Automotive Education/Info Tool Review

First Job Working on Cars? Here are the Tools You Need!

What tools will you need to get started in the automotive industry?

When a person gets his or her first job working on cars and trucks, they often wonder what are the first tools I will need to do the job? With the number of automotive tools on the market and the ever growing list, it can be overwhelming to pick out the tools you will need to get started in the automotive industry.

Eventually, most auto repair mechanics and technicians will accumulate thousands of dollars in tools. It’s one of the downsides to becoming a mechanic. Some will be hand tools and some will be air tools, power tools and electrical diagnostic equipment. With a rapidly changing automotive repair industry, there will always be a new tool for mechanics to buy.

When a mechanic starts out however, it’s likely that he or she will only be doing the basics and therefore, only need a good tool starter kit. It’s worth asking your local tool dealers if they offer a toolkit to get started with. Some, such as Snap On and Matco offer affordable hand tool starter kits that you can pay for on a weekly basis. If you’re a student in tech school, Snap On also offers a large discount on tools which is worth taking advantage of.

Best Tools Amazon has to offer

in this article, I’m going to assume that you’re just looking to fill the first couple drawers in your toolbox. I’ll show you the most useful tools in the automotive industry. The cheapest options when starting your toolbox. We’re even gonna take a dive into the best brand of tools to get you started in the auto industry. So, here it goes.

Here are 5 Tools that NEED to be in your automotive toolbox.


1). Ratchet and Socket Set


The most basic tool and auto mechanic will need is a ratchet with an assortment of standard and metric sockets. Anything a technician is tasked to do will require removing a fastener and the majority of those are a hex head style in either standard size or metric. Each brand of automaker prefers a different style, but SAE and Metric are the two you will see when dealing with nuts and bolts.

Ratchet and socket sets are available from all of the big tool brands and they are usually the main part of any starter kit offered by Snap On, Blue Point etc. If you’re not looking to spend big on tools though, there are many cheaper options that will get the job done just as well.

One brand that is highly reputable when it comes to hand tools is Gearwrench. With a constantly evolving line of tools and a seamless warranty process, Gearwrench is a first choice for many auto mechanics that prefer not to shop with the tool truck brands and rack up large amounts of debt.

For around $250, Amazon offers this Gearwrench starter kit that will be plenty to get aspiring mechanics changing oil, spark plugs, brakes and much more. Once you’re working on cars and trucks for some time, you will find that you need more specialty sockets and different styles of tool to make the job easier- but for now a set like the one above will suffice.

2). Standard and Metric Wrenches


Just like a ratchet and sockets, a set of standard and metric wrenches are absolutely necessary when you start working on cars. Why do you need wrenches when you have a ratchet? Well, here’s the thing. Some bolts are harder to get at than others. It’s for that reason, every automotive mechanic is going to need a set of wrenches to get started.


Think about it for a minute. It’s likely when you start out as an auto mechanic, you will be relegated to changing a lot of oil. Would you rather get a ratchet, pick out a socket, assemble and go for the drain plug? Or would it be easier just to grab the wrench size that’s sitting on top of your tool box or hanging on the wall? I’ll let your imagination answer that question and while we’re at it I will give you a tip. When changine oil, always be prepared for the big splash. You will get covered in oil if you’re not always on guard for it.

As with ratchet and socket sets, the big tool brands of course offer many wrench sets for all different budgets but is it necessary to get on the tool truck for that first set of spanners? That would be a resounding NO. Not when there are brands like TEKTON out there on Amazon selling sets from 10mm-19mm for under $100 or every hardware store in town is carrying Craftsman sets at an affordable price. Let’s set the record straight while we’re on the topic of money. Your first job as an auto mechanic is not going to turn you into a millionaire. You may be working for just over minimum wage, depending on your own personal qualifications.

It’s possible to earn a good living as an auto mechanic, especially if you are willing to work hard and stay open to learning the newest trends in the auto industry. Chances are you will start out struggling just like everyone else though and spending the least amount possible on tools is a must. So take a look around your local stores when looking for wrenches. It’s extremely likely that you can pick up your first sets for under $50.


3.) a GOOD automotive work light!


I can not and will not stress this enough. When you are working on cars you can never have too many lights! Head lights, neck lights, shop lights, drop lights, christmas lights.. whatever you get the point. It gets dark in the tombs and you’re going to spend time there when you start working on cars. Garages spend big money on lighting and it helps when you’re standing over top of an engine bay or looking at any part of the exterior. Where it doesn’t help is deep in the engine bay changing your first thermostat or on the side of a 3.6L engine changing that stupid alternator. It won’t help you much under the dash either.

You WILL need lights aplenty and one tip I will give you is you do not have to overspend for them. Some of the best lights I have could be bought  for under $50. Sound like a lot for a light? You will not think so when you need it. I promise. Take a look around on Amazon. Look at Walmart. Hell, strap a desktop lamp on the brim of your hat- I don’t care. Just buy a damn light. And then one more. And another after that one. You can never have too many and you will lose plenty over the years. I can tell you the only thing that hurts more than losing your 9th grade crush is losing your favorite light under the hood of some piece of shit. Make sure you have two favorites. And then three.


4.) OBD-II Diagnostic Scanner


This one may not be a necessity, I’ll admit. Most shops will have an automotive OBD-II scanner as a shop tool for all techs to use, but having at least a handheld diagnostic OBD scanner will be very handy when you enter the automotive field. Admittedly, high end automotive diagnostic scanners like the ones sold by Snap On will set you back thousands of dollars and they are not a must have early on in your automotive career. There are many OBD-II scanners on the market though that can be had for under $150 that will do what the aspiring A-tech needs.

