By David Koontz
As you begin to perform maintenance on your car or truck, you might need to buy some more tools. Purchase your tools gradually, so that you gain the confidence to use the tools, realize their value, and determine your needs before buying more. To begin, you should have the following hand tools for basic vehicle maintenance.
Recommendation: Buy quality tools that have long-term (even lifetime) warranties from companies with solid reputations for good customer service. Cheap tools can cause problems during your work, commonly not fitting fasteners properly, bending or breaking during use, and inflicting pain or injury on the user.

  • Forged steel combination open-end and box-end wrenches in 7 mm – 19 mm sizes (choose inch sizes for older American vehicles)
  • Hex key wrench set
  • Assorted screwdrivers: standard slotted-type, Phillips head, Torx®, long and short bladed. Many or all of these types can belong to one screwdriver with interchangeable blades or bits

automotive pliers

  • Assorted pliers, including long-nose (also called needle-nose), channel locking, gripping or locking pliers, O-ring pliers, and wire cutters.
automotive wrenches
  • Forged steel 6 or 12-point socket set with a fine-tooth ratchet-type wrench; short and long extensions and a 13/16 in. or 5/8 in. spark plug socket (depending on plug type).
  • Click-type torque wrench for tightening bolts to proper specifications.

  • Hydraulic jack (with the capacity to lift at least half of your vehicle’s weight). Invest in a good jack, because if it fails, your vehicle may fall to the ground when you are not prepared to place it there.
  • Jack stands that can easily support the weight of the vehicle. Don’t scrimp on jack stands either; they can save your life.
  • Oil filter wrench. Check your oil filter size and type before buying this wrench. The strap-type wrench doesn’t fit all filters. You might not even need a special wrench for cartridge-type filters.
  • Spout or funnel for pouring fluids.
  • Large container for catching oil and other draining fluids; even better is a recycling container system, which some local governments distribute to encourage used oil recycling.
  • A shop light. It should be small enough to fit in tight spaces, tough enough to withstand some knocking around, and convenient enough to attach under the hood or anywhere it is needed so your hands are free to work.

Here is one final word about how much to pay for your tools. All the tools above, if purchased new, should cost several hundred dollars. Add a rollaway tool box to keep them in and the total will exceed a thousand dollars. But they can pay you back in just a few repair jobs. If you buy quality tools, they will last longer than your cars—or even you. I still use some hand tools that were given to me by my father, and some of those were given to him by his father.

 Information is an essential part of an automotive toolkit. A subscription to ChltonDIY provides procedures, testing, and specifications to inform your work.

David Koontz is a former publisher of Chilton. He enjoys writing in all genres — from technical to poetry. In addition to a few domestic vehicles, he has owned, repaired and rebuilt some intriguing imported cars from makes such as Alfa Romeo, BMW, Fiat, Jaguar, Merkur, MG and SAAB. David has spent most of his life in southern California and resides there with his wife, Donna.