Tools

Key to maintaining the health and vitality of your car is being sure that you have useful and appropriate tools at hand.

It is also important for your own safety and well being to make sure that you invest wisely in what tools you get and what quality they are.

Getting it up in the air – safely

One of the best starting points is a good floor jack and set of four jack stands. At a minimum you want a floor jack with a 2 and a half-ton capacity. You should also look for one with a large saddle. The saddle is the round piece that touches your car. You should also have some good size wood blocks around like a short section of 4×4 and 2×10. With the ride height of some cars it often helps to get the front end up a couple of inches before you jack it up. If you have some carpet remnants or a couple of pieces of 2×10, you can use them to drive up on with the front tires and that will allow you to roll a floor jack underneath to a good jack point.

I won’t get into just where on the car you should place the jack and push up. Check your owner’s manual or consult with your favorite mechanic, but by all means use your head and eyes. Most importantly USE WHEEL CHOCKS!

Your jack stands should have the capacity to handle at least 3 tons (measured in pairs) and 5-ton capacity is not crazy either.  This is not the time to use concrete blocks.  Use the real thing.

A creeper is just what you need if you are working on a garage floor. There are so many different styles to choose from now. Shop around and find something that suits you. When the car is up in the air on jack stands it makes life so much easier to be able to roll under and get to where you need to be with a creeper.

Hey, how about a fire extinguisher! I know what you are saying, “what kind of tool is that?” It is the kind of tool that will save you garage, car, and possibly your house when you do have a fire. Of course you are safe and conscientious, but things happen and there are a lot of fluids besides gasoline that are flammable that you will be working with. Get one rated for B and C and it should only set you back about $19. Keep it where you can get to it fast.  Cheap insurance.

Wrenches and Sockets

Shop around and be careful what you invest in. I personally have a mix of Craftsman, Snapon, S&K, etc. What I look for is good quality that has a no hassle warranty. Sockets should be 3/8” drive and six point. I would get a mix of regular depth and deep well sockets. Half-inch drive sockets are best for some of the tough big nuts. Combination wrenches are a good choice so that you have both an open end and a box end on each wrench. Some very nice (but expensive) wrenches are available that have a ratchet action built into the box end. These are excellent in many situations. We call them our “happy” wrenches because they have made life so much nicer.

For the sockets you will need a couple of different length socket wrenches as well as a variety of extensions. Start with a couple and add to your collection over time. You will also need to get a universal joint to go with the socket extensions.

One important socket to get is for the O2 sensor. This is a specialty socket that has a slot in the side to accommodate the wire attached to the sensor. Be careful here. Some of these come with a rather wide slot that allows the socket to flex too much. Opt for a slot that is about an eighth an inch wide. Another socket to get is a good spark plug socket. You may want to get a couple of different ones. I have found that some brands of spark plugs are gripped better with one design rather than another. Try them out and see for yourself.

For those half-inch drive sockets you will need a breaker bar. This will come in handy for taking off wheel lugs and the nuts that hold on the down pipe. When things get really bad you can always slide a length of steel pipe over the breaker bar for some extra leverage. You may be able to find a ratchet adapter for the breaker bar. This will allow you to use it like a very big ratchet wrench. I bought one many years ago and it has served me well.

Torque Wrench

While you are thinking about half-inch drives, think about a torque wrench. When putting fasteners back on, you need to ensure that you do so to the proper torque. This is especially true with suspension parts, head bolts, and lug nuts that hold your wheels on. Get the best quality torque wrench you can afford. The click types are very easy to use, but the deflection bar wrenches are just as accurate.

Flare wrenches – if you plan on upgrading to stainless steel brake lines or need to change your fuel filter these are the only things that will do. You cannot scrimp here. I have seen too many of the cheaper flair nut wrenches that are not made to close enough tolerances and just bugger up the flair nuts. Not a pretty site.

Pliers, wire cutters, and vice grip-style locking pliers. The vice grip line now comes with one that wraps around nuts and is great for breaking free flair nuts that are just way too tight. Get a pair of needle nose pliers as well as some slip joint pliers (sometimes called channel lock pliers). Never use pliers when you can use a wrench.

Chemicals are Tools Too

Sometimes bolts and nuts just don’t want to come apart. Be sure to have some PB Blaster around and let it soak the part. It is amazing stuff. WD40 and Liquid Wrench are also good, but so far nothing can beat PB Blaster for effectiveness.

When you put things back together you will want to treat the threads with anti-seize. Don’t be a slob with this stuff. A little can go a long way. This is particularly good for exhaust fasteners that are exposed to temperature extremes.

Another good lubricant to have available is silicone spray. If you ever try to get the rubber exhaust hangers to slide on or off the metal exhaust hooks, you will appreciate how easy this will make the job. It is very slick, yet doesn’t attack the rubber parts like oil will.

