I still remember the first time I walked into the shop as a brand new mechanic. I was 17, and I held a small tool box with only a few wrenches to my name. Today, I can perform most automotive repairs with the tools I’ve accumulated over the past decade. Here’s a list of must haves for the beginning mechanic.
This may be an obvious choice, but many people don’t have a quality set. I recommend Craftsman because they are quality tools with a lifetime warranty. I still use the same Craftsman wrenches from when I was 17. When it comes to purchasing metric or standard (US) sizes, pick metric if you have to make a choice. Having a standard set is good to have, but I rarely use mine.
2. The Three most Common Sizes of Ratchets
Like the ratchets mentioned previously, sockets come in the three common sizes. They also come in shallow (short) and long. Both lengths are critical for common repairs. As with the wrenches, choose metric if you have to make a choice between sizes.
Not only does the beginning mechanic need Flat and Phillips head screwdrivers, they need an assortment of lengths and gauges (thickness). Here are a few examples:
a) Stubbed screwdrivers: A must have for tight spaces and great for removing sensors.
b) Normal length screwdrivers: For general screwdriver purposes. This is the same screwdriver shown in the beginning of the screwdriver section.
c) Long, skinny screwdrivers: Although the most common screwdriver type to break, they are extremely helpful in extending your reach.
d) Thick, sturdy flathead screwdriver: A screwdriver you can hit with a hammer is a must have (and one of my favorite tools). This screwdriver also doubles as a small pry-bar.
e) A small flathead screwdriver: Although we usually got these for free at the shop, they are relatively inexpensive. They are commonly used to hold the intake throttle open during tune-ups.
f) Torx Screwdrivers: These screwdrivers have a star-head, and are generally found on sensors. However, some car manufacturers use them more generally than others.
To see a set that contains all types, click here.
If the beginning mechanic wants to change hoses, work with difficult connectors, and sometimes even brake work, pliers are a must. Most jobs require the use of the following pliers.
a) Regular Pliers
Most people have a few sets of regular pliers. Honestly, I use Needle Nose and Vise Grips more than a regular pair.
b) Vise Grips
An absolute must taking of coolant hoses and other clamps. They are also helpful for holding up hoods or trunks where the hydraulic rods have failed.
c) Long and Short Needle Nose
My most used pliers are the Long Needle Nose. Although both sizes prove helpful in many repairs.
It may sound barbaric, but in order to knock a stuck rotor or any other stuck component, a good whack with a hammer usually does the trick.
a) Ball Pein
The Ball Pein hammer is great for brake work and general hammer uses.
b) Rubber Mallet
A Rubber Mallet is used for surfaces that need a beating, but you still want to leave the surface nice and dent free.
7. Breaker Bar
There is no substitute for torque. When a mechanic is first starting out, it’s difficult to afford power tools. This makes the Breaker Bar a must have to getting tough bolts loose.
8. Pry Bar (assorted sizes)
As with the Breaker Bar above, there is no substitute for leverage. These bars are perfect for gently breaking apart components that have been together for thousands of miles.
9. LED Flashlight and/or Headlamp
Having light is critical for diagnostics and scoping out which bolts need to be pulled. Even when it is daylight, a good flashlight is a must. Headlamps are great for working at night in emergency situations. The Headlamp provides light and freedom to use your hands for work, especially when working underneath a car.
This tool ranges from cheap and inexpensive to extremely expensive. Be sure to purchase a Multimeter that can read amperage (A). Some of the lower end models do not have the ability to read amps. I’ve included a good model in the link within the Multimeter picture below.
There are many bolts that are out of reach. Whether the new mechanic is taking off a part deep in the engine bay, or tearing out a transmission, a variety of extensions will certainly make life easier. In fact, some jobs are impossible without these.
Like the Extensions above, there are many bolts that can be seen, but not reached. Swivels provide bend and flexibility for those sometimes aggravating hard to reach bolts.
An automotive jack is essential for jobs that require taking the wheels off (brakes), or getting underneath the car. Be sure to ALWAYS use jack-stands to support the car while using a jack. This is vital to automotive safety.
These simply provide back up support while using a jack. Since a jack is hydraulic, it has potential room for failure. Jack-stands are purely mechanical, and provide better support for the vehicle.
You’ll find over the years to come that more tools are needed, but this is a great place to start. Craftsman produces a quality starter set found here.
These sets include a lot of the most common tools discussed on this page. This makes the initial investment a bit easier to manage. Remember, tools pay for themselves when you learn how to work on cars. I’ve literally saved thousands over the years, and helped many people with these tools.