In the world of automotive tools, a few names rise to the top. While there is certainly no shortage of brands producing torque and impact wrenches, pliers, ratchet and socket sets, and everything else you need for a long day under the hood, these tools tend to vary in terms of quality, price, and reliability. A quick internet search for the best automotive tools will turn up the expected roster of legacy brands, with one name popping up time and time again: DeWalt. DeWalt Industrial Tool Company has been serving mechanics, contractors, tradespeople, and serious DIYers for almost 100 years, carving out a niche by producing a full line of heavy-duty hand and power tools that are noteworthy for their impressive durability.
Over the years, DeWalt has grown from a simple one-man operation into one of the biggest names in the business. Currently valued at over $13.7 billion under its parent company, Stanley Black & Decker, Dewalt is part of the fourth-largest tool manufacturer in the world. While the company made a name for itself by producing some of the industry’s first power tools, DeWalt has steadily expanded its scope to include a wide selection of hand tools, lawn and garden equipment, protective workwear, storage solutions, lights, generators, speakers, and more.
The company consistently ranks among the top two or three tool brands, with ProToolsReview.com singling out DeWalt for its reliability, especially in its line of pneumatic tools. Even home improvement guru Bob Vila agrees, citing the brand’s “power and durability” and naming DeWalt a favorite of both contractors and the DIY set. So what makes DeWalt such a standout, what sort of automotive tools do they offer, and how has the company managed to maintain such a stellar reputation for almost a century? Join us as we peel back the curtain on everyone’s favorite bright-yellow tool brand and see how DeWalt has earned the slogan “Guaranteed Tough.”
Building a Better Saw
These days, DeWalt might be one of the most valuable tool brands on the planet, but the company emerged from relatively humble beginnings. It’s 1922, and Raymond DeWalt is considering his next move after a successful career as a woodworker and the superintendent of Seabrook Farms, one of America’s largest producers of canned, frozen, and dehydrated vegetables. DeWalt learned his trade with the old-school hand tools that had long dominated the industry, but things were starting to change as electrified equipment began making inroads.
Given his experience in the woodworking industry, DeWalt saw the potential for an electrified saw aimed at fellow homebuilders and quickly got to work perfecting the concept. The result was the DeWalt Wonder-Worker, a first-of-its-kind radial arm saw that represented a marked improvement over other products currently on the market. DeWalt’s real innovation was to power his saw directly from the motor, which provided a far more effective, reliable cut than earlier saws, which used motor-driven belts to power the saw. The saw also made for easier crosscutting of lumber thanks to the fact that the wood could remain stationary on the table while the blade was pulled through it. This made for fewer rips and awkward, messy cuts one could achieve with a table saw, which requires the lumber to be pushed through the blade instead of vice-versa.
The Wonder-Worker would become a best-seller, allowing both professionals and woodworking amateurs to achieve clean, consistent results with nine different configurations to choose from. The Wonder Worker’s success would lead its inventor to form the DeWalt Products Company in 1924. While the revolutionary saw would spawn no shortage of imitators, there was no beating the original. DeWalt began to expand its product line to include large blades and arms for the Wonder-Worker, allowing users to employ up to a 24-inch-diameter blade or 30-inch arm. The company soon added a mortiser and jointer to the catalog and moved into a new facility in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which at the time was one of the country’s manufacturing hot spots. DeWalt quickly earned a reputation for quality, one that was solidified when World War II came calling.
In 1941, DeWalt landed a government contract that would see the company supply the US Armed Forces with the saws they needed to build barracks, housing, mess halls, and the various facilities required for war. DeWalt products were especially popular in the Pacific Theater, where they excelled at completing the various cuts required for fast, efficient building. But the lucrative government contract was not just a boon during wartime: once troops returned home and started looking for tools to build out their own shops, they began gravitating towards DeWalt products in droves. DeWalt quickly recognized this new demand and acted accordingly, introducing a line of smaller, more affordable saws for the home craftsman. DeWalt also took on an educational role, publishing a series of booklets and magazine articles to help acclimate users to their new power tools.
DeWalt Products Company would become DeWalt Inc. in 1947 but would be purchased two years later by American Machine & Foundry Co. (AMF), best known for producing bowling equipment and briefly owning Harley-Davidson in the 70s. DeWalt would continue to expand its offerings under the AMF umbrella but would once again change heads a decade later as fledgling tool brand Black & Decker sought to expand its portfolio. Known for its line of value-oriented power tools, Black & Decker saw the DeWalt acquisition as a great way to expand its reputation among more serious, quality-focused craftsmen. Black & Decker divested DeWalt’s radial arm saw division in 1989 but still owns the bulk of the DeWalt brand, which is now known as DeWalt Industrial Tool Co. and based in Hampstead, Maryland.
The next big advancement in DeWalt’s history came in 1994 when Black & Decker acquired the German woodworking power tool brand ELU. Using ELU’s proprietary technology, DeWalt was able to expand its tool line and solidify the company’s reputation for high-quality tools. The strategy has worked out just fine so far, with DeWalt being named America’s Most Trusted power tool brand in a study by Lifestory Research.
