Having the right tool saves mechanics time and labor.
One thing you’re going to find when starting a career as a mechanic is that there is a tool for every job and having the right tools will make your job much easier. Whether it’s a special oil filter wrench, a fancy ratchet that literally folds in half or a cool pair of pliers that can turn a ten minute job into five– there will always be a tool you can buy to save time and beat the labor guides if you work flat-rate.
Tool trucks like Snap On know this and have made billions of dollars extorting mechanics into thinking their tools are the “most useful”, but it’s a facade. It’s not how much money you spend on a tool, it’s how you spend your money on tools.
In this post, I’m going to rack my brain and think back on my twenty year career to give as many tools as I can think of that made my job as an auto tech easier. My hope is to save you some time and earn you some extra labor hours on that next big job.
Im going to add to this list any time I can think of another automotive tool that has been essential in my repair shop. I genuinely want to help young techs figure out how to beat the labor guide, flag more hours and make more money.
17 Tools that Made my Job as a Mechanic Easier
1.) Neck Lights
Neck lights have become such an important tool to me that I did a full post, focused solely on the best set I have found out of the several neck lights I have tried. If you’re just starting a career as a mechanic, you’re about to find out that having the best light in the repair shop will be a major advantage. In my experience, there is no better option than the NK 15, especially when it comes to price and functionality. The NK15 is excellent work light.
I’ve always been a fan of the idea of head lights, but never liked the way they looked on me. Head lights also move with your head which to me is annoying. Having a hands-free light source directed exactly where you are working is infinitely useful in an auto repair setting and the neck light solved this problem for me. All the while without putting a bulb on my forehead and blinding all of the other techs every time I looked in their direction.
With sides that pivot, neck lights can be pointed in any direction- including down. Looking up to change oil, exhaust or other under-car components? Pivot. Looking down to trace wires, diagnose emissions problems? Pivot. Looking sideways-ish/upside down working under the dash? Pivot up on one side, down on the other. If you haven’t used a set of neck lights yet, come back and thank me after you do.
2.) 3-Legged Oil Filter Wrench
Most mechanics either use a “cup” style or strap wrench to remove oil filters, but once I used a 3-jaw style oil filter wrench I never put it down. My first experience with it was when I was working on Mack engines and needed a filter wrench that could give me a lot of leverage without requiring a ton of room.
I started searching the internet looking for heavy duty oil filter wrenches and came across this one made by OEM tools. Buying that oil filter wrench was one of the best tool-buying decisions I’ve ever made.
Right from the start I liked that I could use a 1/2” ratchet on this style oil wrench, but once I started putting extensions on it and using it that way- I fell in love with it. The 3-legged oil filter wrench is most useful on heavy duty trucks and can be overkill on small cars, but it deserves a spot in every mechanics tool box. At $13.99 for that OEM version I still use to this day, it’s value has exceeded many of my tools that costed hundreds of dollars.
3.) Probe Tester
A probe tester is another tool you will hear me talk about a lot because I truly believe it’s that important for every mechanic to own one. Twenty years ago I would have said that and in 2023, it’s even more of an essential tool with the rise of electricity and computer chips in vehicles and equipment. Everything is controlled by an electrical component in 2023 and a probe tester will make the diagnostic process much easier. Okay
Which probe tester you buy isn’t really important honestly, so long as you have one. I’ve used Power Probe I, III and IV and now I own the Autel PS100 because it’s cheaper and functions just as well. I also recommend a test light and multimeter, especially in todays automotive technology landscape but a probe tester will replace them both in many instances.
4.) Lisle Coolant Bleeding No-Spill Funnel
One of the most frustrating things for a tech that doesn’t have access to a vacuum bleeder is the excess coolant falling to the floor. Lisle’s 24680 has been around for a long time, but likely never got the recognition it deserves.
When a tech tries to manually bleed a cooling system, it’s common for air bubbles to come up through the radiator and splash on the floor or (hopefully) in a drain pan. But even with a drain pan, antifreeze makes a mess and is corrosive to plastics. The Lisle funnel kit eliminates that while also filling up the radiator with pressure from the coolant.
It’s a simple tool, but I’m telling you it’s worth it’s weight in gold. If you wanna check it out on Amazon, you can click the link.
5.) Mid-Level Smoke Machine
Its nearly impossible with the emissions standards in 2023 for a repair shop to be successful without a decent smoke machine for leak testing. I didn’t buy top of the line on this, I bought an AutoLine Pro that came with tons of attachments and is still serving me well today.
The ways a smoke tester can be useful on cars is endless if you get creative. Smoke-testing for intake leaks and evap leaks are common uses for smoke machines, but I’ve also used smoke to find leaks in sunroofs, windows and other parts of the vehicle. Just make sure to buy the refill liquid for whichever smoke machine you buy.
6.) Tekton 30-60 Angled Wrenches
Ive worked in both light duty and heavy duty at different points in my career. It was as a truck mechanic that I learned about these 30-60 angled wrenches. The reason I bought the angled wrenches was to save time installing and removing air line fittings and hydraulic fittings.
The 30-60 angle of the end of the wrenches make removing these fittings so much easier it’s ridiculous. Instead of only getting a small fraction of a turn, these angled wrenches allow you to make more like a half turn– even when lines are all next to each other like an ABS brake module.
I bought this Tekton set because it was so much cheaper than the only other alternative I could find and that was Snap-On’s $1,000 set. I would buy three more sets of the Tekton 60-30 wrenches in a heart beat.
Aside from being cheaper, the set made by Tekton is a true 60-30 where Snap-On’s is a 15-75 which leaves a full 15 degrees of swing on each turn of the wrench.
7.) Astro 78825 Wheel Bearing Removal Tool
My boss at the first shop I worked in was famous for pressing wheel bearings with a hammer and large socket. I tried it twice and both times ruined the bearing because he was too cheap to buy a press, or pay someone else to press the bearing.
