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Cool Auto Shop Tools You Need

A garage mechanic's wish list: all the tools you could ever need (and want) in your shop for car maintenance.

Convertible Creeper

Most creepers are hard, flat, unpadded boards with tiny wheels that get stuck in cracks in your garage floor. Not this one! Here's a creeper that's not only comfortable but also convertible. Pull the release pin and lift up on one end and you've got a roll-around seat that's the perfect height for working around wheels.

The padding is extra thick and the wheels are extra-large 3-in. soft polyurethane, so the creeper rolls smoothly, even over debris and cracks. It's a bit higher off the ground than other creepers, so you'll have to raise the vehicle an extra few inches. But it's worth it for the comfort. The heavy-duty frame is rated for up to 450 lbs. for heavy-duty mechanics. The Omega 91000 Z Creeper is available online.

Keep Tools and Towels Handy

Set this magnetic tool organizer (Torin No. MPH10RT) onto a rolling cart and keep up to 10 tools at your fingertips. For easy access, mount the shop towel holder on your toolbox, cart or under the hood.

Blast Off Seized Bolts

This tool and a can of rust penetrant are the secret to removing stubborn rusty seized bolts. Load the driver tool into your air hammer and slide on a socket and wrench. When you hit the trigger, the driver applies the impacts to the center of the bolt head, demolishing the rusty buildup. Turn the wrench and socket during the impacts and you'll loosen the bolt or nut in no time.

A Jumper Pack/Charger Combo

Recently there have been news stories of defective lithium jumper packs that burst into flames during a jump-start. But this lithium battery jumper pack (CHARGE IT, No. PP15) includes safety features to keep you off the evening news. The pack is small and lightweight (3.3 lbs.) and stays charged much longer than a traditional lead acid-type pack. The battery puts out 270 cranking amps?enough to start most four- and six-cylinder engines. And it comes with charging adapters and a USB port to charge your phone or tablet. Buy the optional 19-volt laptop charging kit and use the pack to charge your computer (PPA17).

Stubby Impact Wrench

Sometimes you just can't fit an ordinary air impact wrench into tight spaces. That's where this ultra-compact stubby impact wrench comes in handy. It's only 4.4 in. long and weighs only 2.86 lbs., yet it puts out 450 ft.-lbs. of torque.

Pliers/Wrench Rack

Drop this nifty rack in a deep tool chest drawer and fit more pliers and wrenches in less space by storing them on their side. The Lisle No. 404090 storage rack holds up to 13 tools and has two different size slots.

Zip Through Metal With an Electric Cutoff Tool

Sometimes it's just not worth the time and effort to save a rusted fastener or clamp. When I run into those situations, I break out my cutoff tool, slice through the rusted part and install new parts. You can buy an air-powered cutoff tool at any home center for about $30, but it consumes a lot of air (10 cfm). If you don't have a huge two-stage compressor, an electric version may be a better option (one example is the Chicago Electric No. 68523, which is $35 at

Cutoff tools aren't just for cutting rusted parts. They're great for cutting angle, shelf brackets and threaded rod.

A Retractable Fluorescent Floodlight

Lighting up a jam-packed engine compartment that has deep, hidden components can be a real challenge. One solution is to use two lights: one to flood the entire area and a smaller one to fit in the tight places.

Incandescent trouble lights pose a safety hazard when used around gasoline, and it's easy to burn yourself on the hot reflector. There are several alternatives. The long-tube fluorescents and LED 'stick' lights don't cut it. They're either too dim or too long, or they cast too narrow of a beam pattern. Instead, try a short-tube 26-watt fluorescent floodlight (Bayco SL-8908). The floodlight's twin 13-watt bulbs match a 125-watt incandescent in output, so it really lights up the entire engine. You'll still need a small light to illuminate the tight spots.

Parts Washers Aren't Just for Pro Shops

I hate reassembling dirty, greasy, gritty engine and brake components. The dirty bolts cross-thread easily; gasket adhesive doesn't stick well; it's no fun to work on dirty stuff; and you can't see what's really going on underneath all the grime. That's why I got a parts washer. This 3-1/2-gallon tabletop unit (the Torin T10035 Part Washer ) is available at home centers and Add a parts washing brush and 2 gallons of concentrated degreaser and you'll get out of the store for less than $65. Set it up and add water and you're ready to clean all those greasy, grimy parts and bolts. And don't forget to dunk your tools in the cleaner too. Just give them a quick wipe to dry them off before you put them back in your toolbox.

A Drip Pan Saves Time

Car repair is a messy business, and if you don't use a drip pan or a large piece of cardboard, you'll wind up with an oily mess on your garage floor. If you're the kind of cheapskate who saves appliance boxes just for this purpose, more power to you. But the rest of you can easily afford to buy a real drip pan with a lip all around the edge. When you're done, just pour the oil into your recycling bottle and put the pan back under your car to catch any remaining drips. Keep that drip pan around for projects like cleaning an engine.

