Best Socket Sets: A Must-Have For Car And Motorcycle Repair
These top socket sets can be used in your garage and around the home
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BY Hank O'Hop / LAST UPDATED ON August 6, 2021
The last thing you need is to get caught in a DIY situation where you need a socket that you don't have. That means you’re putting everything on hold so you can run to the hardware store and drop a bunch of cash, or wait for a delivery drone. Suddenly, what was a quick project turns into an all-day (or multi-day) ordeal. How do you avoid that? Preparation. And in your garage, you prepare by building a solid collection of sockets. While we might not know what you already have to work with, we can fill you in on what can round out, or fully build out, your current collection and find the missing links for your soon-to-be bulletproof hardware.
Two 12-piece, 12-point, deep-well socket sets for 3/8-inch drive ratchet. Includes metric and SAE sizes, making this set very versatile.
- Affordable pricing
- Lifetime warranty
- Respectable quality
- Decent socket selection
- Small sizes are limited
- Case quality is questionable
- Deep-well sockets only
Affordable 12-piece, 12-point, impact socket set. Impact sockets can be used with power and hand tools, making this a great set for many situations.
- Respectable quality
- Competitive pricing
- 12-point sockets increase versatility
- Can be used on impact and hand tools
- Storage case included
- Limited size selection
- Thick walls may pose clearance issues for hand tools
- No stamping to accompany laser etching
Premium quality tool set made in the USA. Comes with a solid selection of SAE and metric sockets as well as a ratchet, accessories, and storage case.
- Exceptional quality
- Made in the USA
- Ratchet and accessories included
- Lifetime warranty
- Premium pricing
- Limited range despite the high price
- Dated ratchet design
Best Socket Set Reviews & Recommendations
How We Selected The Products
A big part of our consideration when putting this list together was our personal experience. Most of the names you see here are those we’ve put our real-world faith in over the years. Any of the brands we haven’t had a chance to use yet, are those that we know to have excellent reputations in this division, though. Details like the warranty, pricing, and overall quality, are all things that also came into play as we evaluated our options.
While all of that is important, it doesn’t give us specific choices. That can be something of a trick, as it is very hard for us to gauge what you, the reader, needs for your particular situation. So, we looked at details such as piece count, socket sizes, and drive compatibility to generate a list of tools that we think have the best potential for a host of uses.
Best Socket Set Buying Guide and FAQs
You need sockets to work on your car. Sure, combination wrenches can take their place, but your torque wrench and free time are relying on those sockets. Don’t worry. We’re not just going to leave you with our top picks, though. After all, we know that there are plenty of readers who need a little more than what our favorites can offer. That’s why we’ve put together this buying guide to help you pick the best set of sockets.
What to Consider When Buying A Socket Set
As simple as sockets are, there are a few things you want to take into consideration before buying the first thing in front of you. There are a lot of things that separate the good from the bad and the “Oh, dear god, why!?” By reading into the following considerations, you can quickly narrow down your choices.
We suggest that the first detail you look for is the drive size. This tells you right away if the set you’re looking for will work with the ratchet you have. In most cases, drive sizes will be 1/4-inch, 3/8-inch, or 1/2-inch. However, 3/4-inch, 1-inch, and even larger drive sizes do exist.
This detail is usually easy to hash out, and most sockets intended for automotive use will stick to the first three sizes mentioned.
The next thing you need to be sure of is that the sockets will work for your application. Most vehicles work exclusively with metric fasteners these days, but that’s not a guarantee. Many domestic cars rely on metric and SAE sizes, and you don’t want to realize that halfway through a job. Being familiar with your car will take you a long way here.
Quality should be on the back of your mind at all times. Sockets are simple, and it doesn’t seem like much can go wrong. Trust us, that’s not the case. Manufacturers can fail to get the sizing just right, leave behind all kinds of defects, or simply use junk materials for construction. It’s a good idea to read into manufacturers before you buy. Take the time to see what names generally fit into your price range, then narrow it down from there.
We’re not going to put on a front and pretend like you absolutely cannot use 12-point sockets on six-point fasteners. We do it all of the time, and it works out just fine—mostly. Those 12-points do make it easier to slip a socket onto a 6-point socket in many situations.
It isn’t the right tool for the job, though. The best practice is always to match the point count of your sockets to the point count on the fastener. This will ensure you have the best fit possible, making a major difference under high load.
Types of Socket Sets
Not all socket sets are the same. You already know that, still, it’s a good idea to talk a little about the different types of socket sets. That way, you have a better idea of what you’ll run into out in the wild and can narrow things down even more.
Stating the obvious, shallow and deep-well sockets are two different animals. A shallow socket is shorter than a deep-well socket. Why? Shallow sockets are better suited for bolt heads. You can use a deep well socket to do the same job, but they may have an increased tendency to slip off because of the added length.
