If you are jumping into DIY car maintenance for the first time, good for you! It’s a great way to better understand how your car is running, and you can save a lot of time and money by fixing things yourself instead of taking your car to a mechanic. However, the secret to successful auto maintenance is having the right tools. So let’s go over some basic tools you need to handle many common maintenance tasks, from checking your tires to performing an oil change. We’re not getting into anything too crazy here, but with these tools in your garage, you will be all set to get started keeping your car properly maintained.
Before we dive into the more specialized tools, here are some basics that you will find yourself reaching for during almost every job. We suggest investing in some good quality tools here, but don’t feel a need to go out and buy the best of the best – any decent brand name will be fine when you are getting started. Remember – these tools are in addition to the stuff you should keep in your car, like jumper cables, spare fuses, and extra bulbs.
A good ratchet set is possibly the most important tool you will need working on a car. Almost every component of a modern vehicle is attached with bolts, and a ratchet makes removing and attaching things far easier. Most automotive work will require socket sizes between 10mm and 19mm, and it helps to have socket extenders and adapters to get to hard-to-reach places.
Although screws are less common than bolts, a good screwdriver set is still invaluable. Make sure you get a set with a flat head, Phillips head, and Allen key tools so that you can handle any screw or bolt you encounter. Some sets will even use replaceable bits so you can have everything in a more compact package.
One thing you need to have in your car is a good set of jumper cables. This basic tool is the best way to get your car started if you suddenly have a dead battery. However, jumper cables do require another car to use, so if you live out in the country, it may be better to invest in a jump pack instead. This small battery can be used to jump start your car, but requires a bit more care than jumper cables.
Fluids and Funnels
Your car has a lot of fluids in it, from windshield washer fluid to engine oil. It is always a good idea to keep a bottle of each on hand to top things off if your car starts running low. Just make sure that you get the right fluid for the job. For example, if you live in a cold climate, make sure your windshield washer fluid won’t freeze. And of course, your car requires a specific grade of engine oil to work properly. To make it easier to top off fluids, get a couple of funnels as well – that way you won’t end up pouring anything all over your car’s engine bay.
Oil and Tape
As the old saying goes, “you only need two tools – if it doesn’t move and it should, use oil, if it does move and it shouldn’t, use tape.” While we would always recommend proper repairs, some penetrating oil and electrical tape are indispensable for quick work and can make a bigger job easier.
While modern automotive bulbs last longer than ever before, the best way to avoid getting a ticket for a burned out headlight is to have spare bulbs on hand. There are a lot of different bulb types available, and your car has a lot of different lights both inside and out, so you don’t need to have spares for everything. But it is always a good idea to keep a few spare bulbs for the easy to change lights
Like bulbs, modern car fuses are pretty good and if you are constantly blowing them, you probably have a bigger electrical problem that you need to have a mechanic track down. However, keeping a few spare fuses handy can let you change out a blown fuse and continue on your journey. This is especially important today since so many car systems are dependent on electricity. Many cars will come with spare fuses in the fusebox, but it is a good idea to make sure that you have some in your car.
This may sound silly, but a bunch of microfibre towels makes everything easier. These soft towels won’t scratch paint or glass, and they won’t leave lint anywhere.
Your tires are some of the most important parts of your car. They are also one of the easier items to care for since they are on the outside of the vehicle and don’t require much effort to get to. Here are some basic tools to keep your tires in tip-top shape.
Tire Pressure Gauge
One of the cheapest tools on this list, you can pick up a basic tire pressure gauge for a couple of dollars. But despite the low cost of this tool, being able to make sure that your tires are properly inflated can save you a lot of money in tire wear and fuel consumption––it will even improve the performance of your car. You can get a more capable digital gauge, but a simple analog gauge is just fine.
Portable Air Compressor
While you can fill up your tires at a gas station, having your own air compressor will make keeping your tires at the right pressure a lot more convenient. It is also invaluable if you intend to go off-roading, as you will probably want to air down your tires on the trail. There are two main types of portable air compressors – some plug into a 12v outlet in the car, while others are attached directly to the car battery terminals. Either works, though the latter are usually more powerful.
This is one tool that you probably already have – a simple penny. No, we’re not joking. A penny is one of the easiest ways to measure your tire’s tread depth. Simply insert it into the tread with Lincoln’s head facing down. If his head is covered, then you’re good to go. But if you can see his entire head, then you need new tires.
Tire Plug Kit
Getting a flat doesn’t have to mean a trip to the tire shop. Tire plug kits are inexpensive and relatively easy to use. While they can’t fix everything, they can repair the most common types of punctures and are a good tool to have in your toolbox.
You’re probably familiar with taking your car to the local car wash to hose it off, but exterior care can go further than that. Paint protectors and touch up can help keep your car looking good a lot longer.
Car Care Kit
You can either buy a full kit or make your own, but a proper car care kit will include a few different items. There are a few different mindsets about how to best care for your car’s exterior, and you can take it to extremes if you have a show car, but some common items include wax, tire gel, clay bars, and scratch remover.
Start Filling Your Toolbox
As you dive deeper into DIY car maintenance, you will soon find yourself collecting more and more tools. However, this list of tools is all you need to get started working on your car. There isn’t much you can’t do with a good set of basic hand tools, and we recommend staying away from power tools until you know what you are doing – power tools make things quicker, but they can also get you into trouble a lot faster. After you have your tools, it is time to head to the garage and get to work!