Building My Toolkit

In my quest to learn about working on cars, I’m realizing that there’s a lot I’ve learned about tools alongside learning about cars! When I first started working on my newly purchased Studebaker around five years ago – the only tools I had were neatly packed into an aptly named “Do-It-Herself” toolkit I’d received for high school graduation years before. Those got me by around the house – but weren’t much help in the garage.

Having a handy and helpful Dad, it didn’t take him long to wrangle me up some spare tools from his garage. Soon enough I had a starter mechanics toolkit. A small assortment of sockets, wrenches,and a screwdriver were about all I started with. Its also about all hot rodding young people had back in the fifties!

But as anyone who’s worked on cars know – different jobs call for different tools. Sometimes you can make do with what you have and sometimes you’ve gotta go out and buy or borrow the right tool for the job. For everybody else out there who’s learning as they go or just getting into cars – here’s my most basic list of must have garage toolbox items.

10 Best Tools for Garage

1. Floor Jack & Jack Stands

These are necessities anytime you need to get under the car or take off a wheel. Most jobs can’t begin without these. A floor jack can set you back a nice amount of change, but the money will be well worth it. I’ve gotten by with this small aluminum jack – which I like because it’s lightweight enough that I can keep it with me in trunk of my Stude, but it has let me down a number of times. Right now I’m saving my pennies for a nicer floor jack.

Remember…never get under a car lifted by only a jack! If that jack fails, you’re dust. Be sure to support it with jack stands and stay safe! Another thing I often use in conjunction with these items is a block of wood. Sometimes it helps me raise up my car just a little bit more and comes in handy for numerous uses.

2. Basic Mechanics Toolkit

A basic mechanics toolkit usually includes an assortment of sockets, wrenches, a ratcheting wrench, and screwdrivers. I like this basic 99-piece kit from Stanley Tools. It’s got both short and deep sockets for both metric and SAE (I mostly use SAE, but modern and foreign cars usually use metric so they’re handy to have around.) Also included are special sockets for pulling spark plugs. Ratcheting wrenches in both the 1/4″ and 3/8″ size. Two socket extensions. Wrenches of the most often used sizes (again in both metric and SAE sizes.) And a multi-use screwdriver with both straight and phillips head combinations.

3. Liquid Holder and Funnels

Not only for changing oil! Many jobs I’ve encountered on the car require the draining of some liquid…and then of course the putting back in of it (which the funnel makes ever so easier!) I have at least two funnels – one with a long skinny spout and another one that’s shorter and stubbier. In addition to a liquid holder, be sure you’ve got some spare plastic bottles around so you can properly store and dispose of whatever liquid you’ve got. I usually just take my used fluids back to the Auto Parts store to dispose of them, but you can also check your local hazardous waste disposal sites – for California, here’s the link.

4. A Good Light

That single fluorescent light hanging on the ceiling isn’t going to cut it. In the least, get a nice movable, protected light like the Halogen one shown above….and then keep adding to your collection. One of my favorite lights is a small LED one that has both a magnet and a hook. That thing’s the greatest to light up small nooks – and is battery powered so helps out on roadside brakedowns too!

5. Safety Goggles

One of the most important tools you’ll use in the garage is your eyeballs! Keep ’em safe – and keep yourself from getting really angry when you get junk in your eye when you’re pinned underneath the car!

6. Plier Set

I used to get by with a single pair of cheap snips. I can’t tell you how many frustrating moments I had when I said to myself “If only I had a good pair of pliers!” Since getting this set from GearWrench, I’ve been so happy to have ’em. I’d recommend a set…you’ve at least gotta have a needle nose, snips, and a blunt-ended pair. My old cheap pair hurt my hands and the plastic handle coverings would slip off – but this GearWrench set is a really great! It has non-slip handles and an ergonomic design, making them really nice to use!

7. Gloves

I know I’m Grease Girl, and I DO love getting grease under my nails. Even still, gloves are a must have in the garage. True, many jobs I go without ’em. But they’ll totally save you at times. I’ve tried a few different pair and these from CP are my favorite. They’ve got plenty of padding to keep me from busting a knuckle.

8. Car Manual

Directions!? Yep, directions. It’s a little hard for cars like my Stude, which doesn’t having its original running gear – but even so, a car manual will help you navigate your car and will also have specs you’ll find handy to have at times. This 1960 Ford Falcon manual is the very first thing I bought for my Falcon restoration job.

