Tools FAQ

This post is intended for the Subaru Neophyte to get themselves acquainted with the tools and sundries applicable to vehicle maintenance and modification.

What brand of hand tools are the best?
There is no best brand of hand tools. For most people, Craftsman could be considered the best brand. The reason for this is that they are reasonable priced, easily accessible, decent quality, and have a lifetime warranty.

But my cousin is a mechanic and says XXX Tools are the best, is he wrong? Yes. Every major tool manufacturer makes the “best” of certain tools. Let’s say you compare a Craftsman 3/8″ drive ratchet vs. a Facom 3/8″ drive ratchet. They both serve the same purpose, both come from powerhouse manufacturers with a lifetime warranty, but they both have a different feel to them. To you the Craftsman is the best, I prefer the Facom so it’s the best. It really boils down to a matter of preference and personal experience. Some tools will preform equally well for a job, but there may come the time and place where one will excel over the other or not. On the same note, there is not any one single company that produces or markets all of the best tools for every single job as is there is no one single company that produces every tool that will fit the personal desires or need of the user. All personal feelings aside, there are major differences not so much between actual brand names but between the individual items themselves.

Some users also utilize tools improperly (e.g. using a ratchet as a breaker bar being the most common) and increase the failure rate. Hence, they believe that XXX’s tools are junk, when someone who uses them properly gets years of service out of the same tool and considers them the best.

Some people are just harder on tools than others, which leads to increased failures. Improper storage, exposure to the elements, using the wrong size for the job, etc. This can lead them to label a tool or brand as junk or the best.

And finally, professionals always say professional tools are the best. If the Snap-on guy drove a truck into my driveway, gave me a Snap-on bikini model calendar, some Snap-on gloves, refilled my toolboxes on a payment plan that was work supplemented and/or tax deductible, without lifting so much as a finger, I’d love them too.

Where can I learn about the proper use and care of tools? Probably the best source and least know book about the subject of tools is called Tools and Their Uses written by the United States Bureau of Naval Personnel. This book is available through this website for $0.

Who are the biggest tool makers? The three largest tool makers in America are Stanley (makers of Stanley, Mac Tools, Jenson Tools, Goldblatt, and Proto Tools), Danaher (makers of Armstrong, Matco, Sears Craftsman, Allen, KD-Tools, Holo-Krome, NAPA, and SATA tools), and Snap-On (makers of Snap-on, Blue-Point, and Williams Tools). As with many products, each of these companies are makers of many other re-branded tools as well.

Who makes all the different brands of tools? Some of the hierarchy of which companies make what tools is covered in this link and this link. Most of this information should be considered interesting background information though. For example, Lowe’s sells Kobalt Tools which Snap-on makes. Some people will go out and buy the Kobalt Tools thinking they are getting a Snap-on product without the Snap-on price. In reality, Kobalt Tools are made with different materials and to different specifications compared to their Snap-on equivalents. The point is now moot, as since 2003 Danaher makes the Kobalt line for Lowes.

What are the major tool brands? These can be divided into the American and European tool brands:

Major American tool manufacturers
Channellock
Cooper Tools
Klein Tools
Eklind Tools
Ideal Industries
Stanley Tools
Mac Tools
Jensen Tools
Proto Tools
Matco Tools
Craftsman Tools
Snap-on Tools
Irwin Industrial Tools
SK

Major European tool manufacturers
USAG
Facom
Wiha

Who makes tool organization equipment? Most major tool manufacturers also supply a variety of tool organizing boxes, benches, and containers. A good plan is to visit/view other garages to get ideas. While everyone wants one brand/style/color of tool organization, many times the costs associated are not justified. There is nothing wrong with tempering your desires with your budget to make a nice and functional compromise.

Seek out non-traditional sources of storage. Visit the garage accessory portion of your favorite home improvement store. Visit the closet organization section. Consider inexpensive kitchen and bathroom cabinetry as a storage solution. Rubbermade, Tupperware, old coffee cans, and boxes are also wonderful storage tools. Think to yourself, “How will this functionally and aesthetically work in my garage?”. Also think outside the box. Industrial supply stores/catalogs such as C&H Distributors offer a wealth of products, though not designed for home use, that would make a wonderful addition to a garage. You can also utilize the Google Catalog Search to search thousands of catalogs based on keywords.

