OKoffroad.com 4x4 Editorial
The Tools
. GreenCountryCruisers
That You'll Need
by Kevin Yeager  
reprinted with permission  

If you're new to doing your own auto maintenance, then you're going to need some tools. Now don't go and order that monster tool set in the Sears catalog, that has over 1000 tools, and comes with a skyscraper size roll-away tool box that requires a 6 foot step ladder to reach the top drawers. Don't get me wrong, that is a great tool set, but it's overkill and overwhelming for someone new to auto mechanics. Here is a list of the basic tools you'll need. This list is meant as starting point, so you can add to it or deduct from it as you see fit. Also, when buying tools, remember which vehicle you plan to use them on, so that you'll know whether to get SAE or metric tools.


reprinted with permission

Cost and Quality
Two other factors that must be considered when you purchase tools are, cost and quality. What we spend on tools is most often regulated by our individual budgets. But, you should not let the lack of funds force you into buying tools that lack quality. A cheap quality tool that breaks, does not save you money when you have to buy a replacement. A quality tool will last long enough to hand down to your grandchildren. Also, being on a tight budget might mean buying 1 or 2 tools as you need them. So, don't worry about trying to get a whole tool set at once. Just remember, those mechanics with their huge roll-aways got where they are one tool at a time.

. Lifetime Guarantee
Here's a hint for buying quality tools and spending less money (most guys are going to hate this one), shop yard sales and estate sales. At these sales you can sometimes find a complete set of tools already in a tool box (or even a roll-away tool box) for a fraction of the new price. Even a broken tool is a bargain, if it's the right brand name. Example - a broken Craftsman wrench (registered trademark) bought at a yard sale for a dime, can be taken to a Sears store and traded in for a warranty replacement. This is because the tool carries the lifetime guarantee, not the purchaser. And, all of the top tool names that have lifetime guarantees will do the same, because they don't require a receipt to get a warranty replacement, just their name on the broken tool.

NOTE: When buying sockets for use in auto repair, get the 6 point, not the 12 point, if possible. The 6 point sockets are less likely to round off a stubborn nut or bolt, and they tend to be a little stronger than the 12 point sockets.

1/4" Drive Ratchet and Socket Set - This should include, a good fine tooth 1/4" drive ratchet, standard (short) sockets (SAE 3/16" to 9/16" or metric 7mm to 13mm), universal joint, 3" and 6" extensions. Additional items that are nice to have in your 1/4" drive set; A 6" spinner handle (lets you use the sockets like a screwdriver), a thumb wheel or thumb ratchet drive, screwdriver bits, torx bits and hex bits.
1/4" Drive Deep Socket Set - If deep well sockets did not come with the above set, then buy a set to match the sizes of the short sockets in the above set.
3/8" Drive Ratchet and Socket Set - This should include, a good 3/8" drive ratchet, standard (short) sockets (SAE 3/8" to 7/8" or metric 10mm to 22mm), universal joint, 3", 6" and 10" extensions, 5/8" and 13/16" spark plug sockets (yes, they work on metric autos too). Additional items that are nice to have in your 3/8" drive set; A stubby ratchet or stubby flex head ratchet, a long (11") handle ratchet or long handle flex head ratchet, a slide bar handle and a speed handle.
3/8" Drive Deep Socket Set - If deep well sockets did not come with the above set, then buy a set to match the sizes of the short sockets in the above set.
Drive Adapters - 1/4" to 3/8", 3/8" to 1/4", 3/8" to 1/2" and 1/2" to 3/8" (you need this one because most torque wrenches are 1/2" drive).
3/8" Drive Breaker Bar - (10" to 12" in length) - You can substitute a 1/2" drive breaker bar (16" to 18" in length) and use an adapter. I recommend getting both.
1/2" Drive - (? size) Socket - You will have to determine what size this socket will be. This is because the fill plugs and/or drain plugs on the transmission, transfer case and axles of your vehicle may be larger than the largest 3/8" drive socket available. If you buy a 1/2" drive socket set, this socket should be in that set.
Spindle Nut Socket - (AKA - spindle nut wrench or hub nut wrench) - You will need to determine the correct one for your vehicle. Some of the spindle nut sockets for 4x4s are 3/4" drive. If the one for your vehicle is 3/4" drive, then you will also need to buy a 1/2" to 3/4" drive adapter.
Combination Wrench Set - Getting this set can save you from buying both, an open end wrench set and a box end wrench set. This will also save space in your tool box. Make sure that the sizes in the set covers the range of sizes that both the 1/4" and 3/8" drive socket sets. There are times that you do need 2 wrenches and usually you have to discover this out for yourself. But, here are the most common wrenches that you may need 2 of; in SAE it's 3/8", 7/16", 1/2" and 9/16", and in metric it's 10mm, 12mm and 14mm.
Screwdriver Set - The number of screwdrivers in the set isn't critical because some people like to have a lot of them and some like only a few in their tool box. I find that a set that contains 5 flat blade screwdrivers (of varying size) and 5 phillips screwdrivers (of varying size) usually has the sizes that you will need.

