If you’ve read the past few articles in our little miniseries, you’re either totally on-board with my theory that “cool” cars and enthusiast ownership are still attainable even on a budget, or you think I’m full of it. Regardless, we’ve touched on examples of enthusiast cars unaffected by inflation, we’ve talked about how to affordably care for those cars and motivate yourself to do some bigger DIY jobs to keep things under budget. Now, we’re here to speak more in depth about the specialty tools and equipment you should start collecting so you can become a self-sufficient enthusiast owner. This week, it’s all just shop talk.
First, I want to stress that this is by no means a comprehensive list, nor should you expect to try and buy all of this stuff at once. Chances are, you’d end up spending more on the tools than the car itself if you were to buy everything in one go. Rather, I’d like to highlight some of the specialty tools and equipment that have made my life as a DIY car enthusiast much easier. We’ll start with our in-house brand, Schwaben, which is oriented towards folks like you and me who are on a budget but still need access to specialized tools for many jobs our aging Euro cars require.
Schwaben Hand Tools
We’ve spent plenty of time dedicating articles to our line of hand tools, but now is a good time to restate the importance of having a good base of assorted sockets, drivers, open-ended wrenches, line wrenches, screwdrivers, picks, etc. Unless you’re already knee-deep in tool collection, chances are you’re like me and have survived off of hand-me-down and incomplete sets of tools. I bought a lot of what I started with piecemeal, was gifted a few things here and there, and would take anyone’s throwaway stuff when they upgraded. But the best way to step up the game and make sure I have exactly what I need as a foundation was to grab the Schwaben European Hand Tool Starter Set.
This kit includes a lot more than you’d expect for a “starter kit” and is affordable for what you get. Spending a few hundred dollars on hand tools is definitely a punch in the gut, but a full set of extensions, drivers, sockets, torx sockets, and assorted wrenches is all you need to do most of the jobs I’ve covered in recent weeks. If you were to buy just one thing, it would be a dead tie between this tool kit and the next topic on our list.
Professional Scan Tools
Almost equally important, if not completely equal in need, is a quality diagnostic tool designed specifically for your vehicle platform. A long-time partnership between Schwaben and Foxwell Tools led to a line of BMW, Audi/VW, Porsche, and Mercedes-specific scan tools that are more than just OBD readers. We’ve talked at length about this handheld device in previous articles, but it is important to touch on the subject regularly. These diagnostic tools are designed to do more than simply read OBD codes; they’re specific to your vehicle make and can perform advanced functions within the vehicle’s coding. Clearing adaptations, activating electronic parking brakes, ABS pumps, live-data-reading, and tons of other features are included in this device, which effectively allows you to do everything the dealership can do with their computer systems. Between the scan tool and a quality starter kit of European-specific hand tools, you’re pretty much able to take on every job you’d likely need to do unless you’re really diving into some crazy car building. But then, you probably aren’t if you’re reading this article.
While you can do most everything basic that we’ve covered in this miniseries using just the above mentioned scan tool and hand tool kit, why stop at “possible” when you could have “convenient”? Most Euro cars, especially the mid-2000s models, feature both a dipstick and a top-mounted oil filter, which makes oil service with a fluid extractor supremely convenient. Now, I know many truly “modern” cars, even back to the E9X BMW generation, don’t have a dipstick. So, if you’re reading this and have something that either uses a lower-mounted oil filter location or does not have a physical dipstick for oil level inspection, the fluid extractor isn’t going to be your best friend for an oil change. But for those who do have both the dipstick and top filter, this inexpensive tool is a game changer. However, even if you’re someone who doesn’t need it for oil changes, the fluid extractor does more than just make an oil change easier. It’s useful for coolant services and any vacuum fluid extraction you need to do. That actually brings us to our next topic, coolant purge tools.
Coolant Purge/Refill Tool
One of the worst DIY jobs, in my opinion, is the coolant refill and bleed. I don’t much mind the drain process, that’s just uncork and wait for gravity. But the refill process, that I can do without when it involves manually bleeding a car. In the past, I have had access to coolant purge tools, which extract the air from an empty cooling system, create a vacuum, and then draw in coolant from a reservoir to quickly fill the system that is now “purged” of air. No bubbles, no mess with a funnel, no need to do the up-and-down on a jack to raise the bleed screw to the highest point. A purge tool simply uses vacuum to instantly refill the system. However, that vacuum has to come from somewhere. Generally, that’s a compressor. Now, I do have a portable compressor, but that isn’t the cool part about the Schwaben coolant purge tool. For those of you who don’t have a compressor or want to spend money on one, the Schwaben tool is compatible with the fluid extractor so you can manually create that vacuum in a few pumps of the fluid extractor and benefit from a quick and professional coolant refill. How neat is that?
