Nearly everybody needs some tools, whether they're just for fixing the kitchen sink, or overhauling the engine in the family vehicle. As far as vehicle repairs go, pliers and a can of oil aren't going to get you very far down the path of do-it-yourself service. However, you don't have to equip your garage like the local service station either. Somewhere between these two extremes, there's a level that suits the average do-it-yourselfer. Just where that point is depends on your needs, your ability and your interest. The trick is to match your tools and equipment to the jobs you're willing and able to tackle.
Choose Your Own Level
To sort things out in an orderly manner, think about your repair work in three levels: basic, average and advanced. Before you purchase any tools, sit down and determine your present level of mechanical expertise. After you have determined that (be honest), determine just how far you intend to progress as an amateur mechanic. Knowing what you can and/or will do in the way of automotive repairs is the most important step you can take. Obviously, if all you ever intend to do is to change the oil and the plugs now and then, you won't need very many tools. If, however, you plan some extensive repair work, you're going to end up with a complete collection of tools.
Once you have determined your level of mechanical involvement, evaluate your tool purchases on a "must have" and a "nice-to-have" basis.
At a basic level of involvement, you'll probably do such things as check the coolant, oil and other fluid levels, and change the oil and filter. You also might perform basic maintenance, keep an eye on the tire pressures, keep the vehicle waxed and polished, and perhaps perform some minor body touch-up.
The average level involvement will probably include replacing belts and hoses, replacing shocks, and engine tune-up.
At the advanced level, you might dig deeply enough to re-line the brakes, check compression, install a trailer hitch, replace a bad muffler, or repair body damage.
The advanced level would be a good choice for someone getting into the automotive service profession.
After you've determined your level of mechanical expertise, and how far you want to progress as an amateur mechanic, you have to buy some tools. No matter what level you have decided on, there are some tools you must have. These include pliers, open and box end wrenches, a ratchet and sockets, various types of screwdrivers, some punches and chisels, a hammer and hacksaw.
Fig.1 All but the most basic procedures will require an assortment of ratchets.
Figure 2. Trouble lights come in a variety of configurations. The Incandescent model on the left is the old stand-by, however the florescent work light remains cool with use and is excellent for working in close quarters.
It will be worth your while to buy quality hand tools. You can buy tools in supermarkets but they'll probably only cause you grief. Stick to the name-brand tools and you won't go wrong. Manufacturers like Craftsman, Mac, Snap-On, SK etc. make top-quality tools that will last a lifetime. Many name-brand tools are also sold with a "no questions" guarantee. If you break it, just take it back and it will be replaced, no questions asked. So, buy your tools from a reputable tool manufacturer. You'll pay a little more, but it's worth it to avoid skinned knuckles and rounded-off bolts.
METRIC OR SAE?
See Figures 3 and 4
There are two different types of fasteners used on vehicles today, metric and SAE. While SAE is actually the abbreviation for Society of Automotive Engineers, it is the common term frequently used to describe U.S. standard or fractional fasteners.
Deciding whether you needed metric or SAE tools did not use to be a problem. Years ago, American made vehicles used SAE fasteners, and import vehicles used metric. These days with components for American vehicles being engineered in various places using both SAE and Metric measurements you may find your domestic vehicle has both types of fasteners used. If you own an import vehicle, more than likely you'll need metric tools. Likewise, if you have a late-model American vehicle, you might need some, or all metric tools.
Common metric fasteners and the wrench size required are listed in the following chart.
|SAE/METRIC WRENCH SIZES|
|Many import cars and a few American cars use metric wrench sizes. In a few cases, an SAE wrench or socket may appear to fit a metric bolt, but a chewed up bolt and skinned knuckles will be the only result. It's always best to use the right size wrench. The following chart compares common SAE and metric wrench sizes.|
Before you buy any tools, check with your dealer to determine just what kind of fasteners your vehicle has. Some American vehicles are metric, while some are part metric and part SAE. Also, keep in mind that some import vehicles (such as Volvo) utilize some SAE fasteners.