Another great chemical to have is brake clean. This is amazing stuff. I don’t know what we ever did before this stuff was around. No matter how careful you try to be when doing a brake job it is always possible to get foreign matter on the pads or rotors. The brake clean will rinse this “bad” stuff off and not hurt the pads. It is also great for getting grease and oil dirt off the engine block. This can be essential for figuring out where the source of a leak is. For the most part, brake clean has a high flash point. That means that it is hard to catch on fire. Still, you must be careful and be sure to read all cautions on the label.

Persuaders

You will also need some hammers. A good ball peen hammer will serve you well in many situations, but you should also have a good-sized rubber hammer. If you can, get a dead blow hammer as well. The dead blow hammer is made so it doesn’t bounce off what ever you are hitting.

Over time you will find that special situations will require you to seek out and find a special tool, but for the most part, the ones I’ve mentioned should handle just about all your needs.

The Expensive Stuff

Some of the tools that you can move to as your projects grow will not only speed up your work, they will lighten you wallet! So do your research on them carefully and weigh the cost with the need for basic reliability and quality.

An air compressor adds a whole new dimension to your garage and what kinds of projects you can tackle in it. Even a relatively small compressor, that can power a a few basic air tools, will be a real asset.

If you can’t afford all that right now, there are some excellent 110 volt electric 1/2 inch impact wrenches that will be very effective on loosening and tightening front axle nuts. There are also affordable versions available through outlets such as Harbor Freight and Northern Equipment.

Air driven impact wrenches can provide an important boost with some of the bigger projects such as clutch and flywheel replacement. They are also sometimes the only way to get off the axle nuts when doing suspension work. 

There are specialty air tools such as nibblers, grinders, and drivers. Whatever you decide on, keep it clean and oiled properly and it will provide you with years of service.

Every one of these tools will come with a warning that you should wear eye protection. Let me repeat that… WEAR EYE PROTECTION. No one likes to take the time to put them on and often we find them uncomfortable, but that is trivial to having to go to the emergency room to have a piece of metal removed from your eyeball.

A Lift

When you are ready to go way over the top you can see if your garage will accommodate a lift. There are many styles to choose from and some may not fit if you don’t have the ceiling height or floor space. 

There are some relatively small ones that will lift your car a little over two feet. Great for rotating wheels, doing oil changes and maybe even a tranny swap.

  These will range from $900 for a good used one to over $2000 for a new one.

If you ceiling is high and you have plenty of space then you can be just like the big boys and have a two post lift that will allow you to do all kinds of new projects. The price for these will vary according to style, and whether it is new or used. Used lifts can be a very economical alternative to new. Keep a lookout for tire store and the like going out of business.

Just remember. These things have the capacity to lift thousands of pounds very easily. If you take them for granted or use them in ways they were not designed, you will find thousands of pounds coming down in spectacular and lethal ways.

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6 Responses to Tools

  1. Noel says:

    But wait! There’s more!
    No tool box is complete without:
    A two-foot length of iron pipe as a “cheater.” Amazing what you can break loose with a good socket, breaker bar and cheater.
    Blow torch to heat really stubborn fasteners–falls into the persuader category
    A good set of screwdrivers–include a bit 18+” one for brute force prying
    A center punch–makes drilling stuff easier
    Cordless electric drill and bits
    Bench vise–very handy if you do your own CV joints
    Torx drivers–more and more cars use Torx bits
    Dremel tool–useful for fine work
    Multimeter–helps trace electrical issues
    Latex gloves–keep hands cleaner
    Mechanic’s gloves–protects hands on nasty jobs
    Oil filter wrench–beats sticking a screwdriver thru the old one.
    A good shop manual– for whatever car you’re working on, plus the URL of a website or two where you can go for extra information and knowledge you don’t have.
    A digital camera–so you can take pictures of how things go together and maybe even record the job so you can share the info or have it for reference.
    LED flashlight–for seeing into darker places
    Mechanic’s wire–for emergency or temporary repairs
    Zip ties–lots of uses

  2. Jim says:

    Noel –
    An excellent and appropriate list of tools! I couldn’t agree more.
    The LED flashlights are new to the scene, but they provide incredibly bright light in a compact package. I use a small AA battery powered flashlight with a foot-long flexible section that allows me to position it in some awkward places – like under a dash.
    A good shop manual – that subject probably desrves an entry devoted to it specifically. When you and I were working on air cooled VWs finding a good shop manual was a real challenge. Some of the texts out there were pretty poor. Now with manuals on CD and the forums available on the Internet, well… people don’t know just how good they have it.
    Thanks for the list of important additions.
    Jim

  3. Noel says:

    You’re welcome!
    What’s also needed is the willingness to look at different approaches to doing a job, figuring workarounds with the tools you have.

