Tearing into any project under the hood is always exciting for me. I don’t know if it’s the smell of the oil or all the tools laid out before me, but before I know it, I’ve gotten ahead of myself and have to rely on something other than what’s in my car repair must haves tool kit.
With over 1,000 hours logged under the hood of a car and over 10 vehicles owned in the last 2 decades, I find myself pulling these tools out before I ever reach for my mechanics tools.
They’re not wrenches, ratchets, or jacks.
But my non-tool car repair must haves are, in fact, more valuable than I originally expected and help make car maintenance less frustrating and more enjoyable.
5 car repair must haves: invaluable tools for working on your vehicle
Affiliate links included to help pay for unexpected car repairs and to also pay for car parts needed during routine maintenance.
Parts dropped while working around the engine rarely land on an easily-reachable surface.
Instead, they fall to the ground or, worse, get stuck midway down.
This is when my telescoping magnetized light is invaluable. It measures 2 feet in length fully extending, putting most lost parts within easy reach of the lighted magnet at the tip. Although I’ve used mine to snag bolts off of exhaust manifolds, transmission housings, and splash guards, I’m most frequently using it to pick up box-ends and bolts that have fallen under the car just out of reach.
Best of all, I always know where it is; I leave mine stuck to the top of my toolbox every night.
Growing up, I used an old, hook-style incandescent light when working under the car or at dusk.
Invariably, I would get too close to the metal and burn myself or tap the housing against the hood/engine/frame and break the fragile bulb filament requiring me to clean up to go inside and find another lightbulb. Worst of all, it was corded and required access to an electrical outlet. Today, I use
Today, I use an LED worklamp with magnetized base and articulating head. It’s rechargeable so I don’t have to keep it plugged in and it even has a hook that folds out if it needs to hang it from a non-metallic surface. I’ve personally used my light to climb around in the attic, work on the engine, and find my way during power outages.
My short-term memory is excellent and I rarely have a problem tearing down and quickly reassembling carburetors, appliances, electronics devices, etc.
However, when I don’t finish and have to wait until the next day (or longer), small details tend to get lost along the way and I eventually have to reach for my camera. After many frustrating experiences, I’ve learned to always take a picture before I start a big job or even just start the next step.
Which vacuum line was connected to the idle controller diaphragm?
Was it cylinder 3 or 4 that had electrode damage on the spark plug?
Was there burned oil on the exhaust manifold cover the last time I worked on the engine?
Even months later, the pictures will provide a snapshot of the vehicle’s condition at that time. A camera phone works as well, but I prefer the ease of a push-button camera over the risk of getting oil and grime on my touchscreen.
In high school and college, I enjoyed questions brought on by the oil under my fingernails and the scuffs on my knuckles and I’d happily pack wheel bearings, replace spark plugs, and adjust accessory belts barehanded.
The truth is that I usually don’t reach for the gloves until AFTER I’ve dragged my fingernails along the valve cover or gotten oil between my fingers. The gloves are puncture resistant and keep my hands clean enough to get the camera out whenever I need it.
Added bonus: I don’t go to bed smelling like orange-scented pumice hand soap.
Spare vacuum hose
No, not vacuum cleaner hose.
Most auto parts stores sell vacuum hose by the foot. Buy a 3-foot length in a common diameter and put it in your mechanic toolbox for later.
Vacuum hose is invaluable in localizing noises under the car hood.
Just place one end in our ear and move the other end around the engine compartment like a stethoscope.
Belt ticking, engine lifters, exhaust leaks, etc can all be located using this trick.
Vacuum hose can also be used to diagnose a vacuum system. These system use negative pressure (suction) to control various parts of the engine using diaphragms and check valves. Simply attach the spare vacuum line to the part you suspect is faulty and apply suction. Properly operating parts will hold vacuum while faulty parts will allow the pressure to equalize. The same thing can be accomplished by using the vacuum hose already connected to the part, but it’s likely dirty require you to stick your head all the way into the engine compartment.
What common tools & gadgets do you use for working on your car?