11 garage essentials for any DIY car enthusiast
A garage is often a compromise between a dumping ground and a professional workspace. What jobs we do and how long each takes is up to us, how prepared we are, and a healthy dose of luck. The last we can’t really control, but the preparation factor is something we very much can.
Our tools are pretty much always at the ready, but breaker bars and gasket scrapers are not the only supplies you need. If you plan to regularly take on automotive projects, you’ll want to keep these 10 lubricants, fasteners, and clean-up materials on hand.
So many components need the sticky lubrication of grease. Generic chassis grease, in a tub or tube, is critical. If used correctly, it can solve a lot of problems, from capturing shavings while drilling into metal to holding needle bearings in place during engine assembly. A well-prepared garage should never run out of it.
If you run to the parts store every time you need to top up your vehicle’s oil, you’re on a fool’s errand. Buy a few quarts up front. Stash one in the car and a couple underneath your workbench or on the shelf.
I like to keep everything needed for a full oil change on hand all the time, just in case. That decision hinges on the fact my vehicles’ oil filters are not readily available from the local parts store. Your mileage may vary.
Having a gallon or two of fresh gasoline can be handy for diagnosing a poorly running vehicle or priming a car before it comes out of storage. The trick here is to use your garage’s fuel stash often and top up the cans to keep the fuel from going sour.
Remember: Gasoline should not be used as a solvent or cleaning solution. While it’s tempting, since you have some on the shelf, fight that urge. Use the proper chemicals rather than risking a fire that could burn your whole garage to the ground.
Carburetor and brake cleaner
Since you aren’t cleaning with gasoline, keep actual cleaners around. Between aerosol carburetor– and brake-cleaners, you have two of the most popular and versatile solvents.
Some people use them interchangeably, but brake cleaner can often leave a bit more residue. Will carb cleaner do the same job in a pinch? Yes, but using the right tool for the job is always best practice.
Regardless of what project you are working on, and especially if you’re fabricating, there is a non-zero chance you will need to cut something. From hacksaw blades to razor blades, a sharp edge can be critical in rescuing a project.
Wire and some connectors
Most enthusiasts seem to despise wiring projects, but the vast majority of wiring problems are simple fixes. Most electrical issues trace to broken wires or corroded connections, and the best things to stock are a handful of connectors and loops of wire in various gauges.
Unlike most of the other supplies on this list, wires and connectors don’t go bad. Buy in bulk now, and forget about the cost when you dip into the stash.
Just like having carb- and brake-cleaners around, keeping your favorite penetrating oil on the shelf and ready will make your life so much easier. I always keep a brand-new can next to the open one. Once I open the new can, I restock. This ensures I will never be mid-project without the ability to break free stuck hardware.
Rags and oil-dry
Spills happen. The appropriate mess-control methods are important to keeping your working environment safe and efficient. Rags are also helpful for cleaning off tools at the end of the day and for plugging inlets that you don’t want to fill with debris—like intake ports, if you’re working on carburetors.
They aren’t the solution to everything in life, but zip ties solve a lot of problems, from tidying wires to organizing disassembled parts.
Pro tip: Buy black zip-ties. The carbon black added to the resin makes these more UV-resistant than white or clear ones.
The number of times I’ve needed to fabricate something to replace a stripped fastener … yeah, don’t ask. I now know the bolts and nuts that I’m most likely to encounter on my projects, and I keep these fasteners well-stocked. It’s confidence-inspiring, because, if something happens, I know I’ll save time by avoiding a special order.
Your shop manual
It’s not a consumable, but you should always keep a shop manual in the garage. From step-by-step instructions and wiring diagrams to exploded drawings of individual components, shop manuals are a godsend.
My favorite approach is to find a .pdf version of the appropriate manual and save it on my computer before printing it off and putting it into a three-ring binder. Original, bound printings are great, but decades of storage can make pages delicate. A self-printed manual can always be printed again if you spill oil on it or otherwise damage it.