A large part of my childhood love affair with cars was influenced by my grandfather. He had been wrenching on cars for the better part of half a century and he did most of it out of his garage. Im sure ive talked about this before but i spent a lot of time with my grandparents when my dad was working when I was younger. We would be dropped off before school and would end up there after school until he got off. I remember countless days walking home from school and finding another car up on jackstands. I could hear the air tools from around the corner and that smell. The smell in the garage was a mix of gas, oil, and coolant. I would always go in through the garage and my grandpa would greet me with a handshake. I declined at the time as his hands were usually black with dirt and grease and he’d smile. I’d give a lot to shake his hand again today. My dad still has many of his tools and everytime I see them it brings back memories of watching him wrench on cars in the garage. He would do everything from oil changes to engine rebuilds to tearing dashboards apart to fix electrical gremlins.
I am no mechanic by any means but I can do basic car maintenance and I have amassed a decent amount of tools over the years. If I ever had to do something that required specific tools that I didn’t have I bought them so that I could tackle similar tasks in the future. My dad has also given me tools for just about every gift for holidays since I could be trusted to use them properly. The fact that I have owned numerous older vehicles has helped because there is no warranty and getting your car worked on nowadays is pretty damn expensive. If there is anything that I’ve had to have done is usually because I couldn’t diagnose it myself. The age of the interwebs has helped change that for many and now you can youtube how to pretty much do anything. I’ve fixed multiple issues and installed aftermarket parts with the help of Youtube. A lot of times it comes down to whether you have the right tools for the job. There are so many specialized tools out there for specific jobs it’s hard to acquire them all unless you are working on cars everyday. Most professional mechanics spend lots of money on their own tools to help them get their job done better and more efficiently. There are some staple tools though that any garage mechanic should have.
If you are going to do any kind of brake or suspension work where you need to remove a wheel or two a hydraulic floor jack is pretty handy. I Have a set of ramps for doing things like fluid changes but you can’t get wheels off when they are being used to support the weight of the car, obviously. I have two floor jacks, one I purchased and one i received as a gift. I have used them a lot over the years from working on cars here and there, levelling pool tables, and most recently moving a hot tub. They lift anything heavy. The hydraulic portable jack was invented by a Scottish immigrant Richard Dudgeon in 1858. The principal of hydraulic power had been around for sometime but nobody had devised a way to make it portable yet. Dudgeon refined his product for almost 15 years before having a model that got rid of most shortcomings. Shipyards and railroads brought them in abundance bringing him a great fortune. The Jacks used water or “other fluids” These other fluids were usually whale oil or whiskey. Whiskey was used in colder climates as the other fluid had a tendency to freeze or congeal. I consider this nowadays a form of alcohol abuse!
The socket wrench or is a life saver when trying to tighten or loosen a fastener in a confined space, Which is never the case when working on cars right? Sockets have been around for centuries although the hex socket did not become the standard until the 20th century. Before this most sockets and fasteners were square and some of the earliest sockets on record where those used to wind clocks back in the middle ages. The socket wrench with indexable sockets as we know it today, although a different design but functionally the same, was patented in 1863 and invented by J.J. Richardson from Vermont. Before the socket wrench spanner wrenches were the standard tool for work with fasteners. The square head fasteners were much easier to produce until the industrial revolution came along in the late 19th century with better milling, shaping, and manufacturing techniques which made the hex head just as easy to make.
Some other tools that I find hard to work on cars without are ratchet wrenches, a rubber mallet and Air tools if its an involved project. I never had pneumatic tools up until a few years ago and they are fantastic! A creeper is also very handy if you are going to be in and out from under the car a lot. I would also recommend keeping a can or two of PB Blaster to spray those rusty bolts that you are going to bust a knuckle or two trying to get to break loose. WD-40 can have the same effect but I find PB Blaster to do the trick a little better. Tools for me are an investment, not that I’m going to be a professional mechanic or anything but I like to have them around when I need them and tools are the kind of thing that you buy once and have them forever unless you lend them out and never get them back again! You can pass them down to your children and grandchildren for generations if you take care of them and buy quality products. I find the extreme variety of tools pretty fascinating as well. I remember my dad getting Sears tool catalogs when I was younger and I would look through those page by page like they were car magazines haha. There are so many cool tools out there to do various jobs, many of which I don’t even know about.
More handy tools for the weekend warrior garage mechanic are locking extension bars to hold sockets in place, a nut splitter to cut off a stubborn nut that won’t break loose, Flexible sockets can be a life saver, and a multimeter is a necessity if you are trying to chase down electrical issues. The list is nearly endless, it just depends on how deep down the garage tools hole you want to go and how serious you are about your garage mechanic capabilities. As I said earlier I am no mechanic but I can fix most things If I know what needs to be done. Half the battle for me is just diagnosing what needs to be fixed. I for one try to fix as much as I can on my own vehicles but If I have to take my car somewhere I would prefer it to be a garage mechanic with a good reputation. They are out there and I feel like since they don’t have a large company backing them up their word is their bond. Most are honest people just trying to make a living or some extra money on the side. They aren’t hard to find, especially in today’s age with social media. Join a local facebook group for the make of your car and ten to one you will be able to find the “guru” on your car in your area in no time.
When working on your own car or somebody else’s there are lots of things to think about. Some cars are inherently easier than others to work on mostly due to their age and “packaging” of the car. I would say that older cars are a little easier to work on because of less electronics involved. The flip side is almost everytime I work on something older, especially in the part of the country I live in rust is an issue. I always strip or snap a bolt off. A good easy out set is also worth its weight in gold for these situations. The newer the car the less time its been been exposed to the environment making things like brake jobs and other routine maintenance cleaner and easier to do. New cars have a gazillion sensors on them now which can wreak havoc on the entire car for something small that doesn’t really effect the drivability. This is just my experience anyways.
Packaging is a whole other deal. Depending on how the car is designed and built some cars are just easier to work on than others. In my limited experience the hardest car I’ve ever worked on was a 1991 or 1992, I think it was, Dodge Stealth Twin Turbo that a buddy of mine had. We weren’t even doing anything major and I honestly can’t even remember what we had to fix but that transverse mounted 3.0 twin turbo V6 took up nearly every inch of that engine bay. I always thought it and the 3000GT VR4 were really cool cars but I’d never want to have to work on one a lot. The easiest was an early 90’s Dodge W250 I had. With the Straight Six Cummins engine you could almost climb in and stand on the frame rail to work on anything under the hood. Mine was lifted so I needed a ladder to get in there but still it was a very easy place to work, not that it ever needed fixing but tinkering was easy. Before you go and spend all your beer money on a shop or dealership fixing your car do some research and see if you can find a good garage mechanic that is trustworthy and reliable if you can’t do the work yourself. You will need them if you want to keep your baby on the road for years to come! From all of us here at Gearbox have fun, be safe, and keep the shiny side up!