Open up any tool box in any garage and you’ll likely find a familiar sight: useless tools. You know, the kind we grab in a pinch or are led to believe are better than they actually are. The impulse buys that always come back to haunt us. Sometimes they’re cheap substitutes. And other times they’re just poor executions of otherwise good ideas. And while no tool design is truly worthless, poor quality can easily make them a waste of money—even if you only spent a few dollars. Here are our top cheap tools found in every guy’s garage.
$5 Wire Strippers
Unfortunately, wire repairs are a necessary evil in the automotive world. They are common enough for every mechanic to be familiar with, but rare enough to catch everyone by surprise at least once. When they do pop up, rather than running home to get their trusty set of wire strippers, techs and hobbyists often reach for the cheap tools they can find at the parts store. The problem? They slip, they don’t cut, and the buyer winds up running home anyway. However, rather than being thrown away, they always seems to find themselves tucked into a dark corner of the tool box.
This is a great tool design and there are many remarkable products on the market, but nearly everyone will buy the trial version first. And the cheap tools may work properly for a short period of time, but their low quality and awkward design will inevitably cause them to lock up. Everyone has one of these cheapies in their tool box that makes them blush when a wrenching buddy sees it. Basically, they’re a great cheap alternative—when they work. But after time, they just become really fancy-looking, standard operating screwdrivers.
Quick Disconnect Fuel Line Tools
Modern cars and trucks require specialty tools to disconnect the fuel lines. Many tool boxes sell 4-in-1 sets that may seem like a great bargain but are cheaply made and simply don’t function. There’s really no alternative use for these cheap tools, so do yourself a favor and invest in a better option right out of the gate.
Screw extractors are the biggest tease in the world. A great design meant to make life easier, they really can be a savior when they work properly. But we all have remnants of that junk set we bought on impulse. The one that merely snaps drill bits like pretzel sticks and never actually manages to grasp the hole it has cut into the screw.
Portable Halogen Work Lamp
Everyone’s braised their hand across one of these bad boys and screamed like a child. Not only do they burn crazy hot, they seem to break after every other use. This again, is usually the result of trying to save a few dollars. Invest in a higher quality model but still be aware of the dangers of using one. If human flesh burns at 212°F and these babies reach temperatures over 570°F…well, we’ll let you do the math.
Flimsy Gear Pullers
Pulling gears is like pulling teeth, except instead of a sleeping patient one is wrestling an iron beast. Young mechanics and newcomers all have made the mistake of buying cheap gear pullers that buckle under pressure. Avoid getting hurt or botching the job and invest in a better option. And if you do have a pair of flimsy gear pullers taking up space in the tool box, maybe reconsider them as a fashionable paper weight.
Universal Valve Spring Compressor
Valvetrain work is an essential skill every mechanic needs to have. However, first time wrenchers usually grab the one-hand-operated style of valve spring compressors. Sure, they work at first but ultimately are a major pain when compared to the better alternatives on the market. And once an upgrade is made, these cheap tools find their home at the bottom of the tool box for life.
As we said, no tool design is truly useless. But you get what you pay for, especially when it comes to what we classify as cheap tools. Like most things in automotive work, do a little research before you buy. Read reviews, compare prices, and see what retailers have fair return policies or warranties. If you invest in a cheap set and then ultimately have to go out and purchase the better option, how much did you really save?