Wrenches ain't sexy, but they sure are useful. Here are the ones to get for your tool box.
Craig ColeFormer reviews editor
Craig brought 15 years of automotive journalism experience to the Cars team. A lifelong resident of Michigan, he's as happy with a wrench or welding gun in hand as he is in front of the camera or behind a keyboard. When not hosting videos or cranking out features and reviews, he's probably out in the garage working on one of his project cars. He's fully restored a 1936 Ford V8 sedan and then turned to resurrecting another flathead-powered relic, a '51 Ford Crestliner. Craig has been a proud member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).
A good wrench set is an essential part of a mechanic tool set, as anyone who's into automotive repairs can attest. While certain jobs can be accomplished with pliers, a screwdriver or maybe even a hammer if something needs a good bashing, when it's time to do more involved work that requires some significant torque, a complete set of wrenches is an absolute necessity to have as part of your arsenal. Without a wrench set, everything is so much harder.
Along with a good socket wrench set and corresponding ratchet wrench set, these items form the backbone of any well-equipped toolbox. And just like the wine list at a fancy restaurant, there is a great variety to choose from. The simplest of the hand tool bunch is your standard wrench, with one open end opposite a so-called boxed end. But beyond this, there are wrenches with flexible heads, ratcheting wrenches, affordably priced wrenches and professional-grade wrenches that you can add to your mechanic tool kit. The right wrench can help you get into tight spaces and complete work that you might otherwise need to rely on a mechanic for.
Depending on what you're looking for, from adjustable wrench to socket wrench to torque wrench to stubby wrench to pipe wrench and everything in between, here's a compilation of some of the best wrenches you can buy. Whether you just need a simple set to help with basic vehicle maintenance or you plan on getting into the automotive-repair business, there's a best wrench set for practically everyone. Per usual, these recommendations are based on buyer reviews and, more importantly, first-hand experience.
If you need a set of wrenches but don't have a lot of scratch to spend, this Efficere 24-piece kit has your name on it. Not only does the tool set contain both standard and metric wrench sizes, it comes with a nifty storage pouch, so everything stays in order. On the standard side, wrenches range in size from ¼ inch to 1 inch. As for metric, you get nearly everything from 8 mm to 24 mm. Curiously though, 9-, 16-, 20-, 22- and 23 mm wrenches are not included. But hey, for 30 bucks, you get most of the sizes you're probably ever going to need for your mechanic tool set. Made of durable chrome vanadium steel, this combination wrench set should last a lifetime. It's also highly regarded, having earned a 4.6-star rating after thousands of reviews.
If you need wrenches of various sizes and aren't averse to spending a bit more to get something nice, this 30-piece Tekton wrench tool kit is an excellent option. It comes with both standard and metric size wrenches, plus nifty plastic organizers to keep the combination wrench set tidy in your toolbox drawer. Sizes range from ¼ inch to 1 inch on the standard side and from 8 mm to 22 mm in metric land. The open ends of these wrenches are angled 15 degrees to make it easier to access reclusive fasteners, and the boxed ends are designed to grip the sides of nuts or bolts to reduce the chances of rounding them off when torque is applied. With a mirror-like chrome finish, these tools not only look great, they're built to last as an integral part of your mechanics tool set.
Run-of-the-mill wrenches are great, but there's a more useful option that makes working even easier. So-called ratcheting wrenches meld the convenience of a socket set and ratchet with the traditional wrench design to create a tool that's arguably better than the sum of its hand-tool parts. Basically, the boxed ends of these wrenches contain a small ratcheting mechanism that allows you to tighten or loosen fasteners without having to constantly reposition the tool. Yeah, it's super convenient. Each ratchet wrench still has an open end for applications where that is more appropriate.
This 12-piece tool set of ratcheting wrenches from Gearwrench is a great buy. Their ratcheting wrench mechanism works with just 5 degrees of rotation, meaning you can more easily tighten or loosen bolts or nuts in very tight areas, much like a stubby wrench since the wrench doesn't have to swing as far to click to the next tooth of the ratchet. They also have thin heads, to help get in hard-to-reach places, and their boxed ends grip fasteners on their sides to reduce the chances of rounding things off. Treated to a bright chrome finish that resists rusting and is as easy to clean as it is easy on the eyes, these are premium tools. Based on personal experience, Gearwrench products are excellent, especially its ratcheting wrenches.
When it comes to outright versatility, this metric set of flexible-head, ratcheting wrenches is about as good as it gets. Built by Bulltools, each wrench features an integrated ratchet mechanism, which, in certain situations, makes it far easier to remove fasteners as you don't have to constantly reposition the wrench.
