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3,151 Posts
Discussion Starter #1

this guide is intended to those who are new to automotive repair. if you have not read my first article,, i recommend you read that before this one.

i'm going to assume you have the safety down now. the next step for a new DIY mechanic is to figure out what tools you need for your home shop. simply put, the more tools you have the more jobs you will be able to tackle. so the real question is 'how far do you want to go?'

before buying any of the more specialized tools (such as a bearing puller, gear puller, etc.) you may want to check out your local parts stores. i can't speak for what is available in the US, but i can say that here in Canada there are two stores that will 'rent' you some tools for free. you pay for full cost of the tool and get a full refund when you return it. i don't want this article to turn into an advertisement, so just PM me if you need to know what stores those are. either way, not buying a tool is a pretty obvious savings! especially if we're talking about a tool that is rarely used.

this list is also going to include a short list of chemicals that are useful in repairs.

some guys (and gals i'm sure) pride themselves on buying the best of the best for their tools. that is entirely their choice and while there's really nothing wrong with it, its important to keep in mind that buying the top tier tools is completely unnecessary.

it's not to say that i would buy the cheapest tools i can find, rather i try to consider what level of quality do i require for my purposes? ask yourself how often is this item going to be used. i will say that NONE of my tools are top end brands, but i have had no problems from my tools even with heavy use. some i will buy a better brand due to heavier use, just never the top end is all.


the basic tool set is what you need to get simple jobs done such as spark plugs or an oil change. start small, work your way up. any special tools are noted here.

keep in mind that all cars use metric fasteners now. its not to say that imperial isn't good to have, just don't expect to use it on your car.

socket set. this is your single most useful tool. it's the first one you will buy and you will use this the most. i recommend getting a good one, look for a lifetime warranty here. 3/8" drive is the standard, that's where you want to start. look at what yours comes with too. my set came with a set of 3/8" drive metric and imperial as well as a 1/4" set of both and a screwdriver (spinner its called) to use them on. a nice addition was a 1/4" ratchet, you'd be surprised how often you use that one to get into tight spaces.

make sure your set comes with spark plug sockets and extensions!

wrenches are pretty straight forward. there will be some areas you can't get at with a socket. get a good metric set. also, consider stubby wrenches and ratcheting box end wrenches as shown below:

so what to do when you get a stuck nut? there's multiple approaches. the first on my list is to tap the end of the socket wrench with betsy, the big bad club hammer

this simple tool will get you out of many binds, but it's also easy to cause some damage. use it with care. also get your hands on a rubber mallet so that you still have something to use on the more delicate items.

keep yourself a simple set of screwdrivers, pliers of multiple types, and other simple tools. prybars are essential!

also recommended is a good trolley jack, jack stands, wheel chocks and possibly wheel ramps. please see my first article zero 101: auto repair safety. these items are well explained there.

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a code scanner is an essential diagnostic tool with today's modern cars. without it, you're pretty much sunk when that check engine light comes on. they range from as cheap as $30 right up to several hundred. your choice what you're after. the one above was my choice, it was on sale and a reasonable middle of the road code scanner. it gives me freeze frame data as well as a brief description of the problem on screen. wouldn't worry about the freeze frame'll probably never use it. be sure to check compatibility for your vehicle. most newer cars use the CAN protocol your code reader must be compatible. i'll need a new one in the future for that very reason.

special tools and chemicals:

let's consider oil change and spark plug change your first stop. this does not tell you how to do those jobs, rather what you will need.

for plugs:

there are many kinds out there, this is just one. needed to measure the gap of your plugs. i recommend this for copper plugs ONLY! it's possible to damage the fine tip of iridiums or platinums using this.

anti-seize lubricant. this stuff is genius. you'll use this everywhere if you have half a brain. this stuff will prevent seized bolts! that means you won't be breaking them off and swearing and it. to be used on the plug threads into the engine head.....and just about every other bolt, screw or nut you touch! there are some exceptions, but not many. the repair manuals will specify something different if needed such as loctite or even plain grease.

dielectric grease is a conductive grease used on the wire tip end of plugs. this will prevent the wires from seizing to the plug tip and you tearing them off when they do.

for oil changes:

oil drain pan. this is something you will use often far more than just oil changes (brake fluid, transmission fluid, etc.). get a different pan for coolant ;) for oil i like to use these ones that capture the oil inside so i can take it off to my recycling center easier. the choice is yours of course.

oil filter wrench. there are many different types out there, this is just my preference. i find it easier to use and far more robust. i have broken other ones. this one is a bit more expensive, but lasts far longer. again, your choice!

i won't put up a pic, but a funnel is a good optional item.