While there are some points of interchange between the metric and inch sizes, it's not a good idea to use metric wrenches on SAE fasteners and vice versa. In an emergency, you can use anything that will fit, but prolonged use will only ruin the fastener.
|Fastener Size (Millimeters)||Required Wrench|
|4 x .7||7 mm|
|5 x .8||8 mm|
|6.3 x 1||10 mm|
|8 x 1.25||13 mm|
|10 x 1.5||15 mm|
|12 x 1.75||18 mm|
|14 x 2||21 mm|
|16 x 2||24 mm|
See Figures 5 and 6
Pliers come in a variety of shapes and sizes and you'll probably need at least three different kinds for a beginning tool kit. The regular slip-joint kind that everyone is familiar with is an absolute necessity. Long-nosed or needle-nosed pliers should be in everyone's tool kit also. The number of jobs these two tools are good for is endless. Locking pliers (commonly called Vise Grips®) are so useful; you'll wonder how you ever got along without them. A good pair of cutting pliers is necessary for any kind of wiring job.
Eventually, you may want to add specialized pliers. There are pointed-tip pliers for spreading lock rings and hooked pliers for removing brake springs. Some pliers have a groove in the end to compress the wire hose clamps used on many radiator hoses, although these can be made from a pair of old pliers by filing a groove in the end.
Wire strippers are also handy for electrical work. Most have special grooves for stripping various gauges of wire without cutting the wire inside. Fig. 5. Pliers come in all shapes and sizes. Locking pliers are handy for removing old rusted parts.
Fig. 6. Wire strippers and cutting pliers are handy for doing electrical work
See Figure 7
Hammers come in four basic types- machinist's (ball peen), plastic (soft faced), sledge, and dead blow. The basic hammer for a mechanic is the ball peen. If you already have a good claw hammer, keep it with your carpentry tools, it won't do for automotive use.
If you are going to buy a hammer, get one with an 8- or 12-ounce head that is drop forged and heat-treated. The handle of a quality hammer will be hickory, ash or fiberglass.
A soft faced mallet is useful in situations where less force is required, rubber mallets are good for installing snap-on hubcaps, and other jobs where you don't want to mar the surface. Fig. 7. A variety of hammers are useful for different applications- Ball peen, soft faced, sledges, and dead blow.
See Figures 8, 9, 10 and 11
Screwdrivers are another must for anyone planning to do any sort of automobile repair work. There are two general types of screwdrivers- Phillips head and slot head screwdrivers. Keep in mind that these types of screwdrivers come in various sizes, so just because you have a slotted head screwdriver, and a Phillips head doesn't mean you're going to be able to fit every screw you come across. Screwdrivers are often sold in sets containing all the common types.
Other specialized screwdrivers (Torx® and Reed Prince tips, clutch head, butterfly) are only useful if your vehicle uses screws that they will fit. The best practice is to acquire them as necessary. If you are working on a screw in an awkward location, a magnetic screwdriver is indispensable. There are also locking screwdrivers known as screw starters that are handy for this operation. Many of the magnetic screwdrivers have interchangeable bits for various types of screw heads. Fig. 8. Slot head screwdrivers come in assorted sizes and lengths
Fig. 9. Phillips screwdrivers also come in assorted sizes and lengths, these are more common in automotive use
Fig. 10 Screwdrivers are NOT made for prying! Use only a prybar for prying.
Fig. 11 Keep your screwdriver tips in good shape. They should fit in the screw slot as shown in "A". If they look like the ones in "B" they need to be ground or replaced.
See Figures 12 and 13
Wrenches come in two kinds- open end and box end. Both kinds are necessary for any sort of tool kit. The box end wrenches are ordinarily of the twelve-point type, and offer a better grip than the open-end type, although obviously they cannot be used for some jobs.