There are many menial tasks like clearing check engine lights after a repair, looking up codes to get an idea of the issue you’re trying to troubleshoot or looking at ABS data to either make a repair or turn off the warning light after you make it. In the interest of saving time and earning yourself a little bit of credibility it’s worth picking up a budget OBD-II and ABS diagnostic scanner before or shortly after getting your first job as an auto mechanic.

Once you learn the ins and outs of diagnostics and figure out how to use a scanner, then you can make a big jump and start to get higher end diagnostic tools. At the outset though, there’s no need for all of that. Just use the shop scanner if you need it and pull your handheld scanner out in the situations that call for it. It’s up to you. If you’re starting out with a sizeable amount of cash, I would say add a scanner and electrical diagnostic tools to the priority list.


5.) Screwdrivers/Prybars


One of the absolute most frustrating problems to deal with working on cars and trucks is when something is stuck and won’t move. Think brake disc won’t come off. Brake pad stuck in the caliper brackets. Thermostat housing welded to the block. The list could go on and on, but if you work anywhere in the world but especially the rust belt you will need to own a set of basic sized pry bars at the very least. Here again, I will reiterate that you do not need to go out and break the bank on this type of stuff. Every hardware store on the planet, Harbor Freight, Amazon etc. all offer value priced screw drivers and prybars that will get you by in the beginning of your automotive career.

I say that cheap prybars will get you through but I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that eventually you will need better ones. In the beginning of my auto career, I owned a set of Pittsburgh pry bars. These prybars were fine for small stuff, but when it came to the big jobs they just didn’t hold up and eventually I did find it useful to invest in Snap On prybars. Again, this wasn’t necessary early on though as it’s likely you will need to earn some trust before you get into the big jobs.


Honorable-est Mention

One tool that is off overlooked in the automotive industry is also one of the most important. It’s likely because it’s not something you can technically put in a drawer in the toolbox. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve a “drawer” of its own. That tool is RESEARCH.

You can’t touch it. Well not exactly. You can read books, sure. But “research” in general can come in many forms. Google is a tool, manuals are a research tool. Literature is a tool. If you’re looking for a diagnostic resource, go over to YouTube and check out ScannerDanner or Eric O. over at South Main Auto. These two guys are my favorites when it comes to automotive diagnostic content.

The main point I will stress is use the resources available to you. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are a “YouTube mechanic” if you happen to find the answer to what’s wrong with something watching a video. Like many other things- Shopkey, Alldata etc., YouTube is a resource. And if you don’t use them, well, you’re an idiot.

Honorable Mentions


There are several tools that I didn’t consider absolutely necessary when a mechanic start his or her career, but that deserve to be mentioned because they will be important moving forward.

Impact tools

Most shops have an assortment of impact tools, so a lube tech starting out will not need to have those to get started. If you start out a little higher on the automotive food chain though, it may be a requirement to have impact tools to start as a mechanic. Make sure you ask during the interview so you don’t get caught with your pants down and look unprepared.

Tire Tools

Tire tools may be worth even more than an honorable mention but it’s all they’re getting on this list. I say this because it’s widely accepted that most mechanics do not like to change or repair tires- myself included. Working on tires is far and away my least favorite thing to do in my career as a technician. I’m not really sure why tires are my least favorite, but I think it has to do with the tedium of the task. I would rather be challenged with an absolute diagnostic nightmare than but a BF Goodrich on a Chevy. Tit for tat I guess. To find tire tools, stop at your local Wal-Mart or even Auto Parts store. Don’t break your bank on stuff like plug kits, valve stem tools etc. There are just too many cheap, suitable alternatives on the market.

It’s likely any automotive starter kit worth the few hundred bucks you spend will come with some basic pliers. Needle-nose and the like but it’s going to be very handy to grow your selection of pliers. In fact, Vice-Grips or another brand of “locking pliers” are actually a necessity in my eyes but I guess you could live without them. Just not for very long. If you’re going to be working on cars for a living, get a damn set of Vice-Grip’s. You will not regret it, I promise.


Electrical Diagnostic Tools

It will come quicker than any mechanic would like. Especially at the rate cars are becoming “electrified”. That first electrical fault caused by a wiring problem. Whether it be corrosion, rodents or a blown fuse or bad electrical component, you are going to need electrical diagnostic tools eventually in your endeavors as an auto mechanic. My first choice is a basic multimeter, a 12v test light and some variation of a Probe Tester. Autel makes a good, affordable automotive circuit tester in the PowerScan and there are dozens of other cheap options out there. Some are better than others. Personally, I use the Autel version. It’s under $100 and offers everything you can get from a Power Probe IV. Do your research on the best autotive electrical testers and choose the one that you think fits best in your toolbox.

By John Green

I’m John Green. I’m a 33 year old auto technician from Upstate New York. I have 18 years of experience as an automotive light duty and heavy duty truck mechanic. Cars, trucks and anything with moving parts are my passion in my professional life.

Aside from my life as a technician, I am also a seasoned investor and consider myself very financially literate. I use this other passion combined with my passion for cars, trucks and tools to look for ways to save money for my technician friends.

Raising my three girls and teaching them the proper way of life is my personal passion in life. If you want to know more, just ask! I’m on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube as well!