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Building up a basic toolkit for the car

Carlton Boyce / 15 January 2016 ( 06 September 2018 )

A simple guide to the types of tools you need to build up a toolkit for basic car maintenance and DIY.

Lots of tools in a toolbox
When it comes to tools, you usually get what you pay for

For a certain kind of person (yes, this would be me…) buying tools is something of an obsession; the money I save on paying a garage to do is job is generally ‘invested’ (my term, my wife might object to the definition) in the tools for me to do it myself. As a consequence, I have quite a collection.

Nor am I alone: Guy Martin, TV personality, motorcycle racer, downhill mountain biker, and all-round good bloke admits to owning eleven 10mm spanners. If you argued that two would probably be enough (one to hold the nut and one to hold the head of the bolt), neither of us would be able to disagree, and yet I bet I could sell him another without too much effort.

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However, I do accept that there are some people for whom is a tool is just a, well, a tool. Something to get the job done as cheaply and efficiently as possible. (I know, weird, huh?) 

This article, on building a toolkit for basic car DIY, is for them.

But I warn you; buying tools is a slippery slope.

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Buy cheap, buy twice

My first piece of advice is to buy decent tools, not cheap tools. 

Now, I’m not suggesting that you pay £800 for five spanners (something a good friend of mine has done), but if you buy a cheap spanner from your local car boot sale it will break. And if you are pulling on it when it breaks then you will hurt yourself, possibly quite badly.

So my recommendation is to buy a brand you’ve heard of. Something like the Halfords own brand or the Clarke range is more than good enough for anyone other than a fully-fledged professional mechanic (although I know plenty of those who use Halfords spanners, now I come to think about it).

Their tools will cost you a little bit more than buying no-name brands from China, but you’ll save money by only having to buy them once and, if you look after them, they’ll last for generations.

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Buy local

As simple as buying from Amazon is, I’d rather buy tools locally. 

This means a visit to Halfords or Machine Mart to look at their range and to get advice from the people who work there.

The reason for dealing direct is that most good hand tools now come with a lifetime guarantee. So if you have a problem in 10 years’ time, you can pop into your local branch and get it sorted out without any hassle. I’m not convinced that the same could be said of an internet purchase.

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Don’t buy a 1,000-piece tool kit

You’ll be tempted to buy a complete toolkit. Something that offers 1,000 tools for £49.99, all neatly packaged in a plastic toolbox with a slot or space for every item. Don’t do it. 

Nine hundred of the tools will be screws and screwdriver bits and hacksaw blades, leaving you with only a few proper tools that you will actually use.

My advice is to spend a bit more on a much smaller selection of tools that will actually make your life easier.

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The list

Now we’re getting to the heart of the problem: what to buy? For starters, I’d suggest:

• A set of metric combination spanners: 8mm, 10mm, 13mm, 15mm and 17mm. Later you might want to fill in the gaps and extend the range, but these will fit 99% of the nuts and bolts on your car.

• An eight-inch adjustable spanner.

• A set of nine screwdrivers: one each of size 1,2, and 3 in Pozidrive and Phillips, and three slotted screwdrivers in small, medium and large.

• A metric socket set with 3/8th drive.

• A pair of pliers.

• An allen key and Torx bit set.

• A tyre pressure gauge.

• Footpump or small 12-volt tyre compressor.

• A can of WD40 and a roll of duct tape. (If it moves and it shouldn’t, use duct tape. If it doesn’t move and it should, use WD40.)

• A box of latex gloves, because no one likes grease under their fingernails.

That’s it! You’ll be able to do just about any servicing job on your car with these tools, which will only help reduce the risk of your car breaking down later down the line. and if you throw in a hammer, cordless drill and a plumber’s wrench, you’ll be able to do just about any DIY job around the home, too.

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What to keep them in

You’ll need a toolbox but there is no need to spend a fortune; I’ve just bought a very nice plastic one (metal tool boxes are heavy and go rusty if you leave them in the shed) for my younger son from Halfords for a tenner.

Use ‘em and clean ‘em

Not get out there and have a play with them! Familiarity only comes with practice, so the more you use them the more comfortable they’ll feel. Our article on basic car maintenance and checks will give you some small projects to play with to get you warmed up.

Don’t forget to clean them when you’ve finished. A dry, lint-free cloth will remove any grease or oil and if you finish them with a polish from a WD40-laden cloth, they won’t go rusty either.

What is that banging noise? Our guide to what your car could be trying to tell you.

Don’t lend them

Finally, never a borrower or a lender be. 

If you lend someone one of your tools you should expect to lose it. It won’t be because they’re dishonest, but because people forget; they’ll chuck it in their toolbox and forget all about it.

By the same token, if you do ever borrow a tool, please make sure to return it. Then, when everyone else follows your lead, future generations of me won’t have to write the paragraph above.

Being able to look after your vehicle for simple maintenance is important, but for the bigger damages like getting hit by an uninsured driver or needing a replacement vehicle when yours is damaged - make sure you’re covered with Saga Car Insurance.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.