    Then there’s technique. Stuff like…

    Figuring out how to do a job that isn’t really in the manual
    Ability to improvise
    Understanding that all the procedures you see on the Web aren’t necessarily the best or easiest. And they may leave out important steps.
    Understanding how things work and are put together on your specific car.
    Patience
    Willingness to do other work “while you’re in there” that will save time later. Like doing the pulleys for your serpentine belt even if you haven’t hit the mileage to do them, simply so you won’t have to do them later.
    Putting anti-sieze or a thin spray of WD 40 on the mounting face of wheels to prevent corrosion that can weld the wheel to the car.

    And more on tools:

    A set of funnels
    drain pan for coolant
    turkey baster for removing stuff like coolant from your reservoir or PS fluid without making a mess
    a reciprocating saw to cut off things like rear shock bolts that won’t come off.
    a shop light you can take under the car with you
    A set of punches to drive out stuck bolts and other parts
    safety glasses

  4. mark says:

    Guys,

    A great list to be sure. Then there are the indespensible Oxy/Acetalyne torch or Plasma cutter, Mig welder, and hydraulic press. Plus all those other tools lining the walls and corners of your garage, like the brake lathe, and cylinder head / valve grinding machine that show everyone that 1) your really serious about working on cars, and 2) that you no longer have space to actually get the car into the garage to work on it. Which leads you on a 5 year odyssey to build a big enough shop for all of those tools, which, as a pre-requisite requires a new house. Alas. We really love our tools.

    Also worth mentioning is that humorous list of tools and their purpose. I’ve seen this around the internet over the years, and thought I’d pass on the link here to one re-posting rather than cut and paste the whole thing. Just in case anyone’s in a lighter mood – certainly worth a read. It’s kept me in stiches because it’s pretty darn true.
    http://www.vectorbd.com/peugeot/archive/98_9/0422.html

  5. Noel says:

    Let’s add these. These are an add-on to the list Mark provided from the Peugeot site. These from a guy on saabnet.com:

    CHISEL The hard metal device that acts as a miniature anvil allowing ones fingers the be firmly contacted by one’s hammer.

    MIG WELDER The device that uses electricity generated from coal to leave rows of jagged holes in its path. Also great for divining gasoline lines under floorboards.

    GOGGLES The dusty things hanging in the shoppe corner that your ER doctor and optholmologist chastise you for not wearing. Sometimes used for loose screw storage and cigarette disposal.

    WORKPANTS That pair of pants never close by when you have a suspected small problem that you thought was in a clean area of the car while you are ruining your wool suit.

    SHOP RAGS Any expenssive clothing that 5 minutes ago was pristine, but then got fouled by your car when you were tackling that 5 minute clean job. See Workpants.

    WORKBOOTS Timberland shoes you keep clean at the expense of never wearing them around actual work. If worn while hanging with ‘the crew’ of buddies, remember to never remove the leather tag that trips you when you step on it.

    CAR GARAGE Edifice for storing all the parts which are either going into your car (when you finally get around to it)or were broken and came out of your car (they were after-all to good to just throw away). Once optimum part count is obtained, better to be renamed car PARTS garage, as a car will no longer fit. Also a great hideaway for when wifey is on a rampage.

    GARAGE DOOR Something you keep open once you acquire more than the optimum number of car parts.

    5 POUND PERSUADER Great for persuading you to go to the ER with a broken thumb (see Chissel). Also great for finding toes on those days when you wore sandles because you did not want to dirty your work boots.

    EXTENSION CORD Extends the opportunity to wreak havok on your car from inside to outside the car garage for that time when the car garage becomes the car PARTS garage. Also great for divining for water on the floor/ground.

    CAR JACKS Especially helpfull for creating ventilation holes in car floors and rocker panels. Also great for getting tangled under the feet while carrying heavy and expensive new car parts.

    BLOW TORCH Removes unwanted (and wanted) hair from arms, eyebrows, and even scalps.

    DUCT TAPE Great stuff, but just makes me wanna’ say AFLAC.

    WORK GLOVES Effectively remove the advanced human trait of tactile sensation. A great boon while working on small parts in tight areas.

    HELPER ASSISTANT 1) An adult to help consume one’s last beer.; 2) A son who wants to help daddy by merely doubling the time it takes to do the job.

    INDY The well known race destination. We race there when we owners resist the temptation to NOT fix things that are NOT broken.

    SCREWS What the Indy does to us.

    CONVERTIBLE Converts to a great looking ‘guy’ car when the child seats and baby bottle stains and diaper bags are removed.

    BREAKER BAR used to break sockets on stuck bolts or break knuckles when stuck bolts suddenly free up.

    HELPER PIPE Fits over ratchets and breaker bars to assist in liberating stuck bolt heads from their shafts.

    FLUX Great word to remember when you bang your thumb and your son asks ‘what was that word daddy?’ Just say you asked him to bring the flux.

    SHEET (as in METAL SHEET) See Flux

    OIL Stuff that manages to lubricate the ground better than it did your blown engine.

    NEIGHBORS People you go to in order to borrow back tools that were/are in actuality yours.

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