You don’t need hundreds of tools to do basic maintenance on most vehicles. A dozen or so high quality tools and a little basic research will put you on a firm ground. From there, you can take advantage of a few special deals for products that can endure in your garage, and in your car.
Just start slow. The basics of maintenance can offer you an amazing boost in your self-esteem (and sometimes a healthy humbling as well.)
So what should you do?
Learn the basics of your car first
Invest in knowledge first. A well-developed “How to” video on Youtube or even an Alldata DIY account for your specific vehicle can do more wonders for your productivity and self-esteem than any fashionista device or under-engineered tool set. (The Haynes manuals can be useful but also challenging for beginners; they're written with the assumption that the readers are experienced mechanics already.)
Watch the video. Open an Alldata account that offers the A to Z of steps you need to diagnose and repair your car. Read about the basic repairs you want to handle over the next several months and then, don’t buy anything. Not quite yet. Your next stop is a place that should save you time and money.
Check out the tool library at your auto parts store
Auto parts stores often have tools that are free for the lending. Do you want to know how it feels to loosen a 10-millimeter bolt from a battery?
Go ahead. Ask them if you can borrow one and give it a shot. Want to figure out what size wrench you need to remove the oil pan drain bolt? Go ahead and try a 14 mm or a 15 mm.
Start with the small things and then, invest in a little bit for now, and a little bit more later.
Buy the basic fluids for your car
Motor oil, coolant, brake fluid and power steering fluid. The act of learning to change your oil, topping off your fluids, and becoming skilled in the art of preventive maintenance is where you want to establish yourself. Right now the best deals I have found for the fluids are the following.
Pep Boys, Mobil 1 Full Synthetic: $5 a quart
Walmart will price match this deal if a Pep Boys is too far away for you. Just bring the flyer or online listing with you. The best bang for the buck is the Extended Performance Full Synthetic Motor Oil which is designed for oil change intervals up to 15,000 miles.
Advance Auto Parts, Mobil 1 Extended Performance Oil Filter
The trick here is to go online, order two filters for a little over $25, and then use a coupon code from this site to get a $10 rebate for that order.
The Other Fluids:
From here you have an opportunity to buy the other fluids and get a healthy 40% discount off of retail. However, you must resist the urge to buy the big stuff. Start with a small bottle of brake fluid, power steering fluid, and one container of coolant. Pep Boys, which is more or less the queen of Black Friday deals can get you coolant for as low as $1 and a basic oil and filter combos for $9.
You can do that. But most folks prefer to go to one place. Since you’re planning to visit the auto parts store, consider this a good time to find out what types of fluids are the right ones for your car. This can also be figured out with a few simple online searches as well.
What About The Tools?
The good news is you don’t need many of them to do basic maintenance. The bad news is that every auto parts store and most retailers price their tools at ridiculous premiums.
If you have Harbor Freight near you, their 9 piece metric tool set for $9 is a pretty solid deal. This basic tool set comes with a lifetime warranty. and will allow you to perform oil changes and battery replacements on most vehicles without much of a hassle.
If you would prefer to use a socket wrench set, there are plenty of those out there.
This Dewalt 25 Piece Socket Wrench Set sold by Blain Farm & Fleet is a great alternative. What you should be looking for are small sets that come with good reviews and lifetime warranties. Unfortunately, the Sears Craftsman line no longer provides a lifetime warranty so I can no longer recommend them.
Don’t I Need A Jack & Stands?
Maybe. Take a close look at those Youtube videos. If the guy doing the work can go underneath the car and get the job done, so can you. If that’s not the case then buy a basic floor jack along with two jack stands. A good basic set should cost no more than $50 if your car is less than two tons. If your car is more than 4,000 pounds then opt for a 2 ½-ton or 3-ton set — and familiarize yourself with your owner’s manual instructions on the proper way to lift your vehicle.
You could spring for some jumper cables that are designed to endure for the long-term. An oil drain pan. Perhaps a basic screwdriver set. The key is to start with a few small, basic, well-made tools that allow you to easily master the work ahead. You don’t need 200+ tools that fit in a cheap plastic case. Just a few well-designed tools, the recommended fluids, and a little research and patience are the ingredients for this recipe of personal experience.