NOTE: I have noticed that vehicle manufacturers are using Torx fasteners for everything from trim to headlight adjusters. So, you may need to add a couple of Torx drivers to your set.

Hex Key Set - These are more commonly known as "Allen Wrenches." If you can, get a set with the "Ball-end" design. These allow you to turn the allen screw with the wrench at an angle to the screw.
An Assortment of Pliers - Regular Pliers - These are also called slip joint pliers
Needle Nose Pliers
Channel Lock Pliers - These are also called water pump pliers by many people.
Locking Pliers - The best known brand name of this type of pliers, is Vice Grip and I have not found any that match them in function or quality. Get a 6" or 8" round nose pair and it's nice to have a 4" round nose pair. Also, the 4" needle nose pair come in real handy.
Diagonal Cutters - Commonly called wire cutters.
Adjustable End Wrenches - The most commonly know brand name for these is Crescent (registered trademark). The 8" version seems to be the best size if you only get one. While the 4" version works really well when you are working with small nuts and bolts, but costs almost as much as its bigger brothers. Most are familiar with the Crescent style adjustable end wrench with its jaws set at a 15 degree angle to the handle.

NOTE: There is an adjustable end wrench that has slipped into obscurity. Its jaws are set at a 90 degree angle to the handle and it got its nickname because it was included in the tool kit that was standard equipment in every Model A and Model T. The fact that, when the jaws were opened a couple of inches, the wrench look like the letter F also helped it get named the "Ford wrench." Trust me, a "Ford wrench" is a nice addition to your tool box. It works in places that a Crescent wrench doesn't quite work right. But, I will warn you. Finding a "Ford wrench" can be difficult and they usually cost twice as much (or more) as a Crescent wrench of the same size. So, if you see one at a yard sale for $10, buy it!

