No need to sugarcoat it, cheap tools suck. We all know that when you’re truck is broken down and you’re trying to fix it, the last thing you need is to have your tools fail. Earlier this year, we began testing tools of all brands and price ranges to determine who makes the best of that particular type of tool. Our findings were staggering, as several tests didn’t have a standout winner until the final scores were tallied. Other tests showed us that a big name brand doesn’t mean it’s the best tool available. Over the next few pages we’re going to provide with a quick recap of the best tools tested in 2012. Happy wrenchin’!

Issue 5, Locking Pliers Shootout
Husky

$9.97 homedepot.com

The dark horse locking pliers who reigned supreme after our eight different tests came from Husky, available at The Home Depot. Strong jaw teeth, sharp wire cutter, and jaws that opened extremely wide helped the Husky locking pliers edge out the industry standard by one point.

Issue 6, Best Flashlight Under $50
MagLite 3-Cell D LED
$19.99 www.maglite.com

Each tester was very familiar with a D battery MagLite, as they’ve been around for years, however we were curious to see the output from MagLite’s new LED bulb. Our questions were quickly answered once the push-button was depressed and all 131 lumens lit up our test lab like an airplane coming in for landing. Going from spot to flood beam was as simple as twisting the light’s head, and the beam earned top marks in the 50-foot dispersion test, overall bulb brightness, subjective test, and at $19.99 (available darn-near everywhere) it was the value leader, though batteries aren’t included and typically cost an extra $5.99 for good ones. A tried-and-true rugged design, with the addition of a super-bright LED bulb, made the winner a clear choice. For under $50, this is the best flashlight you can buy, and we’ve got money left over for lunch.

Issue 7, Dog Bone Wrenches
Husky 48-in-1 Ratcheting Rotary Socket Wrench
$19.88 www.homedepot.com

For the second time in three months, a Husky tool won our Truckin Tough tool test. With a thick, rubber-protected handle, the Husky was comfortable in our hands, had the second smallest turn angle of the ratcheting heads, and fit a bevy of different bolt head sizes and styles thanks to its splined socket design. Performing well in our torque test, the only area of concern was head flex from the ratcheting socket. One design flaw was the metric equivalent sizes stamped on the socket face were missing. For under $20, it was also the best value (for multiple socket sizes/styles). If you want less clutter in your glovebox or toolbox, this is the best multipurpose wrench out there.

Issue 8, Best Drill/Driver for Under $50
Skill 7.2V Lithium Compact Two-Speed Drill/Driver
$49.88 www.skilltools.com

Proving to be well rounded, well engineered, and powerful, the Skill 7.2V Lithium won our tightly contested shootout. Finishing in the top two positions in every test we administered, there isn’t anything this compact drill/driver couldn’t do. Thanks to its two-speed gearbox and 7+1 clutch settings, it easily powered through our wood screw test, busted the 17mm bolt torqued to 5 lb-ft free with one pull of the trigger, and screwed the lag bolt the furthest in the torture test. Whereas it was the second most expensive tester in the shootout, it did include a carrying case and Philips/standard bit, and it felt best in the staff’s hands. Trick items like the “Battery Fuel Gauge” light and driver direction indicators helped the Skill earn top marks. Available at Walmart, the Skill offers features of more expensive drills, while still retaining its compact size.

Issue 9, Folding Utility Knife
Sheffield Quick Change $14.99 www.sheffieldhardware.com

We picked up the Sheffield Quick Change after stopping in at Autozone and seeing what types of utility knives they carried. Its $14.99 price was the highest of the group, and quite honestly we didn’t know much about the Sheffield tool line, not giving it much consideration. Once we opened the package, however, we instantly became fans of the rubber handle, ingenious blade storage, belt clip, solid blade grip, and easy blade changes. Featuring a lockback safety device, the Sheffield felt great when cutting into 5/16-inch-thick particleboard. Our favorite feature of this knife was its thumb rest on top of the blade, which made the knife both comfortable and safe. This was definitely a dark horse, but the numbers don’t lie.

Issue 10, 3/8-inch Drive Ratchet Comparison
Husky 14-inch Extendable 45-Teeth, PN: 69563
$19.97 www.homedepot.com

Several months of testing tools have taught us one thing: Husky makes a pretty darn good tool. Winning a few of our tool shootouts, Husky proved it hasn’t been a fluke, as they handily won our ratchet test. For less than $20, the 14-inch extendable ratchet features a lockable flex-head, relatively low-profile head design, and extra torque always on tap from the extendable handle. As a bonus, the kit also included a six-piece standard socket set. During our torque torture test, it was the only ratchet in the group that busted loose the 1⅛-inch nut that was torqued to 120 lb-ft. That’s serious power in a ⅜ package. It isn’t flashy, nor the best feeling ratchet in your hand, but it does everything we asked of it at a high level, and without compromise.

Issue 11, Multi-Tool Shootout
Leatherman Wingman with Pocket Clip
$29.97 www.leatherman.com (at www.homedepot.com)

As the originator of the multi-tool, it was no surprise that the Leatherman Wingman was well built, offered handy tools, and was the easiest to carry, but what did surprise us was the value. For less than $30.00, the Wingman offers precise, spring-loaded pliers, a 420HC knife blade that topped our sharpness test, and a high-quality screwdriver that finished in Second Place. Add to that liner locks for the knife and scissors for added safety, a compact ruler, and removable pocket clip, and you have yourself an incredible multi-tool you can carry every day. This tool can easily tackle most projects that arise at work, while camping, or fishing with buddies. The Leatherman is proudly made in Oregon, and proves America builds it best.

Issue 12, Top Magnet for Mechanics
Harbor Freight 15-Pound Telescoping Magnetic Pick Up Tool (PN: 95933)
$4.99 www.harborfreight.com

Anyone familiar with Harbor Freight knows their reputation for making inexpensive tools. Although some people we’ve talked to consider Harbor Freight tools cheap and flimsy, our seven months of tool testing has shown them to be surprisingly high quality for the money. This month’s Truckin Tough reinforced that belief, with their 15-pound pick-up placing first in our testing. The first indicator that Harbor Freight doesn’t mess around was the scientific 10-pound plate steel test. Not only did this magnet lift the 10-pound plate with ease, it even lifted an additional 5½ pounds stacked on top. Unlike most other magnets in our test, Harbor Freight actually exceeded its advertised lifting power. This tool also did well in our real-world lifting test, had the second longest reach, and the third lowest price. While others may discount Harbor Freight as “that cheap tool place,” the numbers don’t lie—this tool delivers excellent bang for the buck.

Issue 13, Best Mechanic Tool Set for Under $200
Pittsburgh Professional 301-Piece Mechanic’s Tool Kit
PN: 45951 $189.99 www.harborfreight.com

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-, 3/8-, and ½-inch drive that go all the way up to 11/4 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 medal 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.