Whether it’s spring, summer, fall, or winter, these are the common tools to keep in your car toolbox. They’re good for maintenance or a quick fix!

Assembling Your Toolkit

Tire changing supplies
Tire changing supplies

A chef needs certain utensils to cook a gourmet meal. A composer requires certain instruments to achieve a certain sound. You need to have certain tools to keep your vehicle running. If you’re performing a bit of routine vehicle maintenance, like changing your car’s brakes, changing your tires, or changing your oil, then you’re probably doing it with the convenience of your at-home tools. You’ll have the exact socket, lubricant, or screw you need to accomplish the task at hand.

What if an unexpected issue arises while you’re driving, though? Perhaps your car is overheating or your check engine light is on. We’ve answered those questions before by providing a lot of important information through easy-to-understand, step-by-step processes.

Well, below is a list of tools you should keep in your car to cover some of the most common incidents you’ll encounter as a driver. These aren’t the tools you need to for your next project car. These are the tools to use in a pinch so that you can hopefully get your car running once again. 

Jack

Scissor Jack
Scissor Jack

One of the most common problems people run into on the road is a flat tire. You can temporarily patch the tire or throw on the spare tire or a donut if you have one of those. However, you can’t do any of those things if you don’t have a jack. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a brand-new 2023 Ford F-150, a well-maintained 1972 Datsun 240Z, or an epic project car like this 1939 Delahaye 135M. If you want that flat tire changed, a jack is your best option.

A scissor jack is the most cost-effective and lightweight version, so it’s a good portable tool to have handy. Car Jacks Explained will give you information on every variation of this tool. You can find some brands for as low as $25 at stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot, Harbor Freight Tools, and Fleet Farm. Higher quality versions are available at AutoZone, Northern Tool, and O’Reilly Auto Parts locations.

Lug Wrench

Man using a lug wrench on a tire
Man using a lug wrench on a tire

Also known as a tire iron, the lug wrench is the second tool you’ll need to change your tire if you ever get a flat. Of course, you’ll need to make sure that the wrench works with the size of the lug nuts that are holding your wheel in place. 10 millimeters (mm), 12mm, and 14mm are some common metric thread sizes. Check your owner’s manual for the exact size if you don’t already know it. Tools of any kind can range from fairly cheap to expensive. Lug wrenches are no exception. A basic version can be purchased from Walmart and similar retailers for under $15. Some have a telescoping feature, too. They can get more expensive depending on the size, but most aren’t over $30.

Jumper Cables

Jumper cables connected to a battery
Jumper cables connected to a battery

Another common issue people encounter with all makes and models is a dead battery. Maybe you left your lights on all night, maybe the cold weather drained your battery faster than expected, or maybe it just reached the end of its shelf life. Either way, you need a vehicle that works. A quick jump can hopefully at least provide enough battery power to get you to a mechanic. If you need a refresher on which cable gets hooked up first, check out our short guide on How to Jump Start Your Car.

If you have a Ford Mustang Mach-E, or one of the other Best Electric Vehicles to Buy in 2022, you may not need jumper cables. However, if your vehicle is running on a gas-powered internal combustion engine, make sure your jumper cables are stowed away. Hopefully, you won’t need them, but you’ll be grateful if you’re ever in a predicament where you do.

Duct Tape

Temporary duct tape fender repair
Temporary duct tape fender repair

This may be the most functional item on the list. There are almost countless uses for duct tape in or on a vehicle. Do you have a broken side mirror and a few hundred miles to go before reaching your destination? Grab some duct tape. Does part of your bumper need to be reattached? Grab some duct tape. Taillight hanging off the back of your car? You already know what I’m going to say: grab some duct tape.

If you’re in dire straits, a little bit of strong duct tape can do wonders when it comes to leaking hoses. There are still areas of Wyoming and other rural states that get awful cell reception, so don’t count on calling for AAA or waiting for the next friendly driver to pass by.

I wouldn’t use this as a permanent solution to any of my vehicle woes because let’s face it: it’s an ugly fix. An otherwise washed and polished vehicle with a taped-up mirror isn’t going to place in any car shows. As a short-term solution, though? Absolutely.

To go along with your duct tape, throw a pair of scissors in your cart. Zip ties are another option. A pack of 100 of them can be used to hold a lot of components in place under the hood or outside the vehicle.

Hammer

Escape hammer
Escape hammer

Here’s a tool that you can use if you’re in a gas-powered vehicle, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, or an all-electric vehicle. My uncle bought me one of these when I got my first car, and I’ve never had to use it, but better to be safe than sorry. If you ever need to get out of a vehicle, but the doors won’t open, a hammer with a sharp edge on it will do the trick. It’s the last resort, of course, but if you have to get out, you have to get out.

