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Chances are good that if you’re reading this blog, you like to wrench your own car. A few basic services, like changing oil and filters, require very little in terms of equipment and space. For those of us who have only just begun to undertake doing their own service, is here to look at some essential tools that will make your life much, much easier.

Keep in mind, building a collection of tools isn’t a mad dash to the finish, it’s something that can take a lifetime to complete. You won’t always need every tool, so buying a new tool when you need it is how most large tool collections are made.

The Basics

To start with, you’re going to want to acquire few basic things. No matter the application, you’ll want somewhere to keep the tools you acquire, so you’ll want to start with some sort of storage. If you’re just getting started with acquiring tools, then a simple toolbox will more than suffice. As you move up, options for rolling storage and full tool chests become available, as well as pegboard options if you own a garage. A few essential things for a small toolbox include small trays to separate the more minuscule components like washers and other small tools and a durable metal latch. These small toolboxes can be found for under $50 and can be made from either plastic or metal.

For working on cars, one of the first things you’ll want to consider is a socket set. A large amount of automotive work requires removing and tightening nuts and bolts, from changing tires to changing oil. With tools, you get what you pay for, and it really pays to buy the right tool once rather than the wrong tool multiple times. Socket sets come in two different types, Metric (measured in millimeters) and SAE (also sometimes referred to as imperial, measured in fractions of inches). For older cars, imports were metric, and domestics were SAE when it came to using socket sizes. Most modern cars will all use metric sockets, so a safe bet would be starting with a metric set of sockets. When choosing sockets, be sure to consider both shallow and deep sockets, this allows for better movement in cramped conditions. Many socket sets include a ratchet, but if they don’t, then you’ll need to pick one up as well to get the most out of your sockets. For a simple fix, an adjustable wrench (crescent wrench) can replace a socket.

In many cars, you’ll see tiny hexagonal holes in screws. These are removed with hex (or Allen) keys. Like sockets they come in two designations, metric and SAE. These keys will be essential if you have a cartridge type oil filter. The same vehicle use of metric and SAE applies here, and once again a metric set is likely a safe bet.

After sockets and hex keys, you’ll want to consider some screwdrivers. While as not as commonly used on cars as sockets, screwdrivers will still be required for many services. When working on vehicles, you’ll want various sizes of both Philips (the ones that make an x) and flathead screwdrivers. You shouldn’t require a Robertson (square) screwdriver for most applications. Something else to remember when shopping for screwdrivers is that you’ll want both short and long versions of the same size, to accommodate working in various conditions.

Getting More Advanced

With the tools listed above, you’ll be able to complete most weekend tasks. As you move on, some more items will make sense to pick up, after all the point of these tools is to make your life easier.

A good set of pliers will always come in handy, whether you’re working on cars or working on things around the home. You’ll want lineman’s pliers (good for grip and cutting heavy wire, needle-nose pliers (good for hard to reach areas), and snips (good for..well..snipping). In addition to that holy trinity of pliers, consider things like locking pliers (which can double as a clamp in a pinch) and channel lock pliers, which let you adjust the size of the grip.

If you’re going to be doing your own brake work, then you’re going to need a hammer. Sometimes, you’ll just need the slam on a rotor to remove it from your vehicle, and sometimes you’ll just want to due to frustrations with removing the thing. There are multiple different types of hammers, and despite the idea that hitting is hitting, they do all perform differently. For most applications, a ball-peen hammer (one end is rounded) and a mallet of some kind (rubber for sensitive areas, iron or steel for more intensive) will be enough to get you by.

You’re probably wondering when we’re going to tell you that you need power tools. So how about right now? You need power tools. In reality, you don’t. Power tools simply make the job of hand tools easier. If you have a budget that allows for them, then by all means splurge on what you want, but know that you can get by with a little effort and hand tools.

Odds And Ends

Perhaps more important than the tools and boxes would be something to get your car off the ground. A jack of some kind, be it a hydraulic or a powered jack will help get your car into the air. You’ll also want jack-stands for when you’re working under your car. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU WORK UNDER YOUR VEHICLE WITHOUT JACK-STANDS.

Once you have a way to get your car in the air and have the tools to work on it, should be ready to begin wrenching your own car. Some odds and ends that are worth considering is your own OBD scanner to see exactly why your check engine light is on. Gloves, oil pans, and things like creepers (luge-like seats for rolling under your vehicle) all help make wrenching your own vehicle easy.

With these essential tools and quality parts from, you’ll be able to keep your car running for thousands of miles without any outside help, something that is as rewarding as driving is.

We have tons of helpful tips on our blog, be sure to give them a read!