But that's not all. Further increasing their versatility, these wrenches also feature swiveling heads that can rotate a whopping 180 degrees, making them perfect for getting in cramped places. Super useful, this set includes six wrenches from 8 mm to 19 mm, plus it also contains a range of handy adapters that allow you to affix metric sockets or other attachments and use these wrenches as ratchets. Altogether, you can add quite a lot to your mechanics tool set armory for a totally reasonable $80.
So far, this list has covered a range of different wrenches, from value-priced sets to ones with ratcheting and swiveling heads. But now, it's time to focus on a more premium selection for your mechanics tool set. As evinced by this 15-piece set's price, it's certainly an upmarket product. SK Tools makes superb, professional-quality stuff, and these wrenches are no exception. They come with a lustrous SuperKrome finish and are cold-forged for maximum durability. Seriously, these wrenches are nice enough to be family heirlooms. Ensuring you're not missing any oddball sizes, this metric tool set comes with everything between 8 mm and 22 mm. A plastic carrying case is included in the price, too, and these wrenches are made here in the US.
Both ratcheting and swivel-head wrenches can help you get in tight areas, but certain situations may call for an offset wrench, a hand tool where the wrench's head is positioned on a different plane than its body. This sounds complicated, but it's not. Oh, and don't worry; these wrenches are neither difficult to find nor expensive. Case in point: this highly rated, nine-piece set of metric wrenches. It fits the bill beautifully, helping you reach fasteners in hard-to-reach places at a very reasonable price. You get every size between 6 mm and 23 mm, the wrenches are made out of chrome vanadium steel for tremendous longevity and they come with a roll-up pouch for easy carrying.
Sometimes, you need a super-thin wrench to get at stubborn fasteners. If you face such a problem, check out this set of low-profile wrenches. At around 1/8 of an inch thick, they should have no trouble getting into the tightest of places. This tool set comes with nine open-end wrenches that give you 18 different metric sizes, from 8 mm to 32 mm, skipping 22, 23, 26, 28, 29 and 31 along the way. A handy-dandy storage pouch is included, and so is a value price. This set checks out for just $26.
Just like those super-thin wrenches highlighted above, sometimes you need a short tool to get into a tight place where there isn't enough space to rotate a normal-sized one. This 20-piece stubby wrench Gearwrench set fits the bill perfectly. With stubby beams, a 15-degree angle on the open ends and an off-corner loading design (yes, to prevent stripping nuts and bolt heads), this tool kit is just what the doctor ordered. It includes 10 standard and 10 metric wrenches, so you have a wide variety of sizes to choose from. The chrome finish is beautiful and, of course, since they're made by Gearwrench, you know they're good.
Cold-forged, high carbon-alloy steel; bright and durable SuperKrome finish
Best offset wrenches
Geardrive box-end wrench set
Nine pieces plus storage pouch
75-degree offset for added clearance
Best super-thin wrenches
Grip super-thin wrench set
Nine pieces plus carrying sleeve
Open-end design, around 1/8 of an inch thin
Best stubby wrenches
Gearwrench 12-point stubby combination wrench set
20 pieces plus carrying case
15-degree open-end offset, bright chrome finish
4 things to know about wrenches
Size matters. Wrenches come in different sizes. There are two different measurement systems: standard (SAE wrench), which uses inches and fractions; and metric, which runs in millimeters. Almost all modern vehicles are metric, and practically anything you'll encounter from Europe or Japan will use this measurement system, too. If you plan on playing with older American cars (like way older), be aware they generally use inch measurements.
There are a lot of different types of wrenches to choose from. There are standard models and ratcheting versions, offset wrenches and more. Certain wrenches are ideal for particular applications. Having the proper tool for a job can make it much easier to complete, and with far less swearing.
As with most things in life, there are different tiers of wrenches to choose from. You can get a basic set for just a few bucks, but they won't feel very nice and who knows how accurate they are or how long they'll last. On the other hand, you can spend tens of thousands of dollars on top-shelf tools if you only want the best. Fortunately, there are plenty of versatile, high-quality offerings between these extremes. Basically, you don't need a fortune to buy some good stuff for your mechanics tool set.
Many wrench sets come with handy storage cases. Not only do these help keep them organized in your toolbox, they also make it easier to read the numbers on them, since they're all lined up neatly and at a slight angle, so you can see exactly what size wrench you're reaching for. It pays to be tidy, so put the appropriate wrench back in its corresponding slot.
Get yourself some wrenches
You may not have thought about this before, but wrenches are surprisingly diverse. There's actually a huge range of them, from affordably priced standard variants to ones that ratchet, other models that have swiveling heads and still more that are super thin to reach into tight spaces. Really, there's a wrench out there for practically every kind of task.
Likewise, you can find wrenches that fit nearly any budget. There are bargain-basement sets for folks that don't plan on doing much repair work, and there are sets that cost hundreds -- or even thousands -- of dollars. No matter the price, make sure you have a few wrenches. They're essential tools and you'll be glad you do.