3,151 Posts
Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)

now we're going to get into work where you're pulling the tires off. brake work is the big item here, nothing too special is usually required for a tie rod end. a ball joint is pressed in with these cars so replacement isn't straightforward due to height/clearance issues. simply put, you can't get the car high enough off the ground with jacks to get a tool on it to get the ball joint out or put a new one in. you'd have to remove the control arm. that is not covered in this guide.

here's a friendly breaker bar. you'll use it often :) this one is a ratcheting type, some are not. your choice for the extra cost. most are 1/2" drive, meaning its time for another set of sockets.

note that these are black. that indicates that they are impact sockets. why do i suggest these? i'm getting to that ;) impact sockets are stronger and will not break when used on an impact this point its time to consider that now.


before i get to that one, you may also need deep sockets from time to time. i'd recommend an impact socket set that already has these for cost savings. the few smaller ones you might need (8-14mm) can be purchased separately if you don't already have them. these are for situations like when you have a large stud with a nut down on it and a regular socket can't reach the nut.

keep in mind that an impact gun is not strictly necessary...but it is incredibly useful. you will save yourself a lot of time and headache. why grunt with stuck bolts when this thing can take it off in seconds?


this will be covered later, but it's a good way to damage fasteners and other parts in your car. it would be fine to run say a wheel stud down the stud with this and simply not torque it to save time.

there's two kinds:

electric impact guns are the best for convenience. if you don't own a large compressor or want one, this is the way to go. look for one that has roughly 200 ft-lbs peak give or take. all you need to do with this one is plug it in and pull the trigger. their downside is size and generally less torque than an air impact gun.

you may want one of these if you own a large compressor or plan to. higher torque, and smaller size to get in spots the electric can't. myself, i own an electric and an air impact gun. i find them both useful depending on the situation.

finally, now that you have a 1/2" drive set of sockets....a 1/2" drive hand ratchet is also useful :)

i also want to speak on torque wrenches here. let me start by saying that many mechanics (professional or otherwise) don't use these often because they believe that their hand is good enough or that they simply are not necessary. let me put this into perspective for you: the engineers that designed your car did not come up with a torque spec for certain bolts for fun. it's not a fun job at all. those numbers are there for a reason. either for safety (ie. brake caliper mount bolts, so they don't fall out!) or to prevent damage or stretching bolts, studs, etc. if you want to think you know better than the people who designed your car with both education and experience, be my guest. you'll never catch me pulling that nonsense. i'll also never be replacing a wheel hub for stretched studs from hammering the lug nuts on with an impact gun.

this is just one example, there are several types of torque wrenches. i recommend the click type as pictured here since its the easiest and probably the quickest to use. i own 3 torque wrenches actually. one large one for torque from 50-250 ft-lbs, a mid range one and a tiny one that measures 0-50 in-lbs. that's another story for the tiny one though, you should never need it unless you get into bearing work requiring preload on the bearing....just forget i said that for now ;)

special tools and chemicals:

i used brake work and a tie rod end as an example for this tool set. here's what you'd be after besides the obvious fluids and brake cleaner:

ok there are many brake bleeders out there. this is the simplest, ghetto one. i use this type simply because its cheap and it works. if you want something more and faster like a vacuum brake bleeder, go for it!

this is a simple caliper hand compressor. when you get your old pads out, the piston is usually slightly seized. use this to quickly and easily reset the piston to its bottom position so you can fit the new pads in. its a cheap tool that will save you loads of time. just make sure to only use this with the OLD pads. it will damage them!

yes this stuff works. use it on the slide pins. i have even used it on the piston itself when i know its a little messed up and i just want to push it further before replacing the entire caliper. it works far better than anti-seize (can't believe i just said that!)

tie rod ends:

keep in mind that this also applies to other suspension items as well.

separator fork for suspension. got a stuck tie rod end? stick this between the wheel hub, tie rod end and pound the crap out of the end of this tool with a club hammer. keep in mind that this WILL damage the joint. only use when you're replacing it anyhow.

as often happens with tie rod ends, the lock nut gets stuck beyond all reasoning. here's the final word in nut removal:

nut splitters. these bad boys go around the nut and the black blade in the middle is torqued down onto the nut. voila, nut is split in half. more of an emergency tool when all else fails.

at this point you will probably have a few cans of penetrating oil - which should be tried first - so i won't bother to cover that.

