I did a ton of research and compiling to come up with this list of must-have tools for beginner mechanics. This list includes all the most commonly used tools for automotive repair as well as photos and descriptions of their uses. This is a great starter list for mechanic hand tools and power tools that will allow you to do 90 percent of all beginner automotive repairs from oil changes to spark plugs.
This list is not exhaustive, there are TONS of automotive specialty tools not covered here. However, if you plan on working on your car, lawn-mower, and engines you will find you will NEED every single one of these tools at some point. This list assumes you will not be focusing on one specific brand or model of car, and rather want the ability to work on all cars and trucks. However, since most manufacturers are sticking with mostly metric fasteners, I recommend you starting out by filling your toolbox with metric tools. Then fill in with your SAE sockets, wrenches, etc., as you go.
Socket sets come in Metric and SAE sizes. I wrote a complete article about the difference between metric and SAE sizes that you can read here. Socket sets also come in different lengths (shallow, semi-deep, deep) and many different drive sizes (1/4″, 3/8″, 1/2″ are the most common). Sockets can also come in the 6 point or 12 point styles, however, I highly recommend buying 6 point sockets to start out with. I also highly recommend buying socket sets individually, and not from a large mechanic toolbox, as those sets typically skip important sizes and lengths.
Here are some of the most common socket set sizes you will need (links to my favorites on Amazon):
- 1/2″ Drive Impact Socket Set Deep Metric
- Wheel Lug Nut Flip Socket Metric/SAE set
- 1/4″ Drive Metric Shallow Socket Set
- 1/4″ Drive Metric Universal (Swivel) Socket Set
- 3/8″ Drive Metric Deep Socket Set Impact
- 3/8” Drive Spark Plug Socket Set (5/8, 3/4, 13/16, 18mm)
- 3/8″ Drive Metric Shallow Socket Set Chrome or 3/8″ Metric Impact Thin Walled
RATCHETS (AKA SOCKET WRENCHES)
- 1/4″ Drive Ratchet
- 3/8″ Drive Ratchets
- 1/2″ Drive Ratchet
Breaker bars are literally just really long pieces of metal with a socket drive head on one end. They do not have any ratcheting mechanism, which is usually the first part of a ratchet to break under heavy stress, and therefore they can be used to break very tight fasteners loose. You can even put cheater bars on breaker bars in order to increase your effective leverage.
Any mechanic that puts a cheater bar on a ratchet is a hack. Don’t be a hack! Breaker bars are cheap and everyone should own at least one 1/2″ breaker bar.
METRIC & SAE WRENCHES:
Every mechanic whether professional or absolute beginner must have quality wrenches. Typically I recommend having wrenches from 8mm to 19mm and a couple of larger wrenches thrown in there. I also highly recommend having ratcheting wrenches, I tend to use metric way more often than SAE, flare nut wrenches (for brake lines), and some extra long box end wrenches.
Seriously, if you’re working on cars you can NEVER have too many wrenches. You can, however, have too many wrenches that are not kept organized. For that reason alone, I highly recommend you buying wrenches that come in sets that also come with their own plastic holder. Misplacing wrenches is one of the easiest things to do, and can be devasting to finishing your repair if you can’t find your 10mm wrench for example.
- Wrench set, combination, 12-point, Metric
- Wrench set, combination, 12-point, SAE
- Ratcheting Wrenches (8mm-19mm metric)
- Flare Nut (Line or Tubing) Wrenches (SAE and Metric)
- Adjustable Wrench
Depends on the size of engines you’re working on for cars you will most commonly be using a ½” torque wrench. I wrote a couple of articles about torque wrenches, including common myths about torque wrenches. Also, how to develop a feeling for torque and when you should be using a torque wrench on your car.
I highly recommend every beginner technician or DIYer own a 1/2″ click type torque wrench to start. In order to any repair safely you need to be torquing down bolts to the manufacturer’s specifications in the factory service manual. If there is a torque specification for the fastener you are tightening, then you should be torquing it in the beginning at least. Then I recommend buying a 3/8″ torque wrench as your skills progress, or if you’re working on much smaller engines. As a general rule of thumb lug-nuts on a car will be around 85 ft-lbs so make sure your torque wrench at least goes that high. For trucks, average lug nut torque values will be around 100-140 ft-lbs depending on how heavy-duty the truck is and how many lug nuts it has.
