The Big List of Essential Tools Every Auto Mechanic Needs

Whether you’re just learning the basics or are an experienced garage veteran, the key to car care success is using the right tools. Unfortunately, identifying the right tools for your needs can feel confusing. But we’re here to help! Our ultimate guide has all of the essential tools every mechanic needs for auto maintenance and repair.

The Value of Using the Right Tool

Do you really need every tool on this list to work on your car? Fortunately, no. A relatively small set of basic tools allows you to take care of most common car care needs. But you’ll still want to be aware of all the options.

The best automotive tools are specialized. Using the right tool for the job can make a significant difference. For example, consider oil filter caps. You could use a standard wrench and probably a hammer to open an oil filter cap. Using those tools will require a lot of effort, and likely damage the cap, but you can technically get it open. But a better option is to use an oil filter cap wrench. Its sole purpose is to open oil filter caps.

To continue with this example, know that you don’t need to own every type of oil filter wrench in existence. For example, older cars require a certain type of wrench, compact cars require another and so on. Build your tool collection by selecting what’s right for your specific vehicle.

The difference between an okay mechanic and a great one is knowing what tools to use and when to use them.

There’s no need to feel overwhelmed by the number of different tools available. We’ve divided automotive tools into a few general categories:

Hand Tools

You probably have many of these basic tools already. They include wrenches, pliers, hammers and more. We’ll show you how to use these common tools for both routine maintenance and complex repair.

Garage Equipment

Garage equipment includes creepers, lights, and other gear to help mechanics stay comfortable when working. This gear also helps reduce the risk of accidents and injuries.

Diagnostic Tools

Before you can fix a car problem, you first need to understand the cause. Diagnostic tools interface with your car’s electrical systems, measure pressure in the tires and provide other vital information.

Tools for Safety

Chemicals and components inside your car do pose potential risks. We’ll show you what gear you need to stay safe when working on your vehicle.

Tools for Loosening and Removing Components

Engines are cramped. You’ll often need specialized tools to reach and remove various parts. Plus, many engine components can become stuck together over time. From degreasers to pry bars and more, we’ll show everything you need to take your car apart without causing damage.

Equipment for Keeping Your Car Clean

Keep your car looking great without spending a ton. We’ll show you what tools you need to wash your car and protect it from damage on the road.

Ready to get started? Here’s your complete list of essential automotive tools:

Hand Tools

These are common, simple tools useful in a variety of situation. As the name implies, these are small tools you can operate with just one hand. In most cases, hand tools are powered by elbow grease, so they require no electricity.

Most of the tools listed below have multiple variations. For instance, pliers can have a slip joint, locking joint or another type of system. Understanding each tool’s use helps you select the right ones for your needs.

Here’s a closer look at common hand tools used for auto maintenance:

Wrenches

  • Versatile
  • Easy to use

Wrenches are probably the most common tool used for auto maintenance. They provide a tight grip and allow for the application of torque. They’re used to turn many different fasteners throughout your vehicle including nuts and bolts.

There are many different kinds of wrenches. The three most common types are:

  • Open-end
  • Box-end
  • Combination

Open-end wrenches have U-shaped openings at each end. Generally, the openings will be different sizes. They’re placed at a 15-degree angle to the handle, which allows for a greater range of movement in small areas.

Box-end wrenches aren’t open-ended. Instead, their endings are hexagonal shaped. They’re typically either six, eight or twelve-point fits. Twelve-point wrenches are ideal for situations with limited room to swing the wrench. Eight-point wrenches are ideal for square-shaped nuts and bolts.

Combination wrenches are the best of both worlds. One end is open while the other boxed. Typically, both ends will be the same size (which is different than non-combination wrenches). A small set of combination wrenches will handle many common repair needs.

Of course, there’s no limit to the types of wrenches you can buy. Two separate sets of wrenches, both open and box ended, ensure the most versatility. High-quality wrenches can be expensive up-front, but they’re practically indestructible. Choose wrenches made from chrome-vanadium alloy. They’ll likely last a lifetime.

Wrenches are available in both metric and standard sizing. Metric is far more common. If you have to choose between the two, choose metric.

Metric wrenches start at 6mm. You probably don’t need any wrenches larger than 21mm. Most automotive repair needs require wrenches in the low teens.

