You’ve got the socket set and the screwdrivers, but they’re not always enough to get the job done.
This top 10 list of tools doesn't contain the most glamorous items that will ever grace your garage shelves, but sooner or later you’ll be glad you’ve got them.
They don’t cost a lot and you can get them from any good motor supplier – and if you’re ever asked what you want for your birthday and you don’t really fancy another pair of socks, then maybe the answer is on this list?
01 Filter wrench
So you’re doing an oil change, you’ve got your new oil filter but the old one won’t come off. It’s screwed on tighter than the lid on your grandma’s marmalade jar. But just as you can get neat gadgets for twisting the lids of marmalade jars, you can get them for oil filters too. Some are like adjustable wide-jawed wrenches, others are straps or chains that fit around the filter can and then into a handle which you use to twist the filter loose.
02 Torque wrench
Everything’s gone beautifully. The old parts came off perfectly, the new ones cost less than you thought and they’re exactly the right ones. The birds are even singing in the trees. And then, just 3 steps from the end of your beautifully-executed procedure, you find you have to torque up the bolts to a specific tightness… noooo! It’s not just cylinder head bolts that need a torque wrench, and if you don’t have one in your garage, no-one’s going to hear the birdsong, only your cursing.
03 Magnetic pickup tool
Talking of cursing, how many times have you dropped a nut or a screw into some tiny, inaccessible shelf in a deep, dark corner of the engine bay? You can’t see it, you can’t reach it, and your car is completely immobilised until you fit that one last part. This is where you need the garage mechanic’s equivalent of Harry Potter’s wand – a long magnetic pickup tool that can recover tiny metallic parts. You can even get them with an LED lamp for lighting gloomy corners. Excelsior! (you might say)
04 Needle nosed pliers
These are ideal for pinging off circlips, squeezing out split pins and manipulating a dozen other tricky little items. They aren’t designed to apply a lot of force, but they are invaluable when working in hard to reach areas, so get the longest nosed pliers you can. They’re also terrific for picking up and extricating items that have got caught up in places where they shouldn’t.
Pulleys, bearings and other parts can stick to a shaft so hard that you simply can’t shift them. What you need is a 2-claw or, better, a 3-claw puller. The claws fit behind the part you want to remove and you turn a screw in the centre to slowly pull it off the shaft more evenly and with far more force than you could apply with your bare hands.
06 Impact driver
Welcome to the most terrifying tool you will ever have to use. Owners of Japanese motorcycles from the '70s and '80s will know that this may be the only way to remove factory-tightened engine case screws. You fit the right sized bit into the end of the impact driver then fit them as straight as possible into the screw head. Then you hit the end of the impact driver about as hard as you dare with a mallet, and then hit it twice as hard again if it doesn’t work the first time. The driver transfers most of the force into pushing the bit deeper into the screw head, but applies a rotational force at the same time to loosen the screw. Just make sure you’ve set it to loosen, not tighten. And good luck.
07 Jack stands/axle stands
You can’t work underneath your car without raising it off the ground and the only safe way to do that is with a set of jack/axle stands. The jack that comes with your car’s repair kit is no good because that’s only designed for emergency wheel changes – it only lifts one corner of the car and it’s nowhere near stable enough to be safe for anyone sliding underneath. You COULD get a set of wheel ramps and simply drive the car up and on to them, but they’re no use if you need to remove the wheels for brake or suspension work.
08 Bench vice/vise
Sometimes things are bent and you need to straighten them, sometimes things are straight and you need to bend them. And sometimes you just need an extra pair of hands to hold things very, very tight while you file, drill or grind them. That’s where a bench vice/vise is just brilliant. It’s essentially a set of big metal jaws you screw shut with a metal bar. In the UK it’s ‘vice’ with a ‘c’, in the US it’s ‘vise’ with an ‘s’. If you ask for ‘vice’ with a ‘c’ in the US, you get something very different.
09 Oil drain pan
So you’re going to drain your engine oil and replace it with clean stuff. Good for you. But what are you going to drain it into? Yes, exactly. Don’t try to make do with saucepans, buckets, or any other last-minute household receptacles – instead, buy a proper oil drain pan. They’re slim enough to fit under the car, big enough (but do check) to hold all the oil and cheap enough to be a no-brainer.