This list covers the basic maintenance tools for aspiring DIYers.
By David Gluckman Feb 2, 2024
Manuel Carrillo III | Capital One
If you want to perform simple car maintenance jobs but don't know where to start, here is an overview of the basic tools to add to your shopping list.
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One simple and impactful job an owner can perform is ensuring their tires are at the correct pressures, as proper inflation contributes to safety, performance, and fuel economy. Ideally, you should check the pressures at least once a month with a tire-pressure gauge, making adjustments for seasonal temperature changes.
Options run the gamut from the pencil-type gauge that's challenging to read to heavy-duty digital and analog dial gauges. A handheld digital gauge or an analog tool can be helpful for beginners. Keeping one in the glovebox of each of your vehicles can also make it quick to access when you need to check your tire pressure.
If you need air, some gas stations may offer it from a machine for public use.
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Jack and Jack Stands
When working on your ride at home, a quality hydraulic floor jack on wheels is a nice-to-have. Select one rated for your vehicle's weight, and if you have a car with minimal ground clearance, make sure you look at low-profile options. Most inexpensive jacks are made of steel, which is usually fine. If weight is a concern, however, consider spending a little more for an aluminum one.
Any time you raise the vehicle and plan to go underneath it, you need to place jack stands under the axles or frame to provide additional support. These are simple tripod-shaped contraptions with up-down adjustability. The same weight-rating and material considerations apply — like the jack, match the jack-stand capacity with the weight of your vehicle. You'll need at least two stands.
A set of basic wrenches in metric and imperial/SAE sizes will come in handy for all sorts of projects, automotive and otherwise. Combination wrenches, with one closed end and one open end, are good all-arounders.
If you wish to loosen or tighten nuts without having to remove and relocate the wrench, upgrade to a set with ratcheting closed ends.
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Any time the wheels come off and go back on, the lug nuts securing the wheel need to be properly torqued. You shouldn't do this by feel; the manufacturer has specific torque specs for lug nuts (as well as many other fasteners on the vehicle). Torque wrenches come in a variety of shapes and sizes, in mechanical or electronic operation with varying torque ranges. A basic beam-style torque wrench should cover most automotive uses. There are also clicking mechanical wrenches and digital options.
Again, a set containing metric and imperial/SAE sizes is best, allowing you to work on both new and classic cars. A simple kit with 1/4-inch, 3/8-inch, and 1/2-inch ratchets plus sockets in common sizes can be an inexpensive option. If you're serious about your wrenching, consider buying a mechanic's tool set with wrenches, ratchets, and sockets all in a tidy case.
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David Gluckman has over a decade of experience as a writer and editor for print and digital automotive publications. He can parallel park a school bus, has a spreadsheet listing every vehicle he’s ever tested, and once drove a Lincoln Town Car 63 mph in reverse. When David’s not searching for the perfect used car, you can find him sampling the latest gimmicky foodstuffs that America has to offer.