Ratchets

  • Multiple automotive uses
  • Easy-to-use in small, cramped spaces

Also called socket wrenches, these tools have a socket on one end which allows for one-way turning. They allow you to tighten and untighten bolts quickly. Plus, they allow you to apply torque at awkward angles and in cramped spaces (like underneath your car).

Socket wrenches have three different sizes:

  • Small (1/4 inch)
  • Medium (3/8 inch)
  • Large (1/2 inch)

You can find sets which include all three sizes. At the very least, you’ll want a large and small ratchet set. For the most versatility, your socket wrench set should include a variety of wrenches between 6mm through 24mm. You’ll also want to include one 32 mm socket.

Dead Blow Mallet

Not every solution is subtle. Sometimes you just need to hit a stuck bolt with a mallet. A dead blow mallet is safe to use inside a vehicle. An outer cover of molded poly protects metal surfaces from dings, dents and other damage.

Screwdrivers

  • Used in practically all auto repairs
  • Simple to operate

There are many different screwdrivers available. For automotive repair, you’ll want these types:

  • Flat
  • Phillips
  • Allen
  • Torx

Flat and Phillips are the two most common screws. Flat screwdrivers have a single, straight blade. Philips screwdrivers have a cross (cruciform) shape. Only use the screwdriver designed specifically for the type of screw you’re using. Using the wrong type of driver can easily strip the screw.

Torx screws have a unique six-pointed star shape. They provide a high level of security. You’ll find Torx screws throughout most vehicles made after 1967 (the year Torx screws were invented).

Screwdriver length is especially important with auto repair. You’ll want stubbed screwdrivers for working in tight spaces. However, you’ll also want standard and extra-long screwdrivers. A wide range of screwdriver lengths helps you reach screws no matter where they are inside your vehicle (and they’ll be everywhere).

Consider a set of magnetized screwdrivers. They’re especially useful for auto repair. Magnetized screwdrivers hold screws securely when you’re working upside-down or at other awkward angles.

Pliers

Like wrenches, pliers have many different styles and purposes. Generally, pliers have three different functions in automotive work:

  • Tightening / Untightening Nuts and Bolts
  • Stripping Wires
  • Clamping

You’ll want at least one pair of each of the following types of pliers:

Slip Joint Pliers

These pliers have a variety of handy uses for auto repair and maintenance. An adjustable pivot point allows each piece to shift, creating an extended range and a tight grip. Aside from gripping, they’re used to bend, hold, crimp and cut. While they don’t excel in any one specialized area, they’re great for general purpose uses.

Locking Pliers

A double-lever design allows locking pliers to act as a hand-held vise. A dial in the handle allows you to adjust the jaw width. They clamp down just like any other pliers, but they can also lock into place.

When working on your car, you’ll mainly use locking pliers to help with organization. After all, space inside the engine is at a premium. Locking pliers allow you to clamp wires and hoses out of your way so you can reach the section of the engine which needs work.

Wire Strippers

You’ll find a variety of pliers designed to strip and cut wires. They have a cutting edge with a circular shape. This unique design allows you to pull off the wire’s insulation to expose the bare wire, which you can then connect to other wires. Most wire strippers also allow you to cut the wire completely.

Wire strippers are useful when performing any maintenance or repairs related to the car’s electrical system. Electrical work on vehicles includes replacing brake lights, adding backup cameras, upgrading the stereo and general maintenance.

Needle Nose Pliers

Another common type of pliers, needle nose pliers have thin jaws which can reach into cramped areas. They have a set pivot point, which means they can’t grip large objects, but they can grip small objects with precision. Needle nose pliers also have a knurled surface with side cutters.

Specialized needle nose pliers are also available. Their tips are bent to 45 and 90-degree angles. You can use these special pliers to reach awkward locations deep within the engine.

Hose Clamp Pliers

These pliers are used to compress the hose clamps. They’re useful when working in the refrigerator circuit in your car. They have a very precise use so you should only buy a pair if you’re working on this specific issue.

Wire Terminal Crimper

A crimper joins two pieces of metal together. It’s most commonly used in electrical work to attach a connector piece to the end of a cable. Place the wire into the connector; then the connector is placed into the crimping tool slot.

Crimping gives the wires a professional end, which improves their safety significantly. In auto repair, they’re useful when changing wire terminals.