3,151 Posts
Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)

now you have most of the multi-purposed tools. we're going to start to dive into some more commonly used special tools.

keep in mind that i cannot cover everything. it's going to be up to you to decide what you need for a job at some point. google is your friend.

these are strut spring compressors, again there are a few styles. if you ever plan on replacing a strut or a strut mount you will need these. the strut springs are under compression at all times. if you tried to take the strut apart without these, there is a potential for the spring to release its energy with devastating force. this can kill you! in short, use spring compressors.

multimeter for electrical testing, testing resistance of wires, etc. not much to say but very useful for diagnosis of sensors and whatnot.

got air?

an air ratchet is a nice to have, but not necessary. same goes for air hammers, grinders, etc.

i know this seems like cutting it short, but it really isn't. at this point you should have a pretty good tool set to work with. anything else you're buying will be more job specific...and well i can't cover everything:) the purpose here is to give you an idea where to get started, now how to rebuild an engine or a transmission. as you gain experience, you'll know when you need tools like gear pullers, or maybe some plastigauge. there are other useful diagnostics tools such as a spark plug indicator light. timing lights are largely unnecessary now as are dwell tach meters. rare diagnostic situations only.

you'll know once you've reached the height of home mechanic insanity like i did last year:


3,151 Posts
Discussion Starter #4 (Edited)

adding this in as additional info, my apologies if it seems out of sort but looking back i feel this is the best place to address this issue. when working with cars i have mentioned that i favour using anti-seize lubricant and torque wrenches....let's dive into that subject a little deeper. i have not covered everything yet.

stuck's your ultimate nemesis. it'll slow you down like no other and there's no worse feeling than twisting off the head of a bolt vital to your job. so what can be done??

i'm not going to get into the details of threads and the different types, i think google will give you the appropriate info quicker. however, there's a few points i missed. here's one tool set that is very useful when you get a messed up thread:

tap and die set. if not too terribly damaged, a threaded hole or even a nut can be retapped and repaired. taps are thread forming tools. meaning, you can reform threads by shaping/cutting the metal. the dies (for external threads) are the same. keep in mind if you've lost too much material, you're not going to win here.

so what happens if you don't have enough material and you've got a threaded hole? helicols!

wonderful inserts....however due to cost of initial setup for doing these yourself, and for how rarely it should happen, i'd recommend visiting the local machine shop.

now, what happens when you break off a bolt in a hole? well try using vise grips if there is any of the shaft protruding....which is rare! beyond that, consider a set of easy-outs. the picture below explains better than i can.

if that doesn't work, its machine shop time.

finally, what about a bolt head that is completely stripped but the bolt itself still intact? maybe no socket will work? first try using that ever useful club hammer to jam a smaller socket on it (you're replacing it anyways...) and if that fails there is another good alternative:

i really like these ones myself and i have a set around that is well used.

to further dig this topic deeper...why have i recommended anti-seize, torque wrenches and not ramming down bolts with impact guns?

the above is exactly why. all of these things are not doing the job correctly and result in failed fasteners. it'll come back to haunt you, trust me!

why anti-seize?
it prevents corrosion between threads of the bolt/screw and the threaded hole/nut. corrosion may seize the faster and cause it to break.

why use torque wrenches?
not only are the torque values determined by engineers to make sure your car is safe on the road but they also exist to prevent stretching and deformation of the bolts and/or threads. this type of damage can cause them to fail.

why no impact guns?
similar to above, you're over-torquing them. however, there's another issue as well. most shops will ram the bolts down without thinking. personally, i will start the threads by hand a couple turns and then use a power tool to take up the slack and finally finish off with a torque wrench.

this is to prevent cross threading. this is when the threads don't mesh but force is put on the fastener anyways. it destroys the threads and the fastener and the hole you're putting it into becomes useless. sometimes the tap and die set can fix this, sometimes not. but why bother with it to begin with??

a simple example: i put my winter tires on my car today. the lug nuts were removed with my electric impact gun (convenience, didn't want to gas up the compressor). then anti-seize was applied to the wheel stud threads. i don't do this every time, but it's been a while since i have done so. this i do maybe twice a year. after that, the wheel was placed into the hub and the lug nuts were turned onto the studs by hand about 2-3 turns. after that i turned them down barely snug with my electric impact simply to take up the slack. note the gun was NOT applying torque and only 'clacked' about twice. after the car was put back on the ground, i finished off with my torque wrench set to 100 ft-lbs.

that's how the job is done right without risk of damage to threads. i'll admit any day its more work....but its your car.
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