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Ten Must-Have Automotive Tools for Your Workshop

Want to work on your own car but think you can’t afford any special tools? Think again, because here we present 10 specific tools to help you get those jobs done without costing a fortune.
Ten Must-Have Automotive Tools for Your Workshop

If you’ve been following any of the recent news about automobiles, you are likely aware that new cars are in short supply, the average new vehicle transaction price is almost $46,000, used car values have spiked due to the new car shortage, and the average age of the vehicles on the road is over 12 years. These are the statistics as of mid-year 2022.

For the vehicle owner holding onto their used car because of all the above, normal maintenance and repair is more critical than ever. That upkeep is not inexpensive, and any quoted prices you get from a repair shop will include professional labor. Learning to work on your own car can be a huge money saver and will help you keep hundreds of dollars in your pocket each year. We at CARiD have been preaching the DIY (Do It Yourself) route for years, at least for the simpler jobs which can be completed in a garage or driveway without a major investment in tools.

Automotive Tools

Automotive Tools Categories

Ah, tools! One concern which stops the potential DIYer in their tracks is the prospect of making that tool investment. However, many automotive-specific tools don’t need to run into the 4-figure bracket. The goal of this article is to present 10 essential automotive tools which you can buy without breaking the bank and which will allow you to perform various repairs. Take note that our Top Ten list consists of automotive-specific tools, but not shop supplies like floor jacks or jack stands. What’s the difference? A tool is hand-held, fits in a toolbox, and performs a repetitive task. A piece of shop equipment is larger, more specialized, and tends to be stationary.

This list will give you the means to change oil and filter, replace spark plugs, check tire pressures, replace brake pads, jump start a battery, read and reset “Check Engine Light” codes, perform basic electrical tests, properly tighten wheel nuts, and check engine component temperatures. Best of all, all 10 tools can be purchased on www.CARiD.com and www.TOOLSiD.com for around $200!

1. Oil Filter Wrench

Changing the engine oil and filter is rather straightforward, except when removing the filter itself. Depending on who installed it previously, it may be only hand-tight, or it may be overtightened. Combine that with the possibility that some oil has leaked on it, and it’s impossible to get a good grip on it to get the leverage you need to loosen it.

Oil Filter Wrench

An oil filter wrench fits over the canister and provides leverage via a handle. This band-style wrench from Lisle is a universal fit, and the handle swivels to provide clearance in tight areas. The price today is $7.16, about which you don’t need to think twice.

2. Oil Drain Pan

That oil you just drained when you undid the drain plug needs to go somewhere. If you’ve been using an open pan, then you know how challenging it can be to pour the oil into a more proper receptable for correct disposal.

Oil Drain Pan

This 3.75 gallon plastic closed top oil drain pan from the Midwest Can Company fits under your car, has a large capacity, and includes a built-in funnel. When full, you can simply carry this pan to the recycling center and not worry about spills. At a price of $8.44, you’ll wonder why you waited so long.

3. Spark Plug Socket

A spark plug includes a ceramic body which, while sturdy, is subject to cracking if handled roughly or mistreated. When replacing spark plugs on your engine, a deep socket in the correct size will fit; however, it is not the best choice. A regular socket increases the likelihood of breaking the ceramic. For certain engines with deep spark plug wells, it can be difficult to impossible to reach and remove the spark plug even after it’s been fully unthreaded.

Spark Plug Socket

A socket specifically made for spark plugs overcomes these issues with an internal cushion made of rubber or foam. The material protects the ceramic, and it also grips the plug so that as the socket is withdrawn, the spark plug stays seated within. KT Pro makes 3/8" Drive 6-Point Spark Plug Sockets with rubber inserts, available in either 5/8” or 13/16” size (check your spark plugs first to determine the correct size). Better yet, at prices of either $3.79 or $4.13, buy one of each and be covered!

4. Tire Pressure Gauge

You can easily spend $30, $40, $50 or more on a tire pressure gauge. In fact, we sell those gauges: round dial-face units, digital readout gauges, dual-head chuck styles, and so on. But if you don’t own a gauge, and you need one that will fit in your car’s glove box or center console, and you prefer that it be small, light, and easily accessible, then I would prefer that you own this gauge rather than not own one at all: the Milton pencil-style tire pressure gauge will read pressures between 5psi and 50psi, a range which should just about cover 100% of the vehicles on the road.

Tire Pressure Gauge

Checking and setting your tire pressures is the simplest and best maintenance step you can make for your car. The $8.12 price means you can afford one for each car you own.

5. Battery Jump Starter

In the old days, when I was a younger man and could only afford older and less reliable cars, I always had a set of heavy jumper cables in my trunk. They saw regular use: if it wasn’t my car battery dying, it was happening to one of my buddies. Fast forward a few decades, and those thick heavy jumper cables are a thing of the past. Modern technology has given us the 12 Volt battery jump starter, small enough to fit in some center consoles.

Battery Jump Starter

One of the best values on our website is from our own exclusive brand, Torxe. And as those TV commercials say, but wait, there’s more! Not only can this device jump-start a dead 12V battery; it can also charge your cell phone and with its built-in air compressor, inflate your tires. It does everything but fill your tank with gas. At a price of $69.95, you’ll have change left over to buy your own fuel.

