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Mark's Tips: Best Tools for the Home Mechanic

Mark's Tips: Best Tools for the Home Mechanic

(Real-world tools I use frequently on a variety of different makes and models – And recommend adding to every DIY mechanic’s toolbox)

Scan Tools

1. Scan Tool 

Contrary to when OBD-II first arrived on the market, a modern day scan tool can be equipped with much more than reading simple, universal codes. In fact, you can pick up a scan tool for a decent price that is capable of reading basic codes, manufacturer codes, airbag and even ABS codes. Many are even Bluetooth code readers that connect with your phone! Depending on your needs or usage, a scan tool is a definite must if you’re working on modern cars, as this is commonly the starting point when diagnosing problems. Of course, the more expensive the scan tool, the more functions they are likely to perform. Some are even worth $10,000, but these are generally found at professional shops and are capable of reprogramming/reflashing the ECU. For more detailed info on how to use a scan tool, be sure to check out “How To Use OBD-II Scanner to Check Engine Light Codes” on our Haynes YouTube channel!

Impact Guns

2. Electric impact gun(s)

Tired of lugging a compressed air hose around? An electric impact gun is your solution! There are many sizes to choose from- a smaller impact gun is nice if you don’t need too much torque when tightening or loosening bolts, whereas a larger one can tighten/loosen up to hundreds of foot-lbs. Many available on the market now even have the strength of a pneumatic impact gun!

Brake caliper quick-retract tool(s)

3. Brake caliper quick-retract tool(s)

These come in a couple different versions, but can speed up the process of changing your brakes like you wouldn’t imagine.

#1- Direct-push tool- Have you ever been in a spot where a C-clamp feels clunky when pushing the caliper into its bore? One of these can speed up the process greatly for front brakes (or rear brakes, too, if it doesn’t have a screw-type caliper). 

#2- Caliper screw-in tool (normally for rear brakes)- Similar to #1, except this tool screws-in the caliper as it pushes it. A good quality one is normally equipped with many adapters to fit a wide range of calipers.

Hose clamp tool

4. Hose clamp tool (with remote lever and cable)

This tool comes in handy when working with spring-type hose clamps that are hard to access or grasp with a set of pliers. A time saver like no other, and cheap investment that will last a lifetime if used correctly. Commonly available at auto parts stores, it works by squeezing a handle from a remote location with a brake-like cable attached to a grasping mechanism at the hose-clamp side.

Video inspection scope with magnet/hook attachments

5. Video inspection scope with magnet/hook attachments

A video inspection scope is great, and allows you to view locations you normally would not be flexible enough or small enough to see. And it gets even better! Many of these inspection scopes now have a series of attachments at the camera end such as magnets and hooks, to search and retrieve those lost and loose bolts or other hidden paraphernalia.

The right oil filter wrench

6. The right oil filter wrench

There are good oil filter wrenches, bad ones, universal ones and manufacturer-specific ones. Generally, the claw-type wrenches are what I tend to use most frequently, because they grip a stuck filter better when loosening (you don’t want to use this type when tightening, and ideally, you never want to tighten a typical filter with a filter wrench – only hand tight). Some filters are hard to access and require more specialized wrenches to be used with extensions/ratchets.

Swivel-head ratchet and swivel-head ratcheting wrenches

7. Swivel-head ratchet and swivel-head ratcheting wrenches

Never underestimate the power of a swiveling head – These types of wrenches and ratchets can allow for a much greater range of tightening and make your life a whole lot easier. These are, by far, one of the most frequently-used hand tools in my box. And why not combine a ratcheting box-end wrench with a swivel-head one? The possibilities are endless!

Electric ratchet

8. Electric ratchet

A bit bulkier than a hand ratchet, but can speed up the process of loosening and tightening fasteners ten-fold. This is especially true if you find yourself in a tight spot with minimal “wrenching-room”. Just be careful- As with any auto-ratchet, pneumatic or electric, you may find your hand or fingers being “pinched” suddenly when tightening. But in my opinion, the risk is worth it if you know what you’re doing. PSA- Don’t rely on power tools when reaching the final torque of a fastener! Tightening by hand or with a torque wrench, as applicable, is way more accurate.

Universal Wrench Extender Adaptor
Universal Wrench Extender Adaptor

9. Universal Wrench Extender Adaptor

Have you ever wished you could get more leverage out of your foot-long wrench when breaking a bolt loose? Well, it looks like another good dream has come true. This wrench adapter by K-Tool makes extending the length of a wrench possible by means of combining a ratchet, breaker bar or another wrench. Great for many applications.

Haynes Manual

10. Haynes or Clymer manual for your car or motorcycle

To wrap up this article, I can’t end it without mentioning the most important tool of all! A Haynes manual is great for many reasons – I’m sure you already know most of them. With accurate information and specs for your specific model vehicle, this would be the cherry on top of your toolbox. Have a trouble code? Common code explanations can also be found in your Haynes print or online manual. Combine this with the tools mentioned previously for an unstoppable DIY repair experience.