We’ve always been jealous of the mechanics who seemed to have every handy tool they ever needed — and then we realized their secret, which is that most of those gadgets are dirt cheap.
Here are five tools every backyard mechanic should have — and we reckon you could buy every single one of them and not spend much more than 50 bucks.
There was a time when you could look down under the hood and see the pavement beneath the car, but today most engine compartments are tightly packed, so much so that anything you drop is unlikely to come out the bottom. That’s where your parts picker comes in. We recommend getting two: A magnetic one for easy pick-up of metal parts and a spring-loaded claw-type picker for stuff the magnet won’t get. You can buy either one for less than $5, and for a few more dollars, you can get one with a handy built-in LED light.
Find your parts picker for sale here.
Telescoping Inspection Mirror
There is a law governing auto repair stating that at least one bolt in every repair will be stuck some place where you can’t see it. That’s where the inspection mirror comes in: This cheap gadget will let you eyeball the location of impossible-to-see parts and help you position your wrench. Cost: Less than 10 bucks.
Find your telescoping mirror here.
OK, you’ve used your inspection mirror to find the hidden bolt — now how the heck are you going to get a wrench on it? A flex-head ratchet answers this puzzle by allowing you to get at bolts that don’t allow a straight-in path. They can be a bit expensive by cheap-tool standards — $20 or more — but with the frustration they’ll save, it’s money well spent. Consider buying used as well, as you can get a high-quality tool for a cheap-tool price.
Find your flex head ratchet here.
Magnetic Parts Dish
If we added up all the minutes we’ve spent searching for bolts, screws and other small parts that wandered off on their own, we’d have enough time to build a car from the ground up. The magnetic parts dish solves that problem: Stick it to your metal toolbox or some part of the car, then drop the bits inside, and they stay put. It even works upside down! This is truly one of those “How did I live without it?” tools, and we smacked our own foreheads when we realized they cost $7 or less.
Find your magnetic parts dish here.
Cheap Digital Camera
The digital camera is the best thing to happen to auto repair since the socket wrench. The trick is to take photos as you disassemble, and if the repair manual doesn’t quite match what’s on your car — or if you simply can’t remember how everything goes back together — just look at the photos you took. There’s no reason to risk your $900 Nikon or $600 smartphone when there are a plethora of cheap digital cameras available (new!) for less than $25.
Shop for a cheap digital camera here.
The Wise Guide team writes about things we think you’ll like, introducing you to great products, services and special deals. We do have affiliate partnerships, so we may earn revenue from the products and services you buy.