What Are The Best Locking Pliers? (2020 Edition)
Does this scenario sound familiar? You’re working underneath your car. There’s a component you need to reach. But you’re blocked by a mess of wires, hoses and more. Sometimes it seems the biggest obstacle to auto repair is simply all the stuff crammed in the engine which gets in your way.
Locking pliers are an easy and effective way to keep repairs organized and hassle-free. These specialized pliers allow you to secure components to create an open workspace within your engine. They’re one of the most versatile and useful car repair tools you can own.
Not sure which are the best locking pliers for your garage? We’ve gathered up the best pairs for 2020. Plus, our complete guide will explain just how useful these pliers can be.
- Start Here: Guide to Locking Pliers
- What are Locking Pliers?
- What are the Different Parts of Locking Pliers?
- What are the Benefits of Locking Pliers?
- What Features Should Locking Pliers Have?
- How Do I Use Locking Pliers?
- Do Locking Pliers Have Any Safety Risks?
- How Do I Keep My Locking Pliers in Great Condition?
- What Other Pliers Do I Need for Auto Maintenance?
- 2020’s Best Locking Pliers
- Our #1 Pick – WorkPro 3-Piece Locking Pliers Set
- Our #2 Pick – VISE-GRIP Original Curved Jaw Locking Pliers
- Our #3 Pick – Kobalt Three-Piece Locking Pliers Set
- Our #4 Pick – Maxpower 15-Piece Locking Pliers Set
- Our #5 Pick – Craftsman Evolv 3-Piece Locking Pliers Set
- Our #6 Pick – FastPro 4-Piece Locking Pliers Set
- Our #7 Pick – Irwin Vise-Grip Original Large Jaw Locking Pliers
- Our #8 Pick – Ion Tool 6-Pack of C-Clamp Locking Pliers
Start Here: Guide to Locking Pliers
What are Locking Pliers?
Locking pliers have a unique design which allows them to be locked around whatever they’re holding. They can be easily adjusted to fit a variety of differently-sized objects.
All types of pliers are based on a lever and fulcrum system. Force is applied to an object for one of two purposes: To hold the object in place or move it in a specific direction.
Locking pliers use the same basic system as traditional pliers, but with extra features to securely grip objects. They’re also known as mole grip or vice grips, although “vice grips” are technically a brand name.
What are the Different Parts of Locking Pliers?
The jaws are the front part of the pliers which grip and hold. Many different jaw shapes are available but curved and straight are the most common. Curved pliers are also called “lobster pliers.”
The small, sharp ridges inside the jaws are the teeth. They hold onto the smooth surfaces to distribute pressure equally.
The handles should be easy to hold and comfortable. Most handles have rubber sleeves. For auto repair purposes, the handle should be easy to grip even when your hands are wet or covered in slick substances like oil or grease.
What are the Benefits of Locking Pliers?
Like traditional pliers, locking pliers are used to both tighten and remove objects. However, because locking pliers allow for a precise fit, they’re often the preferred tool when dealing with stubborn fasteners such as:
- Stuck joints
- Cross-threaded screws
- Stuck nails
Locking pliers have several benefits over the traditional type:
Locking pliers require less physical strength to use compared to traditional pliers. With traditional pliers, the force applied comes from the hand strength of the person holding the pliers. However, locking pliers apply their own pressure, which allows for a grip tighter than what a person is capable of creating.
Locking pliers allow for single-handed operation. They can be adjusted, locked and released all using one hand. Keeping one hand free is especially useful when working underneath a car.
Finally, locking pliers are safer than traditional pliers. Once you lock an object in place, you can rest easy knowing it won’t move, turn or shift until you hit the release lever.
What Features Should Locking Pliers Have?
Locking pliers are relatively simple to use but have a rather complex construction. You’ll want to consider each of the following features:
The pliers should be well-made and strong. They need to hold their position regardless of the surrounding environmental conditions. Make sure they can withstand intense heat, which is frequently encountered when working on cars.
Choose locking pliers made from high-grade, forged steel. Heat-treated alloy steel is a popular and durable option. For additional protection, choose pliers with a rust-resistant coating.
The strength and shape of the teeth directly affect how securely the pliers can grip and move objects. If the teeth are soft, the pliers will likely frequently slip. Choose a pair of pliers with hardened teeth. Additionally, small, sharp teeth will provide a fuller grip.