Wrench offset is a consideration when buying wrenches. The head may be angled to make access to some bolts or nuts easier. Standard offset is 15°–30°, but most wrenches are available from straight (0°) to right angle (90°) offsets. Many tool manufacturers offer combination wrenches, which are an open-end wrench on one end and a box end on the other. Box end wrenches are also available in ratcheting models, although their usefulness is limited for the amateur mechanic.
For fuel and brake line work, a special type of wrench known as a line wrench is available. It is nothing more than a box end wrench with one of the flats cut out so that it can be slipped over the line.
Adjustable open wrenches are also very handy, but the cheap kinds are no good at all, since they won't hold they're setting. Good quality adjustable wrenches are available in various lengths, and you should have at least one. Fig. 12 Combination wrenches come in both metric and SAE sizes
Fig. 13 When you are using an open end wrench, use the correct size and position it properly on the flats of the nut or bolt.
ALLEN AND STAR WRENCHES
See Figures 14 and 15
Allen and star (Torx®) wrenches are required more and more to work on vehicles. Allen wrenches are hexagonal and Torx® bits are multi-serrated inserts that fit inside a bolt or screw head rather than lining around the outside of the head. They can be L-shaped tools with their own handles or are available to fit a ratchet handle Fig. 14 Torx® drivers come in both ratchet and screwdriver type
Fig. 15 Allen head wrenches and sockets come in both metric and SAE
RATCHET AND SOCKETS
See Figures 16 and 17
A ratchet and socket set will probably be one of the most expensive purchases you make in assembling a basic tool kit. Ratchet drives come in three common sizes, ½ inch, ³/&sup8; inch and ¼ inch drive. (There is also a ¾ inch drive ratchet, but it is of little use, unless you own a very large vehicle.) When buying a ratchet, pick the size you think you'll use the most. The ¼ inch size is only useful for smaller jobs. The 3/8 inch size is the most popular and useful. Sockets come in six- or twelve-point faces, and in standard and deep lengths.
There are plenty of specialty tools for socket sets. Universal joints allow you to get into tight places, but are frequently hard to maneuver. Adapters let you use different size drive sockets on other ratchet handles. Crowfoot wrenches are simply open-end wrench heads that fit a ratchet drive. Speeder handles; super-deep sockets, magnetic inserts, and screwdriver bits are all nice to have, if you have a use for them. If not, don't bother cluttering up your toolbox. Spark plugs require a deep socket, while the standard length is suitable for most of the other jobs you will encounter. The six-point sockets are heavier and give a better grip, but the twelve-point sockets offer more turning positions for working in tight places.
You can also do yourself a big favor and choose a flexible head ratchet over a regular ratchet. A flex head 3/8 inch drive ratchet with a 6 inch extension will enable you to do most any job you want to do.
The ratchet handle comes in various lengths with a varying number of teeth on the ratchet. If you have a choice, pick the shorter ratchet handle and the one with the most teeth on the ratchet mechanism (most clicks per turn of the handle). This will give you the greatest flexibility to reach tight places and the fewest bruised knuckles. Fig. 16 Common ratchet sets come in ½inch, 3/8 inch, and ¼inch sizes
|Fig. 17 Some of the many different types of sockets available|
See Figures 18 and 19
If you plan to do anything more involved than changing the oil, you'll need a torque wrench. The beam-type models are perfectly adequate, although the click-type models are much more precise. Keep in mind that if you're tightening a part that has a torque value given, it's there for a reason. So, use the torque wrench.
Click-type (or breakaway) torque wrenches can be dialed to any desired setting and will automatically release once the setting is reached. These are used mostly by professionals, and are not necessary for the backyard mechanic. The beam-type torque wrench, while not quite as accurate or as fast to use as the click-type, is adequate for most everyday use, and is usually quite inexpensive. When using a torque wrench on any fasteners, keep the socket as straight as possible on the fastener. Trying to torque something on an angle just won't work. Using the wrench on an angle will create increased resistance and the result will be an inaccurate reading. Fig. 18 Various styles of torque wrenches are available at your local automotive store
Fig. 19 Common click type torque wrenches are the most popular