Automotive tools — Which brand to buy?
How to buy automotive hand tools
Reddit posters often ask which hand tool brands to buy. I’ve used all the brands, so I feel confident in giving you advice from actual experience.
For more information on what to look for when buying a socket set, see this post
For more information on what to look for when buying a screwdriver set, see this post
For more information on what to look for when buying a torque wrench, see this post
First, my thoughts about Snap-On tools
Snap-On is a premium brand with a premium price. You don’t need Snap-On tools to fix your car or to be a professional auto tech.
However, I own some Snap-On tools and can tell you that they are the nicest tools I’ve ever owned. They feel good in your hands and they work great. If money is no object and you appreciate the craftsmanship of a fine tool, Snap-On is the way to go.
Will a Snap-On tool make the job easier than other brands? No. Will it make the job go faster? No. Do the tools fit better than other quality brands? No.
Now let’s talk about the other hand tool brands
Here are my thoughts on the other common hand tool brands
Harbor Freight tools
I own lots of Harbor Freight sockets. They do the job and they’re the least expensive tools out there. The sockets fit well and stand up to regular use. I’ve never had a Harbor Freight socket break, so I’ve never had to use their warranty.
I also own some Harbor Freight extensions, breaker bars, and universal joints. The extensions work fine and I’ve never had one break. I’ve broken several breaker bars and universal joints. Sure, Harbor Freight replaces them for free, but where you’re in the middle of a job and need a lot of leverage or torque, these tools will let you down when you need them the most.
I used to own a few Harbor Freight ratchets. I have since tossed them. Their cheap ratchets are total garbage in my opinion. Even their premium ratchets don’t match up to the quality of a better brand like GearWrench, SK, or DeWalt.
I’m also not a fan of Harbor Freight wrenches or screwdrivers. I got rid of the ones I owned.
Craftsman Sockets and Wrenches
I started my auto tech career with Craftsman sockets, wrenches, and screwdrivers. The selling point back then was the ease of purchase (in-stock at all Sears stores) and the over-the-counter warranty exchange policy. That’s no longer a selling point. In fact, Craftsman tools are hard to find. Some ACE hardware stores carry Craftsman tools, but usually only in full sets. The stores that sell them can also handle the over-the-counter exchange, but only if they have that particular socket/wrench/tool in stock.
When it comes to buying Craftsman tool sets, my experience is that they use the old Sears marketing gimmicks to make you think you’re getting a bigger set than you really are. They do that by including tools you’ll most likely never use. When it comes to tool kit count, the only tools that matter are sockets, extensions, and ratchets, not hex wrenches or screwdriver bits. Don’t get suckered in by the high piece count on Craftsman tool sets.
I no longer buy any Craftsman tools.
I’m a big fan of GearWrench tools. They offer a huge selection of regular sockets and ratchets and specialty sockets, wrenches, and ratchets. GearWrench prices are reasonable and their tools are high quality.
Kobalt tools by Lowes
Kobalt tools by Lowes used to be total crap. Their wrenches didn’t fit the marked-size fasteners. The finishing was rough and could easily cut your hands, and the overall quality was poor. That’s all changed. Lowes put a major effort into upgrading Kobalt design and quality. When Kobalt sockets, ratchets, and wrenches go on sale, they’re a great buy.
Kobalt sockets are well marked, sized perfectly, and work well. The same applies to their ratchets and wrenches. I have no hesitation recommending Kobalt hand tools now. My only advice is to wait for them to go on sale, which they do often. You’ll get a lot for your money with Kobalt tools.
Husky sockets and wrenches are made by Stanley Tools and sold exclusively by Home Depot. I’ve used their tools and find them to be high quality. However, the selection is very limited. If you’re looking for the basics and have a Home Depot near you, Husky tools are a good option. Home Depot generally doesn’t run sales on their sockets and wrenches like Lowes does with the Kobalt brand. But you can find “special purchase” kits around Father’s Day and Christmas. It’s a good brand with a reasonable price.
©, 2020 Rick Muscoplat