Brake Pressure Bleeder
Fluids, am I right? They only work when they’re the only thing in the system. Air, water (where it isn’t supposed to be,) or anything else in a sealed system is a quick way to a bad time. If you’re doing DIY jobs at home, one that is often dreaded is the brake fluid bleeding process. It always involves two people, a lot of back and forth, and a pretty lengthy process. But again, we can use a vacuum to our advantage. The European Brake Pressure Bleeder works similarly to the coolant tool mentioned above, but for your brake hydraulic fluid system. Attaching the fitting to your brake fluid reservoir, pressurizing it, and then cracking the farthest bleed screw away from the master cylinder is all you need to do to bleed the system. It’s a good idea to go to each wheel in order of distance from the MC after the refill, but it’s mostly just good practice. In my experience with my brake fluid pressure tool, I’ve been able to completely refill and bleed my brake fluid system in a matter of minutes. And by myself, which is key. If you’re going to be self-sufficient, I can’t think of a better piece of shop equipment that allows you to make a two-man-job a solo task.
Pullers, extractors, and presses
Now we’re getting into the more specialized stuff. Pullers and extractors are what you generally won’t find at the “casual” DIYer’s house, but we’re not filthy casuals, now are we? If you’re trying to really save money long-term without sacrificing your interest in frail and aging Euro cars, you’ll need to suck it up and start grabbing these kits eventually. Most commonly used, the wiper arm extractor set and the ball joint separator tool are perfect additions to the DIYer’s tool cabinet. At some point, you’ll want to remove suspension components like tie rods or other ball joints and don’t want to destroy the rubber dust boot, thus necessitating a replacement. The ball joint separator is a nimble little press that can easily work it’s way around tight suspension components to reach that ball joint and safely press it out, guaranteeing a reinstallation rather than a replacement. Same for the wiper arm extractor set, which makes short work of siezed up wiper arms thanks to the hefty slide hammer. Any time you need to take windshield cowling out of the engine bay, which is frequently if you own a BMW or VW, this kit is absolutely necessary to do the wiper arm extraction safely without risking damage to your windshield. Include both of these tool sets in your home garage for a much wider range of DIY jobs made easy.
Timing Tools and OE specialty tools
Finally, the real contributions we’ve made to DIYers are making OE specialty tools, like timing tools, fan clutch tools, and other tools traditionally exclusive to dealership techs available to the average at-home mechanic like us. These tools are necessary for proper installation and timing of major components, like camshafts, cylinder heads, valves, etc. Usually, you can expect to pay thousands of dollars for the OE versions of these tools, but our lineup offers an affordable alternative that will do the job for you just as well. If you plan to really save money through DIYing, you’re going to need to do these in-depth jobs, like cylinder head gasket replacements, timing belt replacements, chain guide replacements, and more that require near total-disassembly of your engine. To do it correctly, you absolutely must have these kits.
Rounding things out on our suggestions for what every DIYer needs in their garage is a fender rolling setup. If you want to achieve your fitment goals, you’re either going to need to pay someone a few hundred dollars to roll fenders for you or do it yourself. Fortunately, our Schwaben fender rolling kit is designed to let you take these jobs on at home. The best part? The tool itself is less than I’ve paid to have someone roll fenders before. Being able to do this at home with your own roller is an oft-forgotten job that truly can’t be done correctly any other way. Unless you just like spending money or love bacon fenders, this kit is exactly what you need in your garage for every future build to benefit from.
As I mentioned, this list is by no means comprehensive. You’ll definitely want a tool cabinet or box for organizing your collection as it grows, will likely want to make adjustments to your garage space for storage, and you’ll want to spend time using everything to find out where the “holes” are in your collection. By working with everything you have to this point, you’ll quickly realize what is missing or would be a way to improve your efficiency at DIY jobs. When it comes time to make those decisions, we’ll be here to help you with our Schwaben tool line for all the Euro-specific tools and convenient shop equipment you need.