Intermediate Automotive Hand Tools

As you continue to work on your modern vehicles you’ll soon realize the engineers who designed the car don’t like you, the mechanic.  As a result of this, they’ve designed the cars to taunt you when you work on them.  Sometimes they’ll hide fasteners.  Other times they put them right where you can see them but no tool you have will get to the fastener.  If you do have a tool that will fit, then you’ll find you can’t actually turn the tool.

Ok, I doubt they really do this and the issue of hard to work on vehicles is a side effect of cars getting smaller and them cramming more stuff in them.  But when you’ve been trying to get a bolt out for 30 minutes or that you read you’re supposed to pull an engine to change a water pump, you consider that they hate you.

What can you do?  Get more tools!  For lack of a better term, I’ll call these the intermediate tools.  By that I mean these tools are variations or derivations on the basic hand tools.

There are lots of ratchet variations.  Some are longer than normal, some are shorter than others, some have bends, some have flex heads, some have quick release buttons to make getting sockets off easier, and still others have more teeth on the gear inside to decrease the arc you have to swing the ratchet.  There are more variations than this but that covers a lot of them.  Depending on the situation these features are life savers.  Seen below, in the bottom of the picture, are some of these type ratchets.  There’s even a little circular one, called a palm ratchet, that has no handle.  At the top of the pic is a tool called a breaker bar.  It’s used for initially loosening a fastener.  It’s longer than the typical ratchet of the same drive size and designed to be stronger but doesn’t ratchet.  Below it are more extensions.  There are multiple different length extensions to help you out.   There are also adapters allowing you to put sockets from one drive size onto another.  There are also universal joints and wobbles that you can put in between your ratchet and socket to enable the socket to be angled.

IT1As you might imagine there are specialized sockets too.  There are sockets that fit every kind of fastener out there.  There are ones that fit internal torx, external torx, Allen, double square, triple square, spine, phillips, slotted, etc.  There are also sockets with only one purpose such as an oxygen sensor socket (large black sock missing a size) and spark plug socket which has a rubber tube inside of it.  Also shown below are some adapters that let you use a wrench to turn a socket.  Why have such as thing?  A wrench is shorter in height than a ratchet and sometimes that little bit helps.


There are lots of variations on wrenches too.  Some wrenches have the same ends as a combination wrench but the distance between them is larger or smaller.  Some wrenches have open ends at different angles.  Some have box ends on each end known as double box end wrenches.  Then theres a variation on the double box end that moves the boxes out of the plane of the beam called a deep offset double box end wrench.  This type of wrench is shown in the middle of the picture below.  This wrench allows you to reach into a shallow hole or around something to get to a bolt or nut.  Another type wrench looks like a double box end that has part of the ends cut out.  This wrench, second from the bottom in the picture below, is a flare nut wrench and has been made to fit nuts that are are metal lines such as those found on brake lines.  Compared to an open end wrench, flare nuts wrenches are much less likely to round off the edge of a nut or bolt.  This is especially important on flare nuts as they cannot be replaced without cutting the line they are on.

Finally, there are some of everyones favorite wrenches: Ratcheting wrenches.  These wrenches have a enlarged box end that contains a 12 pt ring that ratchets as seen in the top two wrenches seen in the picture below.  This gives you a wrench with the speed of a ratchet since you don’t have to reset the wrench after every turn in a tight location.  The downside to ratcheting wrenches is the larger box end and lower strength compared to a regular wrench.  I break a fastener loose with a regular box end and then use a ratcheting wrench to quickly remove the fastener.  It is worth noting that there is an older design of ratcheting wrench which is much larger and differently shaped than the ones seen here.

A few manufactures offer wrenches that have “teeth” in the open ends of wrenches that offer superior gripping power compared to a standard open end wrench.  Another variations seen in a wrenches is some kind of flex ability as is shown in the second from the top wrench in the picture below.  Sets of different kinds of wrenches up your odds of being able to get to a tricky nut or bolt.


There are variations in screwdrivers too.  Some have magnetic removable tips which are nice.  If a tip gets worn or broken, throw it away and use a new one.  A tip is much cheaper than a new screwdriver.  Other screwdrivers have fixed tips that fit hex, torx, allen, hex, etc.  Picks technically aren’t a screwdriver but I tossed one in the picture since it is shaped similarly.  Picks are good for removing Orings, lock rings, or anything else that is small they needs to be pulled.  All of these come in different lengths and sizes to fit your needs.


The next item isn’t a necessity but can save you in a tough situation.  Shown below, is a thread restoration or rethreader kit.  The tools in the set are used to reform a damaged thread or clean out a thread that has something in it.  Unlike a tap or die, these tools don’t cut new threads.  They just chase the existing threads, pushing them back into shape if needed.  This set is sold by Craftsman and Snap-On but for different prices as you might imagine.



If you have an air compressor another great tool is the impact wrench.  The impact wrench is shaped more like a gun and is great at taking off tough nuts and bolts.  This tool uses compressed air to generate torque to remove fasteners.  Normal sized impact wrenches can generate torques in excess of 500 ft lbs which is greater than you’re probably able to generate without long breaker bars.  Impacts generate sharp pulses of torque which seems to work better than tugging on a breaker bar.  I’ve found that the impact excels on exhaust and suspension components which have rusted up.  The impact wrench requires special sockets and extensions that usually have a black oxide coating.  These specialized sockets and extensions are more ductile than standard sockets allowing them to handle the blows from the impact better.  You can use regular sockets on an impact of course, but it is recommended against because impacts can cause regular sockets to shatter if they fail.  I’ve used regular sockets on my impact when I needed to because the same size impact socket had a larger diameter.  If you chose to do so, be aware of the potential issues.  IT4

Eventually, you’re going to need to pry on something.  At that time you’ll probably settle on using your screwdrivers.  To save your slotted screwdrivers from destruction, pick up a set of pry bars.  This is a cheap set from Harbor Freight which has worked well for me.  I recommend picking up a cheap set just in case.  If you find yourself prying a lot and manage to break one of the pry bars, invest in better ones.


Some other nice to have tools are the extendable magnet on a stick and tools for removing fasteners that hold under body panels on.  The magnet on a stick is a must have for picking up that nut or bolt you just dropped down into your engine bay.  In the push for reduced drag, modern cars have under body panels.  These panels are sometimes held on by plastic push fasteners (at least they are on my GMs) that must be pried out.  You can remove them with a screwdriver or pliers but this usually tears them up.  Instead, pick up the right tool before starting.


The tools covered above are variations on the standard tools that have been modified to help you get fasteners out of tough places.  There are many more tools but these should give you a good start.  If you’re wondering what other automotive hand tools are out there head over to Snap-On or any of the other big hand tool companies.  You’ll find so many tools your head will spin.

Nope, still no Crescent wrenches, pipe wrenches, or pipes here.


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