Although Driven 2 Automotive is primarily an online automotive parts shop, many of us are keen petrol heads and love spending time tinkering in the garage. Whether it’s performing maintenance tasks or upgrades, we all seem to have a garage full of tools. Over the years we’ve come to recognise some of the most useful and important tools/consumables every mechanic needs.
Of course, we all know about the usual trolley jack, axle stands etc. But what are the most useful tools and consumables that stand out from the crowd for us? Which tools could we simply not live without?
1. Impact Wrench
Not to be confused with an ‘Impact Driver’ or ‘Hammer Drill’, an Impact Wrench (also known as an impactor, impact gun, air wrench, air gun, rattle gun, torque gun, windy gun) is a socket wrench power tool designed to deliver high torque output with minimal exertion to the user, by storing energy in a rotating mass, then delivering it suddenly to the output shaft. Most commonly they’re fitted with a 1/2″ socket attachment.
Having this tool is essential for removing extremely tight bolts and nuts from areas that are prone to rust, such as ball joints, calliper bolts etc. Back in the day when batteries weren’t as advanced as they are now, air-driven impact wrenches were all the rage and still are for many forms of motorsport pit crews. But since Lithium-ion battery power joined the party the market has exploded. They’re ideal for anyone who doesn’t own or want an air compressor.
If you do opt to go down the air-powered route, we recommend avoiding air wrenches with a metal body finish around the handhold area. This avoids the common ‘cold sink’ feeling that can occur with most tools. Let’s face it, nobody likes working with cold hands. Some tools can get so cold depending on the weather, it’s like putting a frozen bag of peas in your hand even when wearing gloves!
2. Impact Driver
The baby brother of the impact wrench is the impact driver, they’re both similar by design however impact drivers are designed for lighter, smaller tasks. They don’t feature a chuck like a normal drill driver, instead they’re fitted with a hex bit socket where many different adapter types can be used.
They’re the perfect tool for small to medium-sized bolts that may be corroded but are also great for many DIY tasks. For example, they’re brilliant at driving long screws into wood without drilling pilot holes first and have an endless range of capabilities. Our advice is to stick to brushless powered motors when it comes to impact drivers or wrenches and stick to drill-drivers for drilling.
3. Torque Wrenches (1/4″ and 1/2″)
Essential for every mechanic is a selection of good quality torque-wrenches that range in sizes. Equally, they should be provided with a certificate of calibration included when new. Ideally, you want a 1/4″ size for smaller bolts that are around 0-30nm or so and a 1/2″ for higher torque requirements (such as wheel bolts). A 1/4″ torque wrench shouldn’t be passed upon just because they’re used on smaller nuts and bolts, some are just as important if not more than larger ones. Becoming a better mechanic is all about becoming better at processes, and becoming better at processes means torquing up to factory specifications.
4. Coloured Socket Sets
Have you ever got sick of spinning sockets around to see what size they are? Discover just how amazingly time-saving coloured socket sets are.
Storing the colour in your mind instead of the size and there’s simply no looking back. Next time picking a socket up means just selecting the colour without double-checking the figure. This can also be done by purchasing petrol and oil resistant socket labels for normal sockets, but the colours are far nicer.
5. Cable Ties/Zip Ties/Ty-Rap/Panduit Strap
Ah the famous zip tie, possibly the best invention ever created. They’re self-explanatory and no DIY person can live without them.
6. Digital Vernier Caliper
This modern upgrade replaces the traditional analogue dial Vernier with an LCD display that displays the measurement reading as a numeric value. Rather than a rack and pinion, these callipers use a linear encoder and are far more accurate. Some digital callipers can be switched between centimetres or millimetres, and inches. All provide zeroing the display at any point along the slide, allowing the same sort of differential measurements as with a dial calliper. They’re essential for important measurements, such as checking the close tolerance dimensions of bearings for replacements and any kind of fabrication work (e.g. lathe-work). For ultra-precise work and where it can be utilised, we recommend using a good quality Micrometer instead.
7. Tap and Dye Set
These allow you to repair, clean or create new threads for nuts and bolts. If you have badly corroded threads you can use a thread gauge on the bolt to find out which tap or dye to use. If you’re creating a completely new thread hole for bolts, look up a drill-tap size chart to find out which is the best-sized drill to use for that particular Tap. This will ensure you have the perfectly sized hole ready for tapping (creating) new threads. The process will also be far easier, if you drill a hole that’s too small or too large, you’ll struggle to even get a new thread started.
