Best Tools for the DIY Home Mechanic
Haynes Mechanic Tool Advice
Working on your car and truck can be difficult, but especially so if you use the wrong tool for whatever task you attempting to accomplish whether it be something as simple as loosening a worn nut on a rusted bolt or as complex as re-installing gears in a differential.
While it’s not financially feasible for many of us to stock up our home garage with the best and brightest tools out there right away (which you should not do anyways even if you can afford to) it is possible to equip your workspace with tools that are common necessities for many repair tasks---and do so affordably.
Related article:Mechanic Responds to Harbor Freight Tool Shaming
Below is a summary of the list of recommended tools from the Haynes staff writer/mechanic of Mark’s Tips from the Haynes manuals website that he recommends as “Real-world tools I use frequently on a variety of different makes and models.”
1. Scan Tool
“Depending on your needs or usage, a scan tool is a definite must if you’re working on modern cars, as this is commonly the starting point when diagnosing problems,” states the writer of Mark’s Tips.
OBD-II scan tools can be a helpful aid toward diagnosing engine and electrical system problems that are not always obvious to the DIY mechanic. And while you may have heard that these types of tools run into the thousands of dollars, there is a wide selection of significantly lower priced scan tools that can do many (but not all) of the needed tasks found in a $6,000 or more scan tool such as reading basic error codes, manufacturer codes, airbag and ABS codes.
The caveat to using a scan tool, however, is that it is not a magical tool that can instantly and accurately tell you what is wrong with your vehicle---although some people try to repair cars this way. Rather, it is a good starting point for pointing you down the path of potential problems, but you still have to apply good and logical diagnostic skills to prevent you from erroneously firing the parts canon at a problem.
2. Electric impact gun(s)
Pneumatic power tools were the standard for many years in garages. For the home garage DIY mechanic however, it also requires the purchase of a rather large and expensive air compressor. Plus, as the Mark’s Tips points out, you can get tired pretty quick from struggling with a long air compressor hose---especially in hard-to-reach areas.
“… An electric impact gun is your solution! There are many sizes to choose from---a smaller impact gun is nice if you don’t need too much torque when tightening or loosening bolts, whereas a larger one can tighten/loosen up to hundreds of foot-lbs. Many available on the market now even have the strength of a pneumatic impact gun!
For a money saving impact wrench, check out this review of a top-rated affordable Harbor Freight tool that compared well against more expensive brands.
3. Brake caliper quick-retract tool(s)
Forget about using a large C-clamp like you may have seen your old man use when you were a kid. These two tools are a faster and better solution for a common brake job task.
• A direct-push brake tool
• A caliper screw-in tool (normally for rear brakes) that is similar to the direct-push tool except this one screws-in the caliper as it pushes it. Find one that comes equipped with several adapters to fit a wide range of calipers.
4. Hose clamp tool (with remote lever and cable)
If you have ever struggled with hard-to-reach spring-type hose clamps, then this is one that will save you a lot of time and frustration. “It works by squeezing a handle from a remote location with a brake-like cable attached to a grasping mechanism at the hose-clamp side,” states Mark’s Tips.
5. Video inspection scope with magnet/hook attachments
This is a must for anyone tearing into an engine. Greasy fingers and dropped part have led to many re-disassembled projects that could have been saved with a specialty flexible neck camera with hooks and magnetic pick-up accessories.
6. The Right Oil Filter Wrench
Don’t go out and buy the cheapest universal oil filter wrench commonly found in auto parts stores and truck stops. Rather, consult your vehicle owner’s manual or a Hayne’s manual and find out which type is the recommended right choice for your vehicle. Note, that some models are very hard to reach and may be worth the extra dollars to get a specialty tool.
7. Swivel-Head Ratchet and Swivel-Head Ratcheting Wrenches
“These are, by far, one of the most frequently used hand tools in my box,” states Mark’s Tips that correctly points out that “…these types of wrenches and ratchets can allow for a much greater range of tightening and make your life a whole lot easier….and why not combine a ratcheting box-end wrench with a swivel-head one? The possibilities are endless!”
8. Electric Ratchet
Not a must-have item, but they are nice and can save you time. An electric hand ratchet comes in especially handy for nuts and bolts in a tight spot with minimal space to crank a non-electric ratchet. One caveat however, “Don’t rely on power tools when reaching the final torque of a fastener! Tightening by hand or with a torque wrench, as applicable, is way more accurate,” recommends Mark’s Tips.
9. Universal Wrench Extender Adaptor
We’ve all done this at one time or another: Could not get the leverage we needed to wrench a nut loose and resorted to wedging the open end of the wrench into the box end of a second wrench to gain some leverage. It can work, but too often the combo slips into a knuckle busting experience and/or applies torque unevenly making a problem much worse.
Today, however, there is “…a universal wrench adapter by K-Tool makes extending the length of a wrench possible by means of combining a ratchet, breaker bar or another wrench. Great for many applications,” states Mark’s Tips. The concept of the aforementioned wrench combo is still there, but now you have a middle insert to fit the two wrenches together much more securely.
Special Note: I have never used this tool. It looks like it should work. But I have this “wrong tool for the task” warning bell going off in my head every time I hear about it because there are tool options that make more proven sense. I could be wrong, but eventually I will buy one and try it out before making any further judgment. My best guess is that it falls under an “if in an emergency” type of tool. But again, I may be wrong.
10. Haynes Manual (paper or online) for Your Car
Recommended as “the most important tool of all,” a Haynes manual is great for many reasons that include:
• Accurate information and specs for your specific model vehicle.
• Maintenance information and recommendations.
• Code explanations to help diagnose your scan tool analysis.
• Car component identification with some operation/function explanation.
• Tool recommendations with step-by-step instruction on how to do a repair.
• A good first source for taking out some of the mystery of how a car operates and what you can do to ensure it will last you many miles.
• And much, much more.
For additional news related to automotive repair regarding tools, here are a few articles for your consideration:
25 Tools Under $15 Every Toolbox Needs from Harbor Freight
Harbor Freight's Dirty Little Secret Revealed Helps DIY Mechanics
Timothy Boyer is a Torque News automotive reporter based in Cincinnati. Experienced with early car restorations, he regularly restores older vehicles with engine modifications for improved performance. Follow Tim on Twitter at @TimBoyerWrites for daily new and used vehicle news.
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