Automotive wiring is one of those jobs that you either love or hate. There are just as many who find it simple and straightforward as those who do tedious and complicated. Personally, I started off hating wiring. At first, it was something I struggled to understand. And since it’s not flashy like other systems in the car, I simply didn’t want to spend time on it. Instead, I could feed my macho ego by fiddling with drivetrain and suspension parts, which I comprehended (and enjoyed) more.
However, I never really had the proper tools for the job, which (looking back) played a big part in my frustration. Today, it’s something I genuinely enjoy, but only after coming to terms with the fact that wiring is essential to making the whole system work and then making the leap to invest in the right equipment. Professionals in the field can surely relate and would probably laugh at the extra work I naively created for myself. So, for the newcomers, here are the tools you’ll want to have when tackling automotive wiring projects.
For repairs and troubleshooting, every tool box needs to be equipped with a test light. Traditional test lights will cost just a few dollars and do a great job of telling you whether or not a wire in question is receiving power. The problem with test lights is that they only tell you if there is power in the system—not how much there actually is at the source you’re testing. This means that you can go nuts switching between a test light and a multi-meter chasing voltage drops.
With a test light like Performance Tools W2992, you’ll not only get a light indicating whether or not power is present, but also a proper voltage reading. Having one of these on hand alleviates the nightmare of probing and testing wires. You can throw one of these bad boys in your electrical tool collection for about $25 too, which makes them a dream come true for those working on a budget.
Even if you have a fancy test light with a fancy voltage display, you’ll still want to have a multi-meter on hand. You need to be able to test resistance and other characteristics of electrical components to make sure they’re in proper, working order. Luckily, the same place that offers that handy test light, will also be able to hook you up with part number W2974, a Performance Tool Digital Multi-Meter Tester.
There are better units out there, but for under $20 you can throw this multi-meter in your bag to help get you started. They work very well for the price and are a necessity to ensuring you can test anything in your car to make sure that the electrical components are up to par.
You’ll need to do stripping in many automotive wiring jobs. No, not to earn a few extra dollars, but to add connections and splice into existing circuits. We’re all familiar with the wire strippers you typically find at the parts store. You know, the kind that have openings dedicated to specific wire gauges that bite into the insulation so you can pull away the outer layer.
These units work perfectly fine but do have some downfalls. If you don’t get a good grip on the wire or if you pull too hard, you can damage parts. This is what makes automatic wire strippers great. The dies on top adjust to the wire size and all you have to do is squeeze the handles together and the system automatically grips the wire while stripping away the insulation. Gardner Bender offers their 5-In-1 automatic wire stripper and crimper for under $20. For just about the same amount that you’d spend on traditional wire strippers, you really can’t go wrong.
The wire strippers we just talked about have crimpers built into them. They work well if you’re in a pinch but I really don’t recommend using them if you can avoid it. In my personal experience, the crimpers that are built into the handles of strippers usually never do a great job. It could be user error, but I always find that using dedicated crimpers is your best bet.
Nothing’s more aggravating than making a connection only to have it fall apart leaving you restarting the whole process of adding connections. Because of that, I say it’s worth coughing up another $25 for a set of crimpers from Gardner Bender. Sure, you’re up to almost $50 in tools just for stripping and crimping but it’s well worth the peace of mind that you won’t have to redo your work.
The most frustrating thing with automotive wiring is being underprepared. In your vehicle’s electrical system there are a range of wire gauges and lengths present. I drive myself absolutely nuts when I find I don’t have the length of wire or gauge I need, leaving me burning gas and time running to and from the parts store. Obviously, planning ahead and buying the proper wire beforehand really helps. But sometimes you find yourself chasing issues into new areas and performing repairs you didn’t expect. Having a good stock of wire on hand changes everything.
Eastwood offers a 12-piece electrical wiring station that consists of 14 feet of 10-gauge wire, up to 62 feet of 22-gauge wire. This station currently runs just over $40 and is something anyone performing any sort of restoration or build would benefit from having on hand.
Wire Connector Set
The only thing worse than multiple trips to the parts store for a length of wire is getting home and realizing you don’t have the appropriate connector. At this point you’ll feel like driving your vehicle through the parts store rather than to it. Those little packs of connectors can really add up, too.
Dropping $5 on each pack may not seem like much, but when you factor in all the possible gauge and connector combinations that can add up fast. Especially when you only need one or two pieces from the whole bundle. Picking up a kit like Performance Tool part number W5213 for about $15 will save you the headache.
This list totals up just shy of $150, which in the world of tools and equipment is merely a spit in the bucket. And sure, you could buy the higher quality, higher-priced counterparts of everything listed, but generally that’s an investment better served for professionals and master of the trade. For the average backyard mechanic or weekend warrior, you can’t go wrong with this price to help you start tackling automotive wiring. Besides, it’s safe to say we’ve all spent $150 on dumber things.