As you dig deeper and deeper into automotive DIY you quickly realize why a professional mechanic’s tool set is as extensive as it is. You can get by with the basics, but if you want to be efficient (and not cursing every automotive engineer on the planet) there are a lot of handy tools out there that make life easier without breaking the bank.
There was a time when you could look down under the hood and see the pavement beneath the car, but today most engine compartments are tightly packed, so much so that anything you drop is unlikely to come out the bottom. That’s where your parts picker comes in. We recommend getting two: A magnetic one for easy pick-up of metal parts and a spring-loaded claw-type picker for stuff the magnet won’t get. Even when fitted with an LED light, these things won’t cost you more than around $12.
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Telescoping Inspection Mirrors
There is a law governing auto repair stating that at least one bolt in every job will be hiding some place where you can’t see it. That’s exactly where the inspection mirror comes in handy. This cheap gadget will let you eyeball the location of impossible-to-see parts and help you position your wrench.
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OK, you’ve used your inspection mirror to find the hidden bolt — now how the heck are you going to get a wrench on it? A flex-head ratchet answers this puzzle by allowing you to get at bolts that don’t allow a straight-in path. They can be a bit expensive by cheap-tool standards — $20 or more — but with the frustration they’ll save, it’s money well spent. At the time of writing, the sleek and well-made Tekton ratchet pictured is just a hair above $18.
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Magnetic Parts Trays
If we added up all the minutes we’ve spent searching for bolts, screws and other small parts that wandered off on their own, we’d have near enough time to build a car from the ground up. The magnetic parts dish solves that problem: Stick it to your metal toolbox or some part of the car, then drop the bits inside, and they stay put. It even works upside down! This is truly one of those “How did I live without it?” tools, and we smacked our own foreheads when we realized they cost $7 or less.
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Budget Digital Cameras
Yes, we all have phones with cameras on them now, but there’s a method to our madness. You need documentation to ensure that things go back where they belong, no matter if you’re a rookie or a veteran depending on the magnitude of the repair, and rather than getting your greasy paws over your smartphone you can pick up a cheap and effective workshop camera. There are tens of thousands of options priced between $25 and $50.
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