Funnels

Don’t let the simplicity of a funnel fool you. They’re vital for a wide range of repair and maintenance needs. Cars contain many different fluids including:

  • Oil
  • Brake fluid
  • Antifreeze
  • Gasoline
  • And more

Use a funnel whenever you’re adding or removing liquids from your vehicle. They’re amazing at reducing spillage when pouring. Depending on the liquid, spills can be far more than inconvenient – they can potentially damage parts or strip paint. For example, oil build-up on the engine can be a fire hazard. A funnel keeps liquids under control.

They also help protect you from injury. More than a few liquids you’ll find in the garage can burn your skin. Funnels prevent splash back and splatter when pouring.

Funnels are usually pretty cheap. You should stock your garage with at least a few funnels of different sizes. Consider getting a few different colors, too, to help stay organized. You’ll want to use one set of funnels for oil changes, another for coolant and another for water. Separate funnels prevent cross-contamination inside your vehicle.

Set of Wire Connectors

These tiny, plastic boxes play an important role in maintaining your car’s electrical systems. Wire connectors create a secure connection between two wires. They prevent wires from making direct contact with one another. The chance of a short circuit or other electrical faults is reduced significantly.

Wire connectors are usually inexpensive. You’ll want to replace them often. They show signs of brown residue when they’re worn. Generally, you’ll want to replace any wire connectors you happen to see when conducting repairs.

Set of Electrical Fuses

Blown fuses can cause problems throughout your cars electric system. Fortunately, replacing fuses is simple. You can find a box with five, 10 or even 25 fuses. Check your owner’s manual to find the specific size for your vehicle. Medium-sized fuses are the most common.

Tools for Your At-Home Garage

We all know the old-school method for working on your vehicle at home: Simply throw a piece of cardboard down on your garage floor and crawl underneath your car. Banging your head or scraping your arm is just part of the car repair experience, right?

Well, it doesn’t have to be. A few pieces of equipment can make at-home car maintenance easier, safer and more comfortable. Here’s a rundown on what you need to turn your home garage into a car care supercenter.

Car Jacks

  • Allows you to work on your care comfortably and safely
  • Requires a moderate level of strength

Jacks are useful for both routine and complicated maintenance. They’re useful when working on tires, brake pads, gas tanks and more. There are six different types of jacks:

Scissor Jacks

These are the portable jacks found in most vehicles. They’re lightweight and portable. Plus, they fold down to a compact shape which easily fits in trunks and other out-of-the-way spots inside your vehicle.

Turning a crank expands the jack to lift a car. Most scissors jacks have a lift capacity of about 1.5 tons. They can raise a car between three and 15 inches.

Scissors jacks should only be used to change a flat tire. They’re not stable enough to allow you to work underneath the car safely. While scissor jacks are important to have during a roadside emergency, they’re not suitable for at-home maintenance.

Floor Jacks

You’ll find these rolling jacks throughout professional repair shops and home garages throughout the world. They’re portable, durable and easy-to-use.

Floor jacks have wheels so you can roll them around the shop effortlessly. They slide right under just about any truck or car. You then pump the lift’s arm to raise the vehicle. Once raised, you set the jack in position. It provides stable and secure support so you can work underneath your car.

Floor jacks are also commonly called trolleys or garage jacks. They usually hold up to six tons and have a height range between three and 22 inches.

Bottle Jacks

These are extra heavy-duty jacks which can lift up to 20 tons. They’re designed for use on commercial and industrial vehicles with high clearances. Bottle jacks are also a good choice for large SUVs.

They take up considerably less space than a floor jack. They’re great if your garage space is limited. However, bottle jacks are mainly used for commercial purposes. They might be unnecessary for home use (although they won’t hurt smaller cars).

Motorcycle Jacks

These jacks are made for motorcycles, ATVs and jet skis. Ratcheting straps are used to keep these smaller vehicles in place. Plus, the jacks have a wide base which creates a solid surface.

The typical weight capacity for a motorcycle jack is three-quarters of a ton with a maximum lift height of 19 inches.

Never use a standard jack for a motorcycle, ATV or similar vehicle. Traditional jacks are designed only to support four-wheeled vehicles. They can’t provide enough stability a vehicle with two wheels.

Car Lifts

These are the bays found in professional repair shops. They provide the most clearance and room to work. They can lift five tons or more. Of course, car lifts usually can’t be installed in a residential home.

Jack Stands

As mentioned above, you should never crawl under a car which is supported by a scissor jack. But you still want to be careful when using floor and bottle jacks. Jack stands help protect against injury in case the jack should fail.

