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Tools..

Everything you need to know about tools and what you should have in your toolbox.

In Part 1 I talked about some of the different brands of tools made. Now that you have an idea of your options as far as brands, let's talk about what you should have in your toolbox. As a great Scottish Starship Engineer once said; "How many times do I have to tell you lads? The right tool for the right job!" These are the essentials for a good, well rounded tool box. These tools will allow you to do almost any repair on your vehicle.

  • Screwdrivers:
    There are four basic types of screwdrivers, straight blade or regular, Phillips, Pozi-drive and Torx. You should have four or five different sizes from small to large. When you select a screwdriver for a job, the blade must fit the slot securely with no slop and it must fit with no overhang side to side. This will greatly reduce the chances of destroying the screw slot. You should have three sizes of Phillips screwdrivers a #1, which is a small Phillips, a #2 which is a medium size and most often used and a #3 which is a large Phillips. Pozi-drive screwdrivers look a lot like a Phillips, but are not interchangeable. The patterns are different and using a Phillips screwdriver on a Pozi-drive screw will damage the screw and vice-versa. Four lines pointing out from the center of the screw head can identify a Pozi-drive screw. Torx drivers come in sizes from #5 to #55 with #15 the most often used.

  • Ratchets and Sockets:
    The three most common size of ratchets are 1/4", 3/8" and 1/2" drive with the most common being 3/8" drive. 1/4" drive is for lighter duty work while 1/2" drive is for heavier jobs. A fine tooth ratchet is preferable because you will get more turns per swing than a course tooth ratchet. I would not recommend a ratchet with a knurled handle. One with a contoured handle is much more comfortable and ergonomically efficient.

    Sockets come in many shapes and sizes, in both metric and SAE (fractional). In 3/8" drive a good range in SAE is 3/8" to 3/4" and metric 8mm to 19mm. Sockets come in deep and shallow styles. The deep sockets are good when you are taking a nut off a stud for example. You will need both styles in your toolbox. In 1/4" drive, a good range in SAE is 1/4" to 9/16" and in metric 4mm to 14mm. In 1/2" drive, 1/2" to 1 1/4" and in metric 13mm to 32mm. You can get sockets in hex (6-point) or double hex (12-point) styles as well. I have found that if you have 6-point sockets, you don't really need 12-point so I would just recommend putting a set of 6-point sockets in your toolbox. A pair of spark plug sockets is a must if you want to tune up a car. A good spark plug socket has a rubber insert to hold the spark plug from falling out. There are two sizes: 5/8" and 13/16".

    Universal joints allow the use of a socket in areas where you can't get straight on with a regular socket. Extensions are used to extend the reach of a socket. A good range of extensions is 1" to 12". Both of these are a must for your toolbox. Flex sockets are nice to have. They are similar to a universal joint but have a regular socket on one end. They are good for very tight situations

    There are many other types of specialty sockets as well, such as an Oil Pressure Switch socket and an O2 sensor socket. These you can buy and add to your toolbox as needed.

  • Wrenches:
    There are tons of wrenches to choose from, but for a basic toolbox we can narrow down the choices quite a bit. The most common wrenches are open-end, box and combination wrenches. Open-end wrenches have ends that are, well, open. These are for those jobs where a box wrench will not fit. A box wrench has no open end and fits completely around the fastener. The box wrench is preferable to an open-end wrench because it will grip the fastener on all six sides. A combination wrench is a combination of both, box on one end and open on the other. This is the most useful and eliminates the need for two sets of wrenches. A good range of combination wrenches in SAE is 1/4" to 7/8" and in metric 8mm to 22mm. Wrenches come in short styles for tight areas, standard length and long when extra leverage is needed. For the basic toolbox a set of standard length combination wrenches will do very nicely.

    Another type of wrench is the line wrench. These wrenches are designed to be used on fuel, brake and other hydraulic lines. They are thicker than a regular wrench for more gripping area. One end is open and the other end is like a box end with a cutout to allow it to go over a line and still allow it to grip all six sides of the fitting. A good range is 1/4" to 9/16" in SAE and 8mm to 14mm in metric.

    An adjustable wrench is also handy to have. These have two jaws that are adjusted with a screw mechanism that open and close the jaws parallel to each other. I have both a metric and SAE adjustable wrenches. One is a 6-inch adjustable and the other is a 300mm adjustable. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

    Then we have an Oil Filter wrench. As the name implies, it is for removing oil filters. It is not used for tightening oil filters because we all know that oil filters should only be hand tightened. There are several different styles, but for the basic toolbox a large or small strap style is sufficient.

