If you are looking for the perfect holiday present for the gearhead in your life (or are looking for ideas to treat yourself for the holidays), then you might not know where to start. After all, there are a ton of options to choose from. While car parts are intensely personal, high-quality tools for the garage are something that everyone can appreciate. Whether that means a comprehensive new socket set for someone just building out their collection of tools or a portable car lift for the DIY mechanic who seemingly has everything, here are some of the best tools around that you should have on your Christmas shopping list, and are sure to make working on vehicles more enjoyable!
Best Tool Kit: Tekton 212-Piece Socket and Ratchet Set
The foundation of any automotive tool kit is a socket and ratchet set. One of the most well-rounded sets you can find is Tekton’s 212-piece set. Unlike many smaller sets that try to put everything in one big package, this is actually three separate sets for ¼ inch, ⅜ inch, and ½ inch drive. With three hard plastic cases to keep everything organized, it remains manageable while being comprehensive. On top of a ton of sockets in both SAE and metric for all three drives, this package includes a ratchet in each size, extensions, universal joints, and breaker bars. That means you won’t have to worry about using adaptors to make the different sockets fit a limited number of ratchets and extensions. While you will still need to add more specialized tools and impact-rated sockets, this kit is the best way to start building your tool collection.
Best Torque Wrench: Precision Instruments ⅜-Inch Split-Beam
Torque wrenches range from extremely cheap to ridiculously expensive and come in a variety of different sizes. However, the best overall options are the split-beam wrenches from Precision Instruments. Unlike a more typical click-style torque wrench, a split-beam wrench does not need to be reset to zero after use, making it more likely to retain its accuracy. While you really need a collection of different torque wrenches covering the full range of possible torque values and drive sizes, Precision Instrument’s ⅜-inch drive 20-100 lb-ft torque wrench covers the most common bolt sizes and torque values you will encounter on most costs. Add their ½-inch drive 40-250 lb-ft wrench and you’ll be able to cover just about anything automotive.
Best OBDII Reader: OBDLink MX+
There are more Bluetooth OBDII readers out there than you can shake a stick at. However, while OBDII is standard protocol, not every OBDII reader is created equal. Even your most basic eBay ELM327 reader can get simple engine codes, but to access other functions like manufacturer-specific codes, you will need a more capable tool. The OBDLink MX+ is just about the most capable OBDII reader you will find short of commercial-grade readers costing hundreds of dollars. Like any Bluetooth reader, it connects to your phone and can be used through any number of OBDII apps, including FORScan, but OBDLink also provides its own free app if you don’t want to use third-party software. As an added bonus, a low-power mode with automatic sleep and wake-up allows you to leave it plugged in without worrying about draining your car’s battery.
Best Jack Stands: Esco 3-Ton Performance Jack Stands
Jack stands are a simple tool, but a critical one. You never want to get under a car without using a set of jack stands, and you certainly don’t want to trust your life to the cheapest jack stands you can find. The Esco 3-Ton Performance Jack Stands are a little pricey compared to what you can find at Harbor Freight, but they are well worth the cost. The tripod design is more stable than a four-legged jack stand, and the pins are more secure than the typical ratcheting mechanism. Another nice touch is the flat top saddles with removable rubber pads, which provide more support for your vehicle and make it easy to use a pinch weld adaptor to prevent damage. However, Esco also offers an axle top version if you prefer, as well as a shorty style variant for lower vehicles like sports cars.
Best Work Light: Milwaukee M12 Rover
There are tons of ways to light up your workspace when wrenching on a car, and everyone has their own favorites. However, if you’re looking for the best of the best, it’s difficult to beat the Milwaukee M12 Rover. As part of the Milwaukee M12 line, this cordless light shares its battery pack with a wide range of excellent tools. With a 700-lumen output, you won’t have to worry about light, and it can run for 24 hours when paired with a 4.0 Ah battery. The head rotates 110 degrees to provide optimal illumination, and the back of the casing contains a powerful magnet that lets you attach the light directly to any magnetic object. While lights can get beat up in the garage, the M12 Rover is rated to survive nine-foot drops and has an impact-resistant lens. It even includes a USB-C outlet, allowing you to power your phone for music as you work.
Best Tool Box: Husky Standard Duty 12-Drawer Mobile Workbench Tool Chest
A good toolbox is important for keeping your work area organized, and it’s easy to spend a ton of money getting the right one. This 12-drawer Husky bench isn’t cheap, but it provides a ton of value for the money. It can handle up to 1,800 lbs of tools, and each drawer has a 100 lb rating, so you won’t have to worry about overloading it. Locking drawers will help protect your expensive tools as well as keep them organized. The wood top allows your toolbox to double as your workbench if you have limited space, and the six casters make it easy to move the toolbox around so you don’t have to keep walking across the garage to get the tool you need. Husky makes versions of this toolbox from 46 inches to 72 inches, but we find the 66-inch option occupies the sweet spot in the lineup.
Portable Car Lift: QuickJack 5000TL
If you work on your car often, you’ll probably find yourself wishing you had a lift in your garage. Unfortunately, not many of us are fortunate enough to have that luxury. However, there is a simple and remarkably affordable way to enjoy most of the benefits of a lift. The QuickJack 5000TL is a compact and lightweight portable hydraulic lift that makes working under your car far easier and safer than dealing with jacks and jack stands. While it only lifts your car 24 inches rather than the several feet of an actual lift, that’s more than enough to get under the car comfortably. Plus, the QuickJack folds up for storage, so it won’t take up your garage bay when not in use. You can even set it up outside if you don’t have a garage or need to work on your car at the track. The 5000TL can lift up to 5,000 lbs and has a 70-inch frame length, but QuickJack also offers models that can lift up to 7,000 lbs with a 76-inch frame length for larger vehicles.
Best Shop Vacuum: RIDGID 4 Gallon Portable Wet/Dry Vac
A good shop vac is a valuable tool for keeping your workspace clean. RIDGID makes the best lineup of all-around shop vacuums, and one of the best picks is their portable four-gallon unit. Weighing in at only 12 lbs with wheels and a large carrying handle, it’s easy to move around the shop, but its five-horsepower motor is plenty powerful. This model comes with a variety of attachments to clean different surfaces and areas, and they can all be stashed directly on the vacuum, so you won’t have to worry about losing track of them. If you need something larger or smaller, RIDGID makes everything from three-gallon up to 16-gallon shop vacs in a variety of formats. It even has battery-powered units if you don’t have easy access to electricity in your workspace.