Thinking back to my first tool set, I saved up a couple hundred bucks and went down to the local shopping mall. After perusing the aisles of high-dollar tools, I settled on what I could afford and left with the best deal I could find. That kit got me started wrenching on my truck, and if you don't mind some dirt under your fingernails, we're sure your story is pretty similar. For around $200, most tool companies offer a comprehensive, albeit basic tool set that is perfect for the beginner knuckle-buster, home do-it-yourselfer, and shadetree mechanic alike. A mechanic tool set needs to be several important things. First, it needs to have a wide array of tools, sizes, and yet still needs to be portable. Also, it needs to be well built, with a carrying case that won't break when bouncing around in the back of a truck bed. Lastly, you need to feel confident using the included tools with a lifetime warranty.
We went out and picked up four mechanic tool sets from local tool retailers and went online to pick up the last set in our test. The players are whom you would expect: Craftsman, Harbor Freight, Husky, Kobalt, and Stanley. Our criteria was simple—we could only spend $200, the set had to have a lifetime warranty, and it had to be readily available nationwide. We compared socket and wrench sizes, number of total tools, number of irrelevant/duplicated tools, toolbox construction, tool retention, and if the box was lockable. In addition to the objective data, we also created a few subjective comparisons including: total tools for the buck, and the "can this tool set help you swap a flat tire" test. Take a look at our rankings and prepare to change the way you look at the tool world.
1. Pittsburgh Professional 301-piece Mechanic's Tool Kit
PN: 45951 $189.99
Harbor Freight calls the Pittsburgh 301-piece tool kit a "comprehensive professional mechanic's tool set," and we find no fault in that claim. We'll start with the impressive data: full socket sets (shallow and deep) for ¼-, ⅜-, and ½-inch drive that go all the way up to 1¼ and 32 mm, full screwdriver set, plier set, full array of U-joints for each drive size, as well as extensions, adapters, and 10 combo wrenches. In addition to the commonly used tools, the Pittsburgh set also includes SAE and metric hex bit sockets, Torx sockets, external Torx bits, a precision screwdriver set, and long-arm hex key set. That's 50 pounds worth of tools, and the cost was $189.99. After factoring in duplicated tools, our "tool per buck" came in at an amazing 72 cents per tool. Those tools are covered by a lifetime replacement warranty (with receipt), and the toolbox itself is well made with metal clasps and individual storage trays. Working on a project truck using only this tool set, we never needed to search anywhere else for the required tools. From the get-go, there was no doubt this was the best tool set under $200. The real test was to see who would finish in Second Place.
2. Kobalt 227-piece Mechanic's Tool Set with Case
PN: 338518 $199.98
Second Place was awarded to the set with the second-most tools included—the Kobalt 227-piece set. However, it was more than quantity that impressed us, as the Kobalt set included the highest quality tools with precision ratchet movement, laser-etching and color-coded sockets for instant visibility. Metric and SAE wrenches are included, though they top out at ⅝-inch and 13 mm respectively, however, the sockets range from 4mm ¼-inch drive to 22mm ½-inch drive. That versatility was greatly appreciated when we had a flat tire and needed to remove the wheel. The Kobalt set had the right extension, socket, and ½-inch ratchet to get the job done. Tool storage was also a big perk thanks to the blow-molded case with organized tool trays and an empty tray for gloves or future tool purchases. Ideal for do-it-yourselfers, the Kobalt trays can be removed, saving time when trying to find the right size sockets, and a comfortable nut driver and bit driver are included. Also, the case can be sat on while doing a brake job, which is extremely convenient in one package. When we contacted Kobalt for warranty issues, they told us to come in and they would happily replace it. This type of quality, diversity, and customer service made the Kobalt a solid Second Place choice.