipers, for example, need to be tightened and torqued to specific settings (which will be listed in the workshop manual for your car). These torque settings vary from component to component and car to car but they really are critical, so having a torque wrench in your toolbox is essential.
Torque settings do two things: they ensure you don’t overtighten and damage the fixing in question and they ensure you don’t under tighten the fixing, which could, in turn, lead to it coming loose. Torque wrenches come in different sizes and have different ‘ranges’. For example, a small 3/8″ drive torque wrench might have a range of 10Nm to 80Nm which might be great if you’re working on smaller engine components for example but completely useless if you need to torque your wheel nuts, which generally need to be around 120Nm. For that job you’d need a larger, 1/2″ drive torque wrench which might have a range of 60Nm to 200Nm for example. Torque wrenches are available in the old-school needle-dial type, the common ‘click’ type and you can even get digital ones.
Brake Caliper Wind Back / Compressor Tool: Changing brake pads is one of the most common DIY service jobs you’re likely to do on your own car. As the pads wear, the pistons in the brake caliper protrude more and more from the caliper housing and will need pushing back in before you can fit your new brake pads. Most front brake caliper pistons can simply be compressed back into place with a brake caliper compression tool but some, like the popular Volkswagen/Audi rear caliper, actually wind back in and a combination of compressing and twisting force is needed to retract them. There are various tools available from the basic compression tool to full sets.
Oil Drain Pan: Not exactly a tool but the oil drain pan is certainly one of the handiest pieces of kit in my toolbox, I use it all the time. Of course, it’s not limited to just oil, you can use it for coolant and fuel or transmission fluid or whatever. I find the type that can be sealed with a cap as opposed to the ‘open’ type preferable because, A, you can’t accidentally kick it over and B, you can store the waste oil in the drain pan and bring it directly to the recycling centre rather than having to decant it into something else and risk spilling it all over the place.
Brake Bleeding Kit: There are a bunch of different types of brake bleeding kits, from very cheap, simple ones which are basically just a bottle and a length of hose to pretty expensive ones which rely on air pressure. needless to say, the more expensive ones are better and easier to use but you can still get a one-man kit that works off the pressure in your tyres for small money
Coil Spring Compressors: Coil spring compressors are essential if you’re changing coil springs or shocks. They can be a scary tool to use and extreme caution is needed because if you get it wrong and the spring slips, a trip to A&E could be on the cards!
Ball Joint Splitter: A ball joint splitter is a must-have piece of gear if you’re doing a lot of suspension work. There are a few types – just be wary of the cheaper pivot type as they can break. Get a decent brand or get the wedge type that you hammer in – these are virtually indestructible.
Tap and Die Set: A Tap & die set enables you to repair internal and external threads, for example on nuts and bolts. This might not be something you break out all that frequently but when you’re able to fix a guntered thread at 10 o’clock at night when all the parts stores are closed, it’s a pretty good feeling!
Bench Vice: The Bench Vice is the single most useful tool you can buy – get a decent one and it will probably outlast you! You can pick up second-hand ones for relatively small money or buy them new and they’re still not hugely expensive. Mount it solidly to your bench and you won’t know yourself! You’ll be using it for every cutting, grinding, welding and hammering job for decades to come!
So that wraps up the most popular tools that the team here at MicksGarage.com use on a regular basis. We hope you found it useful. Be sure to check out our extensive range of hand tools and workshop equipment and please have a browse around the site at our DIY guides and How To videos. We’d love to hear your feedback so if there’s something glaringly obvious you think we’ve missed off the list, feel free to let us know in the comments below