Fixing a car used to be a right of passage in America. While few people still maintain their cars, many have forgotten the joy of working on their vehicles, and a new generation never had the experience. The good news is that it’s a great time to invest in a new mechanic’s toolset. There’s more variety in the included tools than ever, and while it may seem like an expensive hobby to enter, there’s a kit out there for all people and all budgets.
It’s not always easy to shop for these things online, given that you can’t tell how good tools are by looking at pictures. That’s why we’ve assembled this list of reviews of the best mechanics tools sets for the money of 2020. We’ve also included a buyer’s guide, so if you’ve never experienced the joy of working on your car, you can learn what you need to consider before you buy.
|Stanley STMT71653 |
|AmazonBasics Mechanic’s Socket Set 145||1-Year||4.2/5|
|Custom Accessories 83947 ||3.9/5|
In rare circumstances, it feels like you’re getting more value out of a kit than you paid for it. The DEWALT DWMT81534 205Pc is one of those special cases, and it deserves special attention from those in the market for a mechanics kit. One of its best features is the largest of the four ratchets. It comes with 72 teeth, which means it can turn a socket with as little as a five-degree arc. That makes it great for working in tight spaces where you don’t have a lot of room to turn a regular ratchet.
It also comes with an anti-slip screwdriver, which will be a lifesaver for those moments when your hands are oil-slick. This kit contains 62 different sockets, which means you should have every kind you could need for engine work or life in general. Most pieces are finished in a full-polish chrome, which looks good, but more importantly, makes the tools very corrosion-resistant. Unfortunately, the case is cheap, and not the most durable. However, you’re still getting fantastic value on the included tools alone, which is why this kit lands at the top of our list.
The Craftsman 230-Piece seems like it should be first, as it contains more tools and costs less than our first entry. It comes with more pieces, which on the surface seems like a great deal, though we’ll touch on why that not be such a good thing later. It includes extension bars, which make it easier to get into tight places that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to work in. And, these tools are made from a steel alloy, which lends them strength and durability, and a silver finish which looks good and reduces corrosion.
The reason that more pieces for less money might be concerning is that it likely means you’re getting less value for your money. It’s possible that the company lowered the value of some of the pieces relative to an equivalent set to pack in more pieces. In this case, the ratchets are suspect, coming with only 45 teeth, which is a far cry from the 72-teeth ratchets in the first set. The case in this set is also far more likely to spill its contents when you open it, which is a pain. Ultimately, that’s what keeps this otherwise great set out of first.
The Stanley STMT71653 145-Piece kit is a great buy if you’re looking to get all of the tools you need on a budget. All of these pieces are made from steel, so you can be confident that they’ll last a long time and that they’ll have the strength to work in every situation. They’re also coated in chrome, which creates a nice, shiny coat, and helps prevent corrosion. The sockets are also made with Stanley’s proprietary Max-Drive design that uses a different head style to deliver 15% more torque to the fastener, while also increasing lifespan by reducing contact on the out part of the fastener. It also helps get frozen or rusted fasteners loose, which is something you can never undervalue.
However, the sockets come with poor engraving, which can make it hard to distinguish them from each other, especially when you’re not in optimal light situations. However, you can get this kit for about half the cost of the previous two, which makes it worth checking out, as you can save a lot of money. Overall, this is easily the best kit for the money, and it will work well, despite its subpar engraving.
Amazon’s first-party products can be fairly hit or miss. Sometimes, they’re better than the competition in the same category. Other times, they don’t live up to the Amazon name. The AmazonBasics Mechanic’s Socket Set 145-piece kit falls somewhere in the middle. The tools are forged from chrome-vanadium steel and feature a chrome polish, which like others on our list should be strong and durable. However, these tools don’t live up to that promise and leave many feeling that the durability and the strength of this set aren’t up to par.
That could be something you’re willing to look past if like the price, which on this set is very low. On the other hand, you’re going to have to deal with other problems that frequent low-price tools. Users often report that they received two of a particular socket and are missing one altogether. That’s a compelling reason to spend a bit more money, especially if you don’t like dealing with customer service. Overall, this is a decent kit, but the low quality and duplicate socket problems mean this kit can’t rise higher than fourth on our list.
The very best thing about the Custom Accessories 83947 150-piece kit is that it comes in a decent case. If you’ve read our other reviews, you know that a constant complaint with tool kits is that they come with subpar cases, and since this one comes with what can only be called a “toolbox”, we were hoping that this set could be a winner. Unfortunately, the durable toolbox is about all that this set has going for it.
The tool quality is overall very poor. While you worry that the tools from the previous entry might break, breaking is a common occurrence with this set. You’d think it would be from abuse or unintended use, but these tools have a habit of breaking during normal use. Given that detail, it’s hard not to see this kit as expensive relative to its value. The toolbox, while durable, is very bulky, which means you’re probably not going to want to carry it from place to place. Overall, the case is very nice, but the fragile tools make it a bad deal.
We hope that our reviews have helped you learn more about mechanics toolsets. If you still have questions about these kits, you’ve come to the right place. This buyer’s guide is designed to help beginners learn everything they need to know before they buy. It also serves as a nice refresher course for the expert who hasn’t surveyed the field in a long time. So, if you want to make sure that you’re a well-informed buyer, make sure you read this guide before you take the plunge.
In modern tools, you really can’t pay enough for quality. While not all Chinese-made tools are junk, some are, while others will last a lifetime. Even buying locally is no longer a safe way to ensure that you’re getting good-quality tools.
When you’re investing this large, you want to make sure that you’re getting good bang for your buck, and that means getting the best quality that you can. When it comes to quality, one of the first indicators is the material the tools are made from.