- ½” torque wrench up to 250 ft-lbs (for all heavy-duty stuff including lug nuts / CV axles / 4×4 Trucks)
- 3/8″ drive torque wrench, 40-200 in. lbs. (Engine components and more exact specifications)
- 1/4″ Torque Wrench unless you are a motorcycle mechanic this will be the last torque wrench you will need. For most cars and trucks a 1/2″ and a 3/8″ torque wrench will cover 95% of your needs.
Extensions are so that you can reach in tighter spots with sockets. Having a ton of extensions means you will quite simply be able to reach more bolts easier. Every beginner mechanics toolbox needs to have plenty of extensions in every different size drive available. Because extensions are so important, many companies also make wobble extensions, universal extensions, and impact extensions. I highly recommend buying extensions in every drive size you own and getting both long and short extensions, impact and chrome, and wobble/regular. Extensions are cheap, and a perfect tool to invest in.
- 1/4″ drive extension set (wobble and standard)
- 1/2” impact extension set (extra long)
- 3/8” wobble and standard extension set
- SK Locking Impact Extension Set
If you do not own a pry bar, then you will get stuck the first time you try to do any suspension work even on a small car. Pry bars for automotive repair are used to loosen items that are stuck, pry down on control arms to release ball-joints, and for hundreds of other uses. Having a high-quality pry bar and knowing when to use it is the difference between spending 30 minutes doing a job and four hours battling it. Every beginner mechanic needs a pry bar set, and here is my favorite set available plus an extra long pry bar for good measure.
- Pry Bar Set
- Extra Long Pry Bar (When you need your extra long pry bar you will be very happy you have it)
Feeler gauges allow you to measure the distance between very small spaces. If you will be changing spark plugs, adjusting valves, or rebuilding engines you NEED feeler gauges. No professional mechanic can see the gap on a spark plug, and you should never be guessing either. Feeler gauges are cheap, and you need to own them as a beginner mechanic.
- Set of feeler gauges with all common sizes
Gasket scrapers are pretty self-explanatory but something that beginner mechanics always fail to buy. When replacing a water pump for example, if you do not remove the old gasket (RTV typically) from both mating surfaces you are bound to have a leaky water-pump shortly after replacement. I wrote a great article where I spent a ton of time explaining how to use RTV properly here. The first step to making sure you’re getting a good seal when replacing gasket is to make sure all of the old gasket is removed. The tools listed below are absolutely essential for every mechanic, and I highly recommend throwing both in your toolbox. Plus, they aren’t expensive at all either!
- Razor blades
- Hand Held Gasket Scraper Set
Every beginner mechanic needs to make sure when they drop a bolt in a hard to reach area that they can a. find it and b. grab it. Having telescoping magnets and a grabber tool will mean fewer freakouts and hours spent trying to reach a dropped bolt. A telescoping magnet also works great for spark plugs that don’t want to stick in the socket, or for lining up small bolts in hard to reach areas.
I highly recommend grabbing a kit that comes with a mirror, magnet, and grabber tool as well as a handy storage container here on Amazon. It really is PERFECT for a beginner or professional mechanic.
Look there are tons of options for toolboxes. You need to get the size that works for you. However, from what I have found the best portable toolboxes are the ones that are built sturdy and lightweight. Your toolbox will take a beating, and it will quickly fall apart if it is the cheapest one available. I did some research and asked a facebook group full of mobile mechanics and they recommended this Dewalt deep toolbox on Amazon here— it doesn’t hurt it is a great price as well.
Looking for a toolbox to put in your garage and fill with all your goodies? This is where you probably want to do your own research and figure out what size works best for you. However, I do hear great things about the very reasonably priced Milwaukee toolboxes. They can be found at Home Depot for a great price. I did some research and found this awesome Milwaukee toolbox for sale on Amazon at a really awesome price here. With a toolbox of that size it may be worth buying it online so they will deliver for you free of charge.
- Portable Toolbox
- Home Garage Toolbox
The hammer is an essential part of every mechanics toolbox. Many professionals mechanics will have upwards of 20 different hammers, each with their own intended purpose. For the beginner or DIY mechanic you really just need a couple of hammers to do most repairs, the more important thing is knowing when to use what hammer.
Here are some pro tips on using hammers and which ones to buy:
You always want to be hitting with a hammer that is softer than the component you are striking. For example, if a hammer is a steelhead and you are hitting an aluminum part you can do a lot of damage. Steel is much much harder than aluminum and if you break components on cars they are much more expensive than replacing hammerheads.
