Best Mechanic's Tool Set
A good mechanic’s tool set is invaluable to anyone who prefers working on their vehicle at home to paying someone to do it in a shop. No matter what skill level you possess, a tool set is an essential thing to have. Regardless of your skill level though, all mechanic’s tool sets should have a few very key components. Whatever set you purchase needs to have a wide array of differently sized sockets. The set also needs to have at least one ratchet. Sockets could be the number one most used thing in a mechanic’s tool set, so the higher number of sockets the better. Your set should also ideally have a set of open or box ended wrenches. These come in handy in places where sockets and a ratchet normally don’t fit. Finally, your set needs to have a wide variety of supplementary tools to work with: drivers, driver bits, mallets, pliers, etc. The more supplementary tools you have in your set, the more valuable it is and the better chance you have of finding the right tool for whatever job you have to be working on.
So take a second to think about your skill level and give the appropriate list a look. Do you operate a shop out of your garage and want a professional set? Do you want a great, budget minded starter set? Or, perhaps you’re an intermediate level tool user. Whatever your skill level, there’s a set for you.
Best Mechanic's Tool Set Overall:
Professional mechanics depend greatly upon their tools to get their work done and so quality tools make their jobs easier and eliminate worry about a tool breaking in the middle of a job. For that reason, they are willing to pay a premium for quality tools. The typical experienced mechanic has a small fortune tied up in their tools, often more than their car and sometimes more than their house.
Part of the problem is that a complete set of mechanics tools is enormous; after all, have you ever looked at the Snap-On catalog? The sheer number of tools contained within those pages is amazing and while a mechanic may not need all of them, they need a fair percentage to do their jobs.
Another thing that adds to the difficulty in putting together a set of mechanics tools is the high number of specialty tools required. While you or I may not need all that many different tools to change an alternator or starter on our car, a mechanic who works on everything needs many more. Each area of a vehicle has its own specialty tools, so the more types of work that a mechanic does, the more of these specialty tools they need.
At a minimum, a mechanics set needs to have ratchets and sockets, closed (more correctly known as "box") and open end wrenches, various sorts of pliers, an assortment of screwdrivers, and some hex drivers. Then, of course, they need SAE (fraction of an inch) and Metric tools to cover the variety of fasteners used on cars. Putting that together can easily add up to a few hundred different items, without getting into anything specialized.
All this is stored together in a multi-drawer tool chest. The tool chests alone can run a small fortune and when loaded require a forklift to move them into the back of a pickup truck. But a good tool chest protects the mechanic's tools as well as keeping them organized so that they're easy to find. When trying to get a job done, a mechanic doesn't have time to dig through a box, searching for the socket they need. Having the tools organized saves time and that puts more money in his pocket.
So, what makes the difference between cheap tools and expensive ones? After all, they look more or less the same, so why not buy the cheap ones and save money? Those cheap tools even have lifetime warranties just like their more expensive cousins. That seems to close the gap between the two.
More than anything, the difference between cheap tools and quality tools is the type of materials used in their manufacture. I've got a very complete set of SAE combination wrenches that I bought years ago and while they look good, I actually managed to bend the 1 3/8 inch wrench, trying to take a bolt off my motorhome's suspension. Those tools were made of cheap steel, so they didn't have the strength necessary to get the job done.
Formulating steel for tools is tricky. On one hand, the steel needs to be hard so that it doesn't bend like that cheap wrench did. But if it's too hard, the tool becomes brittle and will break so it needs to be a little flexible too. Finding that perfect balance has cost years of research, experimentation, and field trials conduicted by the biggest and best tool manufacturers out there.
The other thing that makes a difference in quality tools is their fit and finish. That may not seem like it's all that important, but when the chrome plating starts chipping off your sockets or wrenches they start to rust. Eventually, that rust is going to make those tools hard to use.
Finally, you've got to take customer service into the equation. While most mechanics tools have a lifetime warranty, that doesn't mean that you're going to succeed in getting the tool replaced. Sending something back to China for replacement isn't practical. On the other extreme, Snap-On's fleet of trucks will bring you a replacement wrench, right to the mechanic's shop you're working in which is definitely worth something. It's even more convenient than taking a Craftsman tool back to Sears for a "no questions asked" return.