The adjusting screw allows you to change the pressure based on the size of the object held. Most pliers place the adjusting screw in the handle where you can easily reach it with your thumb.
Check the size limits of the pliers. Your car has a variety of differently-sized components. For auto repair, you want locking pliers which can grip everything from small screws to large hoses.
Also, the pliers should be adjustable in small increments, so they’ll maintain a secure grip on a wide range of objects.
Release levers allow you to quickly remove the pliers without having to reach away from the handle. A trigger release lever is the easiest way to unlock pliers when they’re locked in at an awkward position – and pretty much all auto repair involves holding tools at awkward positions!
One-touch release levers are the best locking pliers option. They’re not only easy to use, but they also reduce the risk of pinching.
Locking pliers have a variety of nose and jaw styles. The two most common are curved and straight.
Curved pliers are the best locking pliers option for loosening frozen nuts, bolts and screws. They’re also a good choice for any demolition.
Straight pliers are the better option for clamping smaller objects. Pliers with a long, thin nose allow you to reach tiny spaces deep inside the engine. Straight pliers are also an easy way to remove broken screws, pins or nails.
How Do I Use Locking Pliers?
Locking pliers aren’t particularly complicated to use, but there are a few techniques which can make them easier to work with. Here’s the most efficient and effective way to use locking pliers:
1. Open the Pliers
On the inside of the pliers, you’ll see a tab or release lever. Pressing it separates the handles and jaws.
2. Fit the Pliers
Place the jaws around the object you want to hold, turn, move or otherwise engage.
3. Secure the Object
Squeeze the handles to close the jaws around the object. There’s no need to squeeze too hard. Let the pliers do most of the work. Once the pliers are generally in place, the fit can be finetuned by tightening the adjustment knob or screw.
4. Move or Hold the Object
Once the fit is secure, the object is held, and you can let go of the pliers. You can also twist or otherwise move the object.
5. Release the Object
Press the tab or move the release lever on the inside of the handle to release the grip and free the object.
Do Locking Pliers Have Any Safety Risks?
Pliers are generally one of the safest tools available, as they have no electrical components and minimal sharp edges. However, there are a few potential dangers you can encounter.
The biggest potential hazard is skin pinching. It’s easy to accidentally catch a finger or hand webbing when you’re closing the plier. Even though this probably seems like no big deal, it can actually be pretty painful, especially if you cut your hand against the wire cutters.
The automotive repair involves working in small spaces with low-light conditions. You won’t always be able to see your hands when using pliers and other tools. Pliers with pinch guards help protect your hands from accidental injury.
Another common problem is when the held object slips from the grip of the pliers. Never use locking pliers to hold objects which are too small or too large for the jaws. Attempting to grip an object which is too small for the jaws can result in scratches to the object. Attempting to grip an object which is too large can cause the object to slip from the jaws suddenly.
Locking pliers between six and eight inches are usually the best size for general purpose automotive use. However, if you want the most flexibility when working on your car, choose a set of three or four differently-sized pliers.
Also, be aware of potential electrical hazards. The rubber grip on the handles is not an insulator. Electricity can easily travel through a pair of pliers. If you’re working on an electrical system in your car, be sure and first disconnect the battery.
How Do I Keep My Locking Pliers in Great Condition?
Water is a pair of pliers’ greatest enemy. Most will have a rust-resistant coating to protect against mild liquid exposure. Rust resistant coating is especially important when choosing pliers to use for automotive work. Water, coolant, oil and other liquids run through practically every system in a vehicle. Your pliers will be exposed to all sorts of fluids during normal maintenance procedures.
However, note that rust resistant doesn’t mean “completely waterproof.” You can’t keep your pliers submerged in any type of fluid for an extended period because they’ll rust. Never use rusted pliers. Rust degrades the structural integrity of the pliers, making them unsafe to use.
Of course, pliers aren’t allergic to water. After every use, wipe them clean with a damp sponge or cloth. Even just a small amount of coolant, oil, etc. can wear away the finish of your pliers. Keeping them clean helps prolong their life.
What Other Pliers Do I Need for Auto Maintenance?
