Best Hand Tools: Automotive Toolbox Essentials
Working on your vehicle requires high-quality tools that can handle a diverse set of challenges
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BY Bryan Long / LAST UPDATED ON July 28, 2019
A mechanic is only as good as the tools he's working with. After all, making tools for solving complex problems was the tactic that gave humans an evolutionary advantage. Mechanics especially need a comprehensive inventory of tools at their disposal because of the wide range of automotive issues that can arise. To help make your job easier, we've narrowed down the best hand tool sets for mechanics.
This go-to toolset covers the basic, yet essential, hand tools needed in any home from a tape measure to a hammer.
- All tools included in this set meet or exceed ANSI critical standards
- The tools are heat treated and chrome plated. The kit comes in a few different colors.
- The Cartman kit doesn’t include every tool you will need, like a level
- The tools are not meant for heavy-duty jobs
Making some of the best hand tools for the money, DeWALT has made a name for itself over its century of service.
- This mechanic's hand tool set is the most affordable, comes with a 72-tooth ratchet, uses anti-slip vinyl grips, and has a wide array of AES and metric sizes
- The DeWALT mechanic’s kit doesn’t come with the best case, and this tool set has less tool variety compared to the others
This toolset is a great choice for automotive work thanks to its variety and the company's lifetime replacement warranty.
- This 210-piece tool set comes with a great variety of tools, uses vanadium-forged body tools, and exceeds ANSI specifications
- Stanley tool sets tend to be more expensive than others, and this kit has a cheap-feeling case that is hard to use
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All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, or practical experience with most products we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of Hand Tools
- Time. Using the right tools for the task is going to be much more efficient. If you're a mechanic, that means they'll make you more money. Even if it's just DIY projects, saving time is always the best way to go.
- More control. Today, we have automatic tools that can take on almost any job. The key part of that being “almost.” Hand tools give you far more control of the work you're doing, are less likely to break or strip something, and can be easier to use, especially in tight spaces.
- It's an investment. Buying automotive hand tools isn't just for getting work done, it's a great investment. Even if you don't use them right away, they aren't going to go bad. There's a lot of crossover between automotive tools and tools you need inside your home, so having the basics can be incredibly helpful.
Types of Hand Tools
These might end up being your most-used tools in an entire set. While the actual "ratchet" part of a ratchet set was originally the key feature, now they're fairly common, and needing these tools for nuts and bolts on your vehicle is practically a guarantee for every project. A good ratchet set can include not just regular sockets, but also Philips head, hex keys, and Allen keys that will give you the ability to take apart anything you need.
A humble yet crucial tool in your mechanic's arsenal is the screwdriver. Not only do we need them for the plethora of screws you'll find in a car, but screwdrivers can also be a versatile asset when you're working on a big project. Different tool sets can come with various types of screwdrivers and features like ergonomic handles, magnetic types, universal screwdrivers, and specialty screwdrivers.
Pliers and Wire Cutters
There is an endless supply of electrical problems you can have in your car or even just extra features that need to be wired in. A good set of wire cutters can make your job much easier and shave precious time off of electrical work inside your vehicle. Pliers are not only good for wiring but can also be incredibly useful when you least expect it.
An OBD2 sensor can make all the difference when you're trying to diagnose your vehicle. These devices are a mechanic's secret weapon, and it can be yours as well. An OBD2 sensor can read the check engine light in your car and tell you what is throwing the code. This saves plenty of time trying to figure out your problem. To learn more about OBD2 sensors, check them out here.
There are plenty of unusual tools that are required for automotive work. Your headlights can be adjusted with a headlight adjustment tool or a headlamp spring tool. Did you know car batteries have their own special tool? A battery carrier has large jaws that are made to slide into the tightest spaces and have a handle on top so you can easily carry out a car battery. Spark plug pliers are specialty pliers that are padded at the end so you don't damage your spark plugs when trying to remove them. There is also a vehicle-specific fork tool that is made to slide under the clips that hold your vehicle's interior together.
This brand is easily one of the most recognized names in tools. For the past 90 years, Craftsman tools have delivered superior quality and technologically-advanced products. The company is possibly best known for its lifetime warranty that it has offered since its inception. They offer great hand toolsets like the 450-piece and 230-Piece mechanics toolsets.
