The car hobby is made up of three kinds of people–those who enjoy shopping and buying fun cars, people who like to work on cars and those who want to do it all.
I want to encourage more of the third kind, and have recently shared articles about car care basics and reliable sources for car repairs. See the related articles below:
Related Article: Favorite Car REPAIR Channels
Related Article: Car Care Basics
For those of you ready to take the next step to DIY repair, let’s talk about the tools you need to get started.
Professional vs. Hobbyist Tools
Did you shut down when I mentioned buying tools? Were you thinking this was going to cost you a small fortune? Professional technicians need to invest in high quality tools, like those from Snap-On, Matco or Cornwell. Car hobbyists like me do not need professional level tools.
If you are a hobbyist/weekend warrior, then you can find most of what you need from Harbor Freight. This is a discount tool seller that has over 1,200 locations nationwide as well as a robust online presence. While I inherited a lot of tools from my dad, I buy most of my new ones from Harbor Freight.
I am going to tackle my tool recommendations in two waves: essential tools and advanced. For most of your automotive maintenance and light repairs, the essential set will suffice.
Listed below are my tool recommendations with a link and price for each one. Most are from Harbor Feight, however, a couple of them are from other sources.
Screwdriver set ($11.99)
Combination Wrench Set ($19.99)
Ratchet & Socket Set ($14.99)
3 Ton Floor Jack ($149.99)*
*Safety Note 1: If you plan to remove your wheels or get under your car to change the oil, a GOOD floor jack is needed to lift the car. Do not go cheap on a floor jack, and always use jack stands (see below) to safely keep your car off the ground. NEVER get under your car using only a floor jack.
Jack Stands ($38.99)**
**Safety Note 2: After lifting your car with a jack, place a jack stand under the axle or other lift point recommended by your car’s manufacturer. This will safely keep your car lifted without fear of it falling on you.
I am recommending a jack stand set sold through Amazon. Harbor Freight’s supplier has had issues with jack stands collapsing, and most were recalled as a result. Until I am comfortable the new ones from Harbor Freight are safe, my recommendation is for the Torin Big Red stands through Amazon.
Duct Tape ($3.91)
Zip Ties ($2.99 for 100)
If my math is correct, the above tools total $261.92. More than half of that amount is for the floor jack, so all of the other tools only total $111.93. That is a reasonable investment for tools that will last you a lifetime and save you money on car repairs.
Advanced Level Tools
Once you master basic repairs, you may find yourself wanting to tackle bigger projects. This will involve electrical diagnosis, “check engine light” diagnostics and other precision operations.
The specialty tools listed below will take your repair service to a new level. Whether you need them is entirely up to you.
Electric Impact Gun ($49.99)
Torque Wrench ($24.99)
OBD II Scan Tool ($119.95)
If you are approaching this level of work, then having these advanced tools will more than pay for themselves. Real tool geeks live for these days!
Speaking of tool geeks, I recently bought a machine that blows smoke to help diagnose an engine vacuum leak (the smoke exits where you have a leak). Even if I never use it again, I am happy in the knowledge that I have my smoke leak detector!
Tool Boxes and Cabinets
Once you have your collection of tools, you need to keep them handy and organized. If you only buy the essential tools above, a simple tool bag like this one HERE ($13.99) will be good enough.
As you collect more tools, you can graduate to a tool box or a tool cabinet with drawers. There are many choices available for every budget. It all depends on how many tools you need to store and the space available in your garage.
If you are lucky, your dad or other family member will have a collection of tools to pass down to you. About 10 years ago, my dad (pictured above) gave me all of his tools. On that day, we sat together while he explained where each of his tools came from. I used a lot of those tools growing up and many were his dad’s tools, so a lot of history came with that tool cabinet.
Dad passed away about two years later, but his tools live on with me. Whatever you decide to do with your tool purchases, treat them with respect and share them with someone special.