I grew up crawling under cars, helping my dad to fix them or just keep them running. As I’ve got older, I don’t work on my car anymore, but I always remember what Dad did, what tools he needed and how useful they were.
Following my dad’s example, here is what I consider the entire must-have set of car tools you should have if you work on your own vehicles.
When You Need To Get Under Your Car, Make Sure You Keep Things Stable
A scissor jack is one of the most common forms of jack that comes standard with a car. They are efficient and quite easy to use. You may find that you need a more substantial jack when you work on your car.
A bottle or hydraulic jack works vertically, so the pressure of the car cannot fold it. This keeps the centre of gravity more steady than a scissors jack.
If you are really serious about working on your own car, then a trolley jack is your best bet. What is great about a trolley jack is that you can get it under the car without doing too much crawling about.
The hydraulic jacking system is strong and easy to use. A trolley jack will also usually lift your car higher than other jacks. It is also the best option with SUVs or high-wheel clearance vehicles.
Trestles (Jack stand)
You must have been told to avoid crawling around under a car when it is on a jack. This is why a set of trestles is essential as part of your tool kit. You can mount the axle of the car on a trestle, which will be steadier than a jack.
Before you jack up your car, it is essential to put wheel chocks behind or in front of the other wheels. This will keep the car from rolling. A set of two is a basic must, but four may be even better.
A strong tarp is a great thing to have in your toolbox. It is useful for when you need to sit or lie next to the car to work on it. A tarp is also essential for when you need to get down under the car, unless you have a trolley, that is.
Car inspection trolley
When your car is up on trestles or a jack, you may need to get underneath to work on the engine. This is why you need to have a car inspection trolley on hand.
You can pick up a very basic model, with a flat wooden deck on wheels. The other option is a molded plastic model that is longer and even sculpted to suit your body more comfortably.
How Would You Manage To Wrench a Nut or Bolt Free Without a Spanner?
Ratcheting socket wrench set
When you work on your own car, a set of socket wrenches is essential. A good set includes wrenches with both metric and standard (imperial) sizes.
It will have a range of sizes, including the most common sizes: from ¼ inch (0.6mm), 3/8 inch (0.9 mm), ½ inch (1.3 cm) and ¾ inch (0.6mm). There are other sizes in between these that you will find in a good socket set.
You will need sockets of different shapes that will fit any pattern of nut or bolt.
The socket set will include a ratchet spanner, which is the most efficient way of turning a wrench. There are also extension arms, to reach nuts and bolts that are embedded in parts of the engine.
Spark plug spanner
The beauty of specialized spanner sets is that you can be sure you have the right tool for the job. Make sure your spanner set has a socket for removing spark plugs.
Flat and ring spanners
There are some nuts and bolts for which a socket wrench just isn’t the right thing. This is why you need a set of flat, ring or double-ended spanners in your toolbox.
One option you have is to build up your own collection of spanners. Perhaps choose double ended spanners, because then you have a set of flat and of ring spanners all in one. On the other hand, you may only need certain sizes in each and can buy them separately.
When you choose the spanners to buy, make sure you get those that fit the most common size of nuts and bolts.
Shifting / adjustable spanner
Working on your own car is not a definable art. You may find times when you need to change the size of the gap on the spanner in the moment. Rather than reaching for new spanners, it is often easier simply to adjust the spanner in your hand. This is why you need a shifting (adjustable) spanner.
The head of the spanner looks the same as any other flat spanner, with the flat ‘mouth’ open to hold a bolt. One side of the jaw is attached to an adjustable slide, so the mouth can be screwed to different widths.
Every element of a car’s engine is essential for it to function properly. Every nut needs to be just tight enough. It’s pretty much impossible to tell if you’ve got it right just with your fingers. Keep a torque wrench in your toolbox, to make sure the amount of pressure that is applied to a bolt or nut is correct.
Every car should have its own wheel spanner (lug wrench), but keeping a spare in your toolbox is important. Go for the cross wrench, so that you know you’ll be able to remove lug nuts of any size.
Every Toolbox Needs Screwdrivers, of Varying Sizes and Patterns
Set of screwdrivers
You will never only need one screwdriver in your toolbox. You will need a range of sizes and types of heads. At the very least, make sure you have about 5 or 6 different sizes of both flat and Phillips screwdrivers.
Your car may feature some other screws, such as a six-pointed star, because it gives better torque. In this case, you’ll need to add some star screwdrivers to your set.
Perhaps it’s the best bet to go out and buy a set of screwdrivers, then you’ll have all the basics. At the very least, you can also buy a combo tool, with one handle and different screwdriver heads.
It’s not extremely likely that you will need to use a tiny screwdriver on your car, but you never know. A great standby, in-case addition to a toolbox is a set of jeweller’s screwdrivers.
