By on May 6, 2019

Ford Sierra and Merkur XR4ti, Image: Sajeev Mehta

Most of the gearheads in this audience turn a wrench or three. It’s part of what makes the community at TTAC such a great one: authors and readers alike enjoy (and understand!) wrenching on cars as much as they enjoy driving them. Those attributes aren’t a requirement for hanging around these digital pages but it sure does help.

You author spent a leisurely few minutes changing over the tires on his trusty Dodge Charger from winter to all-season rubber. While spinning lug nuts, I started thinking: what is the first tool bought by most gearheads?

Some obvious answers to this question? A socket set is surely near the top. Armed with a few ratchets and sockets of various sizes (metric and standard, right?) most of us probably cut our shadetree teeth with these tools. If you picked a set with six-sided deep sockets, you get extra bonus points.

Or perhaps a floor jack was your first buy. After all, a good one allows for quickie tire changes and extra clearance while diagnosing that clanking sound that reared its head during the last handbrake manoeuvre. You’re supporting the thing on jack stands while you’re under there, right?

With those purchases comes the need for a tool box, of course. Then special tools like a torque wrench or timing light. This gives rise to stuff like angle grinders and bodywork tools, eventually culminating with an enclosed garage of some shape … which quickly becomes full. As I said, it’s the first hit of a lifelong addiction.

Spill the beans below. We’re all friends here.

[Image: Sajeev Mehta/TTAC]

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42 Comments on “QOTD: First Hit of a Lifelong Addiction?...”

  • avatar

    Car tool set. Came with sockets, combi wrenches, hammer, screwdrivers…

    • 0 avatar

      Yup, Craftsman used to have solid starter kits – with lifetime guarantee.

      • 0 avatar

        Craftsman were my first new tools, ordered them from the catalog when I was 16 as money came available. I still have most of them along with the toolbox I bought.

        • 0 avatar

          My first socket set (basic raised-panel wrenches – not the full-polish style you can get today) came courtesy of a 1976 Chevy Impala Wagon (400 cu. in.) which fouled a spark plug on our family vacation. Dad made a quick stop at Sears and picked up a set which included the correct spark plug socket – no more misfire, and an early Christmas present for teenage me.

          (How times have changed – fewer wagons, fewer paper maps, fewer Sears stores. Fewer fouled spark plugs and fewer parking lot repairs, but a lot fewer teenagers receiving tools as presents.)

  • avatar

    1. Large socket set
    2. Floor jack
    3. Jack stands
    4. Breaker bar
    5. 1/2 torque wrench

    Those were my first 5 tool purchases. It still gets me going for a lot of small jobs. I had to buy a 32 mm wrench and holder tool to take off the fan clutch on the BMW.

  • avatar

    My dad gave me my first tools when I was a teen ager with my first car. Various wrenches, screw drivers, a pair of channel-lock pliers among other things. These were from his tool collection as well as a few from my grandfather. I still have and use them today 50 years later. My dad also made me a pair of jack stands that I have used under every car I have ever owned.

    • 0 avatar

      Home built is always special.

      • 0 avatar

        I think of my Dad every time I use those stands. They have kept me safe for all these years. I have a ton of tools now, but those from my Dad will always be special.

    • 0 avatar

      3/8″ Craftsman flex head ratchet with metric 12 points in a little metal, not blown plastic, carrier.

      40 years later, they still are go to. Amazing I didn’t separate the head from the handle sometime a while back.

      Dad was a jerk sometimes, but he got it right on this one…

  • avatar

    A Craftsman 3/8″ drive English socket set
    A Craftsman English combination wrench set (3/8″ to 5/8″)
    A Sears Penske chrome inductive timing light
    A Sears Penske dwell/tach meter

    I bought all of that stuff in 1978, and still have it all. A Craftsman 1/2″ drive beam-type torque wrench and other stuff came next.

    • 0 avatar

      I have one of those timing lights as well. My father bought it in 1974 when he bought a pair of Datsun 510s set up for SCCA B Sedan racing. I haven’t used it since I sold my last race car in 1997. I still have it but I can’t think I’ll use it again, I’m not likely to buy an old car, but it’s sitting in an odd center drawer in my toolbox and I have no motivation to get rid of it.

  • avatar

    My dad bought me a Craftsman “mechanics” tool set shortly after I bought my first truck so I would stop using his tools.

    1/2, 3/8 and 1/4 socket sets
    Standard wrench set
    A few screw drivers
    A set of plyers

  • avatar

    I’m _still_ buying tools dammit…

    I have three rollaways full plus cabinets …..

    There’s always some job on a new jalopy that needs yet another tool .

