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Been working on cars for about a year now. I have pretty much all the basics when it comes to hand tools: flex head ratchet, breaker bar, sockets, pliers, pry bars, combo wrenches, etc.

Now I'm thinking about expanding beyond the basic tool set, in hopes of boosting my repertoire of what I can do on a car, be it (dis)assembly or diagnostic. I originally thought this would mean getting a "power tool" of some kind. Then I thought that that might not necessarily be true, so I just wrote "specialty tool".

So what was the one specialty tool, beyond the usual hand tools, that really changed the game for you? Was it an impact wrench? Was it a stethoscope? Or, perhaps, something most people never heard of? Something you would recommend a novice get first above all other specialty tools.

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  • A scanner and an impact wrench.
    – Jupiter
    Commented Jun 16, 2022 at 22:57
  • It really depends on what types of work you want to do, and the car you are working on. Some might say a torque wrench, others a strap wrench, it's completely opinion based.
    – GdD
    Commented Jun 17, 2022 at 7:46
  • If you want to be respected by your customers then a torque wrench.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Commented Jun 17, 2022 at 18:46
  • Yup, it is opinion-based. There is no one right answer. I was just curious about the multitude of answers. Also, I consider a scanner and an impact wrench to fall in the category of "the basics".
    – TLex
    Commented Jun 17, 2022 at 20:34

3 Answers 3

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I use the approach of buying what I need when the current task requires it or could benefit from it. That way, over time, you accumulate various tools that are useful in doing the kinds of work you do.

For autos, however, one of the most basic "specialty" tools, and by that I mean something other than screwdrivers, combination wrenches, socket wrenches, pliers, etc., an OBDII scanner is probably the most useful. I say that because so many cars now will tell you exactly what is wrong and without one you have to go somewhere to get the codes read vs. just doing it yourself.

I also have found that an 3/8" electric impact driver has become indispensable. Yes, you can work without one but it saves so much time and effort that you will be spoiled as soon as you get one. I have a 3/8" and a 1/2" but I find that I use the 3/8" way more than 50% of the time. So if I had to choose one or the other, I'd take the 3/8".

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  • Thanks, that's pretty helpful. Already, got a scanner, but it's not the best one in the world. Only spits out codes, but that at least points me in the right direction to search online. A few questions about the impact - Did you mean impact wrench or driver? Also, would you mind elaborating why you found the 3/8" more useful? Was it the form factor? Weight?
    – TLex
    Commented Jun 17, 2022 at 20:30
  • 1/2" Impact drivers are generally pretty large and heavy. I have and like one of these: amazon.com/Milwaukee-2554-20-Stubby-Impact-Wrench/dp/B07MD9L987/…
    – jwh20
    Commented Jun 17, 2022 at 23:53
  • Any luck getting harmonic balancer bolts off on transverse engines with these 3/8 stubby impacts?
    – TLex
    Commented Jun 19, 2022 at 2:33
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It makes no sense to buy a tool just because it's "specialty". Tools are bought to be used for a specific purpose.

If you feel like you're spending most of your time working on the engine or suspension where specific torques are important for each bolt/screw - buy a torque wrench, however if you're mainly taking apart body parts there's no need for a torque wrench, a simple power screwdriver will be much more useful.

If you're thinking of doing diagnostics and coding - get a diagnostics tool.

If you're working a lot on the suspension and the underside of the car get a powerlift.

Simple answer - it all depends on what YOU need.

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  • Good answer. It might be an idea to have a fund available and just do a buy as you go approach, remembering to leave some time for research to get the most bang for the buck.
    – Jupiter
    Commented Jun 17, 2022 at 13:01
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As others have said, it's really dependent on your needs/wants. Personally, I would consider a lift if you have the budget. Working on the ground is not only uncomfortable but also counter intuitive. There's also the added safety benefit.

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    Yea, a lift would be nice. Too bad I live on a rental property.
    – TLex
    Commented Jun 17, 2022 at 20:36

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