Today's automobiles have gotten so complex that seasoned mechanics say that instead of their trusty hand tools, they only need a laptop computer to perform repairs. Of course they joke (a little), but the reality is that the cars and trucks of the 21st century are not as easy to work on as the vehicles of yesteryear.
Still, you may want to learn to perform some basic tasks on your daily driver (think spark plugs). Or perhaps you have an older car and want to get some tools which will allow you to tinker. If the only tools you currently own are the disposable wrenches you got with that IKEA furniture, then we suggest it's time to consider purchasing your first set of hand tools. Many of the hand tools you would use on your car can also be used around the house.
To make this easier for you, the tool manufacturers have put together a number of different tool "kits" at different price points. Working with a $200 budget, let's take a look at what's out there, and find the best one to meet your needs.
If you truly are starting from scratch, and need tools more for simple home maintenance tasks rather than automotive ones, take a look at this 55-piece set from Trades Pro. It includes a hammer, tape measure, knife, adjustable wrench, scissors, pliers and more. A screwdriver with replaceable bits will take care almost all household tasks.
Do you already own some of those tools, and want something for the car? Trades Pro offers their Compact Auto Tool Set, with hex sockets to allow you more mechanical leeway. A flashlight and tire pressure gauge are nice inclusions, making this something you could carry in your vehicle all the time.
Need more, but are still budget-restricted? Take a look at the 94-piece Mechanics Tool Set from Performance Tool. The set includes screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, hex keys, and a full array of sockets. Channellock's Mechanic's Tool Set is also 94 pieces, but leans more toward sockets in both ¼” and 3/8” sizes, as well as screwdriver bits and hex keys.
Yes, you CAN get a 100-piece tool kit for under fifty bucks. The Trades Pro 100 piece Home Tool Set combines homeowner hand tools (hammer, tape measure), screwdrivers and pliers, AND adds a level and a T-square for you budding carpenters. We call this a Best Value at this price.
$50 to $100
If you can expand your spending limit just a little bit, you can move up to some great brand name tool sets. Stanley, one of the oldest and most respected names in the industry, offers a 69-piece Black Chrome Mechanics Tool Set, with ¼” and 3/8” ratchet wrenches, extension bars, 63 sockets, and special spark plug tools. All the tools fit in a quality, blow molded case.
Channellock’s 132-piece Mechanic’s Tool Set goes further than any other kit in this price range by including 10 hand wrenches in both SAE and metric sizes, so we’ll rate it a Best Buy at the under-$100 level.
$100 to $200
At this price point, your choices diverge: of course, there are the larger tool sets with more pieces; but you'll also find specialty took kits for working in a more narrow discipline. Looking at the latter first, we find the Knipex Automotive Insulated Tool Set, with screwdrivers, pliers, and wrenches specially insulated for electrical work.
Do you find yourself tinkering with all the new electronics devices, such as cell phones, tablets, cameras, even children's electronic toys? Take a look at the PAComputer Service Kit from Greenlee, which in addition to the miniature drivers you'll need, includes a soldering iron and ESD wrist strap.
Need some woodworking hand tools? Our friends at GearWrench have surprised us with their Hammer, Punch, Chisel, and Pry Bar assortment. The title sums up the included tools rather well, but to be more specific, you get six hammers and plenty of chisels!
Moving back to general mechanic’s tool kits, if it’s only ratchets and sockets you need, the GearWrench Drive Tool and Socket Board Set squeaks in under our $200 limit. You get a full range of both ¼” and 3/8” ratchet handles, SAE and metric sockets in standard and deep sizes, extensions, U-joints, and more.
The Apex 143-piece Master Tool Set has screwdrivers, sockets, wrenches, and pliers, and is one of the few kits at this price point to include them all in a portable tool box with drawers.
Williams Tools, another outstanding tool maker, has a kit with fewer pieces but with a more focused approach: their 58-piece Socket, Screwdriver, and Pliers Set includes only the 3/8" drive sockets, and the pliers are more heavy-duty. All the components fit in one case.
Are you more focused on starting with the highest-quality tools you can, and don't need sockets at this point? You can get this 18-piece industrial quality Piers/Cutters/Screwdrivers/Wrenches kit from Wiha, a German-based tool company. These are high-end components, still under our price point!
If you want the maximum number of pieces within budget, look no further than the Powerbuilt 201 piece Mechanics Tool Set. It’s one of the few kits at any price which includes 1/4”, 3/8”, AND ½” ratchet and sockets, along with the screwdrivers and wrenches you expect.
Williams Tools, another outstanding tool maker, has a kit with fewer pieces but with a more focused approach: their 58-piece Socket, Screwdriver, and Pliers Set includes only the 3/8” drive sockets, and the pliers are more heavy-duty. All the components fit in one case. We like this kit enough to rate it as our favorite for under $200.
So, what's the best starter tool set for you? It's simple: pick your price range, decide if you need tools for home, car, or specialty use, and buy the best kit for your needs that you can afford!