    I have mixed tools many American made (by Miller no less) SEARS Craftsman I bought in the 1960’s & 1970’s plus scads of used tools I picked up at swap meets , junkyards, yard sales, anywhere I find them .

    Many were bought as salvage / scrap and repaired, I love my vintage analog gauges and testers .


    • 0 avatar

      My electronics teacher said if we brought in a digital instrument, he would fail us.

      • 0 avatar

        You have a *very* good teacher ! .

        I keep trying to get folks working on vintage things and especially lighting circuits, to use analog gauges or better yet, the basic and simple test light because digital testers so often give false positives


  • avatar

    My dad gave me a metric socket set to use on my ’74 BMW 2002. It was made by Wizard; anyone remember where those tools were sold?

    FWIW, I still have the set; missing only one socket. The paint has worn off the metal case and has a bit of surface rust on it.

  • avatar

    Basic socket set, jack and stands, (do jumper cables count?). Later I got a ratcheting breaker bar and torque wrench.

  • avatar

    When I started working on my first project car, I went on a tool buying binge. Timing light, metric and SAE socket set, two different size torque wrenches, engine stand, engine hoist, a heavy duty jack, stands, ramps, etc. They were all useful – but there was always those little niggling “needed once or twice” tools that made a job a lot easier.

    Most of my gear has since been sold off or given away, leaving me a scattered mess of sockets and random screwdrivers. Sadly I no longer have the space or the time to do serious wrenching.

  • avatar

    Got metric and “English” sockets along with a smattering of wrenches. Other tools are usually DIY type tools like hammers and screwdrivers and pipe wrenches etc.

  • avatar

    Like most I’ve collected all kinds of tools but it all started with a simple 12V circuit tester. My introduction to working on cars was via stereo installs, thus getting power and ground connections sorted was priority.

    • 0 avatar

      Forgot about my basic voltage/circuit tester. Saved my butt a few times with my old Mustang troubleshooting before throwing parts at a problem.

  • avatar

    I don’t do a lot to my own car, other than very minor repairs and seasonal wheel swaps. The wheel swaps came about because it’s actually easier and faster to do them myself in the driveway than it is to load up wheels, take them to a tire shop, and wait. I can have the job done oodles faster.

    So, that meant buying a decent floor jack.

    And that begot having my own torque wrench.

    And that begot having a nice lug nut wrench, something with a decent amount of torque.

    And that begot getting an air pump, because if I’m going to swap the wheels, I might as well check the pressure and top them up too, right? Then the job is totally done.

    And that begot wheel bags/cases, so that schlepping the wheels/tires became easier.

    And that begot a breaker bar, because every once in awhile, a nut will just not budge. (Luckily that’s just available… I’ve not needed it since I bought it.)

    I’ve got it down to a science now. And I tell you, not using an impact wrench has freed me from cross-threaded nuts. (At least twice in the last decade, tire shops have cross-threaded a nut on me, and they are a chore to get free.) And it really isn’t that slow doing it by hand. Plus… it’s exercise!

    • 0 avatar

      I find it easier to take it to a shop, actually.

      Loading up the tires takes five minutes, and we just drop off the car and tires and then head out to grab a coffee. A short time later, tires are swapped for $20.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    Ha-ha me too, Gen Xers like myself were raised on FWD hatchbacks (malaise era muscle cars I could afford just weren’t anything special), with little to no mod potential and rarely broke down, and when they did a Craftsmen set wasn’t gonna fix it. I learned some basic maintenance from the mechanics at Chevy store I washed cars at, but mostly was into car audio in early 90s.

  • avatar

    I, too, have the Sears Chrome timing light and the dwell meter. I can’t bring myself to part with them, even though its been years. I had the good fortune to be raised in a working class home, with a Dad who was an airplane mechanic. We had an entire closet full of great tools which fascinated me from the time I could walk. There were also hand me downs from my grandfather. At the time, I thought the best part of a mechanic for a dad was the easily obtainable advice; now I realize it was the bonding time.

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      My chrome Sears timing light was not the new-fangled inductive type…instead, there was an aluminum shank/adapter that needed to be inserted between the number one spark plug and the wire boot. More than once a got received a sharp shock from that damn thing.

      • 0 avatar

        I had the same Sears timing light. Yes you could get a jolt and also burn your hand on a hot exhaust manifold. The last time I tried to use mine on my old Mustang, it didn’t work. I suppose the strobe light bulb has burned out.

  • avatar

    RE: Those old chrome SEARS Craftstman inductive timing lights ~ when they first came out I had to do serious budgeting to afford the $50 price for the basic one (no advance dial), I still have it after decades of daily commercial service, I’ve replaced the leads _once_ because the plug died, not the inductive pickup part .