However, when working on heavy duty suspension parts, say removing a lower ball joint from the steering knuckle, a good solid whack with a steel sludge is all that is needed. No damage will be done, and it is the right hammer for the job. Therefore here is my list of hammers that every entry-level mechanic should have in their toolbox.
Having high-quality flashlights and work lights is usually the first sign of someone that knows what they are doing when working on cars. Having good light, and the available light at all different angles is essential to doing car repair. You need a penlight flashlight, larger handheld flashlight, and an underhood worklight to really see what you’re doing. I highly recommend buying one of each, and it won’t set you back much at all. You’ll never regret having more flashlights. The brand of choice among professional mechanics is Streamlight typically for flashlights and penlights. For underhood worklights, I recommend anything that is rechargeable and sturdy.
I have chosen some of my favorites from the best brands below.
- Streamlight Pen flashlight
- Rechargeable Stinger LED flashlight
- Underhood LED Rechargeable light
- Nebo Slim Magnetic Rechargeable LED flashlight
SCREWDRIVER & FLAT-BLADE SET TOOLS:
You will be using screwdrivers and flat-blades all the time working on cars/trucks. It is essential to buy a set that will hold up, feels comfortable in your hand, and comes with a lifetime warranty. Many professional technicians have around 30-40 different screwdrivers in their toolbox at any one time. That is why I highly recommend buying a complete set that comes with both Phillips heads in different sizes as well as flat blades. The other important pro-tip is that you do not need to buy magnetized screwdrivers, all you have to do is buy a less than $10 hand-held magnetizer tool and you can magnetize any screwdriver you have.
OIL FILTER WRENCHES:
Some people swear by oil filter pliers, however, I have found that with some oil filters you would never be able to fit the oil filter pliers to grab it. I prefer having an assortment of oil filter sockets so that I am sure I have the one that will fit on the oil filter of the car/truck/SUV I am working on. I also highly recommend buying an oil filter removal strap tool and universal oil filter removal tools that adjust to fit any oil filter. To get started though just grab yourself one of these cheap oil filter socket sets, and you’ll be well on your way to never being defeated by an overly tight oil filter.
HOOK & PICK SET:
You need a good hook and pick set for working on cars. The picks and hooks will help you remove o-rings from hard to reach places, push down on finicky connectors, and remove spark plug boots stuck down in the hole. The uses are endless, and they are cheap. Make sure to grab a solid pair that comes with its own case (like I chose below for you).
Do not buy cheap hook and picks as when they break they can really mess up your day! They tend to snap and go flying, and when they do break they can easily mess up an expensive connector or rip a radiator hose. Just make sure you don’t get the absolute cheapest pick set or you will break one your first use.
- Hook & Pick Set with plastic case
Pliers usually have their own drawer in any mechanics toolbox. That is because you need so many different pairs of them to be able to do automotive repair, that they will take up an entire drawer in your toolbox. That being said the most important pliers to have are a solid pair of diagonal cutting pliers, needle nose pliers, and vise-grip pliers. The rest of these pliers are AWESOME to have around, but you can usually get away without them.
- Diagonal Cutting (Dykes)– this set of Knipex Dykes are my go-to favorite
- Needle Nose (Long & Short Set)
- Knipex 3 Piece Set Cobra Pliers
- Radiator Hose Soft Grip
- Vise-Grip Pliers Set
- Hose Pinch Off Pliers
- Spark Plug Wire Pliers
Gone are the days of using butt-connectors or simply electrical tape when doing an automotive repair. As a DIY mechanic or professional you are going to learn to love soldering wires, and how much stronger the connection if you don’t solder. Soldering is the ONLY safe way to join two wires together, and after soldering you should always be using heat shrink tubing over the soldered area. You can read my post here about mechanic life hacks and I talk about an awesome tip for making heat shrink tubing waterproof. In order to solder fast and effectively, you will need wire strippers, crimpers, and a soldering kit.
Don’t worry they aren’t that expensive and I found some awesome deals on Amazon here.
COMPRESSOR & SUPPLIES:
In 2019 a lot of professional technicians are moving away from only relying on air tools. Nowadays with the invention of cordless tools that work extremely well for automotive repair, people are using air tools less and less. That being said, there are still tons of benefits to having a compressor and compressed air in your shop. If you’re looking to set up a compressor, run airlines, and buy all the compressed air tools you will need I recommend checking out my post here on how to get used tools cheap. Here is a short list of the items you will need if you’re planning on working on a shop that has air available for you to use, or are wanting to outfit your garage for a compressor and air tools.
