If you’re an off roader, chances are you’ve got a bunch of tools in the garage. More than likely you also carry tools in your 4×4, just in case something goes snap in the night. Do you have what you need? Are you ready to step up to more advanced repairs and installations? Should you buy brand name tools, or will the cheap stuff suffice? Let’s explore!
MONEY VERSUS QUALITY
We’ve all seen the low buck tools that sell for a fraction of the price of the name brands. Chances are, you’ve had one of those el cheapo wrenches spread open when you were trying to free a stubborn nut.
Sure, the top of the line tools such as Craftsman Professional, Snap On, Proto, Mac are expensive, but there is a second level of tools that are excellent and priced substantially less than the premium items. Among them are Craftsman Power Kraft and SK.
Our advice? If you can afford the very best, go for it. If you’re on a budget, it’s hard to beat Sears’ Craftsman. The most important thing you should look for is a good guarantee. Craftsman tools are famous for their lifetime guarantee; if you break a hand tool, just bring it back and Sears will replace it. Many other tool makers have been pressured to follow that lead. The lifetime guarantee does not apply to power tools.
Will cheap tools work? Yes, and some of them have a limited guarantee. For example, I have a large number of low cost screwdrivers, box wrenches, crescent wrenches, hammers, files and pliers. And the tools that I stash away in my off-road vehicles are carefully chosen low cost items.
END WRENCHES: When choosing end wrenches, your best bet is to get a combination set; one with a box wrench on one end and an open type on the other end. A proper set of end wrenches will get shorter as the wrench size decreases. This is a sort of built-in protection against over tightening.
Open end wrenches apply their force on two sides of the nut or bolt. Box wrenches apply force on all six sides of a standard fastener, so you’re always better off using a box end, rather than an open end, if you have the option.
ADJUSTABLE WRENCHES: Commonly referred to as Crescent wrenches, these are the most versatile tools you can carry. A 10 or 12 inch wrench will handle fasteners from zero to more than an inch.
SOCKET WRENCHES: These greatly speed up work compared to end wrenches, and can often work in spots where an end wrench wonts fit. You should have a full range of sizes from 114 inch to 1 1/2 inches (or the metric equivalent), and a good selection of extensions. Ideally, you should have 1/4 inch, 3/8 inch and 1/2 inch drive sets. However, if you’re on a tight budget, go with the medium sized 3/8-inch drive set and purchase a 1/4 inch adapter and 1/4 inch sockets.
Sockets are available in 4, 6, 8 and 12 points. The 4 and 8 point sockets are for square headed fasteners, while the 6 pointers are used mainly for power impact tools. For most general use, the 12 point sockets get the nod.
SPECIALTY RATCHET TIPS: In addition to sockets, you can purchase a wide variety of tips to speed up most jobs. They include swivels, screwdriver tips, torx bits, Allen tips and ratchet spinner attachments.
HOLDERS: Get a medium sized vise and attach it firmly to a stout bench. This will be one of the most heavily used items in your tool arsenal. While you’re at it, pick up a few cheap C clamps.
SCREWDRIVERS: Don’t take this common tool for granted, because an ill fitting blade can chew up a screw. Get a good selection of straight slots, and both versions of the cross slots, the Phillips and Reed and Prince heads. Cheap, ultra long screw drivers can be used for prying things loose. One step beyond the screwdriver is the best impact driver. This handy tool will loosen stubborn screws (or even nuts/bolts) by whacking it with a hammer and applying sharp jolts of torque.
PLIERS: Snap On makes more than 40 different types of pliers, but only a professional mechanic would need them all. You should have at least the following: double jointed straight jaw pliers, long nosed (needle nose), diagonal wire cutters, vise grips and Channel locks. Beyond the basics, you can also purchase pliers that remove/install snap rings and circlips, remove spark plug terminals, strip electrical wiring and remove brake springs, among other tasks.
HAMMERS: There are times when a hammer is needed to free a stubborn part. In addition to the garden variety claw hammer, you should have a round faced ball peen, a soft faced plastic or rubber hammer and a stout lead or copper hammer for tapping metal without damaging it.
SAWS AND FILES: Never cut corners on hacksaw blades; a premium blade will not only out cut a cheap blade, it will out last it many times over. Get two blades: one should be a fine toothed item of 32 teeth per inch for cutting harder steels, and a blade in the 18 to 24 teeth per ins range for coarser cuts on softer materials.
No matter how clean your hacksaw cut is, it must be dressed up with a file. You’ll need a selection of files from fine to coarse, with a variety of shapes, from round (rat tail) to flat.
TORQUE WENCHES: Every nut, bolt, or piece of metal has a limit to which it can safely be stretched or stressed. Pro mechanics say that an over torqued bolt is half broken. To prevent over tightening (or under), a torque wrench is a must! For light duty tightening, you’ll need a torque wrench in inch pounds; for heavy duty work, a foot pound wrench is needed.
Two types of torque wrenches are available: the dial type has a pointer that indicates the tonque applied, and the clicker type that makes a clicking sound when the pre set torque is reached. Usually, tire dial type wrenches are cheaper than the clickers, but work well providing you’re in a position to read the dial.
JACKS AND STANDS: These are must haves for off roaders, as we’re always swapping wheels, or crawling around under our 4x4s to fiddle with one thing or another. Get a decent hydraulic jack with at least a 2 ton capacity. Pick up four adjustable jack stands capable of holding the 4×4’s full weight.
LIGHTS: Get a good drop light and plenty of extension cords. The best one I’ve ever seen is by Snap On, and it has a super powerful magnetic base that lets you stick it against any metal surface and aim it at the work area.
ELECTRICAL TESTERS: At the very minimum, you should have a basic circuit tester that will let you trace out shorts, opens, or find a hot wire. Beyond that, a small ohmmeter can solve numerous puzzles.
MEASURING DEVICES: Acquire a tape measure, feeler gauges and a cheap set of calipers.
TIRE STUFF: A cigarette lighter powered portable air compressor can be a real life saver at times. You’ll also need an accurate tire gauge.
HANDLING LIQUIDS AND LUBRICANTS: Every home garage should have a decent selection of funnels and drain pans. Grease guns are cheap; mini guns are available for less than ten bucks. A one dollar turkey baster makes a great battery filler.
SPECIALTY TOOLS: You are limited in this area by how deep your pockets are. There’s a near-endless variety of handy tools designed for special jobs. Some you might consider are: gear pullers, pop rivet guns, tin snips, propane torches, tap and die sets, timing lights, hex head (Allen) wrenches, screw extractor sets, compression testers, welding outfits to name just a few.
METRIC OR REGULAR? Get both. Even though the world is slowly shifting to the metric system, it’s common to find both types of fasteners on American vehicles. And if you have an older 4×4, chances are all nuts and bolts will he US, Japanese and European 4x4s are fully metric.
POWER TOOLS: There are two power tools every 4×4 owner absolutely MUST HAVE in his home shop: an electric drill and a bench grinder. If you can only afford one drill, get the larger unit with a 1/2 inch chuck that will accept larger drill bits and accessory shafts. The bench grinder should have a wire wheel on one side and a grinding wheel on the other. You’re better off buying a small selection of high quality drill bits than a large number of cheap bits. To complement the drill, get a nice selection of wire brushes, grinding stones and small cut off wheels. This will help you make short work when removing rusted exhaust pipes, or corroded fasteners.
Other power tools worth considering are sawzalls, impact guns, soldering guns, small hand grinders, a one horse air compressor with a selection of blow tips, a polishing/buffing wheel (great for getting brush scratches out of your paint job), and a battery charger. Of course, the list of power tools is almost endless, and you could go nuts!