Mechanic Socket Set: How Many Sockets Do You Really Need?
Walk down the aisle of your favorite home improvement store and you can get a mechanic socket set with 40 pieces or 400 pieces. How many do you really need?
- DIYers can get away with a basic 3/8″ and 1/2″ socket set and add sizes as you need them
- Pros can easily have 400, 500, or more pieces including:
- 3 drive sizes: 1/4″, 3/8″, and 1/2″
- Standard, stubby, long handle, and flex head ratchets
- Metric and SAE
- Torx and E-Torx
- Impact sockets
Where To Start?
As a DIYer, your mechanic socket set doesn’t need to be nearly as comprehensive as a Pros. Start with a 3/8″ and 1/2″ socket set that doesn’t use a ton of hex wrenches as filler. You can get started for less than $100.
From there, add pieces as you need them for the vehicle(s) you’re working on. Over time, you’ll build a nice set where each piece has a purpose and a story.
The vast majority of what you’ll need to turn with a socket will involve a 1/4″, 3/8″, or 1/2″ drive anvil on your ratchet. They all cover a different range of socket sizes. You’ll see some overlap between them, so you’ll end up with the same size sockets on different ratchets.
Pros will need at least one of each size since you’ll come across a wide range of fasteners to use them on.
However, that’s the absolute bare minimum. You’re also going to need ratchets with stubby handles, long handles, and flex heads to cover all of your bases.
You’ll appreciate the extra leverage that a longer handle provides, and the flex heads and stubby handles can help you get into spaces that standard ratchets can’t.
While we’re on the subject of hard-to-reach places, you’re going to need extensions for each of your drive shaft sizes. Since sockets won’t fit absolutely everywhere, you might throw a decent set of ratcheting wrenches on your shopping list as well.
Rather than the whole world adopting one standard for measuring socket sizes, we have two sets of standards: SAE and Metric. You’ll run into both these standards quite often and you’ll want both sets for each of your drive sizes. Don’t forget some deep well sockets for longer bolts.
Some manufacturers like to get fancy and use Torx designs. Add Torx and E-Torx sockets to the list.
Sockets aren’t just for ratchets. You’ll want to have a good set of impact-rated sockets on hand for your impact wrench. While the failure of a chrome socket isn’t as explosive as some people claim, they definitely don’t hold up in an impact tool as well.
As a new mechanic, it’s mind-boggling to realize how many pieces you need for your mechanic socket set. It’s what makes those all-in-one sets look so nice… and intimidatingly expensive.
We’re advocates of not signing away your first year’s pay on premium tools. You can get the job done with a master mechanic socket set from Home Depot or Lowe’s for a quarter of the cost or less. Those premium tools are nice to have but piece them together as you have the cash to pay for them instead of being a slave to debt.