    Wrenches also come in 6-point and 12-point styles. 12-point are more useful for general work, but 6-point wrenches have more gripping power. If I had to chose one style or the other, I would chose the 12-point although I do have complete sets of both in my toolbox.

  • Hammers:
    Hammers also come in many shapes and sizes. The most common hammer used in automotive work is the ball-peen hammer. A ball-peen hammer has a regular striking face on one end and a rounded "ball" on the other end. Dead blow hammers have a hollow head filled with shot to prevent rebound and direct more force to the object being struck. Hammers are sized by weight, from an 8 ounce tapping hammer to a 20-pound sledge. I once used a 20-pound sledge on an Oldsmobile, but that's another story. A good range for hammers is 8 ounce to 32 ounce, otherwise known as a BFH.

  • Pliers and Cutters:
    Nothing beats a pair of plain slip joint pliers. I prefer the ones with soft plastic grips, they are more comfortable in the hand. Water pump of Channel lock pliers are also a must have. These are like slip joint pliers except they have angled jaws and several different grooves for adjusting the jaw size. A large and small pair is good for your toolbox. Needle nose pliers are a pair of pliers that have two thin jaws that come to a point. I would keep a large and small pair in your toolbox. A good pair of wire cutters is a necessary item for any toolbox. I have several different styles, but for the home mechanic a large and small pair will do nicely. A good pair of terminal pliers is handy to have. These will strip and cut wire and crimp solderless terminals. You can get a pair in a kit with an assortment of solderless terminals at any auto parts store.

  • Miscellaneous Tools:
    Some other tools to round off your toolbox are a good tire pressure gauge. A tire gauge should measure up to 50 psi. A magnetic pick up tool is a good thing to have. This has either a flexible or telescoping shaft with a magnet on the end to pick up those nuts, bolts and tools that have fallen into a nook or cranny that you can't get your hand into. And since Murphy's Law states that a fastener or tool falling on the floor will gravitate to the geographic center of the car being worked on, it will extend your reach to get it back. Punches and chisels are nice to have for general use. You can get a nice set with several different sizes. Files are good to have for general de-burring work. A decent digital Volt-Ohm meter is good to have for testing circuits and sensors. A 12-volt test light for checking continuity and power in a circuit is a must. Masking tape and a felt tip-marking pen for labeling vacuum lines and wires is very handy to have.

Now, a few words about tool safety. As with anything, common sense will tell you what is safe and what isn't. When you turn a ratchet or wrench, try to pull towards you and not push away. If you push a tool, there is a good chance that when the fastener comes loose, it will come loose quickly, and your hand will probably wind up smashing into something. That could result in a skinned knuckle at the least or a broken finger or hand at the worst. You will not always be able to do this, so use extra care when you can't. Look at the job and see where your hand will go when that nut cracks loose. Then put some rags there to cushion the area in case you do hit it.

Keep your wrenches clean, a grease-covered tool will let your hand slip off and cause you an injury. Besides, if you have good tools the grease is not required to keep them from rusting.

Never use a screwdriver as a chisel or pry bar. Banging on the end of a screwdriver will force the handle down and the blade can come out of the handle end and, at the very least, ruin a good screwdriver and your hand at worst. If you use it as a pry bar, the tip can break off and go flying somewhere, maybe into your eye. If you need to hammer something, use a hammer. Don't use your screwdriver handle because the plastic handle can shatter.

If your punch or chisel is mushroomed, file or grind it back to its original shape. I was working across from a mechanic that was using a well-mushroomed punch and when he hit it with the hammer, a chunk of metal broke off and embedded itself in my chest. So if you think that danger is not real, I'm living proof it is. Wear your safety glasses. You only have two eyes and if you want to continue doing your own repairs, you're going to need them.

There will be many other tools that you will need as your skills improve. Tools you'll find that you need or just want. I know many mechanics that collect tools the way a stamp collector collects stamps. You'll find that you need a special tool for a specific job so you'll go out and get that tool and add it to your toolbox. There is nothing like having the right tool for the right job. You will do the job more efficiently, reduce the chances of stripping a fastener and, most important of all, do it safely.

Additional Information provided courtesy of
ALLDATAdiy.com and Warranty Direct
© 2000-2007 Vincent T. Ciulla

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