Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with new picks for 2017. Our previous picks can be found on page 2.
The resto-mod project car, the cafe racer build, keeping junior’s new wheels looking like new, fixing the lawn mower: all on the to-do list, wasting away in DIY purgatory. Those big projects have stalled or have been put off, whether it’s due to mounting stress, stubborn bolts or lack of time. But the master at-home mechanic knows that no matter how daunting or time consuming a project is, having the right, high-quality tools makes the job infinitely easier and more rewarding.
Despite what Powerblock TV will have you thinking, replacing a fried clutch or doing an engine swap is going to mean a lot of blood, sweat and spilled oil. But if your garage can back you up, you won’t mind investing those vital fluids into any project, no matter how many deposits you make to the swear jar. So, convert your ‘to-do’ list into your ‘got-done’ list with these, the right tools for the job.
Pro-Lift Convertible Creeper $24
Bayco 26-Watt Fluorescent Work Light
Craftsman 85-Piece Universal Max Axess $114
Strongway Hydraulic Quick Lift Service Jack $150
Briggs & Stratton Oil Extractor Pump
BlueDriver Bluetooth Professional OBDII Scan Tool
Milwaukee M18 Fuel High Torque Impact Wrench
Craftsman Digi-Click Torque Wrench
Black & Decker RTX-6 Rotary Tool $40
DeWalt 18-Volt Compact Drill/Driver Kit
Bayco Fluorescent Work Light
Drop Light: If you can’t see it, you can’t fix it. Today’s drop lights shine brighter, use less power and are generally more durable than older, hot-burning incandescent-bulb trouble lights. The Bayco Fluorescent Work Light produces the equivalent of a 75-watt incandescent light from a cool-running 13-watt, 10,000-hour rated fluorescent bulb. Forget fighting with the cord, too — the Bayco comes with 50 feet of power cord on a metal retractable reel.
Craftsman 220-piece Mechanics Tool Set
Socket Set + Torx Bits: There are some tools in your arsenal that you know you’ll use again and again and again. You may as well buy quality and quantity right from the start. Craftsman’s 220-piece Mechanics Tool Set with case practically guarantees you won’t be running out to the hardware store for the right socket mid repair job. With 128 sockets in standard and metric sizes, deep well and regular depths, in ¼-, 3/8- and ½-inch drive sizes, with three ratchets and six wrenches, this set has it all. Add in the 41 screwdriver and nut driver bits and all that’s missing is a set of Torx bits to complete the package.
Powerzone 3-Ton Hydraulic Jack
Hydraulic Jack + Stands: Hopefully you don’t spend a lot of time under your car, but when you have to go there, it’s nice to have a simple and safe way to lift and stabilize your workplace. The Powerzone 3-Ton Hydraulic jack has a lift range from 4 to 18 inches, and the frame is made of aluminum so you won’t break your back when you move it. It also incorporates rear swivel wheels, so you don’t pull an Austin Powers when you try to redirect it. Of course, you should never use a jack without stands, especially if you plan on getting underneath. Torin makes a solid set that doesn’t break the bank (but if you seem to spend a lot of time working on the underside of your car, or it’s a half-ton pickup or SUV, you should consider upgrading to a heavy-duty lift and stand set).
Torin 4-Position Headrest Shop Creeper
Creeper: Once you’re committed to getting under your car, forget the carpet pads or cardboard boxes. None of those backyard solutions can hold a drop light to the Torin 4-Position Headrest Shop Creeper. The adjustable headrest keeps you at the right angle for your work, while the padded surface babies your back. Six rotating caster wheels make rolling around on the garage floor a breeze.
Innova 3100 CAN/OBD-II
OBDII Code Reader: There’s nothing quite like the sinking feeling that accompanies the illuminated “Check Engine” light on your instrument panel. But instead of ignoring it and hoping it will just go away, diagnose it on your own with the Innova 3100 CAN/OBD-II Code Reader. Plugged into your car’s on-board diagnostic port (usually found under the dash somewhere near the steering column), this little gem will quickly pinpoint the problem on any foreign or domestic car, light truck or SUV built during or after 1996. Once you’ve tracked the problem, solutions are as simple as a trip to the parts store (or tightening your gas cap).
Mityvac Vacuum Brake Bleeding Kit
Brake Bleeder: Brakes inevitably wear out, requiring the home mechanic to take corrective action to halt squealing and grinding noises. Inevitably, those brake jobs lead to some loss of brake fluid in the otherwise sealed lines, resulting in pesky air pockets in those lines. To get the air out, you’ll have to bleed the lines, but unless your garage comes with a handy and always available assistant to pump the brake pedal, you’ll need the right tool. Mityvac’s simple but thorough setup makes bleeding your brakes a one-person job. Enough said.
Snap-on Adjustable Torque Wrench
Torque Wrench: Everything from car lug nuts to engine head bolts requires a precise amount of torque, which you’ll get with a tool like this Snap-on Torque Wrench. With a torque range from 30- to 250-lb-ft that’s displayed on an easy-to-read laser-marked scale, this comfort-grip wrench is easy to set and use. There are less expensive torque wrenches that will do the job, but precision and a lifetime warranty count here — and Snap-on’s reputation for crafting professional grade tools comes with both.
Dremel MultiPro 7.2-Volt Cordless Rotary Tool Kit
Dremel Tool: Sometimes a small job can get big in a hurry just because you can’t make a simple part fit or a hole needs to be opened up just a tad. Enter the Dremel MultiPro 7.2-Volt Cordless Rotary Tool Kit, a handy grinder, drill motor or cutting tool spinning at 10,000 or 20,000 rpm. The Dremel is lightweight and easy to use and comes with a charger, 15 assorted accessories and a carrying case.
Dewalt 18-Volt Drill/Driver Kit
Drill/Driver: The Dremel is for the little jobs that require high rpm; the Dewalt 18-Volt Drill/Driver Kit is the power equipment you go to when the drilling gets tough. It’s lightweight at 5.2 pounds but packs a punch with a 380-watt dual-speed motor that delivers up to 450 rpm in low mode and up to 1,500 rpm on high. The ½-inch keyless ratcheting chuck makes for quick changes of drills or drivers.
Irwin Vise-Grip 10WR
Vise Grips Known as the tool of last resort, Vise Grips are often the only thing that can get the job done when things go awry — and in every repair job, large or small, something will go wrong. A bolt head gets stripped, a flange bends, a rusted nut or screw won’t turn: all of these can be solved with the clamping and twisting power of a good pair of Vise Grips locking pliers. A good starter model is the Irwin Vise-Grip 10WR, the 10-inch version with a curved jaw capable of exerting tremendous pressure at the point of attack. As long as you’re buying, you might want to consider a set with flat jaws and a smaller set for those problem bolts in tighter spots.