Allen keys have a hexagonal shape and are essential for screws with a hexagonal recess. They come in sets of different sizes, so all your options will be covered.
When You Need To Get to Grips With Things, Reach for the Pliers
Begin at the beginning and make sure you have a set of standard pliers. The edges of the mouth are squared off and flattened to be able to grip things. There is usually a grid pattern on the inside of the mouth, to increase the grip.
Needle nose pliers
Sometimes, it’s necessary to get into a small spot in the car’s engine, or the spot is a little too far to reach easily. The jaws of needle nose pliers are long and thin, which means they can reach those spaces.
Water pump pliers
Water pump pliers have an adjustable slip joint. It can adjust to seven different positions. The head is essentially square, with slightly rounded ends. This lets the pliers grip round the pipes.
The slip joint in the middle of the head of a slip-joint pliers allows the jaws to widen. This lets the pliers grip things of different thicknesses. The edges of the jaws are flat and curve out slightly below that. This gives the pliers the range to grip a variety of shapes.
Locking pliers (Vice grip)
One of the jaws of the locking pliers is relatively flat, while the other is slightly rounded. This gives the pliers the ability to grip quite a range of objects. At the end of one leg of the pliers is a screw that can tighten or loosen the jaws. The trick is to make sure you don’t tighten the screw too tight and overload the pressure of the pliers on whatever it is holding.
These pliers are also called side-cutting pliers, or electrician’s pliers, because they incorporate side cutters just behind the gripping jaws. This means you can work on the wiring in your car without having to reach for other pliers.
The tips of the jaws are flat and serrated, for gripping wires. Although the handles are usually insulated, don’t use these pliers to grip live wires.
In a complete toolbox, it’s useful to have a set of side cutters too (even if you have side cutting pliers). These are useful for cutting through wire of different widths and strengths.
Sometimes, You Need To Hold Things Together With Tape
Thread tape is usually used in plumbing to seal pipe threads. It may seem a little outside, but you just may need to seal a thread on your car, even temporarily.
Insulation tape is used to cover or insulate wires. It is pressure sensitive and is effective when wound around an electrical wire that may be exposed. You can also use insulation tape to seal the end of a wire that is no longer used. You can also tape electrical wires together.
Duct tape is one of those things you should have everywhere, even in your toolbox. You may never use it on your car. However, there will be that moment when nothing else will do the job and there will be the duct tape!
Part of Fixing Cars Is Knowing Where To Shine the Light
Working on a car can be fiddly enough without being able to see properly. You can avoid this by keeping a lead light in your toolbox. This is one of the most useful pieces of equipment and one you will never regret having.
Lead lights plug into either the mains in your garage, or the lighter socket in your car.
When all else fails, provide the light yourself. A head torch is an essential thing to keep in your toolbox. You just need to fix it on your head and you will have light wherever you look and wherever you need to work.
Of course, a timing light is not in the realm of lead lights and torches. It is a specialized piece of equipment that is linked to the ignition circuit. It is not an essential addition to your toolbox, but is relatively inexpensive and can be very useful.
Don’t Forget the Other Special Bits ’n Pieces
Big gaps, small gaps and tiny, tiny little gaps are all part of a car’s engine. To make sure you get those really miniscule gaps right, make sure you have a set of feeler gauges in your toolbox.
Keep a pot of automotive grease in your toolbox for those moments when you need it. You may want to cover the terminals of the battery, or to lubricate a moving part.
If your car battery is sealed, then the water won’t be something to check on. If your battery does have openable cells, then a little distilled water is a good thing to have on standby. You may just need it for a top up.
No, your toolbox isn’t the place to keep baking goodies. It is the place to keep a little baking soda on hand, in case you need to neutralize acid round the terminals of the battery.
Working on engines takes a toll on your hands and can make them greasy and dirty. You should keep some abrasive, strong hand cleaner in your toolbox. Use this to get rid of the worst of the grime before you go indoors and mess up your bathroom sink and soap.
Cloths, lots of cloths
Whenever you work on your car, there is going to be some sort of spillage, or something that needs to be wiped. Keep a supply of old cloths or rags in your toolbox for those moments.
What are the three most important things to have in my toolbox for fixing my car?
The three most important things to keep in your tool box for when you want to work on your car are a set of socket spanners, a set of pliers and a strong light. You will have a jack in the car already, so you can get under the car using that.
How can I make sure my car won’t roll or fall when I am working on it?
To keep your car from rolling when you jack it up, put chocks under the wheels. Try to avoid working on a car on a jack. Rather put at least one axle on a trestle. This will keep the car from falling down.
Will I need more than one screwdriver to work on my car?
There are screws of different sizes and different patterns in a car engine. You will need to keep screwdrivers that can fit them. This means that one screwdriver is not enough. You can get an ‘all-in-one’ set, with one handle and several heads.