One area of a self sufficient lifestyle that often leads people to throw up their hands in defeat and saying, “just call the guy,” is keeping their vehicles running. Modern cars and trucks can be daunting in their electronic complexity, but the principles are not that challenging once you understand basic mechanical systems.
Internal combustion engines are all based on simple concepts that anyone can understand if you break them down to systems. Likewise, each component down the line, the driveline components such as transmission, driveshaft, differential, brake systems, wheels and tires all are reasonably easy to understand and repairable with resources available in books and the internet. YouTube can also be a valuable resource. Whenever I purchase a car, truck or motorcycle, one of the first tools I purchase is the factory service manual for the vehicle. eBay is your friend for this, but there are lots of other booksellers, so shop around.
In addition to the tools available online, it is most important to possess the physical tools to perform the services required to repair and service your vehicle. It is my recommendation to purchase at least a basic set of sockets and wrenches, and build on your collection as needed to perform basic repairs. You will not start rebuilding your transmission as a first project, but oil changes, brake service, and other maintenance items are good places to start.
If your vehicle is metric, you will need metric tools. Most modern American made, as well as foreign produced cars and trucks are metric. This is due to their high percentage of foreign made components. Older American made cars and trucks are SAE, or Imperial, ie; inches. My personal preference is for tools produced in the USA, but there are very few tools currently produced here anymore. But, no matter, good quality tools are easily obtainable second hand, so be a shopper at garage and estate sales and buy up as much as you can afford, it’s sad how many people attach low value to tools at these sales, but their loss is your gain. Off topic, this applies to woodworking and carpentry tools as well, but that is a subject for another day.
As a starting point, socket sets in 1/4”, 3/8” and 1/2”, plus an assortment of combination end wrenches are a must. Torx screwdrivers, and sockets are also most for newer cars. Of course screwdrivers in multiple sizes and types, both Phillips and square head drivers are essential, as are assorted piers.
For cars produced 1996 and forward, an OBD2 (OBD II) code scanner can be very useful for diagnosing problems with electronic systems. It is plugged into a port that almost always is located underneath the steering column. If a check engine light is present, the code reader will generate a series of numbers or letters that one can look up on the internet to diagnose the problem. It is likely that with that code you will be able to find others who have experienced that same code, which can sometimes involve several components, and help you narrow down the problem. Most auto parts stores will let you use theirs, so it is not necessary to purchase one first off. Another related tip is that these same auto parts stores often have special tools for many operations that you might only perform once in your lifetime, that they will lend you for no charge. You just put up a deposit, which they credit back when you return the tool.
So as you accumulate the tools to perform mechanical operations, you will find storing them efficiently and organizationally requires a functional tool box. Again, look at the aforementioned yard, garage and estate sales. There have been times when I have seen double stack tool chests filled with tools for as little as one or two hundred dollars at sales where the sellers just want to clear them out, as they have little interest in them. Tools are always a good investment.
When I was in high school, auto mechanics was a course that at least half of the male students attended. The last couple of decades have seen these courses eliminated across the board from the curriculum. Our group has an opportunity to pass these skills on to our offspring for generations to come. So, as you acquire these valuable skills, involve your children and grandkids, so this knowledge is not lost. It is not uncommon for a dealership to charge $90-100 an hour to do mechanical work. These skills are in high demand, and for the mechanically inclined can become a lucrative source of income to get one through life.
I’ve just touched the surface here. Obviously this is a complicated subject, and there are many more tools necessary to be self sufficient in this area, but if you purchase them as needed there are few mechanical endeavors that one can’t overcome with the proper attention to logic, tools and online resources.
My high school textbook was Auto Mechanics Fundamentals by Martin T Stockel. Look online for a used copy. A little hard to find, shop around and you’ll find a copy around $20, sometimes less. The book is excellent, and starts with descriptions and pictures of most of the tools you will encounter in this work.
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