- Air Hose / Reel
- Air compressor Oil (or use synthetic ATF)
- Air Impacts / Guns
- 1/2″ inch drive impact
- 3/8″ drive impact
- Blow Gun
- Air chuck (Tire Filler with Digital Gauge)
I personally only use cordless tools, as I do not have access to a compressor all the time. Cordless tools have made a huge surge in the last couple of years, as professional technicians have found that they can do all the same things with cordless tools as their air guns. There are still benefits to using compressed air, including typically more torque and not worrying about batteries. However, for the beginner or DIYer mechanic, I highly recommend investing money in your cordless tools and batteries.
The absolute best brand for cordless tools that cater to mechanics and DIY technicians is Milwaukee tools. They have the best warranty, the best variety of items, and if you have any problems you can warranty them at any Home Depot or Milwaukee retailer. Plus they beat out Dewalt, Rigid, and Snap-On with their high-torque breakaway values. There is really no reason to not get Milwaukee cordless tools, except if you hate the color red.
- Impact Driver / Drill
- W/ Set of Adapters
- Cobalt Drill bits
- ½” Milwaukee Fuel M18 High Impact Torque Gun/Wrench
- ⅜” m18 Mid Torque Impact Wrench/Gun
- ⅜” Fuel M12 Cordless Impact Ratchet
- ¼” Fuel Cordless Impact Ratchet
Modern engines need very strong batteries and connections to run properly. As modern cars get more and more electronic, a battery that may test well on your multimeter may still be causing problems in your car. These problems can be incredibly hard to track down if you do not know that the battery is bad in the first place. That is why I highly recommend any new DIY mechanic or professional entry-level technician make sure they own a CCA digital battery tester.
You can spend anywhere from $30 on these to $2000. I did some research and found the best inexpensive battery tester for you. Check below for the link to Amazon to see the current price and reviews.
- Battery & Antifreeze Hydrometer
- Post/Terminal Cleaner Brush
- Jumper wire set (Portable Jumper Lithium Ion)
- Digital CCA Battery Tester
ELECTRONIC DIAGNOSIS TOOLS:
To get started doing your own automotive repair or as an entry-level technician, you will need your own digital multimeter, OBD2 scan tool, and a 12v test light. If you want to invest a little bit more money than I highly recommend buying a power probe and learning how to use it. I also highly recommend you learning how to use an oscilloscope in 2019 for automotive repair. They allow you to test electronic components without guessing if they’re bad or not. You can read all about my favorite scan tools and oscilloscopes here.
- Digital/Analog Multimeter Fluke 88 is the industry standard
- OBD2 Code Reader / Scanner (Data Stream & Read Codes)
- 12v Test Light
- Power Probe
The beginner mechanic tool list should always include these safety items. Working on cars is dangerous, and without proper protection, you can really hurt yourself. Even if you always wear gloves, safety glasses, and coveralls you will still get hurt at some point working on cars. It is a physical job, and I highly recommend protecting yourself with proper PPE (personal protection equipment). Also, if you do not use a fender cover you WILL damage someone’s car at some point and it will cost you a lot of money. I highly recommend buying a fender cover, or just cut up an old yoga mat and use that.
There are times when you’re going to need to cut off a bolt or other fastener as a technician. I highly recommend having at least one hacksaw in your toolbox so you are never left without the tool to get the job done.
- Hacksaw with extra blades
- Milwaukee M18 Hackzall (uses same batteries as other M18 tools including the Torque Wrench I recommend for Lug Nuts/Heavy-Duty Stuff)
Every beginner mechanic needs to have the proper tools to remove gasket materials, clean parts, and keep themselves from being coated in automotive grease and oil. I highly recommend wearing coveralls, having an assortment of wire brushes, and buying your own parts washer. As always be sure to use disposable gloves every time you are using solvents, brake cleaner, and touching gasoline.
JACK & JACK STANDS:
If you’re going to be setting up a beginner or DIY shop in your garage you need a high-quality jack and even higher-quality jack stands. Remember jack stands are what keep your car or truck from falling on you and crushing you to death. I don’t know about you, but I highly recommend buying high-quality overrated jack stands for your application. Meaning if you’re working on a 2-ton Honda Civic I recommend still using 6-ton jack stands. They will give you a better lift, and at the same time, you can use them also on your heavy-duty Ford truck without worrying.
