Measuring tools are the unsung heroes of most toolboxes, despite any jokes you’ve heard about how “real mechanics don’t use those.” However, the fact is that precision matters when doing things the right way and building something that will last. Whether fabricating from raw materials or making adjustments to an already assembled engine, here are six tools just about every home DIY enthusiast should have in their toolbox drawers.
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One thing that should added to your torque wrench suggestion. ALWAYS RETURN TO ZERO after use. This is the biggest reason these end up no more than ratchets after a while.
“when you can measure what
you are speaking about, …
you know something about it;
but when you cannot measure it, …
your knowledge is of a meagre
and unsatisfactory kind…” Lord Kelvin 1883
one other item, very simple and very useful is a square. the most versatile would be the "combination" square which consists of a 12" steel rule, with adjustable position attachments providing, 90 deg, 45 deg, and adjustable protractor
I would be lost without my "no contact" IR thermometer. Checking for a high temperature on an auto transmission or rear axle. Or that one cold exhaust port, or hot brake drum.
Here is a one-up on the thermometer. I have a FLIR display tool that works great at diagnosing mis-firing cylinders and other heat related problems. A little expensive, but cheaper than my car, and maybe not for everybody but nice to have.
Kyle, nice piece! But those pictured are not vernier calipers -- they don't have vernier scales. Back when digital calipers didn't exist and dial calipers were very expensive, we ordinary mechanics made do with vernier calipers (and kept them next to our slide rules.)
I do a lot of my own work, and wholeheartedly agree with this list. It could certainly be expanded, but these are the basics. One thing I take some issue with is the torque wrench as shown. A torque wrench is a great, and many times necessary tool. My perspective - not that it's 100% accurate all the time - is that a beam style torque wrench should be more accurate than a "clicker." It is easy for clicker's to get out of calibration, and the user doesn't know it.
I use electronic calipers many times a day (I'm an engineer), but at home not so often. I have a dial caliper at home, because an electronic one always seems dead when I need it at home.
I also agree with the multimeter, but I finally got a good used Fluke; the cheaper ones kept dying on me. They are great for a quick alternator check- check the battery before starting and it's about 12.8 or so, and start the car and it should jump to 14 or so. If it doesn't, you have a bad alternator. Not a definitive test, but it has always worked for me.
I had the same problem with my digital calipers being dead when I left them unused for a while. I cut a round hole in the foam surrounding the tool as it sits in the protective case the size of the battery. I remove the battery and leave it in the foam. When I need the calipers I just install the battery. Shelf life of a coin cell is significant when not in the device. Works for me.
Two increasingly useful tools to have in addition to a multimeter are a high quality OBDII scanner and an oscilloscope. Pretty much every car made after 1996 is going to eventually have failing electronics and these two gizmos, in addition to a multimeter, can help figure out what is working and what isn't.
I really like the Autel AP200 OBDII scanner (~$70) which is just a dongle and a phone app and for an oscilloscope, the Pico series that can be had for less than $200 for a 2 channel unit. The Pico units use a PC as the display so they can be held to a low cost and offer world class performance. An oscilloscope is really just a souped up multimeter.
Add vac gauge, pressure gauge, thread gauge, micrometers, and high and low temp thermometers. All should be dual purpose metric and English.
The fact of the matter is "You don't know where you are at if you don't know where you are at."
I would like to make a case for the humble sewing flexible measuring tape. These things are great for getting overall length of irregularly shaped things like brake lines or wire runs. Also when you need to position something like a luggage rack and you want it evenly positioned on both sides of the car at distance X from the windshield along a curve the flexible tape measure comes into its own. Worth every penny and you can measure yourself for new pants and a shirt, or do the Navy "rope and choke" body fat measurement as well.
Pretty sure those aren't "vernier" (named after a guy named Vernier) calipers. The Vernier part would be the scales on a non- digital measuring tool which allow for a visible, readable fine scale. Those are digital calipers. Just sayin'
I have a magnetic multi-angle bubble level stuck to my toolbox, which is great for chassis set up. And if you are going to use feeler gauges for valve adjustment, get a good set of go/no-go's. When you get deep into engine building, you'll need a quality leak-down checker (which can also be used to set the initial barrel valve open point on a vintage Enderle fuel injection unit.)
Well, you can screw up with any tool you are not qualified to operate (wheelbarrows come to mind) Even a non-ratchet spindle micrometer requires the right touch. Most any backyard car repair measurement will be fine with an average touch on a dial calipers. Or watch rummage sales for machinist's tools and look for a 1" gauge block to verify both measuring tool and it's operator are suitable for use 😉
Don’t forget a set of micrometers and a set of inside and outside calipers. Regarding the “Vernier” Calipers heading you are actually showing digital calipers. vernier calipers have no display and no dial. Vernier is a linear scale that utilizes a larger scale of .000” to .025” measured against the primary scale to get an accurate reading of the measurement down to .001”
I must add two more essential measuring tools. One to measure the shank size of bolts and nuts in SAE & Metric. The other is a thread pitch gauge. I have thread pitch gauges for both metric and SAE, but use the metric gauge far more often.
"I'll probably only use it just this one time", you're thinking when you buy the tool. And then you realize later how many times you've used it and how you ever got through a project without it. Can't think of how many times that's happened with some tools I've purchased new or used.
During my earliest years in the skilled trades, the general rule was, "first time you need something new, borrow it and get the job done. Second time you need it, borrow it again, get verbally abused, then buy one ☺ Once you got your journeyman's card and a little overtime, when you need a new tool, borrow it if on the jobsite, then buy it on the way home. (that was when there were still actual stores)
I have learned a lot by not only reading the article but also the comments. I too have a version (or two or three) of the original 6 listed, and quite a few of the added suggestions, so I'm feeling pretty good about myself. And as long as I still have some vehicles (and other machinery) that I can use them on, I'm happy. But I have some stuff that these tools won't tell me as much as a computer code-reading devise will. I'm thinking that eventually, sensors and chips will rule the world.