Wrenching is America’s greatest pastime, but without the right tools, it can suck real hard. So here are 14 gifts you can buy a gearhead this holiday season to keep them from cursing their brains out in the garage.
We here at Jalopnik love to wrench. So much so that this year, we launched our new sub-blog called The Garage. The new blog is dedicated to the subculture of people who defy their landlords and wrench in parking lots, go to work with grease beneath their fingernails and pray that their bosses don’t see them scouring Craigslist for the coolest, cheapest shitboxes they can get their hands on.
And trust us, we know shitboxes. I have one. (Okay, I have two.) Raphael has one. Andrew had one, but is now looking to replace it with another shitbox. And don’t let Freddy aka Tavarish’s nice 3000GT fool you. He has more clunkers than you can imagine.
Keeping these sketchy cars on the road requires a good set of tools. We’ve already talked about inexpensive tools to get you started with wrenching, but we’re going to elaborate further and help you pick out some cool tools in our Wrenchin’ Gift Guide. It’s all about helping you, our readers.
Okay, admittedly we’re just writing this because we know our moms are probably reading, and we really want those coveralls because we’re running out of clean clothes.
Without further ado, here are some great tools that will enable you to buy the shittiest, clunkiest, leakiest, smelliest But Who Cares Because It’s Awesomest car on the Craigslist market and actually keep it running:
We all know that the best creepers are found in rusty 1980s Dodge conversion vans in elementary school parking lots. But those kinds of creepers are relatively rare in states other than Florida, so you’ll have to settle for second best and get this Torin one.
Sometimes you don’t have a warm garage to work in. Even when you do, the ground can be cold as ice, and crawling under your car can be physically strenuous. To keep your body off the ground and to help you slide under there without any drama, there’s the creeper.
The good thing about this Torin one is that it’s got an adjustable headrest so you don’t strain your neck as you wrench, meaning you can lie down under your prized clunker for hours gazing at its undercarriage (if that’s what you’re into).
Every car nowadays comes with an On Board Diagnostics system. Some love it, because it helps them figure out what’s going on with their car. Others hate it, because that stupid check engine light will pop on for simple things like a loose gas cap.
Back in the day, if you had a check engine light, you could turn your key off and on a few times and the light would blink. The number of blinks could be matched up with a table to figure out what the fault was.
But those days are over, so you need to get yourself one of these OBD scanners.
I myself use a dirt-cheap black and white one. But if you want one with color, a built in speaker and a screen that displays a little more information than just the fault code, the AutoLink AL319 is a good place to start.
Now you can stop bugging the guys at O’Reilly Auto Parts to borrow theirs.
If you’re still using your car’s bottle jack to work on your vehicle, you need to stop. Get yourself a floor jack. Bottle jacks are dangerous (they tip over) and, more importantly, they’re slower than a Delorean DMC-12 towing a 5,000 pound trailer. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
I usually feel guilty when I slum it and buy from Harbor Freight. They sell some of the jankiest tools in the whole entire world. But after using a friend’s Harbor Freight jack to bolt on my Jeep’s lift kit, I was sold. So I installed a brown paper bag on my head and walked into harbor freight with a hundo in my hand and walked out with that three-ton hydraulic jack you see in the picture above.
Because I’m lazy and unwise, I used this jack to hold up my transmission for three weeks while I was rebuilding my engine. How’d she do? Perfect. Didn’t sag a bit. This thing is built like a tank, and even comes with a soft cushion around the handle so you don’t dent your car’s rocker panel as you lift it. It’s a damn good jack. It hasn’t killed me once.
A hydraulic floor jack is a sweet addition to any garage, but even the best hydraulic jack will go bad after a while, and when that happens, you’re gonna need a second line of defense. You know what happens when a 4,500 pound Jeep Grand Wagoneer drops down on a human skull?
We’re not sure, but something tells us there’d be lots of ATF to clean up.
So don’t stain your driveway with blood—err, ATF and spend a couple bucks on some heavy-duty steel jack stands. Why die when you can wrench?
Are you the kind of person who has very few clothes without grease stains? The kind of person who cannot contain their urge to wrench?
Well, if you are, we can’t help you. But if you’re willing to put in the effort to tame your wrenching urge for just two minutes and get yourself into some wrenching clothes, you should consider a pair of coveralls.
These Dickies coveralls will keep you clean and warm, and aside from a person who says they crowd his balls, they’ve scored good reviews.
I rarely wear gloves when I work. Even when I touch really sketchy stuff like the mouse den in my old J-truck, I just used my bare hands. But I’ll probably die at a young age, so don’t be like me. Buy some damn gloves.
The Mechanix Wear gloves are cheap, durable and they’re easy to get on and off. That last bit is important, as it is ultimately laziness that deters most wrenchers from wearing gloves.
If you want to preserve your hands from being bruised and bloody as you finally break a bolt free sending your hand into sharp metal, consider spending 12 bucks on some gloves.
Nothing slows down a repair like not having the right tools. But even if you do have the right tools, if they’re spread all over the place, it will take forever to get your project done.