9. Rubber Mallet

I finally broke down and purchased one of these after a hubcap popped off my Stude and hit a brand new Mercedes. This inexpensive tool is a lifesaver…go get one! I’ve been happy with this one I bought at Harbor Freight.

10. Toolbox

Until I have more room, this 3-tiered toolbox holds all my essentials. It keeps me from losing important tools and is small enough that if I can pack it up and take it along for jobs away from my own garage. My tool collection is beginning to outgrow it though, I would love a smaller rolling-cart toolbox.

Of course, if I had the room – who wouldn’t want this ginormous behemoth of a toolbox!? I could keep all my tools, spare parts, and makeup in this thing!

For those of you making a Christmas shopping list or a Wish List, lets review…

1.Floor Jack and Jack Stands

2. Basic Mechanics Toolkit

3.Liquid Holder & Funnels

4. A Good Light

5. Safety Goggles

6. Plier Set

7. Gloves

8. Car Manual

9. Rubber Mallet

10. Toolbox

With these ten items at the ready, let your wrenching endeavors begin! They’re not ALL you need for a complete garage of course…but I get most of my jobs done with these few items. P.S…If you know someone who’s interested in getting into cars…now you know what to get them for Christmas!

I’ll be adding to this list as I encounter more tools I’m loving/adding/finding. Which tools can I not live without? Which tools have I been dying to add to my collection and why? What tools are a waste of money or space? What’s the newest tool in my toolbox? Subscribe to GreaseGirl – be sure you’re not missing a thing!


For all you more experienced readers…what did I miss? What tool would you never want to live without? Leave a comment and tell us why!

2 Responses

  1. JP Kalishek

    If’n you’re getting long of tooth and decrepit like me, you should get the safety glasses with readers built in. I have several sets, at home and at work. I don’t need glasses otherwise, but a friend now uses them instead of his prescription glasses to keep his wife from hammering him for ruining yet another pair of good glasses. Got mine from Walmart, and Northern tool, and you can find them online.

    Jack Stands..Get Them. Then Please Remember To Use Them! I had a friend in Louisiana who got messed up badly when a truck he was working on fell off the jack. Luckily he was in a place with several people working around him and they got it off him and pulled him out. He was the guy who slid a stand under your car when you were not looking even if you were not planning to crawl under it, but the one time he forgot, it bit him.
    He recovered, but he spent a long time(several weeks) in the hospital. And he was lucky. Many folks die instead.

    For modern cars, getting a cheap code reader is very helpful. Every time my truck breaks (and it seems to every other week lately) I long for my old car. But knowing you need the secondary O2 sensor and being able to clear that code is great. I am thinking of getting one that also doubles as a gauge set. It plugs in and reads RPM (the truck has no tach), MPG, Temp and others and can be used to pull codes and clear them.

    Old wrenches and sockets are best kept around, even if worn or cracked. You never know when some oddball need will come about and you need to modify a wrench socket or screw driver for a special use. And by keeping the old stuff around you don’t have to damage a new one top get your likely one use item. Work on the same thing long enough (like me with old Colts or my Honda bikes and Milady with her Stude and Falcon) and you will be glad you have that thinned wrench or what ever geegaw you made. An old Mechanic I knew had a large drawer in his roll around full of bent, ground, and welded items he made over the years. Some only used once, but if that kind of car came his way again he was ready.

  2. The Gear Head Skeptic

    Good list! A good floor jack makes life so much easier. After years of using a small one, I finally bucked up and got myself a full size, heavy-duty floor jack (mostly because The Purple Chevy weighs more than any car I’ve ever owned!) and it was money so well spent, I should have done it years ago. Get a good jack that can lift a heavy car to a comfortable working height, and get good jack stands rated at least 50% more than the weight of your car. Double is good too.

    (My only problem now is that the Chevy is so low, I need to “pre-jack” under the frame to make room for the big jack to get under the pumpkin!)

    Also in the old and decrepit category, along with your padded gloves, get yourself a pair of knee pads. They are quite inexpensive, and make crawling around on the garage floor much easier on the old knees. The first time you put a knee down on a small rock on your shop floor, you will wish you had them.

    Oh – and a torque wrench. Even an inexpensive beam type is good to start with if you don’t want to go more up-town with a more accurate click type. Don’t guess at torque settings, they are specified for a reason.


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