If you’re going to do any mechanics work on a car, it’s not going to take long for you to need a socket set. Both professionals and do-it-yourselves depend heavily on sockets to loosen stubborn bolts and tighten them again. While professional mechanics often use their sockets with an air-driven impact wrench, the do-it-yourselfer usually works with a ratchet.
Sockets, whether used with a ratchet or an impact wrench, are considerably faster for removing bolts, as the ratcheting action allows the tool to be placed on the bolt once and then loosened or tightened. If the same work is done with a wrench (either open-end or box end), it has to be removed and reattached each time it is turned.
The other big advantage is that sockets allow working in much tighter spaces than wrenches do. That’s important because there are a lot of those tight spaces in an engine compartment. Ever since the auto industry has gone to transverse-mounted engines and front-wheel-drive, that’s gotten worse.
Best Socket Set for Mechanic – Comparison
|Tekton 3/8” Drive, Six-point Socket|
Picking the right sockets is important. Most cars today use metric hardware. But if you own an older American-made vehicle, you might find that it still has SAE (fractions of an inch) hardware. That’s why many socket sets include both SAE and metric sockets. But size isn’t the only thing; you’ll probably encounter times when you need deep-well sockets as well. These are especially important when removing nuts off of studs. While not as commonly used as shallow sockets, when you need them, you’ve got to have them.
Pay attention to quality. That’s really what you’re buying when you pay top dollar for a high-quality socket set. More than anything, this means top-quality materials, something you can’t really see. While just about every manufacturer out there will offer you a “lifetime warranty” today, not all of those warranties mean anything. If you have to send the broken socket to China for a replacement, you don’t have a warranty; you’ve got an advertising slogan.
Even quality sockets can break, especially when you misuse them. Never try using standard sockets with an impact wrench. Chances are, they’ll break. But you can use impact sockets with a ratchet because they won’t be subject to undue stress.
There are a number of different things that might make a particular socket set the “best,” so I’ve used a variety of criteria for selecting the sets below. All of them are of high quality and will give you years of faithful service.
Best Socket Set – Reviews
1. Craftsman 450 Piece Mechanic’s Tool Set
Craftsman has long been considered the “standard” to which all consumer grade tools are compared. From time to time you’ll see advertisements for other brands, claiming that they are “as good as Craftsman.” Well, if that’s the case, why not just buy Craftsman from the start?
This set contains 450 pieces, making it the biggest in our list. Granted, a lot of those pieces are ¼” drive screwdriver bits; but there are plenty of sockets as well (191 in total), divided between 6 points, 8 points (star bit) and 12 points. This set has 1/4”, 3/8” and 1/2” drive ratchets, with both shallow and deep-well sockets to go with them, as well as an assortment of extensions. If you are just starting out and need a good set, this is the way to go.
- Lots of sockets to choose from
- 1/4”, 3/8” and 1/2” drive, quick-release ratchets
- Contains both SAE & metric sizes
- Craftsman quality
- Craftsman lifetime warranty
- Good price for what you get
- Quantity of pieces seems deceptive, as many are screwdriver bits
- The case isn’t strong enough for the weight of all the tools
2. DeWalt DWMT75049, 192 Piece Mechanics Tool Set
DeWalt is known mostly for its power tools. They are a favorite amongst small-time contractors, who need professional grade quality, without paying a professional grade price. But while power tools are their bread and butter, they also make an extensive line of hand tools.
In some ways, this set is even better than the Craftsman one. Basically, all it is, is a socket set, except for the Allen wrenches contained in the kit. Like the kit above, it has all three common sizes of ratchets, as well as a huge selection of sockets, including deep-well sockets and hex bits. There are even universal joints and a nice selection of extensions to use. If I was in the market for a socket set, I’d definitely give this one a good look.
- Good selection of sockets, including deep-well & hex bits
- 1/4”, 3/8” and 1/2” drive ratchets
- No extraneous bits or tools
- Compact case
- Low-profile directional lever on the ratchets
- Deep laser etched markings for easy identification of socket sizes
- Contains both SAE & metric sizes
- Contains a good assortment of extensions, as well as universal joints in all 3 drive sizes
- Don’t need the Allen wrenches, with the hex bits
3. Tekton 3/8” Drive, Six-point Socket & Ratchet Set
Tekton is one of those little-known names in the tool industry. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth having; it just means that they don’t spend all of their money on advertising. These are quality tools, which will give you years of service.
