Brake Pad Caliper Tool

8 Must Have Auto Repair Tools in the $15 Price Range

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In previous articles we discussed strategies for building out a solid DIY auto repair tools set. Now it’s time to talk about adding eight individual items you might not think of at first, but when you need them you’ll be glad you have them. The good news is, in this list of auto repair tools, only one is over $10. And several of these handy items are closer to five dollars. With the low cost of ownership I would seriously consider adding these often necessary automotive tools to your collection.

Automotive Trim Remover Set

Automobile trim auto repair tools
Automotive Trim Auto Repair Tools

You won’t find a dealership technician without an automotive trim remover set. Although you might be less picky about your trim finish than a new car owner there’s no reason to use a sharp metal blade screwdriver on a delicate piece of plastic trim. When you use a plastic removal tool it’s less likely to mark or damage the trim, because they are made out of the same materials.

When we’re talking about removing interior trim, different pieces will require unique strategies to get them off without damage. This is thanks to their location, the use of blind retainers and also the type of clips used to hold the component. The 11 piece set pictured on the left provides you with the luxury of having the right tool for the specific job. Although we use the pictured auto repair tools on interior trim pieces, you can also use it on the exterior trim and to remove plastic or metal automobile emblems.

Boats and recreational vehicles use the same type of trim and retainers you find in the automotive industry. Professional mechanics understand that when a tool works on multiple vehicles it’s a good investment. Although this 11 piece set pushes our price limit coming in at around $13 they do offer 6 piece automotive trim tool sets for under $10. The six piece set include the most commonly used tools and I find them adequate for most do-it-yourself applications.

Rear Drum Brake System Combination Spring Tool

Combination Brake Tool
Combination Brake Tool

The next item on our list is a rear brake spring combination tool. The one caveat here is that drum brakes are becoming a thing of the past. However, there are still millions of vehicles that have rear drum brakes in operation today. That’s why this specialized combination brake spring tool is nice to have in your toolbox for under $10.

Although you might get through a rear brake job without this item there’s a good chance that a spring can bite you when you least expect it. When you use regular pliers, pry bars and screwdrivers there is a good chance that the spring will slip off of these devices.

However, the specialized brake spring tool is specifically designed to remove the spring and then reinstall it over the new shoes with very little risk of personal injury. The length of the tool gives you leverage and the hollowed out end slips over the retaining post that holds the spring. This combination tool also has a flat blade for moving the star wheel adjustment after reinstalling the drum. Can you live without this tool in your box? The answer is yes, but for nine bucks I don’t see why you would.

Right Angle Mini Ratcheting Screwdriver Set

Offset Ratchet Screwdriver
Offset Ratchet Screwdriver

The right angled mini ratcheting screwdriver is a tool I don’t use very often. However, when it’s needed there is no substitute. In many automotive applications the factory assembles parts in modules and then installs that module into the vehicle on the production line. This leaves us with components that might need replacing, yet they don’t give us enough room to get a standard length or even a stubby screwdriver into the small space.

With a clearance of less than 25% of a standard sized stubby screwdriver you can get the mini ratchet into the tightest of places. If that wasn’t enough, the 4 inch length of the ratchet handle provides leverage that gives you four times the power of your palm wrapped around a basic screwdriver handle.

If you thought these were the only advantages to a ratcheting screwdriver, you’d be wrong. A basic right angle mini ratchet set also includes seven bits. You get three sizes of Phillips head drivers and two slotted screwdriver bits at 4.5 mm and 7 mm sizes. But wait there’s more. You also get two of the most popular Torx bits, including the T-15 and T-20 sizes. These are common on General Motors vehicles manufactured in the last 30 years. With a price tag in the $9 range this is an excellent buy on an indispensable tool.

Brake Pad Spreader and Caliper Tool

Brake Pad Caliper ToolOver the years I’ve seen a lot of driveway mechanics perform their own brake jobs. Although I recommend that a professional mechanic oversee the operation or at least check things over before the vehicle hits the road, many go it alone.

One area that many of these driveway warriors struggle with when performing a standard disc brake job is sliding the caliper piston back into its bore so you’ll have the room needed to install the new pads.

I’ve seen people use C clamps, blocks of wood with a pry bar and vice grips. They often struggle using these tools because the piston gets cocked and resists sliding back into its bore smoothly. The idea is to apply even pressure and then slowly compress the piston. If you apply pressure too quickly you wind up fighting against the hydraulic operation of the brake system as you push the hydraulic fluid back up towards the master cylinder.

This is why I recommend a brake pad spreader or a caliper tool for any do-it-yourself mechanic intending to perform a brake job in the driveway. At a cost of around seven dollars it’s designed to fit in place of the outboard brake pad and apply even and square pressure to the piston face. Even though I’ve done hundreds of brake jobs I still have my original brake pad spreader tool in my box. This could possibly be the most durable and cheapest item I have added to my own personal collection. You can get a disc pad spreader in the $5 to $10 price range. Even if you only perform one brake job, it pays for itself.

