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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.

Parts Picker



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.

Flex-head Ratchet



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.







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05 Tacoma 4x4 DC LB
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Seems I have everything but the magnetic parts dish. Mirror and telescoping magnet are one and the same. Just have to switch the heads.
 

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05 Tacoma 4x4 DC LB
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Also chinese fingers for the non magnetic parts.

Stick a little wad of duct tape (sticky side out) or something else that's sticky (a gob of the goo holding the plastic vapor barrier in the doors works awesome...been there, used that) to the end of the extending magnet for retrieving things like plastic parts. :thumbsup:
 

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Stick a little wad of duct tape (sticky side out) or something else that's sticky (a gob of the goo holding the plastic vapor barrier in the doors works awesome...been there, used that) to the end of the extending magnet for retrieving things like plastic parts. :thumbsup:
Thats good I like that. I use dumdum, which I think is byteluine tape or something.
 

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And I thought it was just me losing nuts and stuff in the black depths of the engine compartment. :lol:
I think its kind of like the bike life saying "show me your scars."

If you haven't spent more time looking for nuts/screws/hardware/tools than it actually takes you to finish the job your not really a wrencher.
 

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I have never really found a need for the flex head ratchet. Been working on cars, motorcycles, lawn and garden equipment, woodworking, metalworking and home improvement projects for over 30 years. Never needed a flex head ratchet. I use those universal joint socket adapters for those occasional hard to reach bolts. What I would add or replace the flex head ratchet with would be 6 point combo wrenches. MUCH nicer to use than 12 pt. combo wrenches and you can really torque on them without stripping the bolt/nut. I find myself reaching for them in most situations with hard to reach bolts/nuts because usually the obstruction keeps a ratchet with a normal sized socket from being used, while the 6 point box side of a combo wrench will fit right in.

Just my $0.02.

Paul
 

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I have never really found a need for the flex head ratchet. Been working on cars, motorcycles, lawn and garden equipment, woodworking, metalworking and home improvement projects for over 30 years. Never needed a flex head ratchet. I use those universal joint socket adapters for those occasional hard to reach bolts. What I would add or replace the flex head ratchet with would be 6 point combo wrenches. MUCH nicer to use than 12 pt. combo wrenches and you can really torque on them without stripping the bolt/nut. I find myself reaching for them in most situations with hard to reach bolts/nuts because usually the obstruction keeps a ratchet with a normal sized socket from being used, while the 6 point box side of a combo wrench will fit right in.

Just my $0.02.

Paul
Don't know how to edit my previous post, but I want to clarify, that the few times where there is an alignment issue, those universal joint adapters work well, which is where a flex head ratchet works. However, most of the obstructed bolts/nuts have limited room in front where I can't get a ratchet with a socket on the bolt/nut, and a 6 pt. combo wrench is just the ticket.

Paul
 

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If your talking about the things like this



They are good and I use them to but in cramped areas I find they can lock into weird angles making it hard to twist the bolt properly. I wrapped a few of mine in electrical tape to keep them for bending past a 45 degree angle. I agree you don't need flex head ratchets but they can be handy at times.
 

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4AGE 4EVER
86 MR2 & 87 FX16
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This is what I'd recommend:

1. Toyota factory service manual
2. Penetrating oil
3. Breaker bar (for taking bolts off)
4. Torque wrench (only for putting bolts on)
5. WD40

Make sure you have those before you waste money on the cheap stuff in the first post.
 

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Basshead
04 Camry LE
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I really need a parts picker and a magnetic dish. Oh god cant count how many times id have to look for bolt or screw.
 

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I have all five. But...... I'm old, so that's not really fair for you youngins.


A breaker bar is a MUST. That said, you can spend a lot of money on a good one (and you should), but an excellent stand-in is a 3' piece of metal pipe that has a not-too-large inside diameter. Slide it over the shaft of the ratchet and you're golden. Be careful though. Try to get the pipe slightly over top of the head of the ratchet. If it's just TO the head, you're at the weakest part of the ratchet and it may snap. Trust me on this one!


Another good tool that is rather new on the market is a skinny LED light bar / flashlight. Got mine at ACE and it is awesome! Bright, very thin, and long enough to light up the lower part of the nether regions of the engine compartment or the spot under the dash you can't get your work light to shine in.


And if anyone knows a way to get ahold of a digital version of the FSM without spending an arm and a leg....... let me know!
 

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05 Tacoma 4x4 DC LB
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And if anyone knows a way to get ahold of a digital version of the FSM without spending an arm and a leg....... let me know!

Most recommend getting a short duration subscription to TIS and downloading (printing to pdf) the relevant sections.
 
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