6. OBD Code Reader

That pesky “Check Engine Light” (CEL) has the most annoying habit of illuminating itself at the least-convenient moments, meaning when you’re low on bucks and really can’t afford to take the car to the shop for a diagnostic check. What could it be? Something rather minor that can wait, or something a bit more severe that needs attention sooner rather than later? What if there were a way for you to read the code yourself and at least get a heads-up about what might be needed? Are you saying to yourself that you’re not an engineer? You don’t need an advanced degree to plug in a code reader and find out what’s up.

OBD Code Reader

This CAN/OBD-II Diagnostic Scan Tool from Performance Tool works on all 1996 and newer cars running OBD II (On Board Diagnostics version II). It not only reads the codes for you; it is also capable of erasing those codes and turning off your CEL. Just follow the included instruction book for complete information. That’s after you pay us the unbelievably low price of $26.61 for the code reader.

7. 12 Volt Test Light

While digital multimeters (DMMs) are all the rage, with their ability to measure AC volts, DC volts, amps, ohms, continuity, and in some cases, temperature, I’ve seen situations where those who are just starting to learn about automotive mechanics are put off by the complexity of a DMM. Unless one desires to dive into the complexities of such devices, embracing their possibilities can seem overwhelming.

12 Volt Test Light

A 12V test light can work just as well, and given its simplicity, can be a more handy electrical tool for the DIYer compared to a DMM. A test light can check both voltage and ground, and is useful for diagnosing and repairing lights, fuses, switches, motors, terminals, shorted wiring, and more. We like this Dorman 12V tester. With its LCD light, coiled wire, and insulated clip, it’s a quality product. Costing just $13.84, it’s a few pennies more than some cheaper ones but is likely to last longer.

8. Torque Wrench

All too often, home mechanics presume that “tight is tight”, that is, turning the bolt, nut, or screw until it stops turning is “good enough”. There are several problems with this, starting with, I’m stronger than you (or you’re stronger than me) so what feels tight to you isn’t tight enough for someone else. Then there is the issue of bolt size: larger bolts require more tightening torque, and small bolts are too easily overtightened. Finally comes the matter of safety. For critical items (think wheel bolts), under-tightened fasteners can spell disaster should one or more come loose while driving. The answer to all this is available in a special tool, although few DIY mechanics seem to possess one: a torque wrench.

Torque Wrench

While there are torque wrenches that cost hundreds of dollars (a likely reason why DIYers have avoided them), we carry some which are much more affordable. A good first torque wrench would be 3/8” drive, have a range between 15 lb. ft. and 75 lb. ft., and be the “click type” so that the audible signal helps the user know when the correct torque has been reached. We have such a tool on our sister TOOLSiD website, and it’s from Sunex. Their 3/8" Drive Adjustable Click Torque Wrench has a settable range between 10 to 80 lb. ft. The current price is a very afffordable $37.71, and that includes a molded storage case.

9. Brake Pad Spreader

Doing your own disc brake pad replacement is well within the ranger of most DIY mechanics. If there is one area that trips up the apprentice, it’s fitting the new, thicker brake pads back into the caliper where the old, worn out pads just were. The issue is that the caliper pistons must be driven back into the caliper to make room. Many online tutorials suggest using a large C-clamp for this. First, one must own such a clamp, and even if you do, I find its use to be cumbersome. A special tool called variously a caliper piston tool or disc brake pad spreader makes quick and easy work of the piston retraction.

Brake Pad Spreader

Our friends at Lisle have one of the more affordable jobs; theirs uses a large thumb screw, providing plenty of leverage. It’s light, it’s compact, and it’s ridiculously affordable at only $6.30.

10. IR Thermometer

Our final tool is a suggestion from us that possibly many home mechanics have not even heard of. Temperature control is critical on modern automobiles, so knowing the running temperature of various solid, liquid, and gaseous substances becomes an important diagnostic measurement. For much of the 20th century, technicians relied on mercury-type thermometers for such findings, and those thermometers require physical contact with the substance being measured. One issue is that some operating temperatures are so hot that one can be seriously burned if inadvertent contact is made. That problem is essentially solved by the invention of the IR (infrared) contactless thermometer.

IR Thermometer

Performance Tool makes a Non-Contact Laser Infrared Thermometer which can measure temperatures in a very wide range, from -58°F to 626°F. The scale can be set to read in either Fahrenheit or Celsius, and the tool runs on common AAA batteries. It’s available on TOOLSiD, and the $21.90 purchase price makes it one “hot” deal!

How did we do? Did we keep our promise of showing you 10 automotive-specific tools which combined would only run about $200 (before tax and shipping)? Let’s take a look at this summary chart:


oil filter wrench



oil drain pan



spark plug socket



tire pressure gauge



battery power pack



OBD code reader



12V test light



torque wrench



disc brake pad spreader



IR thermometer





We did it! Perhaps you already own one or two of the tools on this list, in which case, your outlay for the remainder is less than the $200 shown. Using the right tool for the job means that your next DIY repair can be done easier, quicker, and safer. These tools will also give you the confidence to work on your own car and save money!

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