Deep-well sockets are used for a number of situations. The deeper body allows the socket to slip over nuts, with long sections of thread passing through them. They can also reach deeper into narrow passages or even over the bodies of spark plugs and other special components.
There is a difference between impact and hand sockets. To put it simply, impact sockets are used for impact tools, while hand sockets are designed for hand tools. Impact sockets are built to endure the massive forces created by impact tools, and hand sockets, often called chrome sockets, are not. Using chrome sockets on impact tools can lead to severe problems.
That isn’t to say hand sockets aren’t durable, though. They are made from hardened steel alloys, typically with chrome plating. This is a far harder material than is used for impacts, and it won’t flex nearly as much. That characteristic makes them ideal for hand tools and torque wrenches.
What we’re referring to as standard sockets are those with traditional six and 12-point configurations. For the most part, that’s all you’ll need for doing routine maintenance on your vehicle. There are plenty of exceptions to that rule, though.
Many vehicles use specialty fasteners. Torx, external star, and internal hex are just a few examples of what you might come across. You will need special sockets to match them. There are also other specialty sockets you should consider for removing rounded/damaged hardware — RocketSocket 13-Piece Extraction Socket Set is a prime example.
Before we wrap this up, let’s talk about some quick tips for buying socket sets. These might not be essential to your particular buying process, but they are little things we picked up on along the way. They just might save you some heartache.
Buy More Than You Need
Always buy a more extensive socket set than you think you’ll need. Even if it covers all of the faster sizes you typically run across, there are those oddballs that will ruin your day. Go with the bigger set to be safe.
Also, don’t rule out the idea of buying extras. Everyone jokes about losing that 10mm socket, but it’ll happen with all of them. You can continue working until those wandering sockets show their face again by investing in a backup set.
Pick a Brand
Consistency is key to a pleasant working experience. All of the sockets will come from one manufacturer in a set. What we’re saying is that it’s a good idea to buy socket sets from the same brand that made the tools you own and stick with them for future investments.
By sticking with one brand, you will know what to expect of your tools. You’ll learn all the things they do well and what they don’t, which will help you to work at a much more consistent rate.
Read Into Warranties
If you work with hand tools, you will put your warranties to use. Not all warranties are the same, though. Some tools only come with a 90-day warranty, while others are covered for life. Some you can swap out at local retailers. Others need to be mailed in.
Take the time to research the warranties. Figure out what works for you and go with that. Otherwise, you can be caught off guard by a warranty that doesn’t work quite as well as you’d expect.
FAQs on Socket Sets
Still scratching your head? We would be too. There’s no way to know what questions you're asking from here. We can, however, address some of the most common questions surrounding socket sets!
Q: What size socket set should I get?
What size set you should consider depends on a few factors. If you’re just starting out, or have multiple applications to work between, it’s best to go with a larger selection. You might even consider a large mechanic’s tool set. Otherwise, you can work with smaller sets. Our advice is to think about what the most common fastener sizes are for your application and find a set that covers those at the very least.
Q: What's better: 6-point or 12-point sockets?
Neither. They're designed to work with 6-point or 12-point fasteners, so you can consider them equal. However, you will most likely encounter 6-point fasteners, making them the clear choice for most situations. 12-point sockets will work fine on 6-point fasteners, but they won't have much contact and are more likely to slip. Still, people often use them anyway because that's not very likely under normal circumstances.
Q: What's the difference between impact sockets and hand tool sockets?
There are quite a few things that separate impact sockets from hand tool sockets. Primarily, it’s down to their hardness. Hand sockets are usually made from much harder materials than impacts. That does boost durability, but the hardness doubles as brittleness under impact forces, and the sockets may crack or shatter when used on impact tools.
Q: Should I just get impact sockets?
It might not be a bad idea to just buy impact sockets if you use both impact and hand tools as they are compatible with either. Impact sockets are much thicker than hand sockets, though. Even if by only a few thousandths of an inch, that can create clearance issues in the right circumstances. If you use both impact tools and hand tools, you should buy impact and hand sockets.
Q: Will chrome sockets rust?
Chrome plating is used on sockets because it doesn't rust. So long as you buy from a reputable supplier, you shouldn't have this issue. Some low-quality brands might use something else as a substitute to replicate chrome, or the plating quality might be questionable, which will likely lead to the tools rusting up.
About the Author
Hank O’Hop is a self-taught gearhead struggling with a lifelong love affair with classic automobiles. He may not have experience in a professional garage, but he’s broken more than his fair share of parts to know how not to do things under the hood. He’s driven to find what works and what doesn’t. Writing serves as an opportunity to help others avoid the headaches he’s bound to come across.
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