The quality is shown through two primary things: First of all, all the sockets are six-point; not only that but they have relieved corners. What that means is that the sockets are applying force to the sides of the bolt head, not the corners, reducing the chance of rounding the head. Secondly, the ratchet has a 90 tooth gearhead, which makes the throw angle four degrees, rather than the 5-degree swing required for the more common 72 tooth ratchet head. At this price, this is an awesome kit.
- 90 tooth ratchet
- Six points, relieving corner sockets
- All the most common sizes for SAE & metric
- Extra-large size markings for easy reading; die stamped so they don’t wear off
- Contains 2 extensions and a universal joint
- Great price
- Umm… umm… can’t think of a thing
4. Gearwrench 80700P, ½” Drive, Six-point Socket Set
This set comes from Gearwrench, the same company that made the ratcheting box-end wrench popular. If there’s one thing this company is known for, it’s making tools that fit into tight spaces. Others produced ratcheting box wrenches, but theirs were much more bulky, making them impossible to use in a lot of the most important applications.
Gearwrench has followed after this patter with this kit, which contains a low-profile ratchet. Not only is it low-profile, but they one-upped the Tekron kit above; instead of 90 teeth in the ratchet head, this one has 120, cutting the minimum swing angle down to three degrees! The sockets in this kit are also six points, just like the Tektron kit. Plus it comes with a universal joint and two extensions.
- The 120 tooth ratchet head is impressive, giving the lowest possible swing arc
- Low-profile ratchet head
- Six-point sockets
- Both shallow and deep-well sockets
- SAE and metric sizes
- The kit is a bit pricey, but that’s typical for Gearwrench
5. Neiko 02282B Thin-wall Reversible Impact Sockets
Have you ever wanted those reversible impact sockets that they use in tire shops? Well, here they are. This five-piece kit gives you the eight most common lug nut sizes, in four reversible sockets. Along with the extension provided, you’ll be able to zip those wheels of and on in no time, just like the pros.
One of the surprising things about this kit is that the sockets are thin-wall. That’s unusual for impact sockets, which usually have considerably thicker walls than ones designed for manual use. What this means is that you’ll be able to use them in tight places, like those mag wheels with small lug nut openings. I’m sure you’ll find some other good uses for them too.
- Thin-wall sockets fit in tight places
- Reversible, with two similar sizes together, helps reduce the frustration of getting the wrong size
- Comes with an extension
- Constructed of high-strength chromium-molybdenum (cr-mo) steel
- Fits all the common lug-nut sizes
- Good price
- This is a specialty set, so it doesn’t have all the sizes you’d need for working on an engine
6. Sunex 3657, 3/8” Drive Universal Joint
This is a very unusual socket set. To start with, it is 3/8” drive, as opposed to the more common 1/2” size that’s usually used for impact sockets. So it either has to be used with a 3/8” impact gun or an adapter, so that it can be used with a 1/2” drive impact gun. But the really interesting thing is that the sockets all have a built-in universal joint. Normally, you would connect a universal joint after, the socket, but that may still not work in some tight spots. This set eliminates that problem.
Not that many years ago, you had to buy a set like this from Snap-On or one of the other expensive professional mechanics tool companies. But Sunex has made that same level of convenience available to the average guy. This set is a welcome addition to any tool kit, especially for those who do a lot of mechanic work. Made of cr-mo steel, it’s rugged and flexible. Six-point sockets with relieved corners reduce wear on bolt heads too.
