Which are the most important pliers for automotive work?

You just started working in an auto garage or are a self-taught mechanic but don't know the essential pliers you need for automotive work? This article is for you.

As much as powered tools are becoming more common in the automotive industry, hand tools will always have a place. Some of the hand tools that are hard to replace are pliers.

Pliers are good for gripping, squeezing, cutting, and twisting. Some are specially designed to accomplish specific tasks. For example, snap ring pliers are specially designed to install and remove circlips or snap rings while exhaust hanger pliers are for removing exhaust hanger rubber.

Because there are thousands of pliers in the market for automotive and general use, it can be overwhelming to choose just a few essential ones for your automotive works. That is why I have put together this article to share some important car pliers you must always have with you as an auto technician. If you are a beginner mechanic, this set of auto repair pliers should have a place in your tool backpack or pliers drawer on your tool chest.

1. Retaining ring pliers

Another name for retaining ring pliers is snap ring pliers or circlip pliers. These are special types of pliers for removing or installing retaining rings or snap rings in various mechanical assemblies.

snap ring pliers for internal and external snap rings
Removing snap rings (Source: Amazon)

Snap rings are special ring fasteners for locking assemblies in place. They are of different types but can be broadly classified as either internal snap rings or external snap rings. Likewise, snap ring pliers can either be for internal or external snap rings. Some are multipurpose though. They have convertible jaws that open and close both external and internal circlips. Find out more about them here.

Types of snap rings

Internal retaining rings keep round shafts and assemblies inside a bore housing. They are installed inside the bore to keep the assembly components from falling out. A good example is the internal snap ring that keeps the wheel bearing inside the wheel hub.

External retaining rings, on the other hand, hold round components on a shaft. You will come across them when assembling or disassembling various shafts. For example, when working on a vehicle’s transmission, you will encounter retaining rings that keep gears in place on the shafts. Inner CV axles also have snap rings for retaining the cv joint to the drive shaft. These are just a few examples of where your retaining ring pliers will be useful in your car repair project.

Learn more about snap rings in my article on what are snap rings and how to use them

Why use snap ring pliers?

Although you can try other hacks when you are trapped, the most appropriate way to remove or install retaining rings is by using retaining ring pliers. These pliers have strong jaws for squeezing or expanding a snap ring in or out of the groove. They hardly damage the rings.

However, to use retaining ring pliers effectively, you must pick the proper size. Snap ring pliers are sized based on the size of the ring fastener and the gap between the open ends. Also, since the tips of snap ring pliers must fit onto the lug holes of the fasteners, they must be the correct size. If the tips are too broad they won’t fit and if they are too small, the ring will easily snap out. So, knowing the size of the grip holes on the rings can help you find the most appropriate size of snap ring tips. Furthermore, if your snap ring pliers have removable tips, you can install the perfect size of tips for the grip holes.

Despite the retaining rings being small they are very strong and create a lot of stress to the retaining ring pliers. Hence it is advisable to use pliers that are strong enough to withstand the stress. These are some of the strongest snap ring pliers sets in the market for both external and internal snap rings.

In a nutshell, snap rings pliers can save you a lot of valuable time when working on assemblies that utilize snap rings. And since sometimes you may not know whether you will come across the lock rings, it is just good to have a pair of snap ring pliers at hand if not a set.

2. Linesman’s pliers or Combination Pliers

Linesman’s pliers are a type of pliers for gripping, twisting, straightening, bending, and cutting wire, cable, and other materials. They are also known as electrician’s pliers or combination pliers at times. However, linesmans are subtly different from the actual combination pliers. Read the article on the differences between combination pliers and linesman pliers to learn more.

The effectiveness of the linesman’s pliers is attributed to its design. They have a flat gripping surface at their snub nose. The rest of the jaw has horizontal grooves that provide a firm grip on objects. The pliers also have a large cutting edge for cutting wires and cables among other materials. You can use it to cut wires if you are working on a vehicle’s wiring system.

The best linesman pliers are made from forged steel for strength and durability. Their handles are hot riveted to maintain accuracy even after repeated use. There is a variety of handle types to choose from but the comfort grip handles are the most suitable for a mechanic. If you were working around high electrical voltages, I would recommend the linesman with insulated handles. Some linesman’s pliers have a universal crimper for pressing wire crimps and ferrules. Others have a gripping zone behind the joints for pulling wires.

3. Locking pliers

locking pliers set
Locking pliers set

Vise grips or locking pliers are pliers that can be locked into position, actually giving you an extra pair of hands to complete your task. The pliers are great in the sense that they offer superb clamping ability hence ensuring a tight grip to keep things just where they need to be. You can use them when you need more torque to remove or turn an object. Another instance where you may need locking pliers is when you need an added grip for holding objects together.