Automotive tools are often highly specialized. While locking pliers are the best choice for clamping, they’re not the only pair of specialized pliers you’ll want in your garage. Here are a few other pliers which are frequently useful in auto repair:
Hose Grip Pliers
They’re mainly used for fuel lines, heater hoses and other engine hoses. Hose grip pliers have grabber jaws which won’t puncture flexible hose materials. These pliers are also often used to change spark plugs.
Brake Spring Pliers
Changing the springs inside your drum brakes? You’ll want Brake Spring Pliers. They have a round tip to remove old springs and a curved tip for installing new ones. While traditional pliers will also work for this type of job, these specialized pliers make the work much easier and faster.
Don’t change your car battery without a pair of Battery Pliers nearby. They have short, angled jaws specifically designed for car batteries and jumper cables. These pliers are thick, compact and durable. Note that Battery Pliers don’t necessarily insulate you from electric shock so be sure and take appropriate precautions before touching the battery.
Bent Nose Pliers
Bent Nose Pliers are perfect for reaching tight, awkward spots deep inside your engine. The jaws have either a 45 or 90-degree angle. They’re mainly used for moving wires and other electrical work. Much like Battery Pliers, Bent Nose Pliers won’t necessarily protect you from electric shock.
These classic pliers have fallen out of favor with many mechanics, but they have a lot to offer. Slip joint pliers are highly versatile. They can hold components, twist fasteners, strip wires and more. They’re useful in the early stages of diagnosing a car problem. When you need to poke around the engine, bring a pair of slip joint pliers along with you.
2020’s Best Locking Pliers
Our #1 Pick – WorkPro 3-Piece Locking Pliers Set
A three-piece set of locking pliers with anti-slip handles, strong teeth, and easy adjustability.
- Set includes 6.5” straight jaw, 7” curved jaw, and 10” curved jaw
- Durable, corrosion-resistant pliers made from drop-forged steel
- Ergonomic handles with anti-slip handles
- Straight jaw pliers aren’t as strong as the other two
WorkPro’s set includes three pliers: a six-and-a-half-inch straight jaw, seven-inch curved jaw, and 10-inch curved jaw. Each pair is made from drop-forged, heat-treated steel. They’re durable and corrosion resistant.
Plus, they’re easy to hold at practically any angle due to the anti-slip handles and ergonomic design. You’ll maintain a secure grip on the pliers even when holding them upside or at an awkward angle, which is a common occurrence when working on a car.
Even when holding the pliers at unusual angles, you can adjust and clamp the pliers easily. An adjustable screw in the handle allows you to find the perfect clamping pressure easily.
Our #2 Pick – VISE-GRIP Original Curved Jaw Locking Pliers
These well-made, high-grade pliers have a curved jaw which allows you to grip multi-shaped objects from practically any angle.
- The curved jaw allows for a wide range of grip options
- Constructed from heat-treated alloy steel
- Easy adjustability with hex key screw
- No rust resistant coating
Practically no object is beyond the grasp of these curved locking pliers from Irwin Vise-Grip. They can grip car components from any angle, which makes them perfect for working in cramped engines. The hardened teeth provide multiple points of contact, so you know the object is safely secured.
The pliers are made from high-grade, heat-treated alloy steel. They also include a wire cutter. However, while they are water resistant, they aren’t treated with any rust resistant chemical. You don’t want to let them sit around wet for a prolonged period.
Also, the hex key screw allows for fine pressure adjustments. You can bundle wires together but then release them in a slow, controlled way.
Our #3 Pick – Kobalt Three-Piece Locking Pliers Set
This three-piece set of locking pliers lets you grip objects of just about any size and shape.
- Three-piece set of curved and flat nose pliers
- Durable drop-forged steel construction
- Includes 6.5”, 7” and 10” pliers
- Not as strong as many similar pliers
- Although rare, the locking mechanism can slip
This three-piece set from Kobalt has everything you need to clamp practically every hose and wire in your car. It includes six-and-a-half-inch long-nose, seven-inch curved jaw and 10-inch curved jaw locking pliers.
All pliers are made from drop-forged chrome vanadium steel. They’re designed to stay sharp, shiny and solid even after years of heavy-duty use.
The precision-machined jaws are durable and precise. The curved pliers are ideal for holding wires and hoses while the flat jaws are the best locking pliers option for removing bolts and nails.
