Quality screwdrivers are some of the most basic tools you should buy. While you should have one medium-sized flat head screwdriver and one medium-sized Phillips screwdriver at the very least, you can often buy quality name-brand sets for less than $15 at your local home-improvement store. Having multiple sizes of screwdrivers can help you get into tight spaces, and can also prevent you from stripping delicate screw heads.
Pliers are very versatile tools with many different uses. They can be used to adjust metal parts, cut wires and grab objects in tight areas. There are many types of pliers, and they can also be purchased in sets relatively inexpensively. A decent set of three-to-six pliers can be purchased for less than $20 and will often include expandable combination pliers, needle nose pliers and wire cutters.
3. Ratchet set
Depending on your vehicle manufacturer, you should have either a metric or SAE ratchet set. Imported vehicles tend to have metric bolts, while many domestic models tend to use SAE. Before deciding what to buy, do some research or call your dealer. Ratchet sets tend to vary tremendously in quality. While a quality consumer-grade ratchet set can cost as much as $100, it can last for many years, so consider it an investment.
Although wrenches are used on the same types of bolts as ratchets, it's important to have both tools in the correct sizes (metric or SAE). While you can sometimes use an adjustable monkey wrench as a substitute, it's often much more convenient to have a set of different sized wrenches. These can be used on bolts that are inaccessible with a ratchet. They can also be used to hold a nut while you use a ratchet to loosen the adjoining bolt. Name brand wrench sets can often be purchased for less than $50.
5. Allen wrenches
Many modern vehicles also require Allen, or "hex," wrenches. These are L-shaped steel wrenches that range in length from two to six inches. While these are the most simple and inexpensive types of wrenches, they can be lifesavers if you come across certain bolts. Of course, double check if your vehicle is SAE or metric. Often, a set will include both types for less than $20.
6. Jack with stands
If you plan on doing any work under your car, make sure to pick up a jack with at least two stands. If you have a large truck or SUV, you may need a heavy-duty set that can support the full weight of your vehicle. Make sure you don't skimp on the jack stands, as they're used to support the vehicle when you're working underneath it. We don't have to tell you why that's important. Expect to pay $50 to $100 for one of these.
Stan Markuze is the founder of PartMyRide.com, the online marketplace for used auto parts.