Auto Repair Tools for Beginners

hand tools for car repair

Adam Wright

When you think of working on your own car or truck, one of the first things that comes to mind is the filled tool box you're going to need to assemble before you even get started. This can be a really overwhelming task. Opinions on tools for car repair are as varied as you can imagine, with lots of points of view backed up by what each person will see as that one piece of information that cannot be argued. Spend too little money, and you'll either be without the tool you need for the next job or, even worse, your tools will break as you try to use them. Spend too much on your tools and you might find yourself remorseful at the amount of money that's sitting in your tool box, not to mention a massive feeling of guilt if you end up having to drop your car off at the shop for a repair that you might have been able to perform at home if you had the time. (I won't even get into the comments other members of the family will throw your way if your expensive tool box starts gathering dust!)

Before you embark on your journey into the realm of do-it-yourself auto repair, be sure your tool box has what you need to make your repairs easy, pain-free, and safe. There are some really great kits out there if you want to make things easy. Craftsman offers a nice selection of mechanics' tool assortments to fit lots of budgets. You can choose from small starter kits to very expensive sets that would make even a seasoned wrench-turner give an affirming nod.

Every mechanic has his or her own list of "the most important tools," but we'll offer you a basic starter list to get you going. Let's get it together. For more information on any item, click on it and you'll be taken to the details.

Basic Tools

  • screwdrivers
  • hex keys
  • open end wrenches
  • oil filter wrench
  • ratchet driver in 1/4 and 3/8, maybe 1/2
  • cutting pliers
  • extensions
  • sockets
  • torque wrench
  • PB Blaster or another penetrating oil
  • work light, fluorescent or LED
  • repair manual!
  • pliers (sometimes it has to be)
  • channel locks
  • crescent wrench
  • breaker bar or impact gun

Safety Gear

  • eye protection
  • fire extinguisher
  • oil spill collector
  • gloves
  • rags
  • line wrenches

Electrical Tools

  • circuit tester
  • digital multimeter
  • wire snips
  • crimping tool
  • wire strippers, no teeth please

A Note About Tool Brands

There is no shortage of opinion on what tools should be considered essential for a beginning home mechanic. Multiply that number of opinions by 10 and you'll be approaching how many different ideas are out there regarding what brand of tools to use. Each level (and by level we mean $$) of tool brand offers its own value. No matter what the tool snobs say, Craftsman hand tools work well, and they come with a lifetime warranty, so even if a tool breaks it gets replaced free. Snap-On tools are without a doubt the superior brand, but you have to ask yourself if that level of superiority can be justified in your garage. Starting out with something affordable like Craftsman for your basic set is a really good idea. If it turns out you are only working on the car from time to time, you haven't spent a fortune on tools. You can always add one of Snap-On's super useful specialty tools to your tool box as you need it. Our shop still uses lots of Craftsman tools that have been around for decades. Why should we replace a good Craftsman wrench with a more expensive Snap-On or Mac tool when it's working fine? The bottom line is you have to decide what your motivations are and how much you want to spend. Whatever your tool of choice, get to work!