Punch and Chisel Set - A set that has 3 chisels, 3 or 4 pin punches, a center punch and an alignment drift is enough for most any job.
Ball Peen Hammer - One in the 12-16 oz. range will do just fine. Do not use a carpenter's claw hammer for automotive work, they aren't safe for this type of work.
Oil Filter Wrench - There are many styles of oil filter wrenches. So, find one that you like and that works well on your vehicle.
Battery Terminal Brush - The ones with internal and external bristles work very well.
Small Wire Brush - One the size of a tooth brush is nice to have. They are good for cleaning rust and dirt off of bolts and studs before removing the nuts.
Tire Pressure Gauge - A good one with a dial gauge, is the best for accuracy.
Feeler Gauges - The blade style feeler gauges are the most common. An angled or offset feeler gauge set is nice to have for adjusting valve clearances.
Spark Plug Gapping Tool - Ones that have wire gauges for checking the plug gap give the most accurate results.
Timing Light - The inductive type, that use the vehicle's battery for power, are the easiest to use. Get a good one, because some of the cheap ones don't put out enough light to use them when the sun is up. This is often considered an optional tool for the beginner mechanic. But, if you plan on accurately setting the ignition timing during tune-ups, then you'll need one.
12 Volt Circuit Tester - This will allow you to do basic (very basic) electrical trouble shooting of lights and power supply problems. You can also use it to find which wires to splice into for trailer wiring.
Crimper/Stripper Pliers - You'll be able to repair damaged wires and add electric accessories with this tool and an assortment of solderless connectors.
Hacksaw and Blades - Get the fine tooth blades (24-32 teeth per inch).
Metal Files - A flat file and a round file or rat-tail file. Use the flat file to smooth the edges of what you cut with the hacksaw. The round file can be used to open up holes and deburr holes in sheet metal.
Flashlight - One that has a magnetic base is nice so you have both hands free. The Mag-light brand series of flashlights are great. They come in many sizes and take lots of abuse. Also, don't forget spare batteries.
Inspection Mirror - This is a mirror that is attached to a handle. With it and a flashlight, you can look in the nooks and crannies to find that nut or socket that you dropped. They come in sizes from the pocket size with a 1" mirror, to ones with a 3" by 4" mirror and even bigger. The ones with telescopic handles let you look into more places. I have found that one with a 2" round mirror and a telescopic handle is the most versatile.
Magnetic Pickup - A pocket-sized one with a telescopic handle is usually strong enough to pick up that socket you dropped but can't reach with your fingers.
Eye Protection - Safety glasses, safety goggles or a face shield. Wear eye protection when using power tools (electric or air powered) and when you are working under the vehicle.

It always seems, that no matter how long ago it was that you went through that last mud hole, the dirt stuck to the underside of your vehicle always falls off when you are right underneath it. And the cost of the ER visit, to remove something from your eye, will most likely exceed what you saved by repairing the vehicle yourself. Please, remember that you only have one pair of eyes.

Tape Measure - A 10 or 12 foot tape measure is sufficient. You need one to check clutch pedal adjustment and brake pedal free play. You can substitute a 12" ruler for the tape measure, but it's not as useful.
Grease Gun - Keeping certain chassis and drive train components lubricated regularly greatly extends their service life. Just don't store it in your tool box because they sometimes leak.
Needle Nozzle Grease Gun Attachment - This is for your grease gun. There are sometimes grease zerks that you can't get the regular end of the grease gun on and this attachment will let you get grease into them.
Pry Bars - Most guys consider this optional because they use their screwdrivers as pry bars. But buying one can save you from breaking some screwdrivers. A set of 3 will cover most of your needs.
Funnels - These are really optional, so get one only if you find that you need one. If your vehicle has an automatic transmission, then you need the long trumpet shaped funnel. Some engines are difficult to add oil to, so find a funnel that works on your vehicle. If you want to have a funnel in your tool box, get a package of paper funnels at the local auto parts store so you won't have to put an oily funnel back in your tool box.
Tool Box - You'll need a tool box to keep your new tools in. There are so many different tool boxes out there that will work just fine, so find one you like.
Maintenance Manual - Yes, this is a tool and it can be the most important tool that you buy. The Haynes and Chiltons manuals are 2 of the best known names for after market manuals and are not that expensive. While factory manuals cost more, they sometimes contain information that the after market manuals may not. Now if you are completely new to auto mechanics, then John Muir Publications might have the manual for you. Their John Muir Idiot Book Auto Series is great for the beginner mechanic. Don't let the name turn you away from these manuals. They are well written with excellent illustrations and some humor thrown in for your amusement (look close at the illustrations). Even experienced mechanics will enjoy using these manuals. I know I do.

Now that the beginners basics are covered, here are some optional tools you might want to add to your tool box or garage. They will let you do heavy or advanced maintenance.

