Welcome back to our series on automotive hand tools for the beginner. If this is the first article you’ve read, don’t worry – we will take it easy on you. As discussed in other articles when you are building your new tool collection it can sometimes be hard to understand what it is that you need exactly. The last thing I want to encourage anyone to do is spend more than you have to spend in order to get the best tools you can. However, before you can understand what it is you need, we need to get you ready to understand what it is the tool does. In this article I’m going to very briefly touch on what some terminology is that you are going to need to know while selecting the best tools for your job.
Drive – this refers to the size ratchet that fits into the socket. Typically they are 1/4″, 1/2″ and 3/4″ “Drives.” The larger the ratchet, the more force you can apply to the socket and therefore to the nut or bolt that you are trying to turn. Although you can use adapters to switch the drive size between sockets it is not recommended as they often break. Also, smaller drives are meant to work in smaller places and should not be used to apply overly aggressive torque to a socket and drive combination that just was not meant for the workload you are asking of it.
Spark Plug Socket – This is a special socket meant specifically for spark plugs. It’s typically identified by its wrench-friendly head on which you can place a wrench around the outside of it. They also have a soft rubber boot inside that is meant to protect the plug while you are installing it into the cylinder head.
Flex Handle – This is a ratchet that has a head which will flex up to 90 degrees in articulation. This allows you to work in areas that would otherwise not permit you to use a straight ratchet because of clearance problems.
Socket Extensions – This may be the most valuable thing to make sure you have multiple lengths of in all drive sizes. I personally have 3, 6, and 10 inch length extensions in every drive size at all times. They go in between the ratchet and the socket wrench to extend the reach of the socket so that you can get to nuts of bolts that a deep in your engine compartment. When shopping for a set, I’d recommend the style that locks on the socket end with a push button release. Extensions often will wiggle loose from the socket at the wrong time, so having a set that locks are a huge time saver. I’d also follow the typical recommendation to be sure that there are no sharp edges on the tool, and that the plating has an even appearance and feel.
Swivel – Think of this like it is a universal joint for your ratchet. It will allow to you turn a socket that isn’t perfect perpendicular in the direction in which you move the ratchet. This is another indispensable item, and follows the guidelines for sharp edges and plating as well.