So here’s a five drawer tool chest to keep your tools in order. An organized tool set will also help you remember when a friend has your tool and forgot to return it. That happens all too often.
The heart of any toolbox is a socket set. It’s the first thing anyone should buy if they’re serious about getting their wrenching game on.
This Craftsman set comes decked out with good stuff. You get combination wrenches, allen keys, extensions, screwdriver bits and three ratchets: a 1/2-inch drive for the heavy stuff, a 3/8th-inch drive for the normal-duty stuff and a 1/4-inch drive for the interior trim bits and light duty stuff.
It’s a great set, and while many old-timers will tell you that Craftsman quality has dropped now that most of it is made in China, the reality is that Craftsman tools are still a good value. Oh, and if you break one, there’s that lifetime warranty.
Torque wrenches are awesome. There are few things more satisfying as that final click of the torque wrench as you finish your engine rebuild.
Torque wrenches are a crucial part of any tool set. Torquing things to spec ensures that your seals work properly and that you don’t strip your threads. It also prevents bolts and nuts from backing off. That’s a big deal when those nuts are the ones holding your wheels on.
This Tekton 1/2-inch drive torque wrench only costs 39 smackaroos and has great reviews. Its torque reading starts low enough to be useful for light-duty applications like spark plugs, but goes high enough for the big stuff like head bolts and lug nuts.
Wanna know what the most underrated wrenching tool is? If you looked at the picture above and said “a headlamp,” then you’re spot on!
Why make your little brother be the “flashlight bitch” while you get to enjoy all the wrenchin’? Slap some lumens to your forehead, strap some more lumens to his forehead and do some family wrenchin’.
Seriously though, why is there always a “flashlight holder” where there’s wrenching involved? Headlamps people!
And the headlamp we’re recommending, the Zebralight H600w MKII is the Cadillac of headlamps. Well, the CTS-V of headlamps, to be exact, because this thing puts out over 1,000 lumens! That’s a ton of light. Of course, when you don’t want all those lumens, you can dial it down via a use-programmable interface to as low as 0.01 lumens.
This thing’s got type III anodized aluminum so it won’t scratch and a highly efficient Cree XM-L2 LED with regulation circuitry so the battery lasts forever. Speaking of batteries, the rechargeable lithium ion 18650s that this thing uses are the same batteries found in a Tesla Model S.
The neutral white color of this LED is also easy on the eyes, so when you’re looking through that Hanes manual late at night, your eyes won’t start bleeding.
Have you ever tried to remove flexplate bolts from a Jeep Cherokee XJ? It’s unbearable. You can’t fit a socket in the narrow space, so you’re stuck using a combination wrench. You have to turn each bolt 1/1000000000th of a turn, remove the wrench, flip it about its axis, turn the bolt another 1/1000000000th of a turn, flip it again... wash, rinse, repeat.
It takes a long time to get those bolts out. Like I’m At The Back Of The Franklin’s Barbecue Line long time.
So a ratcheting wrench set like the GearWrench 20-piece is a great investment. Ratcheting wrenches tend to cost a lot for some reason, but at $70 for both SAE and Metric wrenches, the GearWrench offers good value.
And, more importantly, it will save you tons of time, meaning you might be able to get to all the other broken things you’ve been putting off. Like your brakes. You should probably get to your brakes.
You know what really sucks? The black plague. You know what’s equally as bad? The Jeep Compass. You know what’s bad but not quite as bad as the first two? Stripped screws.
If you need a second to gather yourself after flashbacks of drilling and tapping play in your heads, we understand.
But if you want to remove a screw without stripping it and having to grab your tap and die set, buy a hand impact tool set like this Lisle one. The way it works is simple: put a bit (flathead or Phillips) in the tip, grab the handle and bang on the back side. The tool will turn your hammer’s motion into a torque, which will remove the screw. It works well with rusty things that just need a bit of impulse to get them started.
As someone who lives in southeast Michigan, I tend to complain about rust. Like, a lot. If you’re like me, and you live in a state that uses salt to a degree that makes almost no sense, you’re going to need some protection.
POR15 is regarded as one of the best rust preventatives money can buy. It only works if you prep it properly with degreaser and metal prep, but if you follow the directions properly, you should be able to keep the brown cancer from destroying your prized automobile.
If you’ve ever replaced brake pads or rotors, you’ve had the joy of compressing brake pistons. If you’ve tried it with an old-school C-Clamp, you’ve probably had to race against time as that damn piston slowly starts to creep its way out.
You know how you can save yourself some time with all your C-Clamp related endeavors? Get a C-Clamp that doesn’t take a decade to adjust. That orange button on the Great Neck C-Clamp above is the greatest invention since the 22-inch spinning rim (“spinnas,” if you will). All you have to do is click the button, push the threaded shaft to the desired point, and start crankin’ on that T-handle. It will save you tons of time and stress, and once you’ve gone with a quick-release C-Clamp, you’ll never go back.
Top photo via Getty Images, the rest via Amazon