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15 Tools You Need in Your Auto Repair Tool Kit

Having the right tools to perform basic DIY auto repairs and maintenance can save you time and money.

Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links. Ratings and prices are accurate and items are in stock as of time of publication.

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Car RepairsJose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images

Before You Buy Anything…

First, set a realistic budget based on the type of repairs and maintenance you plan to do. Will you need metric or standard tools, or both? Do you plan to do light maintenance, changing fluids, engine tune-ups and the like? Then a few hundred dollars should suffice.

However, are you considering rotating your tires, replacing brake pads and rotors, and making cooling, suspension and electrical system repairs? If so, the cost can quickly increase. Most major national auto parts stores lend specialty automotive tools for free or a small fee.

Quality hand tools can last forever, but look for ones that come with a ‎limited lifetime warranty. Read on to determine what you need, and what you may already have.

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toolsJ. Lekavicius/Shutterstock

General Tools

These are the tools every DIYer should have in their home toolbox. They can also be used for auto repairs and maintenance:

  • Screwdrivers are the No. 1 DIY tools. Consider a set with softer ergonomic handles. This design provides the greatest turning power with the least amount of effort. They are a good investment.
  • Pliers are indispensable DIY tools. Get a set that includes the diagonal wire cutter, slip-joint, needle-nose and groove or arc-joint pliers.
  • Wire strippers help speed up electrical repairs. Ergonomic handles are not necessary but a nice upgrade.
  • A cordless drill and driver and a set of drill bits and impact nut drivers are essential to just about any home or auto repair project.
  • Ball peen and dead blow hammers and a rubber mallet will come in handy when making auto repairs.
  • Allen wrenches (AKA hex keys) are still used in cars and trucks. You’ll need a set of these to remove and tighten cap screws securing trim and other components.
  • LED trouble or cordless work lights are indispensable for illuminating your work area. They can also help you avoid accidents or injury by mistaking the position or shape of an object.
  • Magnetic trays help keep small parts organized. A magnetic pickup tool and inspection mirror set can help you find and retrieve that one screw that finds its way into some hidden corner of the engine bay.
  • Zip ties are useful to neatly organize and secure wires and cables

Before using any tools or equipment, be sure to read, follow and understand all manufacturer’s instructions on their proper and safe use.

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Tire Pressure Gauge, Inflator and Tread Depth Gauge

Performing regular tire maintenance involves using a tire pressure gauge to keep your tires properly inflated and check tire tread depth. Keeping on top of these tasks extends the life of your tires and helps you drive safely.

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Socket and Ratchet Set

For auto repairs, a 1/4-in., 3/8-in. and 1/2-in. drive ratchet and socket set are the most important tools to have in your toolbox. Look for a set that includes different size spark plug sockets, socket extensions and Torx and Allen head sockets.

Consider six-point sockets. They grip a nut or bolt better than a 12-point socket, reducing the likelihood of rounding off a rusted or overtightened bolt head.

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Wrenches

Box wrenches (shown here) and/or combination wrenches will speed up any repair. The open end of a combination wrench shouldn’t be used for final tightening or removing tight bolts. The jaws are weaker and can spread open, rounding off a bolt head or slipping off causing an injury.

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Nut Drivers

Nut drivers, or an all-in-one nut driver (shown here) that includes different size bits, are helpful when working around the dashboard.

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Oil Filter Wrench and Drain Pan

Having an oil filter wrench (shown here) and drain pan will make changing the engine oil and filter easier and less messy.

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Door Panel Removal Tools

Door panel removal tools are necessary for safely taking off door panels and trim without damaging the trim or the finish.

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Torque Wrench

Never underestimate the value of a torque wrench. A fastener that is not tight enough might fall off, causing all kinds of issues. Too tight, and the fastener, or the part being tightened, might be damaged or become distorted. A 3/8-inch drive torque wrench should be your go-to tool for tightening spark plugs and engine parts made of aluminum or composite plastics.

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Impact Gun

Today’s lithium-ion battery-powered 1/2-inch impact guns have the same torque output ratings and design configurations as their powerful pneumatic cousins. However, if you already have an air compressor, pneumatic power tools are your best choice.

If you remove your tires, ALWAYS choose a torque limiting socket when using an impact gun to tighten wheels, and ALWAYS re-torque the lug nuts with a torque wrench when your vehicle is on the ground. Power tools may seem like an indulgence, but they’re an excellent option to help auto repairs go smoother and easier.

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Hydraulic Floor Jack, Jack Stands or Ramps

If you’re going to work under your car, a hydraulic floor jack (shown here) and a pair of jack stands or drive on ramps make it easier and safer. Quality garage equipment provides years of service, making it a worthwhile investment.

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Handheld Vacuum/Pressure Tester

A handheld vacuum/pressure tester is a valuable tool to help diagnose why your car is running rough, and can help with bleeding brakes and flushing fluids.

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Circuit Tester

An inexpensive automotive circuit tester can help track down common vehicle electrical circuit and circuit connection problems.

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Digital Volt Ohm Meter

A digital volt ohm meter (DVOM) is a great tool to help troubleshoot charging systems and sensitive car electronic systems.

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OBDII Scan Tool

An OBDII (On-Board Diagnostics, Second Generation) Scanner reads diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) stored in the computer (ECM) when the check engine light (CEL) comes on. Spend a few bucks more and get one that can turn the light off and clear the codes after you make the repair. Investing in a code reader can save you a costly visit to your mechanic.

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Safety Glasses, Fire Extinguisher and Respirator

Safety glasses (shown here) are not optional when working around a car. Neither is a fire extinguisher. Accidents can happen quickly and when you least expect them. Use a respirator with replaceable filters if you’re using harsh chemicals, working on brakes or grinding metal or rust.

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Mechanic’s Gloves, Nitrile Gloves and Hand Cleaner

A pair of padded mechanic’s gloves (shown here) can help save you from breaking your knuckles and getting grease and grime under your fingernails — unless you want to flaunt it as a badge of honor. It’s also a good idea to keep a box of disposable nitrile gloves handy, as well as hand cleaner/degreaser designed for mechanics.

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Bob Lacivita
Bob Lacivita is an award-winning ASE and General Motors auto technician, educator and freelance writer who has written about DYI car repairs and vehicle maintenance topics. His work has been featured in The Family Handyman, a Reader's Digest book and Classic Bike Rider magazine. He has been a career and technical educator for 25 years teaching automotive technology, as well as writing state, federal and organizational foundation grants. He also helped design a unique curriculum delivery model that integrates rigorous, relevant academic standards seamlessly into career and technical education.

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