Below are some manufacturers of tool organizational equipment:
Kennedy Manufacturing
Lista
Vidmar
Waterloo Industries
Gladiator
GarageTek

What is the best advice prior to attempting parts installation or routine maintenance? Local Subaru owners, the NASIOC search feature, and scoobymods.com are probably your most powerful resources. Consult with them prior to performing even the most mundane task.

What basic tools do I need?
Metric wrenches: The majority of nuts and bolts on Subarus are metric
Metric sockets in short and deep length: 1/4″, 3/8″, (most commonly used) and 1/2″
Breaker bar: 1/4″, 3/8″, (most commonly used) and 1/2″
Ratchet: 1/4″, 3/8″, (most commonly used) and 1/2″
Torque wrench
Cresent wrench
Hammers: AKA the multi-purpose alignment tool Regular, deadblow, and rubber are often used in various situations.
Various screwdrivers
Various pliers: Normal, side cutters, locking type, channel type, etc.
Small electrical kit: Electrical tape, electrical connectors, zip ties, crimpers, wire strippers, heat shrink, soldering iron, cheap voltmeter, etc.
Telescoping magnet: Indispensable tool for retrieving dropped nuts and bolts.
Flashlight
Mechanix type gloves: For working on exhaust or especially dirty components
Sharpie markers, black for light surfaces/silver for dark surfaces
Chisels and punches
Knife or box cutter
Various picks, awls, mechanical finger: These are useful for pulling, prying, and reaching things.
brass brushes and various files
Trim removal tool: This is a special “screwdriver” designed to remove trim pieces and those lovely plastic push-in fasteners that Subaru is so fond of.
Ratcheting wrenches: Used with the green brackets of death. This is one of those tools where there is a huge difference between the cheap ones and the expensive ones. Choose wisely.
T70 torx bit. This is for most of you 04+ Subaru owners as the transmission drain bolt requires this specialized, hard to find, and expensive bit.

What basic sundries do I need
Anti-seize compound: Permatex is the brand of choice, but any will do.
Dielectric grease: Useful for coating any wiring projects.
Brake anti-squeal compound: Many aftermarket brake pads don’t include a packet of this.
PB Blaster: Use 5-10 minutes prior to freeing any nut or bolt as this penetrating compound and will save you from breaking nuts and bolts.
Shop towels: Disposable blue kind on the roll or the traditional red cloth variety are the most frequently used
Hand Cleaner: Gojo, Fast Orange, and Lava are the soaps of choice. Generally speaking, if it contains pumice or brutal levels of citric acid, you are OK. Anything else will get you called a Nancy boy by your fellow Subaru owners.
WD-40: Wonderful product with many uses. Though it can be used in a pinch as a penetrating oil for nuts and bolts, PB Blaster is FAR superior.
Brake cleaner: Universal parts cleaner.
Safety Glasses: While not “cool”, they are better than exhaust dust or PB Blaster in your eyes.

What basic support products do I need?
Cheater pipe: Multiply the force of your breaker bar by slipping a section of pipe over the end. You can obtain various pipe lengths inexpensively through the local plumbing section of your favorite store.
Jackstands/drive on ramps: NEVER work under a vehicle with just a jack. You can be seriously injured or killed over these $20 supporting products.
Jack: You can use a cheapy, or a bling, bling aluminum race jack.
Oil and fluid containers: Check with your local auto repair/parts stores about recycling your oil, fluids, batteries, and tires. The one exception to this rule is with anti-freeze/coolant. Many local wastewater plants are equipped to neutralize this stuff and it is acceptable to pour down the drain. Check with your local water department for details, otherwise recycle it.
Nuts and bolts collection: Invaluable tool to any garage. Sometimes a coffee can full of nuts and bolts will save you a trip to the auto parts store. ALWAYS save extra nuts, bolts, and spare parts as they might mean the difference between driving your car and it looking pretty on jackstands.
12v air compressor for filling tires.
Quality tire pressure gauge: Consumer Reports ranked the Accutire 4020 as “the best”. These type of digital gauges can be found for ~$20 online.
Radio
Chairs
Funnels of all sizes, especially one with a long thin hose specifically for filling the transmission oil via the dipstick tube.