Get a Beefy Bench Vise

A wimpy $30 vise may satisfy your wallet, but you'll regret buying one the first time you have to crank the bolts off a really big part. So skip the cheapies and invest in a heavy-duty vise. You want a vise with at least 5-1/2-in. jaws, a pipe clamping area, dual swivel locks and a large anvil area. I found this Masterforce model at a home center for $100. But you can find great deals on good used vises on Craigslist or at neighborhood garage sales.

Fast Tire Changes With an Electric Impact Wrench

In less time than it takes your air compressor to pump up to full pressure, you could remove the lug nuts from two wheels using an electric impact wrench. Sure, the electric models don't pack the same torque as an air-powered wrench, but you don't need that much torque just to remove lug nuts. If all you're doing is tire rotation and an occasional heavy-duty repair, an electric impact wrench is just the ticket (one choice is the DEWALT DW292 1/2-Inch 345-ft.-lb. Impact Wrench, available at home centers or Just make sure you use a hand-held torque wrench to tighten the lug nuts.

Save Your Back and Knees With a Rolling Seat

A rolling creeper seat doesn't need much explanation. You sit on it. You store tools and parts under it. And you roll around to reach the tools and parts you forgot. Find creeper seats at any auto parts store, home center or online tool site. The model shown here is the Sunex 8507 Creeper Seat. A unit with a pneumatic lift and a contoured seat (for you Ferrari owners) could set you back a little more.

Diagnose With a Stethoscope

Got a knocking, ticking or humming sound and don't know where it's coming from? Pinpoint the problem with an automotive stethoscope (one example is the Lisle 52500 Mechanic's Stethoscope). Just touch the probe to the most likely suspects and the culprit will stand out like a sore thumb. Pick up a stethoscope at any auto parts store.

Chemicals to Keep on Hand

If you're going to do repair work, you simply have to keep some basic lubricants and special chemicals on hand. Here's what every shop should have.

  • Lithium grease for latches and hinges
  • Brake cleaner for removing oil and grease from metal parts
  • Rust penetrant for removing rusted fasteners
  • Dry lubricant for lubricating metal to metal, and metal to plastic or rubber
  • Electronic parts cleaner for dissolving corrosion on electrical connectors
  • Anti-seize lubricant to prevent nuts and bolts from seizing in place
  • Dielectric grease to repel water in electrical connections and prevent corrosion
  • Silicone spray to lubricate windows and weather stripping.

Keep Your Tools Within Reach With a Rolling Cart

In the old days, you laid your tools out on a fender pad. Try that on a late-model vehicle with a sloped fender and you'll find your tools on the floor. So buy a rolling cart at a tool supplier or build your own (see Rolling Tool Box Cart) and keep all your tools right at your fingertips.

Must-Have Socket Accessories

Most cars, trucks, and lawn and garden implements use metric hex and star fasteners. So why wait until you're knee-deep in a repair before you discover that you need a special socket? Buy a set of each style now. And if you use an air or electric impact wrench, pick up an impact-rated universal joint and several impact extension bars. Chrome sockets like the ones shown are for use with hand ratchets only, not impact wrenches. Find the best socket set on the market for your next project.

Save Your Knuckles With Air Power

An electric impact wrench is a heckuva lot better than a hand wrench. But seriously, nothing beats raw air power and air tools when you want to make quick work of just about any auto or small-engine repair. But first you need a real air compressor like the one shown, not some wimpy $99 2-gallon unit designed to run a nail gun. And don't get suckered by horsepower ratings; they don't mean anything. Instead, look for a compressor with at least a 15- to 20-gallon tank and a minimum output of 5 cfm at 90 psi. That'll power just about any air tool you want, except a sandblaster. For that, you need at least 10 cfm, and a rich uncle. Find an easier way to haul that air compressor around with this super slick cart.

LED Light Fits in Tight Places

When it comes to working in small spaces, fluorescent lights are too big, and flashlights aren't bright enough (and don't stay put). But the latest rechargeable LED lights fit the bill perfectly. They're much shorter and brighter than first-generation 70+ LED stick lights. Plus the battery lasts longer (up to five hours on a charge) and recharges faster. So these LED lights are perfect for DIY auto and small-engine work, as well as home repairs. This Stubby II LED cordless light (available at tool stores or online) allows you to switch between a broad 120-degree beam and a focused, flashlight-size beam. See why LED lights are a bright idea for your workshop, too.

Grab One Glove at a Time

I don't know why glove manufacturers can't design a pop-up glove dispenser along the lines of a facial tissue box. But until they do, add this inexpensive magnetic nitrile glove box holder (less than $10 at any auto parts store) to your shop. It's magnetic, so slap it to your toolbox or rolling cart and yank out new gloves whenever you need them.