DIY Mechanic Essentials
Lots of people like to do their own work instead of paying an arm and a leg at a shop and having to wait days to get your car back for a job that supposedly only takes a couple of hours. For those weekend warriors, having the proper tools for the job means everything. We don’t have the luxury big shops have with access to hundreds of parts and tools laying around at our disposal. We’ve compiled a list of the DIY mechanic Essentials every at home mechanic needs with some links to most of these on Amazon as they are quite readily available and fairly cheap.
10 DIY Mechanic essentials
This probably goes without saying and could cover all of the bases by itself, but a good set of whatever tools you use for work is essential! Having a set of cheap tools that constantly break or those wrenches that just round nuts and never grip anything. A proper set of tools would save you time and headaches later on. A good basic tool kit should at least consist of: A Reliable socket wrench with a full set of sockets, screwdrivers (Phillips and flathead both short and long), pliers, allen keys, a knife or cutting tool. Keep in mind you should get relevant tools for your vehicle, lots of people make the mistake of using american tools on Japanese metric cars and vice versa. Along with a good oil filter wrench these are indespensible. These are enough to get most people started with basic mechanic work. The caveat is getting a set of reliable tools. Buying a $50 400 piece tool set may seem like a steal but you’re going to get what you pay for. Having a small set of good tools that wont break or bend at the slightest sign of force is much better than having every iteration of every tool imaginable that you just cant seem to trust. In short, good tools are an investment that pay for themselves over many years and will save you money by lasting much longer than buying dozens of crappy ones over time.
When dismantling anything you will need to stay organized or else you’ll be putting back bolts and screws in the wrong places and depending on what you’re working on that could prove disastrous. A labeling system really helps and a container of some kind works wonders. Cupcake tins are a surprisingly effective organizer that most people already have laying around. I’ve found that some small drug dealer-esque baggies along with a sharpie and some painters tape work very well. Just dump all of the similar bolts into a baggie and label it with a bit of painters tape and write where the bolts came from.
“Safety Third” This can’t be stressed enough. Anything could happen while working on a car and it’s best you’ve got your bases covered. At a bare minimum you should have your eyes covered. If shrapnel, vehicle fluid or metal shavings get into your eyes, you’re gonna have a bad time. If you want to be safe and look cool while wrenching on your ride, even wearing sun glasses would offer you far greater protection than nothing, but a good set of protective shatter resistant goggles is fairly cheap and easy to come by. You can get a set at any hardware store or even online for cheaper like the ones here.
As for gloves. If you’re working with fluids or anything thats going to get really dirty, a nice box of latex or nitrile gloves is perfect for this exact instance. The thin gloves provide a bare skin feel like you’re working with just your hands without covering them in the gunk that doesn’t come off for days and are easily disposable. These would be perfect for quick and dirty jobs. For those seemingly “simple” install days, you may end up working around rough or sharp edges along with having to deal with any residual heat the car has, you want a thicker set of heat resistant mechanic gloves. These gloves are a little bit thicker than latex or nitrile gloves and do a much better job at preventing burns and cuts due to the tough fabric they’re made out of. These wouldn’t be for working with lots of fluid as the fabric could soak into the gloves leaving a…desirable smell.
This should go without saying but you’re going to get dirty and so will your clothes. Wear that old shirt from high school it’s not socially acceptable for you to wear anymore or something, but nothing you’d cry over if you got oil all over it. Also a couple of extra shirts are great for cleaning wheels and scraping off general crap.
If you’re going to be doing any work on your car at home there is a good chance you’re going to need to lift it at some point. A good jack and at least two stands would be a good start and four total jack stands would be ideal. Just a reminder also when lifting your car please use jack stands. A jack is enough to lift your vehicle and hold it but it could also easily slip and to be completely safe jack stands are needed.
