Owning the right tools makes DIY home and car maintenance much easier—but what are the right tools? Stocking up on tools that you may rarely use doesn’t seem worthwhile. Here are nine tools truly worth adding to your tool bench or car-safety kit…
Right-angle drill attachment. Attach this between a power drill and a bit, and you can drill a hole—or tighten or loosen a screw—at a 90° angle from the direction the drill is pointed. That’s a huge help when you’re working in a tight spot where there’s no room to position a drill or screwdriver straight on, such as inside walls and under the hood of a car.
Great choice: DeWalt Right Angle Drill Adapter, around $20.
Snaking digital inspection camera. This is a tiny digital video camera with LED lights mounted on the end of a long, thin, bendable cable. Feed it into a pipe, duct, wall or another tight spot to get a look inside. Some come with viewing screens, while others send video to the screen of a smartphone, computer and/or tablet. You could use it to look inside a wall before drilling into it to make sure the drill won’t damage the wiring inside…to peer into a duct, pipe or couch to find a lost piece of jewelry…or to look for the source of a leak in a cramped, hard-to-see spot under the hood of your car. The cables and cameras typically are waterproof, so you can even feed it down a clogged drainpipe to get a closer look at a blockage.
Great choices: Ryobi Tek4 Digital Inspection Scope has a three-foot waterproof camera cable and a built-in 2.7-inch color LCD screen, $99. Depstech Wireless Endoscope has an 11.5-foot waterproof camera cable but does not include a screen—it sends its video signal to an Android or Apple smartphone or tablet via Wi-Fi, $36.
Powerful pulling tool called a “come-along.” Cranking the handle of this ratcheting tool slowly winds up a strong metal cable, allowing you to move heavy items without a mechanical winch. Attach one end to something hefty such as a strong tree, and you can use a come-along to dislodge a stump…get a car unstuck from mud or snow…or move a fallen tree blocking a driveway. Different come-alongs have different capacities, often from one to five tons.
Great choice: TEKTON 2-Ton Power Puller, around $25.
Oscillating tool. This handheld power tool vibrates its tip back and forth at an incredible speed—thousands of times per minute. Attaching different blades makes it handy for all sorts of projects. Affix a cutting blade, and it’s the perfect tool for making “plunge cuts”—cuts that start in the middle of a piece of wood or drywall, rather than at an edge. A sanding attachment lets you sand into tight corners where orbital sanders can’t reach. A scraping blade helps remove old paint from tough-to-access spots.
Great choice: DeWalt DCS355D1 20V XR Lithium-Ion Oscillating Multi-Tool Kit, $130 for the tool alone or $200 for a kit that includes a battery, charger and a 28-piece accessory kit with cutting and sanding attachments.
Inexpensive drain clog remover. This is an easy-to-use, effective and inexpensive tool for clearing clogs from the bathroom sink, shower and tub drains—a repair job costing an average of $216 if you hire a plumber, according to Home Advisor.com. It’s just a long plastic strip with thornlike barbs along its sides. Feed it down into a clogged or partially clogged drain, and pull it back out a few times—the barbs will snag the clog and yank it out. Bathroom sink, shower and tub drain clogs tend to consist mainly of hair, which snags easily. Note: This tool is not appropriate for nonhair clogs, such as toilet clogs—use a closet auger or plunger for those. If the clog is in a tub or shower drain, you may have to unscrew a drain cover to gain access.
Great choice: BrassCraft Hair Snake Drain Cleaning Tool, $3.19.
Screwdriver kit for unusual screws. Most home owners own only a few basic slotted and Phillips-head screwdrivers—but appliances, electronics and furniture sometimes have screws that are either too small for conventional screwdrivers…or that don’t have the conventional head of a slotted or Phillips-head screwdriver. Buy a kit that contains a screwdriver handle and dozens of different bits that fit into it, including bits for tiny and unusual screws and bolts.
Great choice: TEKTON 2841 Everybit Ratchet Screwdriver, Electronic Repair Kit and Security Bit Set, which includes 127 bits and a ratcheting screwdriver handle, $33.
LED headlamp. Popular with hikers and campers, headlamps have LED flashlights attached to elastic straps so that they can be worn on the forehead. They’re tremendously useful when doing tasks that require both hands in shadowy spots or outdoors at night.
Downside: You look a little silly when you wear the version that resembles a miner’s headlamp, but it’s better than burning the burgers when grilling at night. Or you can buy a version of the headlamp that looks like a baseball cap and has LED lights hidden in its brim instead.
Great choices: Coast 615 Lumen Pure Beam Focusing LED Headlamp, $47…L.L. Bean Pathfinder LED Cap, $24.99…Panther Vision POWERCAP, around $20.
Grabber tools. Hardware stores and home centers typically stock a variety of tools designed to help people pick up things that would otherwise be out of reach. Options often include three-foot-long grabbers large and sturdy enough to pick up a can or bottle off a high shelf…thin snaking cable grabbers that can deploy tiny tweezerlike metal grippers in spaces too narrow to reach into by hand…and small magnets at the end of extending or semirigid poles for retrieving metal items such as screws that have been dropped into tight spots. Buy one of each of these—they don’t cost much, and they often come in handy. One brand tends to be as good as another here. With the larger grabbers, it is worth paying around $15 to $20 for one with no-slip rubberized gripping surfaces, rather than a few dollars less for a model with slicker hard-plastic gripping surfaces. The smaller cable grippers and magnetic retrieval tools typically cost around $5 to $10 apiece.
Tool That Talks to Your Car’s Computer
No need to rush to a mechanic when a warning light flashing on your dashboard makes you worry whether it’s safe to drive. There is a diagnostic tool that explains what dashboard warning lights are trying to tell you. It plugs into the OBD-II port of the car’s computer to learn the details. On most cars, this port is located on the driver’s side under the dashboard, above the pedals. Some of these diagnostic tools even let you clear dashboard warning lights once you resolve an issue, something that used to require a trip to a mechanic or dealership.
Great choice: FIXD ODB-II Active Car Health Monitor and Professional Scan Tool sends results wirelessly to an Android or Apple smartphone via Bluetooth. It explains in plain English why a dash light is on, makes recommendations and lets you clear the light. It works on any gas-powered car sold in the US since 1996, including hybrids. Cost: $59.99. Requires a smartphone to receive the messages.