If you want the best, go for Snap-On. This massive set is the most complete set of tools you'll ever encounter, as well as being the best quality. If you've got the wallet to support it, this one's the way to go. Read Full Review
For those of us who can't afford to lay out more than 40 grand for a tool set, Snap-On offers us some smaller sets. This apprentice kit is a nice starting point, giving you the basics you need, so that you can start a quality tool collection. Read Full Review
Mac is competing with Snap-On to be the best. The good thing about that is that you get more value for your money, even if you don't get the Snap-On name. While their fleet of trucks isn't as big, their catalog is. Read Full Review
This kit was actually designed for the Marine Corps and the tools are individually held in foam cutout trays in a Pelican kit. That makes the whole package almost indestructible. These are high quality tools designed for use in a rough environment. Read Full Review
Coming back down to Earth, it's nice to find Craftsman waiting for us. Their professional line is just about as good as anyone's and has just as good a warranty. With stores across the country, getting replacements isn't a problem. Plus, their prices are much better. Read Full Review
Best Budget Mechanic's Tool Set:
Every shade-tree, jack-leg, or Saturday mechanic needs a good set of tools to practice their trade. The problem is, most of us can’t afford the tool set we’d really like to have. You know, if price wasn’t an object we’d all buy the best professional tools we could find. We’d have one of everything and even have things in our tool box that we had no idea how to use but just because they looked great in there.
Okay, now that we’ve dreamed a little, let’s get back down to earth. What do you really need in order to have a decent set of tools to work on your own car? Not only that, but what can you get on the budget that you can afford? Well, let’s look at the basics of what you need in your new tool set:
Metric vs. SAE
Tool sets are available in both metric and SAE sizes. If you have to choose between the two, go for metric. Since about 1990, Detroit has finished their changeover to all metric fasteners; if you aren’t working on older vehicles, you may never need them. However, if you need to fix the washing machine too, you’ll need those standard sizes.
Sockets Aren't Enough
You’ll need both socket sets and combination wrenches in your set. While sockets are used for most things, there are those occasional bolts that you can’t get at with a ratchet. In those cases, you’ll be glad you’ve got some wrenches as well.
Six Point Sockets
If at all possible, buy six point as opposed to 12 point sockets in your set. Six point sockets are much stronger and much less likely to round the head of a stubborn or rusted bolt.
When it all comes down to it, the reputation is going to tell you a lot about the quality of the tools you are buying and the warranty behind them. You can’t see the grade of steel that’s used in your tools, but any company that uses cheep steel isn’t going to have much of a reputation.
What a warranty tells you is how much confidence a manufacturer has in their product. If they know they're likely to have to replace damaged or broken tools, they'll want to be sure those tools don’t break. One other detail is that if you have to send that tool to Timbuktu to get it replaced, the warranty isn’t going to do much good.
It's a bit hard to make a determination on what qualifies as a "budget" set in this case. I originally started out with a $100 limit, but the problem is that quality tools cost money. So, I've lifted the limit to a street price of $150, while still showing you some sets that are available for a street price of under $100. More than anything, I looked for sets that give you good value for your money. As always, there’s the tradeoff between cost and size. The more you spend, the more you get. The trick is, how much can you afford to spend?
Craftsman has long held a reputation for the best in consumer grade tools. They are the ones that everyone else compares themselves to. There's a reason for that - Craftsman quality; especially with their mechanics tools. I just about couldn't pick anything else to top this list. Read Full Review
Lowe's, the home improvement center, is working hard at unseating Craftsman for the number one consumer tools on the market. These tools are hefty, giving you a lot of confidence that they'll do what you need them to. Read Full Review
Evolv is Sears budget line of tools, not as good as Craftsman, but I'll have to say, still pretty good. I like their comfortable, padded handles on their tools and from what I've seen, the quality is excellent for the price. If you need to save money, go with Evolv. Read Full Review
Stanley doesn't get the good press they deserve. Too many people look at them as just a cheap line of tools, But, in fact, their tools are rugged. I've got a Stanley tool set I've carried around in the trunk of my car for years, using it for emergency repairs. It's held up to the abuse and looks as good as new. Read Full Review
Crescent has given you a more complete assortment of tools in this box, then just about anyone. It's all packed in a nice case, readily organized and easy to find everything you need. Read Full Review