We here at Jalopnik believe that, with a bit of determination, anyone can wrench. We’ve given you pointers on how to learn to fix cars, but now it’s time to give you some advice on which tools to buy to get you started.
It’s darned near impossible to fix cars without tools. If you’re a genius like our man Raphael Orlove, you can sometimes jerry-rig a fix with nothing but a bit of cleverness and some jumper cables. But usually wrenchin’ involves, well, a wrench.
I got started with a cheapo $20 ratchet set from AutoZone. That broke almost immediately. I then went to Wallyworld (Wal-Mart, for those of you who aren’t rednecks) and picked up a $50 Stanley set, which I’ve had for over five years. Between that and the tools I rented from Autozone, I was able to get quite a few repairs under my belt.
I must admit, I got my best tools from flea markets, estate sales and Craigslist. Craftsmen, SK, Snap-on, Williams, Proto, Wizard— they’re all there and they’re all dirt cheap if you do your bargaining right.
Still, buying tools from flea markets and Craigslist can be a pain, so here are two very inexpensive tool sets available at the store that can get you started for less than 75 bucks:
164 Piece Tool Set for $30 from Pepboys
If you want to wrench, you’re gonna need a socket set. It’s the heart of any toolbox. You also can’t get very far without screwdrivers and pliers. Lucky for you, here’s a set that comes with all that and much more, meaning you can tackle a bunch of different jobs. And at $30, this set oozes with value, meaning you’ll have more to spend on parts from the junkyard.
This set from Pep Boys is no Snap-on, but it will do just fine for medium-duty applications, though we’d recommend you get yourself a proper 3/8th drive ratchet to go along with this set. A Craftsman from Sears or even a decent Pittsburgh from Harbor Freight can give you years of trouble-free ratcheting goodness.
Like me, you’ll probably end up buying a better set of tools as you develop your skill set and take on tougher projects, but for a brake job or an alternator swap, this is a great place to start.
Floor Jack And Jack Stands for $40 from O’Reilly.
I have to recommend a hydraulic jack and jack stands. The bottle or scissor jack in your car is junky and dangerous. Sure, you can use a wheel as a jack stand and the stock jack will do just fine in a pinch, but cranking a worm gear jack is an enormous pain in the arsch.
Hydraulic jacks lift much faster, and having proper jack stands can be the difference between life and death. Always use jack stands. I used this set when I was in college wrenchin’ on a budget. For the most part, it works well— just don’t leave the jack out in the rain, and it should last you a good while.
I know we’ve got plenty seasoned wrenchers out there, so tell us: which tools did you buy when you were low on funds but high on wrenchin’ ambition?