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Dream Garage: Part Two: Tools to get the job done

By Jeff Barker
contributing writer


Any mechanic who has been around for a while knows the importance of having the right tools to do the job right the first time and in a timely manner.

When you’re up late at night getting your truck repaired and ready to roll, it’s obviously much easier to have almost everything you need to complete your repairs right away than to have to wait to buy the tool the next morning or to take a chance on your safety by trying to improvise.

Once you have your garage set up with the toolboxes and cabinets to help keep your tools organized, then you’re ready to go on a shopping spree and load it up or put those items on your Christmas list.

The following is a basic list of tools you should have in your garage to do most practical truck and trailer repairs yourself.

When shopping for tools, I can’t stress enough how important it is to go for good-quality stuff. Sure, buying tools from top-quality manufacturers like Snap-On, Matco, Cornwell or Mac Tools may initially be a bit more expensive than department store stuff, but they will be much less likely to fail at the worst time.

Don’t let the idea of a lifetime warranty on any tool lure you into a false sense of security, either. Also, it’s much safer to use better quality tools. I learned about that the hard way on a few occasions.

The time any of us would be forced to take off work after being hurt while using inferior quality tools would cost a hell of a lot more in lost income than it would to pay for the better quality items beforehand and use them properly.


Ratchets and Sockets: It’s a good idea to have 6-point ¼”, ⅜”, ½” and ¾” ratchets at the ready, as well as their respective sockets up to 1¼” to work with almost anything on a truck.

Screwdrivers: You will need a good assortment in flat-tip, Phillips sizes 1, 2 and 3, and Torx. Get them in various lengths. I found that I really like the square shape of the handles on the Snap-On screwdrivers I have used for years. I can put a lot more torsional force on them when breaking screws loose than I can using those others with round handles.


Air Tools: Once you have an air compressor in your garage, you can then use some quality air tools and attack most of those time-consuming jobs with a vengeance. You will need the following items to get started:

    • ⅜” socket drive air ratchet;
    • ⅜” socket drive air impact;
    • ½” socket drive air impact;
    • ¾” socket drive air impact;
    • ⅜” shank 90-degree die grinder;
    • ⅜” and ½” reversible air drills;
    • Air blower gun;
    • Tire inflator, often referred to as an “air chuck”; and
    • A bottle of air tool oil to lubricate them before each day of use.



Impact sockets: Buy 1½” with drive sizes of ⅜”, ½” and ¾”. Never, under any circumstances, should you ever use a non-impact socket on an air tool. A suitable impact socket for the job is always the best bet for your safety. Go with 6-point sockets so you don’t take a chance on stripping stubborn bolts.

Extensions: Get some good-quality extensions in ¼” to ¾” drive assortments. You may also want to invest in some impact extensions.

Pry bars: These obviously have many uses in any shop. Get some in an assortment of sizes, including a heel bar that you can use to lift a tire and wheel assembly up onto a hub, saving your back.


Breaker bars: These are mandatory for breaking bolts loose in situations where you may not be able to use an air impact gun. I recommend getting two: one with a ½” socket drive and the other with a ¾” drive. Price cannot be a priority on these items. The inferior-quality ones can pose a safety hazard if they fail. Sure, a good-quality ¾” breaker bar from Snap-On or Matco Tools may cost you upward of $200, but it’s less of a price to pay than a visit to the emergency room if a cheaper one breaks. I learned about that the hard way, too.


Wrenches: I recommend the following:

    • Combo wrenches: ¼” to 1¼”
    • Line wrenches: ½” to ⅞”


Adjustable wrenches: Crescent wrenches are one of the most popular brands. Get some in various sizes, with the largest opening up to at least 1 ½”.

    • Pliers: I recommend the following:
    • Flat-jaw in various sizes;
    • Slip-joint in various sizes;
    • Flat-jaw and curved-jaw grips, such as Vise-Grips, two of each;
    • Electrical lineman’s crimpers for crimping both covered and uncovered terminals;
    • Snap-Ring pliers in various sizes, for both inner and outer snap rings;
    • Tin snips for cutting sheet metal;
    • Diagonal cutters, aka dikes; and
    • Wire strippers.


Filter wrenches: You will need a few different sizes of filter wrenches to replace your own oil filters, and possibly your fuel filters depending on which setup your truck has. Most oil filters are between 5 and 6 inches in diameter, and newer trucks use a Davco-style fuel filter setup that requires a specific wrench to remove the filter bowl ring without harming it.


Grease gun: Would maintaining a truck without a grease gun even be possible? I think not. Get yourself a pistol-grip grease gun for hitting those zerk fittings without needing three hands to get the job done, and keep two grease cartridges on hand.


Tap and die set: These can get you out of a jam if you come across some stripped threads. Get one that will accommodate thread sizes up to at least ½-inch.


Drill bit sets: A set of drill bits between ⅛” and ½” will be sufficient. I recommend cobalt tip bits as they can drill into frame rails if needed.


Wire brush: These come in handy for cleaning battery terminals and rust off of areas where you connect a ground cable to the frame, among other things.


Telescopic mirrors: These are great for looking in places you can’t readily see, like the area between the rear of the engine and the firewall.


Files: You should consider an assortment of files. The flat, half-moon curved and rat-tail are the most commonly used.


Electrical test and repair equipment: Electrical gremlins have a habit of creeping up at inconvenient times, but quite often they are minor and can be fixed instantly with a bit of knowledge and just a few nifty tools at your disposal. Here’s a list of those necessities:


Multimeter: These can be used to test for voltage, impedance (for testing various sensors) and continuity (for lighting circuits).


Voltage test light: These can help you fix many electrical problems (especially lighting problems) in short order by letting you know where you do and where you don’t have power. Do not even think of using them in circuits where the engine ECM is connected, and never penetrate the insulation of a wire to check for voltage.


Soldering iron: When working with wiring that’s not in a climate-controlled environment, it’s always best to solder and heat-shrink those connections to prevent corrosion. I have had good luck with the pistol-type soldering irons with a trigger. Those pen-type units stay hot all the time when they’re plugged in and can pose a safety risk. LL


Jeff Barker is an OOIDA member and a former certified diesel mechanic. He can be reached at