Our #4 Pick – Maxpower 15-Piece Locking Pliers Set
A huge collection of 15 locking pliers with a variety of jaw types plus a durable carrying bag.
- 15-piece set of locking pliers
- Includes curved, straight, long nose and more
- Includes nylon carrying bag
- Not all pliers are equally useful
Looking for a big selection of locking pliers? This 15-piece set from MAXPOWER includes a wide range of jaw shapes including curved, long nose, straight, pinch off, swivel pad and more. They range in size from four to 11 inches long.
Plus, the pliers fit into the included nylon bag. They’re easy to carry and store. You can even throw them in your trunk in case of a roadside emergency. Both the bag and pliers are heavy-duty, professional grade.
MAXPOWER also offers a lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects. While you’ll probably use certain pliers more than others, the set is a great way to build a large toolkit quickly.
Our #5 Pick – Craftsman Evolv 3-Piece Locking Pliers Set
Easy to use and comfortable to hold, the Craftsman Evolv includes a six-inch, seven-inch and 10-inch pair of pliers.
- Set of six, seven and 10-inch locking pliers
- Includes long jaw pliers which are great for bending
- Pliers have easy-turn knob for precise pressure adjustments
- Overall construction can feel loose
- Craftsman is no longer an American company
You should be able to grip and twist just about anything inside your engine with this three-piece set of locking pliers from trusted manufacturer Craftsman. It includes a pair of six-inch, seven-inch, and 10-inch locking pliers. One pair of pliers has a “long jaw” which allow you to bend lightweight materials like sheet metal.
An easy-turn metal knob in the handle lets you adjust the tension to ensure an always-solid grip. They have ergonomic handles to reduce wrist and hand strain.
Plus, they’re made from rust-resistant materials. While you can’t leave them in a bucket of water, they’re able to withstand the occasional night outdoors safely.
Our #6 Pick – FastPro 4-Piece Locking Pliers Set
With all-steel construction and hardened jaws, these heavy-duty pliers are built for the toughest automotive jobs.
- Heavy-duty set of steel locking pliers
- Includes three curved jaw pliers and one long nose pliers
- Pliers can be locked and unlocked with one hand
- Handles lack rubberized grips
- Pliers have no rust resistant coating
Got a heavy-duty job? This four-piece set from Fastpro is here to help. The set includes five-inch, seven-inch and 10-inch curved jaw pliers plus a pair of six-and-a-half-inch long nose pliers. Each pair is made from steel with forged jaws.
The locking mechanism is activated by a simple squeeze trigger. You can reposition the pliers with just one hand. They’re easy to use even if you’re on your back working underneath your car. You can even lock and unlock the pliers if you’re wearing thick gloves, making them a good choice if you need to work outside in cold weather.
Our #7 Pick – Irwin Vise-Grip Original Large Jaw Locking Pliers
It’s the big one. This super-large, heavy-duty pair of locking pliers are the best option for clamping, twisting and turning the largest objects in your engine.
- Large locking pliers for hoses
- Made from durable alloy steel
- Classic trigger design for one-handed locking
- Too large for most routine maintenance
Irwin Vise-Grip’s large jaw locking pliers are perfect for clamping large hoses and other heavy-duty car components. They’re made from high-grade, heat-treated alloy steel. Plus, they have a classic trigger design which delivers locking force you can count on.
Although mainly used by plumbers, they’re also a welcome addition to your garage. They’re great for working with large hoses such as the ones found in your air conditioning and coolant systems. The turn screws allow you to adjust the pressure to hold hoses tight without causing damage.
Our #8 Pick – Ion Tool 6-Pack of C-Clamp Locking Pliers
Ion Tool’s six-pack of C-Clamps provides easy, reliable locking with 3.35” capacity jaws.
- Six-pack of C-Clamp locking pliers
- Each pair is made from heated alloy steel
- Wide 3.25” opening grips large objects with ease
- Can only be used for clamping, not pulling
While they look a little different than the others on our list, this set of six C-clamp locking pliers provides easy, secure locking for just about anything. They’re constructed from high-grade, heated alloy steel which is strong and water resistant.
Each C-clamp has an opening of three and a quarter inches wide. They’re similar to a vise grip only far more portable. A swivel pad allows for a solid connection while also preventing surface damage.