Jack stands are small, durable stands which fit under your car when its propped up by a jack. Although they’re adjustable, they don’t have any mechanism for lifting the car. You use a jack to get your car in the air and then place two stands underneath to keep it from falling.

Jack stands are usually sold in pairs. Two should be enough for most auto repairs. However, you’ll want more stands if you plan to raise your car off the ground completely.

Ramps

Car ramps are an alternative to jacks. They’re made from heavy-duty plastic and typically sold in pairs. You place a small ramp under each of your front tires and simply drive forward. Then you’ll place wheel stoppers behind the rear wheels.

Ramps don’t provide as much lift as a jack, but they should give you enough clearance for an oil change and other common procedures. However, ramps prevent the wheels from moving, which limits certain types of maintenance.

Air Compressor

Your car’s tires pressure affects steering, gas mileage, overall road safety and more. Maintaining the proper pressure at all times is vital to safe driving. Unfortunately, tire pressure will drop over time due to weather changes. You’ll need to refill your tires on a regular basis even if they’re in great working condition.

While pretty much every gas station has an air compressor, many people like the convenience of owning their own. Air compressors can be expensive, but they should last a lifetime with proper maintenance.

If you only need the compressor to fill your tires, you don’t have to worry too much about its tank pressure. Low psi’s will still fill your tire without an issue. Plus, less powerful compressors are often cheaper and quieter. You’ll need a stronger compressor if you want it to power any tools such as an impact wrench or drill.

Are you looking for an air compressor for your home garage? Check out our Complete Guide to The Best Portable Air Compressors for more info.

Jump Starter

A jump starter is a small unit used to jolt a dead battery and get your car running. Of course, you can always jumpstart a car using jumper cables connected to a running vehicle. But setting up a car-to-car jump can be complicated and time-consuming.

A jump starter is a simpler way to charge a dead battery. It’s about the size of a backpack or PC. You can store it easily in your garage. Plus, the cords are usually much longer than traditional jumper cables. Jumps starters also easy to use. You simply press a few buttons on the control panel.

Zip Ties

Cables and wires pack the inside of your car’s engine. Unfortunately, they often get in the way. Use zip ties to bundle them up so you can easily access other engine components. Zip ties help the inside of your engine stay organized.

Creeper

Say goodbye to the cardboard. A creeper is a much safer and more comfortable way to work underneath your car. Creepers are wheeled sleds which support your body and allow you to move around under your car easily.

Most creepers are adjustable. You can work sitting up or extend the seat horizontally. Creepers typically have padded or soft plastic backing which conforms to your body.

Aside from comfort, the best mechanics creepers make automotive work much easier and safer. You’ll avoid scratching your back on the hard floor. Plus, you’ll also be able to avoid scrapes, tears and other injuries.

Headlamp

Even if your garage is well-lit, the inside and underside of your vehicle will be dark. A headlamp is the best way to light your workspace. Strapping the light to your head frees your hands for tools.

Basic headlamps will have adjustable straps and a white bulb. More advanced models will have different brightness settings. Red and blue filters can also help increase visibility.

Durability is important. Choose a lamp with a clear plastic lens. Also, make sure the band is stretchable but not loose. It should fit securely without digging into your forehead.

Flashlight

Use a handheld light source when working on your engine. Choose one with durable plastic housing. Metal housing will be hot to the touch. If the housing has a hook, you can hang the light from the inside of your open hood.

Brake Cleaner Spray

There’s nothing else like it. Brake cleaner spray removes grease and unwanted build-up. It keeps the discs free from debris. Clean brakes operate safely and efficiently.

Brake cleaner spray can also be used to loosen stuck joints. Use the spray in combination with WD-40 to unstick even the most stubborn engine components.

Brake cleaners can be either chlorinated or non-chlorinated. Chlorinated cleaners are the oldest type. They’re still available today, even though the toxic chemical chlorine is banned from almost all other consumer products. Non-chlorinated cleaners are easier to find and still effective.

However, all types of brake cleaners – even non-chlorinated ones – are highly toxic. Only use them in well-ventilated areas. Wear an air mask when using cleaner while underneath your car.

Rust Penetrant

Use this spray to loosen nuts, bolts and other parts which have become stuck due to rust. Aside from removing rust, rust penetrant spray also prevents rust from forming. It’s especially useful for maintaining cars which aren’t driven regularly.

