Compact car tool set recs?

Looking for a recommendation on a compact tool set to keep in the family minivan (and maybe a second one for my Mini Cooper, but that, in true British car tradition, has a special tool kit included behind a secret compartment). Had a fun experience removing a battery in the walmart parking lot at 10pm with an 8" adjustable wrench the other day because the rest of what I had couldn’t fit on the posts and retaining bracket bolts. I may or may not have just thrown a bunch of Christmas stocking tool gifts in a rear compartment…

Ideally, I’d like something to kind of cover all the possible common roadside/spur of the moment fixes…I’d love to have a Wera Tool-Check, but the price tag on that doesn’t make sense for the limited use it’s likely to see. Anyone have a budget-friendly option like that? Or am I pretty much resigned to piece-mealing things?

This is not my main area of experience but I’ve seen many “auto tool kits” and “auto emergency kits” over the years but I haven’t been very impressed with any that I’ve seen. They’re usually either of highly questionable quality or they are terribly overpriced. And quite often they manage to be both. This is something I think you’re going to want to put together yourself.

As far as tools go, I keep two flashlights, leatherman style multi-tool, 6-in-1 screwdriver, a basic 3/8 socket set, adjustable wrench, tire pressure gauge, and channellocks. No need to pack every socket in the set, take out any that you know you won’t need, and make sure that you have all the ones you might need for common repairs like replacing a battery or a spark plug. There’s probably not any sense in carrying any fractional size sockets unless you happen to be driving an older American or British car.

I also keep a 12v tire inflator, can of fix-a-flat, tire plug kit, basic first aid kit, wet wipes, spare fuses & bulbs, a bottle of radiator stop leak, cheapo work gloves, duct tape, flares, triangle, jumper cables, and bottled water as emergency supplies.

Make sure the cord on the inflator is long enough to reach all your tires from the cigarette lighter socket. Also make sure your jack is
a) present
b) works worth a damn.
I’ve owned vehicles in the past where the factory jack was more or less useless so I’d replace it with a better one. There’s also nothing worse than needing to use the jack only to find that it doesn’t work, the handle is missing, etc. Same thing for the tire lug wrench: make sure it’s there, make sure it’s adequately sized/sturdy, make sure it fits your lug nuts. If you have custom wheels make sure you have the special sockets for them. These days it’s not so bad with everyone packing a cell phone to call for roadside assistance but there are still times where it’s nice to be able to get yourself out of a pinch.

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Like MechaMan says, I’d buy individual tools rather than a set. You might spend a bit more, but you’ll get higher quality tools.

On top of his list, I’d throw in a headlamp and a magnetic worklight (like the little M12 guys). It’s a lot easier to change a tire at night with a headlamp than a flashlight, but a worklight is also handy. An actual flashlight isn’t so handy.

Also, I notice that some electric or hybrid cars might have different needs. My hybrid Kia Niro apparently is not designed to be jump started, nor to jump start other cars, so I can’t use jumper cables or the battery jumpstarter.

And you might also think about an emergency kit. A few granola bars, an emergency blanket, and a first aid kit on top of the bottled water would be a good idea.

Good luck!

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Thanks guys. I do have a bunch of the ancillary stuff…space blankets, flares, a magnetic nebo usb rechargeable flashlight, Lithium ion jump starter, jumper cables and a good inflator. Oh…and a triangle and a lifestraw. Headlamp is probably a good idea or maybe swap for one of the convertible hand/head lights from surefire or fenix. Definitely should add work gloves as well.

I did do a little looking in Lowe’s yesterday and they had a relatively compact case with 3/8 metric in all the common sizes with a bit driver handle and some screwdriver bits that seemed to be a good compromise. I may just get that and then see if I can find a small set of metric combo wrenches and put them in a tool roll.

I agree with Koko about the headlamp, I didn’t want to elaborate too much on the specific choices but that’s exactly what I have too. One headlamp, one flashlight with a magnetic base and adjustable angle.