While DeWalt has long been a leading name in the industry, it expanded its scope even further in 2011 when the company launched a line of heavy-duty contractors’ hand tools, including adjustable wrenches, hammers, and, of course, saws. While this is good news for home hobbyists, contractors, carpenters, and the woodworking set, there was still a major hole in DeWalt’s lineup: automotive mechanic tools. The brand addressed that shortcoming in 2013, introducing a full lineup of wrenches, ratchets, and sockets that allowed mechanics to take advantage of DeWalt’s stellar reputation for quality and durability.
The most recent innovation to hit the DeWalt brand is the company’s new FlexVolt hybrid voltage battery pack. With the ability to work with both 60-volt and 20-volt products, the FlexVolt system maxes out both power and runtime without forcing users to invest in a dedicated set of 60v or 20v battery packs.
The Best of DeWalt
With a full range of mechanic tools to choose from, DeWalt’s selection can be a little overwhelming at times. Luckily, we’ve compiled a list of some of the must-have gear for the professional mechanic or discerning DIYer, so read on to see just why DeWalt tools have become such a staple of garages and auto shops across the country.
Before we get into our top three picks, here is a quick word on the varying levels of DeWalt cordless power tools. As of 2022, the brand has started to phase out its 18-volt battery platform in favor of a 20-volt alternative. The DeWalt 20V Max line represents the new standard, using lithium-ion batteries to power hardy tools with brushed motors. Moving up a level, you’ll find DeWalt 20V XR tools, which switch out the brushed motor for a brushless design. XR tools are also designed to be more compact than Max products, making them more ergonomic and easy to transport.
They’re also the most powerful offering in the DeWalt lineup, with their brushless motors that allow for the sort of consistent, heavy-duty performance mechanics have come to expect. If you’re looking for an even more compact solution, check out the DeWalt 20V Atomic line. Designed to be lightweight and compact while built around a powerful brushless motor, the Atomic line is great for getting in those tight, confined spaces where regular power tools just can’t fit.
DeWalt 20V Max Xr 1/2″ Mid-Range Cordless Impact Wrench
The impact wrench is the true workhorse of any automotive toolbox. Perfect for loosening those stubborn lug nuts, the impact wrench has countless applications from the front bumper to the back tailpipe. The DeWalt 20-volt 1/2-inch impact wrench has all the torque you need to tackle even the most stubborn nuts and bolts, providing 330 lb-ft of twisting force in a handy, cordless format. Of course, there are countless 1/2-inch torque wrenches on the market, so what makes DeWalt’s so special? The reputation for reliability is a major factor, but so are novel innovations like DeWalt’s Precision Wrench Control, which ensures you won’t over-tighten the bolt and risk damaging vital automotive components.
DeWalt 20V MAX Brushless Cut-Off Tool/Grinder
A cut-off tool or grinder usually isn’t a mechanic’s first choice when it comes to automotive repair, but it sure can come in handy in a pinch. Our cars, trucks, and SUVs are subjected to some tough conditions throughout their lives, especially in areas that see harsh winters with lots of snow. Any experienced mechanic will be familiar with the old adage “rust never sleeps,” but that’s where a cut-off tool or grinder comes in. Perfect for grinding or slicing through metal, the DeWalt cut-off tool/grinder is a must-have for those times when no amount of elbow grease will do.
The cordless DeWalt cut-off tool/grinder features a max speed of 9,000 RPMS, has a quick-change wheel release that allows users to swap between wheels in a flash, and a safety-enhancing quick-stop brake that ensures the grinding wheel is stopped in its track the moment you let go of the handle. The cut-off tool/grinder also uses the same powerful 20-volt DeWalt Max battery pack as many other professional-grade DeWalt tools.
20-Volt MAX Right Angle Drill/Driver
When working under the hood or beneath a vehicle, it’s easy to find yourself in some tight spaces. While the issue can often be alleviated by removing parts that might be blocking access to the component you really need to reach, that can be a frustrating waste of time when all you’re trying to do is access a single nut or bolt. That’s where a right-angle drill/driver comes in. Easy to work into every nook and cranny, this drill/driver can come in clutch when you’re trying to reach a recessed screw or drill a hole to run wiring for a light bar, winch, or other aftermarket accessory. Measuring just four inches from front to back, the DeWalt 20-Volt MAX Right Angle Drill/Driver features a 3/8-inch chuck and a dual speed range that allows users to choose between 0-650 and 0-2000 RPMs.
The Perfect Tools for Your Automotive Needs
While DeWalt might not have started as an automotive tool brand, the company has quickly become a force within the segment. Leveraging a reputation for quality that has served DeWalt for over 100 years, the brand is now the go-to choice for a wide variety of auto mechanics, both professional and amateur. New innovations like the FlexVolt hybrid voltage battery pack make DeWalt’s tools more versatile than ever, allowing buyers to build out their automotive toolkit without investing a king’s ransom in various battery packs. DeWalt’s tools certainly aren’t the cheapest on the market, but their consistent, reliable performance is well worth the price, especially for those who won’t settle for anything but the best. Next time you’re in the market for some of the industry’s best automotive power tools, keep an eye out for that unmistakable DeWalt yellow at your local hardware or home improvement store.