Dry Silicone Lubricant

Silicone spray provides the most lubrication. However, make sure you’re using what’s called “dry” silicone lubricant. Although it goes on wet, when it dries it leave behind a thin film similar to what’s on a nonstick frying pan. Dirt, dust, and debris are unable to stick to surfaces.

Synthetic Grease

Petroleum-based grease contains impurities which can cause friction. However, synthetic grease has no impurities because it’s created in a lab under controlled conditions. Plus, synthetic grease also resists thermal breakdown and shear. It lasts longer than petroleum grease.

Use synthetic grease on gears, axles, and bearings. It benefits practically any vehicle parts regularly subjected to heavy loads, high temperatures or major stress.

Tools for Safety

Mechanics must work around multiple systems which contain heat, electricity, toxic chemicals, and other potential hazards. Always take appropriate safety precautions when working on your car – even if you’re repairing a minor issue. Here’s the safety gear you’ll need in your shop:

Mechanic Gloves

Engines have no shortage of sharp, hot components. Wear mechanic gloves to protect your hands. Gloves can be either disposable or non-disposable.

Use disposable nitrile gloves for quick repairs. They’re thin enough to allow for plenty of finger flexibility but also strong enough to protect against chemicals and scratches. Plus, the gloves are disposable. You can put on a clean, fresh pair of gloves when working on the car’s interior. Clear gloves help you avoid transferring grease to your dashboard or seats.

Avoid latex gloves. Many chemicals will burn right through them. Only nitrile gloves will protect your skin from the corrosive chemicals found in your engine.

You’ll also want a pair of non-disposable mechanic gloves. They’re usually made from a combination of fabric and Kevlar. More than protecting against chemicals, these thicker gloves also protect against heat.

Safety Glasses

Always wear safety glasses when working on your car. Plenty of dangerous chemical in your engine can accidentally spray into the air while you’re working. Additionally, you want to protect your eyes against any metal debris.

Safety glasses are especially important when working underneath your car. Objects can fall onto your face without warning. You won’t be able to move your hands quickly to protect yourself.

Safety glasses can either be sunglass style or attached with a strap. While both will work fine, many mechanics prefer the type with straps. They stay on easier when you’re underneath the car. However, make sure the goggles have plenty of ventilation to prevent fogging.

Hand Cleaner

Just because you love to work on your car doesn’t mean you have to live with dirty hands. Unfortunately, regular hand soap typically does a terrible job of washing away oil and grease. You’ll need a cleanser made for mechanics.

Most automotive hand cleaners don’t require water. You simply pump a small amount into your hands. Rub your hands together to build up a foam which removes all types of greasy gunk. You’ll probably want to wash your hands with regular soap and water afterward. Automotive cleaners tend to leave behind a slight residue.

Diagnostic Tools

When your car makes an unusual noise or behaves oddly, the first step to fixing the problem is simply figuring out what’s wrong. Unfortunately, malfunctions aren’t always easy to see. Diagnostic tools are used to identify issues and point you towards solutions. Here are the top diagnostic tools you’ll want for your garage:

OBDII Scanner

An OBDII Scanner plugs directly into your car to read diagnostic information. When your car displays a check engine light or another dashboard warning, the scanner provides additional detail about what might be wrong. The scanner plugs into your car’s input port, usually located underneath the steering wheel.

In the 1990s, OBD scanners were standardized across all vehicles. You shouldn’t have any issues with compatibility with cars built before 1966.

A standard OBDII scanner returns a code which corresponds to a specific issue. Once you run the scanner, you’ll then need to look up the code either in the included codebook or online.

But that’s just the basics. You can find OBDII scanners which do much more. The best bluetooth OBD Scanners eliminate the need for clumsy wires. Other scanners include detailed information along with the code, so you don’t have to look anything up yourself. You can also find scanners which will send info directly to your smart device.

While the more advanced scanners do have useful features, don’t feel obligated to buy the most expensive model. The cheaper, basic scanners will still provide accurate readings. Plus, you don’t necessarily need the scanner to provide detailed info, as you can look that up online.

Tire Gauge

Many modern vehicles have built-in sensors which activate when your tire pressure is low. But you’ll still want to check your tires with a gauge. Tire gauges range from simple to complex.

The simplest tire gauges are metal and shaped like a pen. A plastic ruler pops out of the end which marks the air pressure level. While these gauges are simple and easy to use, they don’t provide precise readings.