One of the most popular ratchet sets is the DeWalt Mechanics Tool Set. Raymond DeWalt made his first machine, an improvement on a woodworking machine, in 1922. Two years later, he formed his own company to sell the "Wonder Worker." In its nearly 100 year-long history, the company has expanded its production line and produced wildly popular products.
Launched in 1998 to compete with Craftsman and Husky, Kobalt is an American mechanics' tool brand owned by Lowe's. Within its 20 years, the company has focused on the hardware and home improvement fields. The brand's sponsorship of a NASCAR race car has helped boost its automotive tool sales.
Hand Tool Pricing
- Under $25: Depending on the job, you can find good, quality hand tools for under $25. This can include singular tools for a specific task or smaller ratchet and screwdriver sets.
- $25 to $50: At this price point, you start to see more popular hand tool manufacturers and their smaller tool kits. There are also pneumatic and electric tools starting in this price range.
- $50 to 75: As the price goes up, so does the number of items included in your tool kit. Reliable and name-brand toolsets with around 100 pieces can be found in this price range, as well as high-end singular hand tools.
- Over $100: It's no surprise that some of the best hand tools in the world can cost over $100. Some giant toolsets can reach over $500, and often these tools include features like lifetime warranties.
The best hand tool manufacturers offer lifetime warranties on their products. It's a win-win; the brand gains trust from their customers, and you don't have to worry about babying your favorite tools. Even the most well-constructed tools can break or wear out over time. So having a lifetime warranty takes out the worry.
A toolset isn't going to do you any good if there are only one or two pieces that you use in it. Even simple measures—like finding out if your vehicle uses SAE or metrics—can save you from spending more than you need when searching for tools. Consider what types of jobs and projects you'll be doing the most, and start getting appropriate tools from there.
Most of the time, brand names aren't as good as everyone thinks they are. While some companies get popular with flashy marketing or one standout feature, hardware and tool companies must win over their audience with each product they put out. If they start slacking when it comes to quality, they could risk losing their entire customer base. That's why a brand-named tool actually is an important feature when shopping.
- Pneumatic and Automic Tools: Air-powered and electric tools can make your job a lot easier. Many of the types of tools mentioned above have powered versions that might be better equipped for certain tasks. The most important part is if you're going to use both hand tools and automatic tools, then buying sockets and other attachments that are safe for both can save you money in the long run.
- Variety: Working on cars requires many different types of tools. Finding a toolset that covers all your bases is going to make your life easier when working on your vehicle.
- Case: One of the best features that a toolset can come with is a case or toolbox. A high-quality toolbox can keep your tools safe, make it easy to store them, and save you the hassle of finding a place to put them.
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- Consider investing in the appropriate protective gear as well as tools. Working safe can keep you from fatigue, injury, and other harm that is typical of automotive work.
- One of the most important (and often overlooked) parts of working on a car is the lighting. You can make your job a lot easier and more comfortable by finding portable lights that are made to give you the best visibility possible while working on your vehicle.
- Your skill level as a mechanic can play a big part in which tool kit is the best for you. Some sets include a wide array of attachments to cater to professionals, while others only include the basics to help get a new tool collection started.
Q: What are the best hand tools I can buy?
A: There are lots of different elements to a good hand tool. First, having your basics covered is imperative. That means having all the sockets, wrenches, screwdrivers, and hammers that are almost always required for a project. After that, you need to consider quality materials, reputable name brands, and the best warranties.
Q: How do mechanics determine quality?
A: Unfortunately, there isn't any specific rule or standard to quality tools. This is one of the few areas where brand name and word of mouth is how you get the best information. Tool companies heavily rely on happy customers, and mechanics are not afraid to share their opinion on a new tool or brand.
Q: What's the best way to set up a toolbox?
A: While there is no "right" way to set up a toolbox, there are plenty of essential things to consider. You want your most-used tools to be easily accessible, sockets and bits should be with their corresponding ratchets and drivers, and most importantly, the toolbox should be neat and clean.
Q: Do I have to buy a full toolset?
A: Not at all. Plenty of people prefer to mix and match their toolsets, and it is all based on user preference. The main reason this list features tool sets instead of individual hand tools is that you get the best value when buying in bulk.
Whether you're a mechanic or just like to work on your own vehicle, you need a reliable and varied set of tools at your disposal. The DEWALT Mechanics Tools Kit is the best overall option thanks to its incredible variety.
If you want to spend less money but don’t want to compromise on quality, the Cartman 39-Piece Tool Set has the best ratchets for the money.