Common uses for locking pliers in the automotive industry include clamping, holding, pulling staples and other fasteners, extracting stripped nuts and bolts, wire cutting, shaping tasks, and also pressing and squeezing tasks.

Lastly, locking pliers come in various sizes, shapes, and types. You can choose the most appropriate depending on the nature of car repairs for which you are using them. The good thing about them is that they are versatile and adaptable. You can use them for a variety of jobs from the smallest of tasks to bigger tasks.

Types of locking pliers include

  1. C-clamp locking pliers – these are characterized by long angled arms that form a point. These pliers when locked form the shape C in order to clamp around girthier objects.
  2. Round nose pliers – these are curved like a bird’s beak and have teeth within their inner sides of the jaws. these are ideal and mostly used on rounded objects and surfaces.
  3. Long nose locking pliers – these are formed like a pair of needle-nose pliers. They have teeth within their inner sides of the jaws. they are used and work well on flat surfaces.
  4. Curved jaw locking pliers – these are round nosed and have serrated teeth inside the jaw to help clamp onto rounded objects.
  5. Straight jaw locking pliers – these are either round or long nose. Most long nose locking jaws are straight jaw while round nose pliers are either straight or curved.

4. Hose clamp pliers

Hose clamp pliers are for removing or applying hose spring clamps onto or from rubber hoses. Spring clamps are made of spring steel and are plated with zinc to prevent rust and corrosion. They are common in the auto industry because of their constant tension which they apply on high-pressure rubber hoses. You will find them under the hood of a car on radiator hoses, fuel lines, and ATF hoses.

However, just the same way the clamps are strong on the hoses, they are not easy to install or remove without a proper tool. That is why you need the spring hose clamp pliers.

Spring hose clamp pliers provide a tough grip on different types of hose clamps. They have specially designed jaws and teeth. The jaws have rotating tips with grooves for handling various types of clamps. You can rotate the tips to match their teeth with the thickness of the hose clamp you are working on. Whether it is a wire clamp or band clamp, these pliers are ready for the job. You can even use them for various types of spring band hose clamps including the standard clamps, space-saving clamps, and flat type clamps.

Once you start using the hose clip pliers, you will be surprised how easy they make the work of gripping and moving the spring clamps. They are a great time saver and not to mention that they also protect your knuckles while working with spring clips.

5. Drum brake spring pliers

Drum brake pliers are a very important tool in the automotive industry. They are designed specifically for handling, removing, and replacing the springs found in drum brakes.

Unlike disk brakes, drum brakes can be intimidating to work on. If you have ever worked on a drum brake system, I bet you understand what I mean. There is a handful of springs and they seem interconnected. Without a proper tool, the springs can fly all over when you attempt to remove them. And getting them back in position is not that easy. That is where the brake spring pliers come in handy.

The tip of one of the jaws of the brake spring pliers is rounded to remove the springs while the other is curved to put the springs back. Additionally, one of the handles may have a ratchet to help in separating the shoe hold-down pin.

Good drum brake pliers are made from hardened heavy-duty steel for added strength and durability. They can also be coated to prevent rust when you store them in the toolbox or pliers drawer.

6. Oil filter pliers

oil filter pliers for removing oil filters
removing oil filter canister with oil filter pliers

Oil filer pliers are used in the automotive industry to remove stuck oil filter housing when changing oil. The pliers are asymmetrical in design. They feature c-shaped pair of toothed jaws with one of the jaws being much longer than the other one. This configuration helps clamp down on the stubborn oil filters to dislodge them from the stud without slippage.

The best oil filter removal pliers are made from special tool steel for maximum strength. They also have insulated handles and toughened teeth to prevent slips on the filter canister.

Although oil filter canisters should be easy to remove by hand, sometimes they get stuck. Others are deeply seated and may not be easy to reach by hand. That is why you need these handy filter removal pliers close by. They are suitable for hard-to-reach filter housings and oil filters that are too tight to remove by hand. Nonetheless, you should avoid using any tool to tighten oil filters in cars. A hand-tight filter should be just fine.

7. Knipex pliers wrench

Instead of buying an adjustable spanner, I would suggest that you get a good pair of pliers wrench instead. More specifically, the 10″ knipex pliers wrench. And if your budget allows, you can include either the pliers wrench xs or the 5″ mini pliers wrench for working on small bolts and nuts. They are also good EDC pliers.

The reason I recommend the Knipex pliers wrenches is that they are the best as of yet. They are very well built, grip fasteners tightly, and have an integrated ratcheting function. This means that you can use them on fasteners in confined spaces.

Knipex pliers wrenches are easy to adjust and will remain set until you change manually. Those features make pliers wrench more effective and convenient than an adjustable spanner or a set of box wrenches.

Well, those are the most important garage pliers I can think of. If you have more, please suggest them in the comment section.

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