8. Slide Hammer Bearing Puller/Remover
A slide hammer is a tool that attaches to an object (such as a bearing) needing to be pulled out or off a shaft and transmits an impact force to the object without striking the object itself. Slide hammers typically consist of a long metal shaft with an attachment point threaded at one end, a heavyweight that can slide along the shaft, and a stop for the weight to impact on the end opposite the attachment point. The inertia of the weight is thus transferred to the shaft, pulling the attached end in the direction the weight had been moving.
There are two kinds of most common uses for these, blind bearing pullers are especially useful for removing bearings that are set into a casing such as an engine. The attachment inserts through the inner bearing hole and then a nut tightens and expands the attachment, thus locking onto the rear side of the bearing that you can’t see. Open bearing pullers are similar however the attachment is for bearings with the outer race visible.
9. Heat Gun or Blow Torch
The uses for these are essentially endless, however our favourite time to use either of them is actually for breaking thread lock such as Loctite, before attempting to remove any bolts that look corroded and may be prone to strip the head or snap. Heating the casing around the bolt first also aids in the process, as well as using WD40 beforehand!
10. Brake Cleaner & WD40
Brake cleaner is simply not just for cleaning brakes and discs, we call it the magical spray as it removals all kinds of gunk. Remember to use gloves when using brake cleaner as it contains chemicals such as Tetrachloroethylene, Acetone, Carbon Dioxide and Heptane. It’s one of the most used consumables in any workshop and that’s because it will remove any form of dirt and grease in a matter of seconds. Be wary however that even a big can of brake cleaner empties rather quickly, so try to use it sparingly. Everybody of all ages will have heard of WD40 by now, it’s named after (Water Displacer 40th Attempt). It stops squeaks, frees bolts and also cleans parts. We also love GT85 as it contains PTFE which protects the application from the elements for quite some time.
11. Brake Cleaner Dispenser
Undoubtedly this is one of the most useful tools in the shop. Brake cleaner is great stuff however as we mentioned the rattle can versions empty rather quickly. Save yourself time and money in the long run by purchasing a 5L bottle of brake cleaner along with a spray dispenser bottle and you’ll never look back!
12. Mechanics Gloves (Nitrile and Non-Disposable)
Seriously, who would want dangerous chemicals soaking into their skin and entering their body? Nitrile is the way forward when it comes to gloves as they’re resistant to all kinds of harsh chemicals, latex is simply a no-go. When the weathers cold, we usually end up wearing a pair of nitrile gloves underneath normal nylon/polyester mix mechanic gloves. It also protects you from fluids such as brake cleaner that is bound to drip onto your hands.
13. Brake Caliper Piston Wind Back Tool
Thinking of changing brake discs and pads yourself at home? On vehicles with caliper pistons that have to be wound back in on a thread that’s either clockwise or anti-clockwise, the procedure simply can’t be performed without it. Many rear caliper have an incorporated handbrake actuator which connects to the piston through the threaded system, you then have to screw the piston back in with pressure at the same time as turning. A big tip here is that if you suspect your pistons are even slightly a bit seized, only get a caliper wind back tool that features a hex on the end like in the photo below. This allows a breaker bar and socket to be attached for more leverage. In any case, we don’t recommend winding a seized caliper piston back in! Remove it by pressing the brake pedal to force the piston out and check for corrosion. If there’s any form of pitting or rust, replace it!
Remember to also remove the master cylinder cap when doing this process because when you wind the pistons back in, the fluid level will need to rise. This can’t be done easily with air pressure still in the top of the master cylinder counteracting the process. Just be ready to possibly remove some brake fluid by using a syringe (and wear nitrile gloves as brake fluid is nasty stuff!).
14. A Bag of Rags
This may well be the best £5-10 you’ll ever spend. If you’ve ever worked on cars and motorbikes, you’ll know how much they’re needed. Of course old t-shirts will also do the trick, but having dedicated rags that you can wash all together is very handy.
15. Parts Washer
You can easily spend up to £250+ for a compressed air powered parts washer, however to start things off a benchtop parts washer can be found as little as £45 + cleaning fluid online. Restoring the condition of parts has never been so satisfying (and less messy) with one of these! They also usually feature a flexible fused lid stand, so in the event of a fire the lid will snap shut and hopefully distinguish it. We also recommend fitting a heating element to aid in cleaning.
16. Automatic Wire Stripper
A must have if you need to do any form of electrical/soldering work, these self-adjust to any cable size and strip the outer sheath off with ease.