Jack Stands - At least one pair. Using jack stands is the safest way to support the vehicle while you work on it. If you are going to do brake jobs on your vehicle, then one pair will let you do one axle at a time. To do suspension swaps (lift kits) you'll need 2 pair, one to support the axle and the other to support the chassis. Also, remember that you will need jack stands that are tall enough for your 4x4.
Hydraulic Floor Jack - A 2 ton unit will work, but they have the least amount of lift height (around 14") and a small lift saddle (3" in diameter). For a little more money, the 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 ton units give you more. Most have a lift height 20 inches or more and the lift saddle is 5 or 6 inches in diameter.
1/2" Drive Ratchet and Socket Set - You'll need this set to do suspension work and engine work (cylinder head removal or engine rebuild), due to the larger fasteners (nuts & bolts) and higher torque requirements. This set should include a ratchet, 2 or 3 extensions, a universal and sockets (SAE 1/2" to 1 1/4" or metric 10 mm to 30 mm).
1/2" Drive Deep Sockets - If the above set does not include them. The sizes should match what is in the 1/2" drive ratchet set.
Digital Volt/Ohm (multi) Meter - You'll need this to trouble shoot and adjust computer controlled carburetors and fuel injection systems. This has almost become a required basic tool, because of all of the electronics on newer vehicles.
Tach/Dwell Meter - The tachometer function of this tool is still very useful, but the dwell meter function has become obsolete due to electronic ignitions. You can find timing lights that have these functions built into them.
Air Tools - This could be an article in itself. Here are the basics. Air Compressor - Get one that has a large enough tank and puts out a high enough CFM rate to meet or exceed your needs.
Air Ratchet - Usually a 3/8" drive air ratchet will cover all of your needs, but it is nice to have a 1/4" drive air ratchet too.
1/2" Drive Impact Gun - This is great for breaking loose, or breaking off, those stubborn nuts and bolts. A 3/8" drive impact gun is also nice to have, because it doesn't apply as much torque as the 1/2" drive and it's smaller size lets you get it into tighter places.
3/8" Drill - This can be either electric or air powered. Add a handful of drill bits and you're in business. After all, sooner or later you'll want to add an accessory that needs to be bolted down were there isn't a hole for a bolt.

While this list could go on and on, I'll end it with this last tool. If I were to leave this tool off my list, I'd be chastised by the editorial staffs of my favorite 4x4 magazines. So here it is.

Sawzall (TM) - More commonly called a reciprocating saw. This tool is used for removing unwanted or unnecessary pieces from your vehicle. One of its most popular uses is, to make room for huge tires by trimming fenders, bumpers and whatever else is in the way of those huge tires.
Fourwheeling for me: "Twenty-five years ago, it struck me that I'd rather be at 2mph on a rocky trail, with half a tire hanging over a 2,000 foot drop, than in a sports car on asphalt, cornering at 80 mph at the edge of tire adhesion."
         Jim Allen
Author of "Jeep," "Chevy and GMC Pickup Performance Handbook," "Illustrated Jeep Buyers Guide," "Jeep 4x4 Performance Handbook," "Classic 4x4s Buyers Guide," and about a thousand magazine articles on four-wheel drive topics since 1982.
(Thank you from OKoffroad.com)



Froading for me:
"The best way to see what's around us, and enjoying every moment doing it even when something breaks."
Phill Boos
Port of Spain, Trinidad, W.I.

Froading for me:
"The surge of adrenaline every time you almost roll over.... and don't!"
Kyle McDaniel
California, MO

Froading for me:
"Getting into the outback, relaxing with a Beer and maybe fishing.... Also logging onto sites like this and finding another Michael J Hayes...in Canada ;-) "
Michael J. Hayes
Adelaide, South Australia

Fourwheeling for me:
"...when I want to get away from the real world and relax and have fun with some friends"
Michael J. Hayes
Alberta, Canada

Froading for me:
"I fell head-over-heals for off-highway driving the first time I tried it. It wasn't enough to show everybody pictures of where I'd been---I had to write an entire book about it. Five years later, I'm working on book number five."
Charles A. Wells
FunTreks Guidebooks

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