Automotive Electrical Terminal Tools

Electrical Terminal Tool
Electrical Terminal Tool

When you’re working on automotive electrical systems you never know where diagnosis will lead you. With that said, one of the possible outcomes is a connection or a wire terminal problem. As an example, many Dodge Dakota pickup trucks from the late 1990s and early 2000 model years are having blower motor resistor problems.

These resistor packs short out internally and cause intermittent operation of the blower motor. Unfortunately, this is not the only part that will need replacing when this occurs. A large amount of heat is generated at the connector where it attaches to the blower resistor. The individual terminals glow cherry red and weaken the electrical connection. Although the terminals might look okay they will need replacing to restore reliable interior fan operation.

In many cases diagnosis will lead you to a problem where a terminal needs removal from the connector pack. Manufacturers use different proprietary methods to lock these terminals in place, inside the plastic electrical connector. They designed the automotive terminal tool to depress the locks so that you can back the wire out from the connector on an individual basis.

The terminal tool picture to the right represents a Swiss Army knife style terminal tool. It works on most manufacturer’s connectors and locking mechanisms that hold the wire in place. Sidebar: it’s necessary to push the wire forward in the connector before inserting the tool. With the cost of around $9 you’ll be able to remove individual wires without damaging the delicate plastic connectors that hold them in place.

Spark Plug Gap Auto Repair Tools

Spark Plug Gap Tool
Spark Plug Gap Tool

Replacing spark plugs isn’t as common as it use to be in the old days when they require replacement every 35,000 miles. However, if you keep an automobile long enough, you will need to replace the spark plugs at some point, because they will not last forever. Check your auto repair manual for maintenance intervals and procedures for replacing these important components.

Many people are under the impression that the spark plug comes ready to install. In fact, the factory does set the gap between the ground straps and the electrode. Unfortunately, during shipping the gap can change. Since this space between the electrode and ground is so important it’s recommended that every spark plug gets double checked before installation.

We do this with a spark plug gap tool. Not only does the tool come with a feeler gauge that slides into the gap area, it also comes with a handy widget that hooks onto the ground strap to make subtle adjustments.

Most of the tools come with American standard measurements on one side in thousands of an inch and metric sizes when you flip it over. This is another tool that can last a lifetime with its all stainless steel construction. With an average cost of eight dollars you should throw this doohickey in your toolbox.

Automotive Test Light or Meter

Automotive Test Meter
Automotive Test Meter

Once again our list of auto repair tools under $15 brings us back to electrical diagnosis. Every do-it-yourself auto repair toolkit should have a test light or an automotive multi meter. Sometimes you need to know exactly what the voltage is at a test point.

However, in the case of a power door lock system or power window diagnosis, you just need to know if there is juice and a good ground on the two or three wire connectors. If I had my choice between one or the other, I would probably go with the test light over the automotive meter.

But fortunately we can get both at mind blowing low prices. You can find automotive test lights for five to $10. And surprisingly you can find automotive multi meters, sometimes referred to as a DMM (Digital Multi Meter) in the same price range. If you shop around hard enough you can find both items for under $15 together.

Let’s not get into durability since they make most of these bargain bin auto repair tools in China. However, if you don’t perform electrical diagnosis often, then you’ll find them adequate for those isolated situations where you need to measure power and check for ground integrity. Sidebar: I purchased a $20 Mac tools test light in 1984. It has needed a few repairs throughout the years. The bulb blew out in the handle, but a replacement cost $.94.

The alligator clip that connects to a ground connection also fell apart. Again I was able to repair it for about a dollar. My point is, even if you get a top-of-the-line test light you don’t have to spend big money. As for the automotive meter, people are shocked to discover you can get a Neiko DT830B general purpose AC/DC hand-held digital multi meter with a built-in continuity, diode, and transistor tester for $6 on Amazon.

Hex Key Wrench Set

Hex Key Wrench Set
Hex Key Wrench Set

We often refer to an automotive hex Key wrench set as an Allen wrench set. Some people think they named the first wrenches with a six sided hexagon design after the inventor. Nevertheless, the tool was originally named after the Allen Manufacturing Company of Hartford, Connecticut. It’s this company that first produced the unique tools in 1910.

Although you might see more Allen head screws on toys and furniture you will find a few automotive applications that use these odd looking fasteners. In fact, it’s the screw head of choice when holding a part in place using a set screw. Backing off the set screw allows the removal and reinstall of the component without damage. When it comes to throwing a set of hex keys in your toolbox you’ll have many choices.

You can find an eight key set that folds inside of a Swiss Army knife, looking handle for under five dollars. However, I recommend spending twice that amount for the 30 piece set, available in the $10 range. The 30 piece set has a larger selection of sizes available in both metric and standard. These are nice auto repair tools have in your toolbox, but you’ll probably wind up using them more for assembling your kids toys are putting together furniture for the family than you will on your automobile.


Can't fix your car problem on your own? Ask a live mechanic!