17. Light it Up
Workshop lighting in general needs to be nice and bright. If you can see what you’re working easily, the quality of work can be surprisingly better. Don’t want to fork out £££ for lots of strip lights? Then you can purchase a 5-in-1 bulb splitter and fit super bright LED bulbs instead. We also can’t live without handheld LED inspection lights, under-bonnet magnetic light bars for working in the engine bay, and also head torches.
18. Hook & Pick Set
Most modern vehicles are fitted with electrical connectors that feature a plastic locking tab. By using other tools such as screwdrivers and long nose pliers you can usually end up breaking them, but not with a hook and pick set!
19. Hose Clamp Pliers
Please, please get some of these and don’t waste your time with pliers or even mole grips. Of course, the latter is an alternative option that can work for smaller clamps, however this tool revolutionises the removal of large sprung-type clamps usually found on radiator and intake hoses. They feature a ratchet mechanism ensuring the handle can’t open again while squeezing them together to open the clamp up. For refitting a clamp, a simple release lever on the ratchet is provided. Everyone will know how hard it is to undo mole grips that are adjusted to be tight and it usually ends up in them flying back open and hitting your hand. Not with these! The long wire versions are even more useful for those hard to reach places.
20. The Mini-Grease Gun
Perfect for bearings and perfect for almost any greasing process! No more mess and no need for sticking a screwdriver into a pot of grease again.
21. Large Adjustable Spanner/Wrench
Ideal for nearly all situations, a large adjustable spanner comes especially useful with either metric or imperial nuts and bolts. We love the Stanley Maxsteel, it features 1.5″ of jaw travel and the quality is fantastic. There’s no wobble or play in the jaw itself which means there’s less chance of rounding bolt heads off.
22. T-Bar Sets
Whether it’s Torx, Socket or Allen, every T-Handle or T-Bar set is handy to have. Definitely one of the most used tools by us.
23. Damaged Stud/Screw/Bolt Removal Set
At some point you will undoubtedly encounter seized bolts with rounded off hex’s or ones that have completely snapped off. These clever tools have a simple reversed thread that cuts into the broken bolt after drilling a hole into it. We recommend the longer type of extractor as shown below as the shorter style ones are often a hit and miss at doing the job.
24. Coloured Spanners
Continuing on our love of coloured tools, spanners are right up there with coloured sockets. Simply choose the colour of spanner you want once it’s the corresponding size has been memorised. It saves a bunch of time, plus they look awesome.
25. Air Compressor
Compressed air is amazing for all kinds of uses, from blowing out carburettor fuel passages to fitting impact wrenches, to even just blowing dust and dirt out of your garage. Once invested, you’ll soon notice just how much cheaper air tools are compared to their battery counterparts. The disadvantages in a traditional air compressor is mainly down to the noise they emit. Indeed, the common type are very noisy, and neglected compressors usually have a huge build up of water inside the tank due to condensation. This problem can quickly lead to corrosion forming on the inside of the tank which significantly reduces its lifespan and performance. So they need to be drained regularly from water by using the drainage valve usually found at the bottom, oil changes are also required but it’s not difficult.
An advantage these have over the ‘silent’ type of compressors that run multiple cylinders at a lower RPM is their higher CFM rating (cubic feet per minute or cu ft/min) and higher horsepower. This means the motor can fill the tank quicker and is a critical requirement if you’re looking to sand blast which requires a high CFM output. If you’re looking to do these kinds of jobs, a large tank is also needed otherwise your compressor will be running constantly to try and keep up with the demand for more air.
When purchasing a compressor, make sure to check the CFM output will be enough for the jobs you intend to do. A silent compressor with 0.75hp of power can be found around the same price as a 2.5hp traditional one. Our preferred solution are the traditional type that have a built-in sound-insulating box fitted around them, the only problem is they’re more pricey but a DIY sound insulation box can easily remedy that. Just make sure it’s well ventilated as these things get hot!
26. Set of Mini Wire Brushes
These are simply a must-have for cleaning parts or areas that are hard to get to. A set that contains plastic, brass and metal bristles means they can be used for many different applications.
27. Foam Engine Degreaser
Perfect for cleaning parts and cleaning engine bays ready for detailing. Removes grease, dirt and grime much like Snow Foam does on a pre-wash.
28. 600mm+ Breaker Bar
No matter what job you’re performing, a 1/2″ torque wrench should never be used to undo highly-torqued bolts. This is because they’re calibrated tools designed with a ratchet system that may fail under huge loads. A breaker bar is just a solid bar of steel with a 1/2″ socket on the end, allowing more leverage to be applied.
So there you have it, some of our favourite tools to use. This list will probably get longer as time goes by!