The hammers can be as cheap as $10 and go up to around $30. There are several brands available, and a lot of the hammers have multiple functions. Some versions have a blade to cut a seat belt and some have a tire gauge included, too. I forgot to change the batteries in mine, so they corroded away, and, as a result, the electronic tire gauge function doesn’t work anymore. The hammer will always work though.

Tire Pressure Gauge

Tire pressure gauge
Tire pressure gauge

Speaking of tire pressure gauges, it’s the next item on this list. Newer vehicles likely monitor and display your tire pressure on your dashboard screen, but it doesn’t hurt to have a physical gauge in your car. It’s one of those tools.

Gas stations that offer air pressure will have tire pressure gauges, too, but they are used, abused, and neglected. They can lose accuracy over time.

Flashlight

Looking at the engine bay with a flashlight
Looking at the engine bay with a flashlight

This is a simple one, and it’s also very useful. Reading those tiny numbers and words on parts that are tucked away in inconvenient places can be hard to do in the daylight, much less in the dark on the side of a country road. I had to bust out a flashlight in my garage last month when checking the maximum PSI on my vehicle because the print was so tiny, it was tilted, and it was shaded. So many of them are cheap, last a long time, and put out a lot of LED brightness. Some flashlights serve dual purposes, too, complete with a window-breaking ability or strobe-light alarm modes. Grab one for your car, whether it’s a dual-purpose escape tool or just a flashlight.

I just received a neck light for Christmas, actually. It goes around your neck with one bulb on each side of your neck, so if you’re trying to tinker away underneath the hood or searching for something under the seat, you don’t need to fumble with a flashlight in your hands. With a neck light, both of my hands are free for other things, like twisting wrenches and simultaneously not dropping bolts into those impossible-to-reach crevices.

Wrenches

Man using a wrench on a car
Man using a wrench on a car

If you have to tighten or loosen bolts, a wrench can get the job done. The design lends itself to tasks that a pair of pliers can’t handle. A ratcheting socket wrench can grip nuts and bolts, making it easier to tighten or loosen them. An adjustable wrench is also useful because it will fit a variety of sizes of bolts or nuts. If you have enough space, some people recommend having an entire set in your vehicle. I don’t have that kind of space to give up, but one or two? Yeah, I can tuck that away somewhere.

Wire Cutters

Wire cutter
Wire cutter

Hopefully, you won’t be doing much electrical work on your vehicle when it’s not parked in the comfort of your garage or out in front of your apartment, but it’s always possible. Preparation never hurts, right? Pliers, with wire-cutting ability, are always an option. Thankfully, these are pretty cheap (under $10 in a lot of cases), so even if this tool just sits in your trunk and you never use them, it’s not a big investment. Go ahead and buy a roll of electrical tape to go with the wire cutters, too.

Screwdrivers

Using a screwdriver under the hood
Using a screwdriver under the hood

Screwdrivers won’t do as much as they used to when tinkering under the hood of a newer model car, but a flat-head screwdriver and a Phillips head screwdriver do have some purposes, too, even in 2023. They can be used, at the very least, to tighten a hose clamp. I also found out recently that a flat-head screwdriver works well in popping open your gas tank flap cover when it’s frozen shut in below-zero weather. I gently maneuvered the screwdriver in to open that little door so I could fill up my tank. You could throw a couple of screwdrivers in your car, or get an entire set. There are kits with a variety of heads on them that are still small enough to be easily stored.

Hex Keys

Worker using a hex key
Worker using a hex key

Where a screwdriver won’t help you, a hex key should. Cars and motorcycles have fasteners that require a hex key set. They’re usually found in hard-to-reach, inconvenient places, too. The L-shaped design helps the hex keys, or Allen wrenches, get to those places. The other good thing about hex keys is that they are small, so they won’t take up a lot of valuable space in your vehicle. They’re easy to store, easy to use, and helpful in several situations.

Is There Room for a Few Extras?

Work gloves draped over engine bay
Work gloves draped over engine bay

You don’t want your car to become a small apartment, but if you have the storage space, here are a few other items to tuck away: zip ties, work gloves, a multimeter, an extra quart of oil, a can of WD-40, tow straps, tire chains, a battery booster, a portable fire extinguisher, extra batteries, bungee cords, emergency reflectors, and even a compact air compressor that connects through older model cigarette lighters.

Discover other useful items by looking at our lists of 20 Road Trip Essentials and 10 Winter Car Accessories You Should Have. There are tools mentioned on those lists that you may need for specific uses or during certain times of the year.

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Jesse Batson

Jesse Batson earned his journalism degree from South Dakota State University. No stranger to newsgathering and reporting, Jesse spent 13 years in TV news. 10 of those years were spent working in Charlotte, NC, home of NASCAR. A highlight of his time there was being able to take a lap around the Charlotte Motor Speedway. His interest in vehicles, starting with Matchbox cars, a Big Wheel, and the Transformers, evolved into taking photos of motocross events. Now, he puts his research skills to use on car culture, reviews, and comparisons.

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