What advanced tools might I need?
Flare nut wrench: Used with brake lines.
Hex key set: Used with spring installs.
Air tools/impact wrench
Impact sockets
Tap and die set
EZ Out
Nut splitter

What advanced support products might I need?

air compressor
creeper
shop vac
space heater (if applicable)
Dremel or generic equivalent

What do I need to know about torque wrenches?
Most torque specs for Subarus are under 100 ft lbs, so a 10-100 ft lbs torque wrench is a necessity for all users. Many suspension fittings require torque specs higher than 100 ft lbs, so they will become a necessity for personnel who do suspension mods. Most users prefer the “click type” to the “beam type” in terms of ease of use and accuracy. Storage and the proper use of these devices is the key to long life. Torque wrenches should be stored with the collar locks off and set to the lowest torque setting. They should also never be used as breaker bars or ratchets, only for final torquing after all the normal tightening up has been accomplished with regular tools.

There are basically two trains of thought regarding torque wrenches: buy cheap ones through Harbor Freight or other tool discounter, or spend the money on a quality unit. Most major tool manufacturers make torque wrenches, but their lifetime warranty generally does not apply to these particular tools.

Some companies have “electronic torque wrenches” now. This is in the form of an adapter that fits on any wrench. This adapter is wired to an electronic meter that displays the torque applied to the adapter.

Torque specs are generally in foot pounds (ft lbs) or Newton meters (Nm). You can find a conversion chart via this link.

A good habit is to bring the bolt up to it’s torque spec in stages rather than all at once. This is especially the case on items that require multiple bolts like turbos, manifolds, etc. Set the Torque wrench at about half of what the target is and do them all then go back around and torque them to spec. Also, when you bring a bolt to the final torque, make sure it does not stop turning as you approach the desired torque. It takes more torque to get an object moving (static friction) than it does to keep it moving (dynamic friction). Another thing to remember, bolts have 2 torques. Lubricated and dry. Unless stated, clean any critical torque nut and bolt of oil/gunk before torquing it down. If you choose to use anti-seize, you must reduce the torque!

What do I need to know about air tools? You need to know how to select an air compressor first off and you can get a general idea via this link and this link. By following the advice of professionals, you should pick your air compressor based on your air tool needs. This is one instance in the tool world where bigger is better. Once you have made the initial investment in a quality air compressor, all the associated tools and attachments are surprisingly inexpensive.

Where can I get high quality nuts/bolts/fasteners? While your dealer is an option, hardware through Subaru tends to be extremely expensive. You will have to track down a good hardware or fastener store locally that stocks a good selection of metric high grade fasteners. These tend to be specialty stores or smaller chain hardware/auto parts stores such as ACE, True Value, NAPA, etc. as opposed to Home Depot, Lowes, etc. McMaster Carr is probably the best online source of unique fasteners.

How can I save money on tools and sundries?
Comparison shop via stores, catalogs, and the internet. Two famous online tool retailers (who also have catalogs) are Harbor Freight and Northern Tool. Sears Craftsman Club members get additional discounts, special sales, and catalogs mailed to your home. To join for free, visit any Sears location or call 1-800-682-8691. Watch for sales before or after holidays and especially around Father’s Day. eBay can also be an excellent source for high dollar brand name tools at low dollar prices.

Where can I buy the special-purpose Subaru tools mentioned in the factory service manual? Most Subaru dealerships will order them for you, or you can order them directly from the supplier, subaru.spx.com.

Where can I find a Factory Service Manual? You can purchase a hard copy through your local dealership which runs around $200. You can also download them in .pdf format for a small fee via this official Subaru website.

Catalogs that feature great garage related products for purchase or to draw ideas from:
Griot’s Garage
California Car Cover
Speed Gear
Eastwood
Duluth Trading
Max Tool
Pit Pals
Garage Party

Where can I get/search for additional garage/tool advice? Autopia.org’s Garage Forum is a wonderful source of information. The Ultimate Garage is another wonderful source of parts, advice, and inspiration. Though not Subaru specific, this two page article provides valuable advice on what the proper garage is stocked with.

Editors Note

This post was created because I wasn’t able to find a good tool FAQ. I came up with the text based on LOTS of searching here and the Internet. It was also created to be intentionally brand neutral so that it serves as a stepping stone for further research. Upon reading this you should have an idea of what type of tools and sudries best suit your needs. The manufacturers and where you buy them are up to you.

If you find an error in this FAQ, please PM me with factual details and I will update this post. Responses such as, “I have XXX’s claw hammer and it’s great!” or “XXX’s rachet broke after 1 month” are not appreciated here, that is what the Car Parts Review Forum is for. While this forum doesn’t have a tool review, it’s perfectly acceptable to place reviews of tools in the Car Parts Review Forum. I don’t want this thread to turn into a Snap-on vs. Mac Tools debate.

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