A digital gauge is more expensive but also more accurate. The digital readout displays the specific level of air in the tire. You’ll get the most exact readings possible.

Another option is a tire inflator with a built-in gauge. You attach the inflator to your compressor. When you fill the tire, the gauge displays the psi level in real-time. The gauge should read up to 100 PSI.

Consult your owner’s manual or look for a tag on the inside of your door to find the exact air pressure requirements for your specific vehicle. Never overinflate your tires as doing so increases their chance of rupturing.

Owner’s Manual

Don’t forget about your owner’s manual. It’ll always be the ultimate resources for your vehicle’s needs. Your dashboard is a great place to store your manual, as you’ll then have access to it even if you encounter a problem behind the wheel.

Be careful when consulting online resources for repair advice. Only use information from reputable sources. Major auto manufacturers often publish owner’s manuals online. If you don’t have the physical copy of your manual, check your car maker’s official website.

Multimeter

Also called a multitester, a multimeter is a general-purpose device used for a variety of electrical work. Most multimeters measure voltage, current, and resistance. Analog meters use a moving pointer while digital ones display a more accurate readout.

Multimeters are used to trace the path of electricity throughout your car. They can identify potentially dangerous hot wires. Plus, they help track down the source of electrical malfunctions.

Looking for a great bargain on a multimeter? Check out our guide to the best multimeters under $50.

Radiator Pressure Tester Kit

Check for radiator leaks with this complete kit. It pressurizes the entire radiator system and allows you to monitor the results with a gauge. A lack of sustained pressure indicates a failing coolant circuit. Note that these kits are specific to individual manufacturers.

Brake Caliper Wind Back Tool Kit

Change discs and brake pads with this kit. It contains everything you need to wind back the pistons and mount new pads and discs. While the kit itself is fairly simple, replacing brake pads is a fairly advanced process.

Tools for Removing Stuck Parts

Engines can be hard to maintain. The combination of heat, fluids, and metals can fuse components and make them difficult to separate. You’ll need an assortment of tools designed to pull apart stuck or damaged engine parts.

Wrecking Bar

Also known as a pry bar, this is a large leverage bar used to separate stubborn parts. They’re commonly used to separate ball joints and shock absorber heads. Wrecking bars have a flat end and an end with a curved fork.

Wrecking bars have no moving parts. You’ll probably be fine choosing the cheapest option. Just make sure the bar is made from steel or metal of similar strength.

Breaker Bar

Have you ever put a metal pipe over a wrench to increase the torque power? A breaker bar works in the same way. It’s a socket wrench only with a handle which is much longer than usual. The standard length is around 24 inches.

The longer the handle, the more torque you’ll be able to apply. These bars help you remove stubborn bolts and nuts. Any vehicle can have a stuck fastener, but they’re especially common in vehicles which are older or poorly maintained.

Equipment for Cleaning and Polishing the Car’s Exterior

You don’t just want the inside of your car running well – you want the outside looking good, too. But don’t waste money at the local car wash. Clean your car at home with the following gear:

Pressure Washer

Pressure washers are the best way to wash your car. But you want to avoid commercial pressure washers. The spray can be uneven and strong enough to damage paint. Many people prefer the convenience of buying their own pressure washer to use at home.

When selecting a washer, first consider its psi. The washer should be powerful enough to remove dirt and grime. However, you don’t want the most powerful pressure washers on the market. After all, you’re washing a car, not stripping a deck. A psi level of around 2,000 should be strong enough to keep your car clean without damaging the paint.

Also, make sure the pressure washer is portable. You want it to be lightweight enough to carry around, but the water reservoir should also be large enough so you can wash your car without constant refills.

Soap

Never wash your vehicle with dish soap, detergent or other household cleaners. Only use soap formulated for cars.

Our complete guide to the best car wash soap has plenty of great options for keeping your car clean. You’ll want a soap which provides a deep clean but also washes away completely. Many soaps protect your paint for days even after they’ve been rinsed off.

Sponge

Don’t use kitchen or bath sponges to clean your car. They can potentially scratch your paint. Plus, they do a terrible job cleaning your car’s surface.

Instead, use a car wash sponge or mitt. Car wash sponges often hold a high volume of water, which makes them great for larger vehicles. Mitts allow for more detailing cleaning.