I set out to find a reasonably priced tool that would press and also remove pressed bearings. I found the OTC Hub Grappler and I admit I was in love with it, but I was paying for the tool and didn’t need top of the line.
8.) Disc Brake Installation Kit
This is a small one and if you own one, it’s likely you take the disc brake installation tool for granted. I used a C-clamp for years to push in caliper pistons but it was those pesky ratcheting “spin” calipers this tool was most useful for.
I owned one of the old brake blocks that fit on a 3/8 drive ratchet, but more often I found myself using a C-clamp and my knipex pliers to spin them in.
8.) Squeeze Clamp Cable-type Pliers
One of the most frustrating tasks is getting a stupid squeeze clamp to open up when it’s seized, wet or broken. Thankfully a bunch of companies sell squeeze clamp pliers with a cable on them to get you deep into the engine bay.
Since I’m on this topic, I wanna throw another tool in that is awesome but doesn’t need it’s own section. I’m talking about hose punch-pliers. You won’t know the mess you save until you actually use them.
10.) Mid-Level OBD Scanner
This one isn’t as much a want as it is a need in todays automotive repair landscape. In order to be successful and make life easier (borrowing shop tools) you can pick up mid-level scanners from Launch, Autel and a few others.
I recommend having your own scan tool, but I also don’t think it’s necessary to have a top of the line Snap-On. I believe shop owners should be responsible for tools that expensive, but there are of course all different scenarios. Not having to chase down the high-end shop scanner constantly just to clear a code or shut off the ABS light after a repair will be a benefit to you, and save a lot of time, I promise.
11.) 19.5 mm and 21.5 mm sockets
I always struggled with those stupid lug nuts that swell and either you can’t get a socket on them or the outside falls off and you still can’t get an impact socket on them because now they’re too small. They were new then, but now you can buy all different variations as long as it isn’t on the truck.
You can have a 19mm x 19.5mm for under $15. I always recommend buying the 21 mm as well, but there are several sizes out there now. These make those damaged lug nuts on Dodge, Ford and others much easier to take off. For the ones that aren’t damaged? Just flip the socket over.
12.) Cooling System Tester
I almost forgot to mention the cooling system tester and vacuum-fill machine. Once you use one, you will never not use it again on a cooling system repair. I bought the Astro tools set because I’ve had luck with their specialty tools like the wheel bearing press I mentioned, but cooling system testers/vacuum refill kits are all over for a little less money.
13.) Form a Funnel Flexible Draining
Ever get splashed in the face with hot oil or made a mess on the floor while changing oil on a Chevy Trailblazer? With the “form a funnel” this is no longer a problem and it cost about as much as a gallon of oil.
All the mechanic does is mold it into a shape that fits where he or she is working. It’s simple and I’ve been using some variation of this for years. Yes cardboard works, but why when you can buy this neat little “Form-a-Funnel” for less than $25 most places?
14). Coolant Refiller and Evacuation Tool
One of the best tools money can buy for an auto mechanic is the coolant refill and evacuation tool like this one by Robinair Tools- the company made famous by its A/C evacuation and refill machines.
Another option to consider for coolant vacuum refill and evacuation tools is the OEM tools 24444 version which costs around $25 less, but is also made by a tool company less known for quality than Robinair.
15). Hydraulic Brake Line Flaring Tool
I was in the auto repair industry for almost a decade before being introduced to the Mastercool hydraulic flaring tool. If I had to go another decade without it, I may not have survived- the Mastercool 72475 is seriously that great of a tool.
It’s admittedly a little expensive, but in relation to the amount of time saved flaring brake lines and transmission lines- the Mastercool kit is an extreme bargain. I personally have hated doing brake lines my entire career, but this hydraulic flaring kit made it easy to get a perfect flare every single time.
If you’re not ready to fork out over $300 on a hydraulic flaring kit, there is a cheaper option in this VEVOR branded set- but I can not vouch for the quality of this kit. The Mastercool 72475 kit has been rebranded by Blue-Point and other major tool companies which alone speaks to its reputation.
16). Rocket Socket™ Bolt Extractor Sockets
Its actually wild that I made it to number 16 on this list of tools to save a mechanic time without mentioning the Rocket Socket’s. Also called “strip sockets” by some or “twist sockets”, these bolt extracting sockets are a ridiculous time-saver if you live in the rust-belt as I do.
Where these Rocket Sockets have excelled for me are with exhaust nuts and bolts that were rounded off and needed to be heated with acetylene torches to remove or any other bolt that has been rounded off. Even engine oil drain plugs that careless technicians have stripped are easy to remove with these twist sockets.
Aside from the Rocket Socket brand, Blue-Point by Snap-On also sells a set of spiral twist extractors (PN213TSFSYA) that are impact rated but I’ve never had any luck using this type of twist socket with an impact tool and they cost around $500 versus the 13-piece and 18-piece Rocket Socket brand- both less than $100 with a nice little hard plastic case.
17). Oxygen/Acetylene Cutting Torches
Somehow I forgot to mention oxygen/acetylene torches until I was reviewing the Rocket Socket set above. Cutting torches might actually belong first on any list of tools meant to save time, especially in the rust belt or any part of the world that uses salt on the roads in the winter time.
It’s absolutely impossible to work without torches in New York where I’m from and I’m sure most of you guys would agree. You can pick up a set of cutting torches at any hardware store or you can buy them online. Most shop owners will supply the shop with a large set of torches, but some techs prefer to have their own mini-torch setup.
Either way, having a set of acetylene cutting torches will make or break a mechanics ability to do certain big jobs especially suspension and exhaust work. If the shop you work in doesn’t already have a set- get one.
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