To fix cars successfully, you need three primary ingredients: knowledge, ability, and—you guessed it—tools. You can have all of the know-how and capability in the world, but unless you have the proper tools and equipment on hand, you’re not going to be very successful at working on cars.
Even though professional mechanics have massive tool collections with all of the bells and whistles, in the beginning, nearly everyone starts with the basics. And that’s what’s on this list.
Auto Mechanic’s Tool List: The Essentials
Before you roll up your sleeves to get dirty, you’ll want to make sure you have the basic automotive repair tools and equipment on hand. Clean up the garage, get a toolbox, and fill it with the necessities listed below.
We’ve broken down the essentials into three categories: hand tools, shop equipment, and diagnostic equipment.
The first category we’re going to cover is hand tools. You’ll need the following items for nearly every job when working on cars:
If you’re like most people, sometimes you need a little extra help breaking loose stubborn nuts and bolts. A breaker bar gives you that advantage by providing extra leverage.
To work on cars, you’re going to need several different kinds of pliers. At a minimum, your toolbox should include the following types of pliers: slip-joint, tongue and groove, needle nose, and locking (also known as vise grips).
Every now and then, you’ll need to whack a car part or two into submission. For this task, you should keep a traditional hammer handy, as well as a dead-blow hammer. A dead-blow hammer minimizes the damage caused when striking a surface.
These days, a variety of different types of impact wrenches are available. You can get either a pneumatic or cordless design in an array of configurations and torque output ratings. For those who are just starting out, a 1/2-inch pneumatic impact wrench (and the air compressor to go with it) is usually the best choice.
An oil and filter change is a fundamental automotive repair task that nearly every DIYer tackles. But unless you’re super strong, you won’t be able to remove the filter with your bare hands—you need a dedicated oil filter wrench.
You’ll never know how important a pick set is until you own one. A small pick can help disconnect an electrical connector, free a retaining clip, and so much more. You should always keep a set of small picks in your toolbox.
Once you start working on cars, you’ll immediately realize the importance of a good pry bar. As a newbie, you’ll definitely want a medium-length pry bar in your toolbox. You can add a variety of lengths as your tool collection begins to grow.
Punches and chisels serve a multitude of uses when working on cars. It’s a good idea to keep a variety of shapes and sizes available whenever you’re in the garage.
A ratchet and socket set is arguably the most important thing to have in your toolbox. You should have ratchets with each of the standard drive sizes (1/4″, 3/8″, and 1/2″), along with various extensions and a full selection of sockets. It’s also a good idea to have a variety of Torx and Allen head sockets.
Most modern cars (both foreign and domestic) have metric fasteners. So, as a beginner, unless you’re working on vintage domestic vehicles, you can usually stick to metric sockets. Later on, you might want to add standard (SAE) sockets to your collection.
Do we really need to talk about how important screwdrivers are? Be sure you have all of the various types—including flat head, Phillips head, Allen head, and Torx head—in your toolbox at all times.
Tire pressure affects several aspects of vehicle performance, including handling, braking ability, and fuel mileage. You’ll want to use a tire pressure gauge often to ensure your car’s tires remain properly inflated.
A torque wrench is an essential tool for individuals of all skill levels. In many instances, you need to tighten a nut or bolt to a certain specification. A torque wrench allows you to do just that by applying a certain amount of force to the fastener.
It should go without saying that every mechanic needs a wrench set. As was mentioned, these days, foreign and domestic cars both use metric fasteners. Unless you’re working on vintage domestic vehicles, you’ll usually want to build up your set of metric wrenches before moving on to collecting standard (SAE) wrenches.
You also need a lot of shop equipment to fix cars. For example, you’ll need a jack, jack stands, and—of course—a toolbox for all of your tools. Here are the basics an aspiring mechanic will want to have:
14. Air compressor
Technically, you may not need an air compressor as a beginner, but it sure makes working on cars a whole lot easier. You can use your air compressor to adjust tire pressure, run a pneumatic impact wrench—the list goes on and on.
If you want to run air tools, such as an impact wrench, you’ll need a compressor with a rating of 4 to 5 cubic feet per minute (CFM) at 90 psi. Also, it’s a good idea to select a compressor with at least a 20-gallon tank size, as that will limit the amount of time you spend waiting for the unit to refill.
15. Fire extinguisher
You never know what might happen when you’re working in the shop. Be sure to always have a fire extinguisher on hand in case of an emergency.
It’s important to be able to see what you’re doing when you’re poking around under the hood. A good flashlight is something you’ll use every time you’re working on a car.
Each time you change oil or do any type of work that involves draining fluids, you’re going to need a fluid drain pan. In fact, it’s a good idea to get a couple of different drain pans: one for oil and one for coolant (the two fluids must be recycled separately).
Drain pans that double as containers are especially handy. The design prevents you from having to transfer the fluid into a separate container before heading to a recycler.
If you try to add oil (or any other type of fluid) to your vehicle without a funnel, you’ll probably end up making a huge mess. To keep spillage to a minimum, you should use a funnel every time you top off your car’s fluids.
For every automotive task that involves going underneath a vehicle or removing its wheels, you need a jack and a set of jack stands. A high-quality jack and jack stands will usually last for decades, making them a worthwhile investment.
You can’t just leave your tool collection lying around the garage—you need a toolbox! Even though some toolboxes are obscenely expensive, there are plenty of affordable options if you shop around. Home improvement stores often have good deals, as do yard sales and estate sales.
Safety glasses are a must when working on cars. Accidents are unavoidable, and you don’t want to put your eyesight at risk.
22. Wheel chocks
As a safety measure, whenever you raise a vehicle and support it with jack stands, you should place chocks behind the wheels that remain on the ground.
Modern cars (and even many old ones) are far too complex to work on without the proper repair information. To avoid wasting time, losing money—and potentially getting hurt—you should always consult a repair manual or an online repair database when fixing a vehicle.
Diagnostic equipment can help you figure out what’s wrong with your car. There are a wide range of diagnostic tools available, but as a beginner, you’ll want to start out by adding these basic items to your collection:
24. Digital multimeter (DMM)
A basic digital multimeter can be used to measure current (amps), voltage (volts), and resistance (ohms). Having that ability comes in handy for testing all kinds of circuits and electronics.
Much like a doctor’s stethoscope, a mechanic’s stethoscope is an acoustic device used to listen to internal sounds. But with a mechanic’s stethoscope, you listen to parts of your car, rather than parts of the human body.
26. Scan tool or code reader
You absolutely must have a scan tool or code reader to work on modern vehicles. As a newbie, you’ll probably want to start with a code reader, which, as its name implies, only reads generic onboard diagnostic (OBD-II) codes.
Eventually, though, you’re going to want a high-end scan tool. OEM-level scanners provide access to additional information, including manufacturer-specific codes, data, and bi-directional tests.
A Mechanic’s Tool Collection is Never Complete
As a mechanic, your tool collection will never be truly complete. There are always gadgets you can add to your arsenal to get the job done better and faster.
While you might start with the basics on this list, if you’re passionate about car repair, you can expect a lifelong addiction to tool collecting. Before you know it, your tools will be worth more than the car that they help you repair.