See Figure 1
Naturally, without the proper tools and equipment it is impossible to properly service you vehicle. It would be impossible to catalog each tool that you would need to perform every operation in this guide. It would also be unwise for the amateur to rush out and buy any expensive set of tools on the theory that he may need one or more of them at sometime.
The best approach is to proceed slowly, gathering together a good quality set of those tools that are used most frequently. Don't be misled by the low cost of bargain tools. It is far better to spend a little more for better quality. Forged wrenches, 6 or 12 point sockets and fine tooth ratchets are by far preferable to their less expensive counterparts. As any good mechanic can tell you, there are few worse experiences than trying to work on a car with bad tools. Your monetary savings will be far outweighed by frustration and mangled knuckles.
Begin accumulating those tools that are used most frequently; those associated with routine maintenance and tune-up. In addition to the normal assortment of screwdrivers and pliers you should have the following tools for routine maintenance jobs (your Chevrolet Nova or Prizm uses mostly metric fasteners):
- SAE/Metric wrenches, sockets and combination open-end/box-end wrenches in sizes from 1 / 8 in. (3mm) to 3 / 4 in. (19mm); and a spark plug socket ( 13 / 16 in.)If possible, buy various length socket drive extensions. One break in this department is that the metric sockets available in the U.S. will all fit the ratchet handles and extensions you may already have ( 1 / 4 in., 3 / 8 in., and 1 / 2 in. drive). Many retail chain stores have periodic sales on sets of wrenches and sockets. Much like a set of fine dinnerware, once you have the starter set, you can add individual pieces as needed.
- Jackstands for support. These are absolutely required for any undercar work. Make sure each stand is rated at least to the total weight of your vehicle.
- Oil filter wrench
- Oil filter spout for pouring oil
- Grease gun for chassis lubrication
- Hydrometer for checking the battery.
- A container for draining oil and fluids.
- Many rags for wiping up the inevitable mess.
In addition to the above items there are several others that are not absolutely necessary, but handy to have around. These include oil-dry, a transmission funnel and the usual supply of lubricants, antifreeze and washer solvent, parts cleaners and hand cleaners, although these can be purchased as needed. This is a basic list for routine maintenance, but only your personal needs and desires can accurately determine your list of necessary tools. After you've been working on your car for a while, you'll be amazed at the number of non-automotive tools living in your tool box. A small mirror can see up and under a component, wooden golf tees plug vacuum lines perfectly and a kitchen turkey baster is excellent for removing overfilled fluids.
The second list of tools is for tune-ups. While the tools involved here are slightly more sophisticated, they need not be outrageously expensive. There are several inexpensive tach/dwell meters on the market that are every bit as good for the average mechanic as a $400.00 professional model. Just be sure that it goes to at least 1,200-1,500 rpm on the tach scale and that it works on 4, 6 and 8 cylinder engines. A basic list of tune-up equipment could include:
- Tach-dwell meter
- Spark plug wrench
- Timing light (a DC light that works from the car's battery is best, although an AC light that plugs into 110V house current will suffice at some sacrifice in brightness)
- Spark plug gauge/adjusting tools
- Set of feeler blades
In addition to these basic tools, there are several other tools and gauges you may find useful. These include:
- A compression gauge. The screw-in type is slower to use, but eliminates the possibility of a faulty reading due to escaping pressure
- A manifold vacuum gauge
- A test light and/or a volt-ohm meter (VOM). The test light will show that power is (or is not) present in an electrical circuit. The VOM will do the same, but can also be used for checking how much power (voltage), continuity and resistance. An inexpensive VOM can be a valuable tool when chasing electrical gremlins.
- An induction meter. This is used for determining whether or not there is current in a wire. These are handy for use if a wire is broken somewhere in a wiring harness.
As a final note, you will probably find a torque wrench necessary for all but the most basic work. The beam type models are perfectly adequate, although the newer click (breakaway) type are more precise, and you don't have to crane your neck to see a torque reading in awkward situations. The breakaway torque wrenches are more expensive and should be recalibrated periodically.