If you're expecting a Tim Allen reference, move along. This story is not about a tool-obsessed comedian, but rather tool-obsessed hot rodders like us. You know you're legit when you have a tool that you've never used and likely never will, but are happy that you have it anyway. Because, you know it's cool. And when you got that neato tool without having to break into your kid's college fund, it's just that much better.

We've collected a handful of some of the coolest tools and devices we've run across and presented them here for two reasons. One, they serve a real function when it comes to working on our cars; and, two, because they're not hideously expensive. While a few of them approach the definition of "pricey" (like the welder and plasma cutter combo), compared to the competition and/or going without, we'd consider them a bargain. So without further ado, here ya go by alphanumeric order. Arh, Arh, Arh! (Sorry, couldn't help it.)

Craftsman Tools

When you were a kid, you probably hated when mom dragged you to Sears for new clothes, but as an adult car guy you're fine with it because while your wife is shopping, you can hang out in the Craftsman Tools department. All they need is a bar and a TV with the NFL package there and you'd never have to leave!

19-piece Universal Max Axess Socket/Ratchet Set

Leave it to Craftsman to come up with yet another take on the classic ratchet and socket set. The neatest thing about the ⅜-drive Max Axess kit is the pass-through design of the sockets and ratchet, so if you have to remove or install a nut from a long stud (too long to allow a standard deep socket to work), the Max Axess gives you the convenience of using a ratchet to remove or install it, instead of the tedious process of using a wrench. It works on quad, hex, 12-point, external Torx, splined, and even rounded-off nut/bolt heads, and includes ⅜- through ⅞-inch sockets, 10-19mm sockets, plus a storage rack and socket rails. Price: $39.99


We never thought we needed one of these until we got one, at which point we can't imagine being without it. We have used the Handi-Cut for years, mostly for cutting radiator, heater, and fuel hoses, but it can also be used on leather, fabric, rope, and gasket material. The stainless steel blade is easily replaceable, and the handle includes storage for extra blades, which are available from Craftsman (one extra blade comes with the tool). And like most Craftsman tools, it has the lifetime Craftsman Forever guarantee. Price: $19.99

Cordless Impact Wrench

One of the most critical tools to have is an impact wrench to loosen tight fasteners, especially lug nuts, and by far the most convenient impact is a cordless one. This is doubly true at the track, when you don't want to lug a generator and air compressor around. We've used a Craftsman ½-inch impact to change wheels, and have gotten a lot more use than expected out of a single charge. This C3 model 19.2V wrench is over a hundred bucks, but use it once and you'll gladly pay triple that for it. It packs enough torque to remove even rusted-on lug nuts, with 200 ft-lb of torque and 0 to 3,000 impacts per minute, as well as a bright LED light that comes on when you pull the trigger. You also get two NiCad rechargeable batteries, so you'll always have a fresh battery ready to keep your project on track and on time. If you do forget to recharge, the batteries are interchangeable with other 19.2V C3 tools. Price: $134.99

Harbor Freight

You know Harbor Freight as the place to get dirt-cheap tools, from tiny stuff to the bigger power tools, presses, and such, but your author has put a ton of use into their tools for decades and can attest that the "cheap tools" thing is mostly a myth. And they have everything, including a lot of things that the other tool companies don't offer. Check 'em out.

Step Drill Bits

We call this dynamite little tool a unibit, and if you don't have one in your toolbox then, sorry, you're an idiot. Talk about handy! Harbor Freight's three-piece Titanium Nitride Coated High-Speed Steel Step Drill bit takes the place of 28 individual bits and is just the thing for drilling holes to just the right size and deburring the hole at the same time. We've used it many times on firewalls to pass a water temp gauge capillary tube and fitting through, as well as a hundred other uses. The nice thing about Harbor Freight's step drill bit is that it is vastly less expensive than the last one we priced in a hardware store for $75! This is another one of those you didn't know you needed until you used it once. Price: $12.99

Heat Gun

Why would you need an industrial-strength hair drier? Because a true heat gun is much more than that and is a handy thing to have in the garage. Harbor Freight's 1,500-watt Dual Temperature Heat Gun puts out either 572 degrees or a flame-like 1,112 degrees (through a three-position switch) to strip paint, varnish, remove decals, shrink wire wrap, loosen fittings, thaw pipes, or anything else that's made easier with heat. Price: $14.99

Affordable Polisher

While it's true that a paintjob is only as good as the prep work, it's equally true that it's only as good as the cut and polish after the paint and clearcoat has dried, and Harbor Freight has just the inexpensive tool to do it. Their 7-inch Variable Speed Polisher/Sander, Drill Master can be set to spin from 200 to 3,377 rpm to polish a finish or sand a larger area. Ball bearing construction makes it smooth, a six-speed thumb control changes the speeds, and a spindle lock makes for easy pad changes. Price: $39.99

Shop Crane

Also known as a cherry picker, a shop crane is mandatory to remove or install an engine in a car, but they take up a boatload of room when not being used. Harbor Freight solves that with a foldable crane in either 1-ton or 2-ton capacities. The 1-ton unit is $40 cheaper and we've used it to remove an engine, but the 2-ton crane's boom extends out 61 ¼ inches (as opposed to 50 ¼ inches on the 1-ton), making it a much easier process. We'd opt for the 2-ton crane, since if you have a car with a lot of front overhang, the smaller one might not work. The foldable design makes storage a piece of cake. Price: $184.99 for 1-ton, $224.99 for 2-ton