When working on your car you’re going to end up working in some nooks and crannies and some extra light would definitely help in those situations. A good stand alone or portable light would also be idea for illuminating your whole work area if you’re wrenching after dark because a single overhead garage light isn’t going to cut it most of the time. You’ll know you need a headlamp when you catch yourself sticking flashlights in your mouth without a second thought.
Sometimes WD-40 isn’t enough and you just need some old fashioned leverage. A breaker bar is another one of those tools that comes in handy way more often than you’d think and makes loosening stuck bolts.
Most people can’t think of why they would need a rubber mallet for anything, until they need a rubber mallet for that one thing. This is just one of those cheap and reliable tools that comes in handy way more often than you’d expect and it would be better just to have one handy at all times. Just trust me on this one.
You’re going to make a mess, clean it up. Keeping some supplies handy not only to clean up your messes but also yourself is essential. A good set of shop towels work much better than regular paper towels at cleaning up liquid messes and they’re a little thicker than regular ones also. To clean your hands soap doesn’t always do the best job so getting a scrubbing balm of some kind like Fast Orange or another automotive cleaner would work. Something to pick up all those fluids you spill is also very crucial keeping a receptacle to catch any spills is ideal but it’s not always in the right place. In that instance cat litter would be your next best friend. It’s super absorbent and fairly easy to clean after it has assimilated whatever liquids you’ve poured it on, oil included! Anything comparable or specialized in this task would also work but you don’t need to spend extra money buying something “specially formulated”. You’re also going to need drip pans for your oil if you change your oil at home and receptacles like old cups or plastic tubs for any other fluids you might be working with.
Solvents, Chemicals, Extras
This goes without saying, you’ll come across a seized bolt or you’ve tried everything and spraying your problem with WD-40 is the last resort, you need some of this stuff. Very useful for of course loosening tough nuts and bolts. Also a pretty good solvent at breaking down adhesives and getting grunge off of a lot of your vehicles under-bits. Another good alternative to this stuff is PB Blaster. Pretty much the same thing but depending on who you ask one is better than the other.
Another one of those random things you want to just keep around. Brake cleaner is great for of course cleaning brakes, also fairly good at braking down grunge and if you’re really old school a good old shot of brake cleaner to the intake manifold can get an engine to turn over and start.
Keeping an extra bit of oil, coolant and any other essential fluids is useful when doing routine checks and maintenance on your vehicle. Topping off your fluids and also just having extra on hand to replenish any lost fluids from working on your vehicle is essential. Don’t forget to keep some extra brake fluid, also, lots of times that one is overlooked.
Zip ties are just another one of those things you should have around along with some 3M double sided tape, duct tape, electrical and also metal tape to handle any of your fastening and patching needs.
At some point in your vehicles life you may find the need to upgrade your suspension system to fit your needs. Instead of watching countless Youtube videos on how to compress your springs with zip ties or ratchet straps (please do not try, or if you do, record it all) buying a good spring compressor will save you lots of time and maybe even an eye or two.
Extensions & Extra Bits Swivels
Depending on how deep you’re getting into your vehicle or if you’re just the guy with that really weird one year only Saab or Honda model, a good set of extensions and swivels will come in handy when getting to those bolts in the really awkward places. Also because short and long bolts just aren’t enough sometimes and you don’t wan’t to be 2 hours into a job and realize you just needed an extra couple of inches to reach that last bolt.
Extra 10mm Bolts
You’re going to lose them so it’s best you just get a sacred set of extras now.
AutoZone and the internet are your best friend. Research as much as you can before you tackle any job for the first time and make sure you have all of the tools you’re going to need before you start working because if you don’t you’re gonna have a bad time. Also take advantage of your local AutoZone, seriously. They usually have a lot of specialty tools available for rent that save you time and money over going out and getting that tool you’re only going to use once yourself.
Optional Shop Dog
This goes without saying. You’re going to need help on one of your projects at some point. A shop dog would be perfect for moral support as you struggle alone on a two man job. But please don’t hesitate to ask for help if you really need it, an extra hand really does help and proves safer in most cases.