- Hydraulic Floor-Jack
- High-Quality Jackstands (6-ton are best)
- Heavy-Duty Car Ramps (these are known to last, the cheap ones are known to fail)
CHISELS & PUNCHES:
Chisels and punches come in handy when you need to turn rusted bolts or nuts, remove cotter pins, or set axle nuts. They also are handy in tons of other applications. Just remember you can do a lot of damage with chisels and punches, and they should not be your go-to tool. Make sure you also use the proper hammer with your chisels and punches, which is why I always recommend having a soft brass hammer.
- Set of Brass Drifts
- Set of Chisels
- Highly recommend using anti-vibration gloves when using chisels as you can damage your wrist with repeated chiseling overtime.
- Set of Punches (click link above for my favorite set that comes with punches and chisels).
TORX SET TOOLS:
Tons of cars use torx fasteners of all different sizes. Especially European cars. I highly recommend having a torx set and better yet buying a set that comes with torx and Allen (hex) head sockets. That way you’ll have the size for both if anything comes up.
- Torx set with common sizes and case
HEX (ALLEN) WRENCH TOOLS:
Hex or AKA Allen Wrenches are absolutely necessary for car repair. Even if you are going to be working on bicycles you need Allen wrenches. Motorcycles use a lot of hex head fasteners on the body panels, and cars use them all over the place. Don’t get burned to have to run to the local hardware store and paying 4x the price of these sets online. Trust me, every beginner mechanic needs hex head sets both long and short.
- HEX (Allen) handheld set Metric & SAE sizes
- Allen Socket Set with Long Shaft & Rounded heads
SPARK CHECKER TOOLS:
A spark checker isn’t an absolutely necessary tool, but one that if you’re working on any small engines or scooters/motorcycles you will grow to love. Why? With a spark checker, you no longer need to pull the spark plug and ground it out to see if you have spark. Simply connect the spark checker inline with your spark plug, try to start the engine, and see if the light flashes on the spark checker. No light flashing? No spark signal is being sent. Light flashes but the engine still won’t pop or start? Time to check the spark plug, and then move to diagnose fuel problems. They are cheap, and my friend who is a small engine mechanic uses his every single day.
- Inline Spark Checker W/light
ENGINE DIAGNOSIS TOOLS:
Some of these are old-school tools that are used for engine diagnosis when a car isn’t running right. However, they are tools you will learn how to use and respect. That is because the sign that a tool is worth having is if it is something that was used 40 years ago and still used today. The stethoscope, for example, allows you to listen to certain parts of the engine easily so you can pinpoint where a noise is coming from. That tool is going nowhere in the future! Also having gauges for all the different pressure systems of an engine are extremely useful. I highly recommend having all of these at some point, but they are listed in order of most useful to least.
- Automotive Stethoscope
- Vacuum Gauge
- Cooling System Pressure Test Kit
- Compression Gauge Set
- Fuel Pressure Gauge W/ Connectors
- Oil Pressure Gauge
A/C AND HEATER DIAGNOSIS TOOLS:
Part of diagnosing heater and A/C problems is being able to quantify (put in numbers) the temperature of the air coming and going from your vents. On a properly functioning A/C system in a car the temperature at the vent should be around 35-48 degrees Fahrenheit. A properly working heater in a car should reach around 130 degrees Fahrenheit after the car has warmed up. Therefore, I highly recommend having a digital thermometer for the vent temperatures. Also, when diagnosing A/C leaks it is extremely useful to use a dye injector and UV light. It will make your life a hecka lot easier and save the environment from leaking refrigerant.
I did a ton of research to compile this list of the most common mechanic tools needed to work on your own car or truck. Most of these tools you can fill in as you need, especially more of the sophisticated engine diagnosis tools.
However, if you are starting out at an automotive repair school like UTI, most of them will provide you with a list of tools you need to bring on the first day of classes. I used lists like those to compile this list and asked professional mechanics what tools they use on a daily basis.
As with all tools, there will be a personal preference as to what you like. And also how much money you want to spend. Most mechanics will always tell you that you should stay off the tool truck and do not go into debt buying tools (as much as possible). Spend less money on your box than your tools, and remember Snap-On tools don’t make the mechanic. Being smart, studying, and being the best you can be at your trade will put you miles ahead of the guy that just has the most expensive toolbox and is still paying off his debt for 20 years.
Working on cars is fun if it is a hobby and you are a DIYer. However, as a career, it can be difficult, to say the least. Make sure it is something you want to pursue and be ready to face all the challenges of being a professional mechanic come with.