- Nicely designed flexible sockets, great for tight places
- Six-point sockets, with relieved corners, reduce chances of bolt head rounding
- Extra strong construction
- The chamfered opening makes it easier to align the socket with the bolt
- All the common metric sizes
- Dual size markings make it hard to lose the size
- Only in metric, not SAE – but most cars today are all metric anyway
- Price looks a bit steep until you think about what they are
7. Tacklife 1/2” Drive Deep Impact Socket Set
If you’re going to use power tools for your mechanic work, you’ve got to have impact sockets. This reasonably priced set gives you a full range of metric sizes, all the way from 10mm up to 24mm. The sockets are all deep-well, with relieved corners, so that the force is on the sizes of the bolt head, not the corners. Markings on these black sockets are highly visible and laser etched so they won’t wear off.
The kit comes with 15 sockets and three extensions. The sockets are six-point, making for a good grip on the bolt head. This kit will get you going, taking your mechanics work to another level.
- Full range of sizes
- All deep-well sockets
- Six-point sockets, with relieved corners
- Laser-etched markings won’t wear off
- Excellent price
- Warranty is only one year
- No shallow sockets
8. Gearwrench 84948N, ½” Drive 6 Point Metric Impact Socket Set
This is from the same people who brought us the other Gearwrench kit and who make the Gearwrench ratcheting box end wrenches. This time, we’re looking at their impact socket set. This metric kit contains 38 sockets, half shallow and half deep-well. That pretty much covers any need you’re going to have unless you have some large nuts in the suspension to deal with.
Gearwrench prides themselves in innovation and has come up with an innovative design for their smaller sized deep-well sockets. Rather than tapering the outer wall of the socket down, they step it down, farther back up the socket. This allows the socket to fit into much tighter places, making it easier to work. The sockets are all double-marked too, with both etching and stamping, just to make sure it can’t disappear.
- Wide assortment of sizes in both shallow and deep–well
- Made from cr-mo steel for long life
- Relieved corners so that pressure is applied to the sides of the bolt heads, not the corners
- Parallel neck design for small deep-well sockets helps get into tight spaces
- Dual marking techniques – laser etching and stamping
- Price is a bit high
- Doesn’t include SAE sizes
9. Crescent Brand CX6PT20 Pass-Thru Ratchet & Socket Set
The same manufacturer who came up with the original crescent wrench has come up with this really unique kit. These 18 sockets and their special ratchet are a “pass-thru” design, which means that there is no bottom. You don’t have to worry about your socket not being deep enough, as the rest of the stud can pass through the back of the socket, going on for as many feet as you’d like.
The other really unique part of this socket design is that the same sockets work with hex, square, 12-point, E-torque, spline, and even partially rounded hex head bolts. They do this through a very different socket design, which doesn’t try to match the shape of the bolt’s head; but rather tries to make sure it makes contact with the sides of the head. Won’t round over the corners, but gives a good grip.
- Pass through, “bottomless” design solves the problem of deep studs, overlong bolts or working with all-thread
- Unique socket design works with a variety of bolt head styles
- Inch and metric sizes
- Adapter to use the ratchet with standard 3/8” sockets
- Low-profile ratchet head fits in tight spaces
- Good price
- Requires special ratchet, which comes with the kit; won’t work with standard ratchet handles
10. Stanley 92-824, 69 Piece Socket Set
Stanley is a do-it-yourselfer byword, providing a wide range of tools and hardware for the guy who’s working on his home or fixing his own car. Their tools provide quality at a reasonable price. I’ve got a kit much like this one, except in chrome, that I’ve carried in my car for years, and it’s still as good as new.
This kit provides both 1/4” and 3/8” drive ratchets, with an assortment of sockets in both SAE and metric sizes. Deep well sockets are even included, as well as extensions. Everything you need, at a reasonable price.
- Complete kit, with all sizes you need
- Both deep and shallow sockets
- SAE and metric sizes
- 1/4” and 3/8” drive
- Laser-etched markings are easy to see
- Reasonable price
- Nothing, really
A good socket set can save you a lot of hassle, especially if you have it in the trunk when your car breaks down on the road. You might want to consider carrying one in each of your cars, as well as having a larger set in your workshop. That way, you’re never too far from some sockets to help you with any needed repairs.
Always make sure that you buy quality, as the replacement warranty doesn’t do you much good when you’re stranded. Make sure your set covers the vehicles you own, as well. SAE sizes aren’t needed if you have a new car, but metric sizes won’t help you much with an older one.