Totally agreed about other supplies as well. Some shelf-stable food you can eat without prep is never a bad idea, some granola or sports nutrition bars, maybe a couple MREs or similar, etc. Towel, spare T-shirt, windbreaker, and a hat are good ideas too, you never know when you might get stuck in crappy weather. I also always have a tarp on hand because I use one to line the trunk/cargo area. It keeps the carpet clean, makes it really easy to clean up any messes, and it can be used in an emergency situation.

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I had a small bag with screw drivers, pliers, an adjustable wrench and a few fuses in my wife’s car. After swapping her spare in the dark with the factory lug wrench and jack I was less than thrilled. (How many times I lamented not having all the tools that live in my truck during the fun…)

Now there is a ratcheting breaker bar with the appropriate socket for her lug nuts, spare lowering mechanism and jack
. I also put a new head lamp, lithium battery jumper, basic husky 3/8 set and a Ryobi 18v inflator with a charger in the storage compartment.

I’ve also added a 3/8 impact wrench for laziness reasons (or in case she needed to change a tire herself) but not really necessary.

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not sure what you want to carry but it can grow quickly.

1 - only have metric szed bits - there is no reason to have SAE stuff on your modern car - now here I will say modern car IE after say 92. If you are going to be doing this for that 75 caddy fleetwood - well then you need all SAE.

OK now I’d normally say you need a 3/8 drive set from around 8mm to 19 mm but also be fair to yourself about what you’re willing to do on the side of the road. battery change out 10mm, 12mm typically. vs trading out your brakes or replacing your timing chain. SO maybe you don’t see all that.

  1. deep well sockets - aren’t really needed for a side of the road kit but I tell people carry a full set of one or the other. I keep a set of mm deep sockets - and a 3/8 ratchet for example - why deep well I did a fit check first and decided for all the things I would do like an alternator replacement (15mm) that a deep fit fine and covers a few other needs - well do does the 12mm. BUT if that’s out of your scope - then carry standards.

  2. screw drivers - no a bit set. why - well modern car doesn’t have only philips. and I do carry a few 1/4 driver sockets too for smaller stuff like the hose clamps 7 mm or dash screws that are t15

  3. do you have issues getting the tires off - get either an extending breaker bar tire iron set Gorilia lug nuts makes one for example) If the stock stuff won’t help get a replacement. I only carry the lug socket that fits the car (explorer is a 19mm for example) and my breaker bar in the back.

  4. can’t recommend a headlamp enough but like battery powered stuff - gotta remember to test it occasionally.

so my kit in the exploder. metric sockets 12mm-19 in 3/8, and 5,6,7,8, and 10mm in 1/4 drive with a 1/4 to 3/8 adapter and a bit holder screw driver and bits. philps, slotted (2 sizes), and torx. t10-t30.

Needle nose pliers, 2 adjustable wrenches 6 in and 8 in. I used to keep a funnel but newer cars without gas caps has a funnel in it. On and those nifty reflective triagles.

point is with a few minutes surveying what sizes of things fit and taking a moment to think about how much work you would do on the side of a road - and narrow down your kit. in my older car I had a inflator pump and sealant kit - because that car doesn’t have a spare.

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So I found this guy via a woot email and it fills most of the holes:

Probably will still leave an adjustable wrench along with it. These along with the lights and safety stuff I already have (the van’s lug wrench and jack are pretty good and I have thrown my Ryobi impact wrench and a couple of sockets in on longer road trips, but I don’t really want to leave it there long-term.) should cover most things I would tackle on a road shoulder or parking lot. Worst case I can always buy a tool for a bigger but still doable fix or just call roadside assistance. I’ll comment back with how it actually feels, but for a $30 investment, it sounds better than most cheap mechanics sets and it’s compact. Otherwise, I’ll go with a 3/8" ratchet and bit set from Craftsman or Husky (don’t love Craftsman, but they had a nice set with no filler in a case for similar money when i was at Lowes).