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 Noelle Talmon / LAST UPDATED ON July 6, 2019
If you plan on doing any type of work on your car, truck, or motorcycle, there's a good chance you will need to use a socket set. Modern machines have a variety of different-sized nuts and bolts that require you to have a versatile kit on hand. Check out our buyer's guide to find the best socket set for car and bike maintenance.
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Benefits of Socket Sets
- Save time and money. It's much more convenient to purchase a set of sockets that attach to a single ratcheting socket wrench than to buy several, individual socket wrenches.
- Simple to use. Even though socket sets have moving parts, they're easier to use than open-end wrenches. The best socket and wrench set will last just as long as a sturdy open-end wrench.
- Great for tight spaces. When you work on your car, you may find yourself trying to maneuver in a small area. A good ratchet set will help you access hard-to-reach areas.
Types of Socket Sets
Imperial vs. Metric
Most socket sets include both imperial and metric sockets. Imperial sets are measured in inches, while metric sets have metric sizes and are more common outside of the United States. Unless you know you're only going to use a socket set for one particular item that has either metric or imperial fasteners, it's more cost-effective to buy a set that includes both. However, if your budget is small, choose a set you're likely to use the most.
Impact vs. Non-Impact
The most common type of socket is manual/non-impact for hand tools. We recommend this type of socket set for auto and motorcycle repair as well as jobs around the house. However, if you use air or power tools, you will need an impact socket. This type can cope with higher torque because it is made of malleable steel.
Craftsman was founded in 1927 and produces professional-grade tools for carpentry, automotive, electrical, and plumbing jobs. The brand was owned by Sears but is now managed by Stanley Black & Decker. One top product is the Craftsman 165-Piece Mechanics Tool Set.
The DEWALT Products Company was formed in Leola, Penn., in 1924 with the launch of the electric universal woodworking machine, mortise, and jointer. In 2018, the company celebrated its 100th anniversary of the Product Service Division of Stanley Black & Decker. One popular product is the DEWALT Mechanics Tools Kit and Socket Set.
Frederick Stanley founded the Stanley Works in New Britain, Conn., in 1843, and professional carpenters and homeowners have been using its products for more than 175 years. One recommended product is the Stanley 123-Piece Socket Set.
Based in Travelers Rest, South Carolina, Sunex Tools has been designing innovative tools for the automotive aftermarket for over 40 years. One of its popular products is the Sunex Socket Set.
The Snap-on Industrial Brands include Williams, Bacho, and CDI. Williams has been in business since 1882 and was one of the first manufacturers globally to mass produce drop-forged tools, a 15-degree angle wrench, and heavy-duty slugging wrenches. One recommended product is the Williams 3/8-Inch Drive Socket and Drive Tool Set.
GearWrench, based in Sparks, Maryland, released its five-degree ratcheting wrench in 1996 and soon turned into a go-to brand for professional automotive technicians. One top product is the GearWrench 57 Piece 3/8-Inch Drive 6 Point Socket Set.
Socket Set Pricing
- Between $40 and $200: The price of socket sets is correlated to the number of tools in the kit as well as the brand name. A kit containing about 25 sockets can cost as little as $40, while a more expensive, premium kit with as many as 128 sockets can cost a couple hundred dollars.
Number of Gear Teeth
The more teeth a ratchet has, the fewer rotations you need to move it one click. This is particularly important if you're working in a small area and there's not much room to swing the handle back to grab the nut or bolt. Teeth counts can vary between brands. A ratchet with the finest teeth may only require a five-degree movement, while a coarser one may require a 10-degree movement.
Number of Points
A 12-point socket is better for light work, while a six-point (hexagonal) socket is sturdier due to its thicker walls. Six-point sockets are less likely to slip off of round edges, and they have more grip because they're designed to apply force to the flat sides of a fastener. They are best for vehicle, lawnmower, or motorcycle repairs.
- Durability: The best socket set will be strong and last a long time. Choose tools that are made of chrome vanadium, a material that is powerful, durable, and good for torque. A tool with a chrome finish is also less likely to erode and rust, making it more cost-effective in the long run.
- Quick Release Button: Tools with this feature allow you to press a button, and the socket falls off. It also locks the socket in place so it doesn't stick on a bolt head and become adhered to the engine. Without a quick release, you have to jerk the socket off the ratchet, which can be challenging with greasy fingers.
- Finish and Design: The best socket ratchet will have a smooth finish, which is easier to clean. You simply wipe it off with a cloth. Socket sets with a textured finish may hold dirt and grime in the sharper-edged areas. Ratchets may have either rounded edges or a more squared-off design.
- Reversing Mechanism: Good socket set brands will have a lever-activated reversing mechanism instead of a dial design. While either type will work in an open area, the lever is easier to use in smaller, tight spaces. For a more versatile socket, choose one with lever action.
- Case Construction: The best socket set for cars and motorcycles typically comes in a plastic case. Some cases are of higher quality than others. A few brands have cases with hinges and snap latches, while others have draw-bolt latches with snaps and hinges with pins, making them more durable. Some brands feature cases in which it’s easier to remove the tools.
- Number of Sockets: It's not uncommon for a brand to boast about the number of tools in its kit. But keep in mind that it may contain several tools you don't need or already own, such as hex wrenches and screwdriver bits. Instead, look at the number of sockets included, both metric and imperial, as well as the range of sizes instead of the total tool count.
Best Socket Set Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- A high-quality socket set contains either metric measurements, inches, or both. SAE (Society of American Engineers) sets use inches. Most ratcheting socket wrenches in the United States fit both metric and SAE sets.
- Sockets come in a variety of lengths and are either shallow, semi-deep, or deep. The average DIYer will only need shallow or semi-deep sockets. However, if you frequently work on your car, the best deep socket set will enable you to work on hard-to-reach nuts and bolts.
- Do not force a fastener because it can break, so make sure to use the right-sized socket. Also, use a lubricant on fasteners that are difficult to move.
- Clean your socket set every time you use it, and make sure all the tools are dry before you pack them back into the case to avoid rust. Store in a dry spot.
Q: What do socket sets include?
A: They include the sockets and the ratcheting socket wrench. Some sets also have drive adapters, an extender for areas that are hard to reach, deep sockets, and a spark plug socket or other specialty sockets.
Q: Can I use regular sockets with an impact wrench?
A: Technically, regular and impact sockets use the same drive sizes. However, impact sockets can tolerate significantly more torque. If you use a regular socket on an impact wrench, it's more likely to crack or shatter the socket.
Q: What drive size should I use?
A: While a 1/4-inch, 3/8-inch, and 1/2-inch drive have their own purposes, a 3/8-inch drive usually works well on most tasks. The thicker, 1/2-inch drive is preferable for higher torque, while the 1/4-inch drive is helpful in tight spaces or for recessed nuts.
Our pick for the best socket set is the DEWALT 108-Piece Mechanics Tools Kit and Socket Set. It includes a 72-tooth ratchet for high-torque ratcheting and direct torque technology to prevent rounding of fasteners and for better grip. The sockets perform well and are tough and durable. It's perfect for working on cars and motorcycles.
For a less expensive option, consider the DEWALT 34-Piece Drive Socket Set.