Most old cars can be maintained with basic hand tools for not a lot of cash, and they can be used to turn your junk from bad to rad.
Here are 10 tools you should have in your tool box if you plan on working on old cars.
Right off the bat, you’re not going to get anything done without a set of screwdrivers. Virtually every piece of a car is held on with either a screw, nut, or bolt along with Flat washers. As well as being useful for disassembly and reassembly, the humble screwdriver is extremely useful for tuning carburetors, where almost every adjustment is set by screws. For bonus points, a magnetic screwdriver is great for getting at hard to reach spots where you can’t hold a screw on the end, or for holding onto a screw as you remove it, so you don’t lose it. Flat head screwdrivers are also great for prying things open or off.
In a similar vein of the screwdriver, wrenches are an essential part of any self-respecting home mechanic’s garage. Larger body panels and mechanical parts are usually held on with bolts and nuts rather than screws because they can be tightened with a lot more leverage. A stuck nut or bolt will also require the leverage of a wrench. The biggest downside to a wrench, however, is that it requires a lot of space for you to swing it in order to make any progress.
Socket Set and Ratchet
Possibly the most important tool on this list, a ratchet can do the work of 10 wrench turns in no time. A socket set is essential for removing or assembling any part of your car quickly, because who likes turning a wrench a thousand times? I don’t. Equipped with an extension, you can also reach into places where screwdrivers and wrenches can’t. Deep sockets are also extremely useful for when you have to remove or install a nut onto a bolt that may be longer, such as a U-bolt around a leaf spring, or an exhaust clamp.
Old cars require constant monitoring of various systems, and there aren’t any computers to alert you of problems, this means every once in a while you’re going to need to check tolerances of mechanical parts. The feeler gauge is essential while tuning up your engine. Your spark plugs need to be checked to make sure they have the proper gap between the electrodes, and if you have an overhead valve engine the rockers will need to be gapped to the correct tolerances too, along with the points in the distributor.
Hammer and Dolly
Bodywork is less of a science and more of an art, and with modern cars made of plastics and many panels available for purchase, the skilled craft of “panel beating” is slowly being left by the wayside. But say your car is exceedingly rare and doesn’t have parts available — or you’re skilled enough to shape metal yourself — you’re going to need a hammer and a dolly. Body hammers are specially designed to create the desired shape in metal, and using a “dolly” behind the metal enables stretching and shrinking of the work piece to the shape you desire.
If you’re going to be working with metal, you’re going to need a way to attach the piece to the vehicle once it’s complete. Welders come in many shapes and sizes, the most common are MIG (metal inert gas) and TIG (tungsten inert gas). MIG welders can use “flux core” wire or can be hooked up to an external gas source. Flux core has shielding gas in the center of the welding wire in order for the wire to react properly with the metal, but flux core isn’t recommended for sheet metal welding as it gets too hot, external gas is much better for sheet metal welding, but the gas can get blown away if you’re welding in windy conditions. TIG welding is useful for making beautiful welds in aluminum or other metals that melt at a much lower temperature, but TIG welding requires a lot of practice and skill.
Electrical is one of the hardest jobs to tackle on a vehicle because it’s very hard to trace where a fault is coming from. A multimeter can be a huge help in determining where a problem comes from. Working back from the power source toward the system that isn’t working, the multimeter can be used to check switches or wires to make sure the power is reaching those checkpoints along the way to the issue, narrowing down when in the circuit the power stops.
When a stubborn codder pin just won’t budge, call in the pliers. These are great for getting to those spots you can’t reach and are able to grab things with more strength than your fingers would be able to thanks to serrated teeth. Pliers come in many sizes to suit your needs, including wire cutting, and circlip, which allows you to remove circlip rings, a very handy tool indeed.
Measuring Tape or Ruler
Measure twice, cut once! The golden rule of fabrication. There’s nothing worse than spending hours working on something only to find out you’ve been making it too small the whole time, so make sure to use a ruler or a measuring tape to confirm your measurements. These two tools are also useful for confirming the sizes of parts you need to buy, such as the length of a leaf spring, the diameter of a brake drum, or your ride height.
Power tools are not always needed, but sometimes they are handy. There really isn’t a match for the drill, nothing else in the toolbox can pierce through various materials with such expediency. Equipped with a screwdriver bit, a drill is unmatched for removal and installation of screws, you can even have an adapter that allows you to use your fancy sockets on it. Although they are available as a plug-in type, most drills these days are powered by rechargeable batteries, allowing you to take it anywhere.