Two Buckets

The “two buckets” method is the best way to wash your car. Fill one bucket with soapy water and the other with clean. Use plastic buckets. Metal buckets can corrode over time, which can contaminate the sponge and result in scratched paint.

Don’t allow your car to air dry. Instead, dry your car right away with a microfiber cloth. Drying your car by hand prevents streaks.

Tools for Oil Changes

Changing your own oil helps you save big. Plus, it’s easy. Here are the tools you’ll need when changing your oil:

Oil Filter Wrench

Removing the oil filter is usually one of the most annoying aspects of changing your oil. Filters often stiffen due to heat, wear, and oil residue. Removing a filter by hand is usually impossible. You’ll need an oil filter wrench. There are many different types available:

Metal Band

This oil filter has a metal band which slips over the filter. Turning the handle counter-clockwise places tension on the band. A pivoting adjustment hinge allows for both flexibility and torque.

Metal band wrenches are a good choice if your filter is jammed or otherwise difficult to dislodge. Certain types of bands have an additional hinge on the handle which helps improve positioning, a feature which is often useful when working on classic cars.

Socket (End Cap)

These wrenches have a socket-shaped cup which fits around the filter. Choose a cup made of metal or plastic. Those materials provide a precise fit which requires very little physical effort to remove the filter cap quickly. It’s also often the only type of wrench which can reach recessed filters.

However, it does have downsides. You have to hit the wrench with a mallet to release it from the loosened filter. Also, certain manufacturers, like BMW and Volkswagen, require end cap wrenches.

Strap Wrenches

These wrenches use a half inch square strap which uses a drive tool to tighten around the filter. The tight fit allows for quick removal of jammed filters.

They’re the most popular option for SUVs, pickups and other large vehicles. Strap wrenches fit large oil filters with broad diameters. They’re also widely used in commercial vehicles.

Chain Loop

Chain loop wrenches work in basically the same way as strap wrenches, except they have a metal chain instead of a nylon strap. The chain wraps around the filter. Then a hexagonal bar is tightened by hand until it wraps around the filter completely.

These wrenches are ideal for greasy oil filters. The teeth on the chain grip the filter through any lubrication. Chain wrenches fit a wide range of filter sizes.

Pliers

Oil filter wrench pliers are different than a standard pair of pliers. They have extended handles for increased strength. Additionally, plastisol coats the handles. It’s a synthetic substance which improves grip. These wrenches are a good choice for filters which are obstructed or damaged.

Spider

Don’t let the odd look fool you; spider wrenches are both strong and durable. They have two clamping legs, three geared prongs, and twin jaw plates. A ratchet driver rotates the wrench counter-clockwise to squeeze the filter body. By manipulating the body of the filter, the cap becomes easier to remove.

Spider wrenches can have either a claw or jaw design. Each type grabs the filter in a slightly different way, but there are no major fundamental differences between the two. Generally, spider wrenches are ideal for reaching filters located in tight, confined areas.

Oil Drip Pan

After removing the filter, the oil needs somewhere to go. An oil drip pan is the cleanest way to capture engine oil, transmission oil, gearbox oil and any other type of vehicle lubricant.

Heavy-duty plastic is the best material for an oil pan. Avoid metal drip pans. They can corrode over time. Plus, they’re far more rigid than the plastic kind. The slight flexibility of plastic allows for easier portability.

Along those same lines, you want to make sure the pan has plenty of handles. Oil tends to get everywhere. You want the pan’s handles to be easy to grip even when slick. Generally, the pan should be able to hold at least two to three gallons of oil.

Desiccant

Desiccant is just a fancy term for kitty litter. It’s great for absorbing oil and other fluids. You’ll want to keep a bag handy in your garage. The faster you can spread it across spills, the more effectively it can prevent stains. You can buy desiccant specifically made for oil spills, but kitty litter works just as well and is often cheaper.

Oil

Oil is the lifeblood of your car. Experts recommend changing your oil every 10,000 miles. Use synthetic oil instead of petroleum-based. Synthetic oil contains no impurities, is easier on your engine and lasts a long time.

Final Thoughts

The essential tools above allow you to care for your car from bumper to bumper. But don’t worry about buying every single tool right away. Start small with a simple set of wrenches, screwdrivers and other hand tools.

Add tools to your collection as necessary. Don’t be afraid to buy a new tool if it’s the best way to solve an issue. Many people build up their tool collection over time simply by buying tools as necessary when car problems occur.

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