    Te timing light with the advance dial is incredibly useful both to dial in the proper maximum full advance timing bit as a diagnostic tool to boot .

    I take it ’round to Vintage vehicle club meets and folks are always amazed at how easiy it is to make any old car, truck or Motocycle start easier and run *much* better .

    Timing at idle isn’t critical because there’s no load on the engine so setting the ‘All In’ timing can compensate for worn timing chains, low / higher compression, jetting, crappy local fuels , on and on….

    Whitworth tools, what a PIA ! everyone who touched a pre 1956 British car learned to hate them .


  • avatar
    R Henry

    My first “real” tools were indeed a basic Craftsman 3/8 drive socket set–standard. A bit later I added 1/4 and 1/2 in drives.

    I would still have those tools (in original boxes!) if some rat bastard hadn’t stolen my 1981 Dodge pickup with the Leaning Tower of Power….in 1995. The socket sets were in the locked cross-bed toolbox.

    Yes…I am STILL pissed off about that !!!!!!!

  • avatar
    Big Wheel

    Yep, a socket set, was the first stuff I bought myself.

    My dad gave me a few basic tools like screwdrivers, pliers, etc., in a small toolbox over the years when I was a kid.

    Once in my 20’s, I was doing some field work for my company & needed a few more things. Craftsman socket set with English & metric (up to almost an inch), in 1/4 & 3/8 drive, plus a 12″ extension & some universal joints. Three drawer Sears Craftsman “Rally Box” toolbox & filled it with english & metric wrenches, pliers (regular, needle nose, & cut-off), & some other small tools. Jumper cables. Fluke multi-meter. My grandfather was a former Ford tractor mechanic & he gave me his rolling tool cabinet when they moved out of their house & into a retirement home. I was mesmerized by that toolbox when I was kid, & definitely led me to tinkering around & becoming a Mechanical Engineer, loving cars, etc. The cabinet is full of decades old Snap-On & Cornwell tools, plus a drill (with locking trigger!) & circular saw fully made of metal that weigh a ton but feel indestructible & still work great. Got a Craftsman 3/8 torque wrench for changing the timing belt/water pump on my 97 Honda Prelude years ago, & now for working on other power equipment. Wife & kids got me a AC Delco creeper & jack stand set for Christmas one year.

    My youngest son, 11, is now also a tinkerer & has his own toolbag filled with some basic tools. He’ll probably inherit my stuff one day.

  • avatar

    Like most everyone above.

    Socket wrench set
    Floor jack and wheel chocks
    Jack stands

    I already had everything for wiring diagnostics, repair, and modifications before I started turning my own.

    It snowballed from there.

  • avatar

    Got all the usual tools when I had my 1969 BMW 2002. But interesting that all the commenters were able to tune their cars without a set of feeler and spark plug gap gauges. I would say that along with a timing light those were the first specialized automotive tools I owned. I still have several sets that are in my work bench.

    After about 5 years I did replace the BMW ignition with an aftermarket electronic ignition system. That worked flawlessly for the remaining 15 years I owned the car.

    It was the only modification I made to that car.

  • avatar

    SP Tools socket set. Still ticking over today, although the 1/4″ ratchet is a bit sick/wobbly.

    More recently I’ve been buying Ko-ken socket sets.

  • avatar

    a set of ramps to do oil changes and exhaust work on the family cars back in the early 80s. ingersoll electric impact ($160 in the early 90s) was probably the next important tool i bought, though i got it for a side gig building bicycles during xmas season.

  • avatar

    GTL, Wizard was the name of the house brand of tools sold by Western Auto. I have a couple of Wizard brake adjusters I bought when I was 14(Johnson was President).
    I had a couple of the Chrome Craftsman timing lights. I gave them away when I got my Snap-ons. Once I was setting timing on my ’65 Ford Galaxie big-block out on the driveway in a light mist. Hand on the chrome light, other on the radiator support, and promptly got shocked. That was the end of them for me.

  • avatar

    _Wire_ typ feeler and spark plug gauges are getting hard to find .

    Going to a breaker less ignition system that fits inside your original distributor is the biggest bang for your buck, few comprehend it until I’ve installed it then they’re in love with it .


  • avatar

    My favorite tool, which I have been using since my first motorcycle, is a craftsman 12mm/14mm dual box-end wrench. I have been using it regularly for close to 40 years.

    I don’t remember what my first tool was. I would imagine wiring related tools.

    I think my most useful long-term tools would be the various impact guns and drivers and torque wrenches.

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