10 Must-Have Garage Items for Home MechanicsLast Updated September 13, 2023 | Hamilton Schutt
Whether you're doing routine car maintenance or rebuilding a classic Mustang, this list of 10 items every garage needs will make the job easier. These essentials will keep your workspace organized, clean, and safe, so you can focus on your build.
1. High-Quality Jack & Jack Stands
Your car weighs thousands of pounds. Your jack and jack stands need to be strong and sturdy enough to support that weight. You're trusting your life to these tools, so you'll want to invest in the highest quality you can get.
The jack you need depends on your build. You'll need to choose a jack that satisfies your vehicle's clearance requirements and weight capacity. Read more about the different kinds of jacks and the builds they fit best.
2. Paint Protection
Paintwork is expensive. It's cheaper and easier to keep your paint safe from scratches and dents while you work.
The three most popular protectants are a fender cover, paint protection film (PPF), or a front-end cover. You can even combine all three for serious paint protection.
|Fender Covers||PPF||Front-End Covers|
|Grippy Texture for Tools||✅||✖||✖|
|Protection on the Road||✖||✅||✅|
Fender covers, as their name says, are thick mats that cover your fender while you work. They protect the covered area from dents and scratches, provide a grippy surface to hold tools, and offer padding for your elbows. These are also by far the cheapest, and most effective, of the three options.
PPF is a transparent film that protects against light scratches, rock chips, UV rays, and more. It's most frequently used for daily protection, but also provides paint protection while you work. Since PPF only protects against light scratches, you may still want a fender cover.
Front-end covers are a second skin for the front end of your build. Similar to PPF, these covers are primarily used for protection (and style) on the road. But the extra scratch protection while you work is an added benefit.
3. Drain Pans & Funnels
Drain pans and funnels reduce the risk of spilling fluids, which keeps your engine bay and floors cleaner. They also improve safety, since many automotive fluids can be harmful.
You want to have several sizes of drain pans for different jobs. Larger pans are ideal for oil changes and transmission flushes. But for small tasks like draining the upper coolant hose, washer bottle, or radiator overflow tank, you'll want a small pan.
You'll also want drain pans designated for each fluid to ensure they don't mix. This is essential if you'll be reusing your oil or coolant. You won't need designated funnels, though. Funnels are easier to clean, so mixing fluids shouldn't be a problem as long as you're cleaning the funnels between jobs.
4. Back and Knee Protection
To keep your back and knees safe, you'll want something to lay on and something to kneel on while you work. A track mat is the perfect solution to protect your back from the garage floor. Likewise, a simple knee pad will make kneeling a lot more comfortable.
Track mats are made of dense, durable foam and should last for years. While you can kneel on your track mat, a smaller knee pad is ideal for when you work in narrow spaces, like your interior. Knee pads can be found at any general hardware store, and don't need to be anything special.
For even more protection and maneuverability, you could opt for a creeper instead of a track mat. These are essentially track mats on wheels. This option does have a few downsides, though. Since creepers are designed to move easily, it can be hard to get leverage while you work. Creepers are also tall, so you'll need more clearance under your car than you would with a track mat.
5. A Variety of Lights
Just like you need the right tool for the job, you also need the right light. In addition to a well-lit garage, you'll want lights for the areas you plan to work in. Here are some of the most commonly used lighting options:
- Underhood Lights - Underhood lights attach to the hood and are perfect for work in the engine bay.
- Flashlights - Flashlights can maneuver easily. This makes them ideal for finding dropped hardware, diagnosing problems, or isolating issues.
- Drop Lights, Inspection Lights, and Trouble Lights - These lights have a variety of names but serve the same purpose. They're portable, powerful, and come in different styles. You can find handheld, magnetic, and hanging options.
- Headlamp - Headlamps offer hands-free lighting so you don't have to position work lights on the floor or try to complete a job with a flashlight.
While this list isn't all-encompassing, it's a good starting point. As you work, you'll discover more opportunities for better lighting in your garage.
Pro Tip: For lights that are handheld, or that you'll be handling frequently, replace your halogen bulbs with cooler LED ones. This will keep you from getting hot while working under them and keep you from burning your hand when you go to move them.
6. Oil Absorbent
Keeping a clean work area is important, and that means cleaning up spilled oil, coolant, or other chemicals quickly. Oil absorbent soaks up spills to make them easy to clean. Once the fluid's been absorbed, simply sweep up the powder and safely dispose of it.
While absorbent pads are available, powder options reach more areas, including corners and cracks. They also provide traction while the spill dries.
There are oil-specific absorbent products available, but you could also use kitty litter, sawdust, or sand. These should all yield similar results.
7. Brake Cleaner
Brake cleaner is an aerosol spray that's well-known for having a variety of uses. It's similar to degreaser and cleans all the same parts (brakes, engine, transmission, drivetrain, etc.). Brake cleaner won't leave any residue behind once it dries, though. Degreaser will. This makes brake cleaner more convenient to use, especially in small spaces that are hard to wipe down.
Brake cleaner is also a stronger solvent and is more effective than degreaser. However, you shouldn't get brake cleaner on plastic, rubber, or paint. The same solvents that demolish grease and gunk can easily eat through these materials.
Be Aware: Brake cleaner is typically available in two versions: chlorinated and non-chlorinated. Each option has its own pros and cons, so make sure to read the warning labels before making your choice.
8. Magnetic Parts Trays
Magnetic parts trays secure to any magnetic surface, keeping your hardware, parts, and tools within arms reach. The magnet also anchors anything metal in the tray, so they're less likely to fall out.
Parts trays come in different shapes and sizes to fit each job. Having a variety of trays on hand will help you stay organized through any project.
Note: Strong magnets have the potential to cause damage to the ECU. For the sake of safety, don't stick magnetic trays to your ECU.
9. Storage Bags and Permanent Markers
Keeping small parts in storage bags labeled with permanent markers is one of the best ways to stay organized during big projects. You'll know exactly where to find your hardware when you need it.
It's a good call to keep a variety of bag sizes on hand. This lets you store items of all shapes and sizes, from small screws to brake spindles.
Pro Tip: Permanent marker ink doesn't always stick well to storage bags. Instead of writing directly on the bags, write on a strip of masking tape and put that on the bag instead.
10. Shop Towels
In addition to a good supply of rags, you'll also want disposable shop towels. These make it easy to keep your workspace clean.
You'll want dry and wet shop towels since they serve different purposes. Dry towels are great for grease, oil, and other car fluids that can be tough to clean. Disposability and durability are important for these cleanups since some fluids can ruin your reusable towels and shred paper towels.
Wet towels are helpful for when the job's done and you need to clean up you and your workspace. You can even use these to wipe oil and other automotive fluids off your tools.
More Tips and Tricks of the Trade
These ten items make your garage better equipped for automotive work, but don't be afraid to get resourceful. While a track mat or creeper is useful, some people use a big piece of cardboard (like the box your parts came in) to protect their back. Others use old t-shirts instead of shop rags.
For tips on safely working in your garage, check out this article on basic garage safety tips.