Chrome-vanadium steel alloy is some of the best on the market if mixed correctly. Vanadium greatly increases the strength and durability of steel, while chrome serves as a cost-effective corrosion-resistant coating. Keep in mind that chrome doesn’t keep rust off forever, so you’ll want to keep your tools clean and dry as much as possible, and definitely make sure they’re in good condition before you put them back in their case for a long time.
If the tools aren’t made from chrome-vanadium steel, you should examine that kit more closely before you buy. While cast-iron is good enough for a lot of other applications, it doesn’t have the same resistance to torque that steel does, meaning that you’re going to want steel wrenches instead of cast iron ones.
Most of these kits also come with ratchets, and if you’re experienced with those devices, you know that not all ratchets are created equally. This is a commonplace where manufacturers will lower the quality to increase the number of parts in the kits, which makes them seem like a better deal, even when they’re not.
The more teeth a ratchet has, the better it works. More teeth means you can use small motions and still advance the ratchet. The best ratchet included in a kit on our list has useful motions as small as 5-degrees, which makes it great for working in cramped areas where you don’t have a lot of room to swing the ratchet around. If the number of teeth is too small, there’s a chance it won’t work at all in tight spaces, as the distance you move won’t be enough to move to the next tooth.
Overall, you want to make sure that you’re not getting a kit where there are complaints in the reviews about tools breaking. If that’s the case, there’s very little chance that you’re getting a good deal, no matter the price.
While quality is the most important feature, you shouldn’t ignore the quantity of tools, sockets, and drill bits included in your kit. Of course, you should always keep in mind the fact that more pieces without a compensating increase in price may mean that the quality has gone down. You should also consider the fact that you may not use more tools, even if you have them. Paying a lot of money for tools you’re not going to use isn’t a great decision.
However, it’s a good idea to make sure that any set you buy comes with both metric tools and customary, or in manufacturer-speak, “SAE” tools. SAE stands for Society of Automotive Engineers, and they create standards for tools that use inches and fractions of inches for Automobile-related items in North America. The metric system relies on the meter, and more commonly for tools, on the millimeter.
By getting a set with both kinds included, you ensure that you’ll be able to not only work on your car but also on other items that use the metric system
You want to make sure that you get a kit that you’ll end up using. If you’re not sure which tools you’re going to need, a good place to start is your car’s user manual. This guide typically includes information about the kinds of nuts and bolts used to put your engine together, and by reading through this, you can get a pretty good idea about the sizes of objects you’ll need to loosen and tighten.
If you cross-reference those against the equipment included in different mechanics toolsets, you’ll get a pretty good idea of which ones have the tools you need to get the job done. As it turns out, you may not need four ratchets or four-dozen sockets. If you can cut down on the number of parts that you need, you can cut a decent amount out of the final price.
On the other hand, if you know you’re going to be doing a lot of projects, you’ll want to get a kit with a lot of variety in it. While it would be nice to live in a world that didn’t use dozens of bolt and screw sizes, the reality is that many similar jobs are going to call for similar, but slightly different tools. If you’re going to be doing a lot of different jobs, it’s worth it to invest in a kit with a lot of different parts.
Remember that you’re paying for the case, too. Too many manufacturers in recent years have gotten away with including truly awful cases with their tool sets, which is a shame. You could get around this by buying a different, third-party toolbox, but that involves extra cost and might make the entire ensemble bulky and not worth carrying around to each job. The one nice thing about the cheap plastic case that many tool sets come in today is that they’re lightweight and have a slim form-factor, which makes them good for carrying around, and the right shape and weight for putting one in your trunk for emergencies.
That’s not so true for a tool box.
Of course, you want to get the best quality that you can. There’s a difference between “cheap, but works,” and “cheap, but broke the first time I used it.” Unfortunately, some cases fall into the latter category. Handles and latches are common pieces that come apart, but sometimes the walls of the case itself split, which is concerning. You might be able to get by with a missing handle or latch, but a split side probably dooms the whole case.
Do yourself a favor and find the best case you can for the price.
No single mechanics tool set is going to be the right one for all people in all situations. Beyond the budgetary concerns, you’re going to want to find a set that has everything you’re going to reasonably need shortly. If you don’t, you’re going to find yourself buying another set or buying single pieces to address your gaps, and that’s not very cost-efficient.
Instead of focusing on the price, one of the best ways to ensure that you get good value is to make a list of everything you own that could break that you could attempt to repair yourself. Add anything you might try to upgrade to that list. Finish it off with anything you might try to build from scratch.
Once you’ve done that, you have a clear list of your potential needs, even if you don’t follow through on all of them. If you buy a set that covers those needs, you’ll get good value, no matter the price.
The DEWALT DWMT81534 205Pc comes with a great ratchet, tons of tools, and a great corrosion-resistant chrome polish that boost it to the top of our list. The Craftsman 230-Piece has more pieces and includes extension bars, but neither the included ratchets or the case is as nice as the DEWALT’s. The Stanley STMT71653 145-Piece kit can be had for a great price, and includes the great Max-Drive sockets, earning it the title of “best value.” The AmazonBasics Mechanic’s Socket Set 145-piece kit is not the most durable on the market, and while it has a low price, the frequently missing pieces makes it a frustrating buy. The Custom Accessories 83947 150-piece comes with a great tool kit, but the tool quality is low enough to make it poor value.
We hope that our reviews and our buyer’s guide have helped you find a mechanics toolset that will fit your budget and allow you to work on your car or other devices to your heart’s content.
You may also want to check out our new guide on socket sets suited for mechanics.
Hi there! My name is Adam and I write for HealthyHandyman. I have a great passion for writing about everything related to tools, home improvement, and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either fishing, playing the guitar, or spending quality time with my beloved wife. You'll also often find me in my workshop working on some new project!