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.
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.
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.
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.