- Helping you drive happy

Gift Guide: For the gearhead

I love to tinker on my cars. I’ve been at it for over 15 years and have yet to get bored of stripping bolts, dropping and loosing washers, braking fragile sensors and splicing wires too short. I am that good.

And every good do-it-yourselfer needs numerous basic tools to cause further chaos under the hood or dashboard of their beloved car. I’ve collected a number of tools over the years but one can never have too many lying around; especially the good ones.

The following is my Top 10 list of must-haves or nice-to-haves for peeps like me.

1- Snap-On Magnetic Ratcheting Screwdriver
This tool is bar-none the best of its kind. I’ve owned four of them and only through severe abuse and neglect have they failed. The magnet is immensely useful, as is the handle which can hold numerous bits. Its smooth, precise operation is what gets me every time. This is, by far, the best screwdriver out there.
Price: $65

2- Breaker bars
Working on older cars, one must expect to deal with seized bolts on a regular basis. Sometimes, a ratchet will not provide enough torque to do the job. Various sized or extendable and ratcheting even breaker bars will give you all the leverage necessary to break the ball-joint or wheel nuts.
Price: Between $25 and $125

3- Ratchet set
A set of ¼ and 3/8 inch ratchets with a few extensions and a good selection of standard and metric sockets will make nearly any job possible. The most important item to think about is the warranty that comes with the tools. Many retail stores offer lifetime warranties; always a good idea.
Price: Between $75 and $500

4- Wrench set
Ratchets and sockets are great, but sometimes it’s plain impossible to wedge the tool between the exhaust manifold and the cylinder head. A good wrench, ratcheting all the more, will get in just about any nook and cranny and help you get that nut loose.
Price: Between $75 and $500

5- Allen keys
Allen keys or hex/torx keys are great for numerous applications, both under the hood and in the cabin. Their narrow nature allows them to slide between intake manifold runners with ease. For a little extra torque, a useful t-handle can make short work of a stubborn bolt.
Price: Between $5 and $45

6- Torque wrench
It’s important to always reassemble everything with the right amount of tightness. Too much may cause a bolt to fail prematurely and too little, well, it’ll come loose. An inch-pound or foot-pound torque wrench, with the right specs, will guarantee the job will be just as tight as it should be.
Price: Between $50 and $750

7- Tool box
A tool box, the right tool box, makes all the difference. Nothing is worse than searching all over your work bench for that one socket or pair of needle-nose pliers. Some of these boxes are insanely high-tech and make working on a car that much more pleasurable. Really. Don’t believe me? Check out any Snap-on box…
Price: Between $250 and $20,000

8- Air compressor
An air compressor quickly becomes the do-it-yourselfer’s best friend in every and any instance. With 25” of air hose, air ratchet and gun, every job becomes that much easier. From removing wheels, to engine mounts and valve covers, an air ratchet does the hard work so you don’t have to.
Price: Between $50 and $5,000

9- Floor jack
For many jobs, part or all of the car must come off the ground. A proper floor jack, ideally aluminum, will make short work of raising the car with ease. A 1.5 ton weight rating is ideal for most applications. If you’re like me and work on many different types of cars, a 3-ton jack may be a better choice. As well, there are numerous types of jacks including low-profile ones which are perfect for lowered cars such as my beloved MKII Jetta.
Price: Between $50 and $500

10- A hydraulic lift
This is the do-it-yourselfer’s wet dream. If you’ve got the necessary ceiling clearance, a four-post lift will not only serve as a perfect platform to perform oil changes and countless other jobs, but it will aid in the storage of your favorite toy. Again, if you’re like me and have the car disease, you can never have too much storage space for your cars.
Price: Between $2,000 and $7,000 + installation