Five Great Gadget Gifts for the Amateur Home Car Mechanic

Have someone in your circle of family, friends, or co-workers who likes to do his or her own auto repair? Perhaps it’s someone who fancies themselves a good car mechanic or just someone who, pressed with other expenses, likes to do what car repairs he or she can without the cost of a big garage bill. Whatever the case, any one – or more – of these gadgets can make the perfect gift to round out the home automobile mechanic’s garage or tool kit.

Here are five ideas to start off your search for the perfect gadget gift for the home car mechanic. Of course, if you wanted to give more than one, I’m sure your favorite amateur auto mechanic will forgive you.

A Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC) Reader

Today’s car, truck, or SUV is highly computerized. Just as professional auto mechanics increasingly depend on computer hardware and software to access a car’s onboard computer system, this technology is now more and more affordable for the home car mechanic.

The device is called a diagnostic trouble code (DTC) reader that plugs in, through a special interface panel usually found in the lower part of the driver’s side dashboard, to read error codes generated by a car’s computer. These codes tell you what the onboard computer sees wrong with the car, from an engine in dire need of service to an errant emissions system.

Priced anywhere from $99 to well over $300 and more, DTC readers are becoming indispensable as automotive components become increasingly sophisticated. Pair a DTC reader with special software that will work on a hand-held computer, or desktop PC or Mac (mentioned next), and you will make your amateur home car mechanic very happy.

DTC Reader Software

The biggest limitation with a diagnostic trouble code (DTC) reader for cars is that the output is often in the form of codes that are anything but plain English. Unless you have easily access to the trouble codes for your make and model of vehicle, a DTC reader alone isn’t always a big shot in the arm. This is where special software can help.

Produced by a number of different companies, special software lets the amateur home car mechanic connect a DTC reader to a handheld computer or a desktop PC or Macintosh system to translate those car computer error codes into something that makes sense. Compared to the cost of the DTC reader itself, the software is usually far less expensive, with some starting around $40.

You can buy DTC reader software at many auto parts stores and large department stores that sell automotive supplies. But you can also order it online through a number of venues. Just do a search through a major search engine such as or to find the best software and best prices for the type of computer the recipient of your gift gadget uses.

Serious Work Lights

Whether a home car mechanic works in a home garage or outside in the driveway in broad daylight, there can never be enough light. This is particularly true when working under the car hood or even below the car to troubleshoot or repair a problem. As such, great work lights always make a great gift.

The price range on such lights can vary dramatically as can the size and scope of the illumination. A “snake” style light, like that made by Black and Decker, costs under $30 and lets its user wrap the flashlight around a post on the car or other fixture to shed some light on any situation. Cordless, such flashlights typically run on batteries.

A standard work light, where the bulb lies in a cage and a hook at the top lets you hang it anywhere, such as in the holes in a car hood, is one gadget a good mechanic can never have enough of. Get one with both a sturdy and long electrical cord so it can reach a far distance but won’t be easily damaged. The cost here is often between $10 and $30.

There are also big heavy-candle power lights that can easily go from the garage to the driveway to a dark country road. Some of these use a mix of power, from batteries to electricity to even wind-up and solar power. Freestanding, with some weighty enough to stand up to any wind, these shed serious light on any repair. Cheap units can run under $20 while some bigger, fancier models can run well over $50.

A Set of Great Tools in a Great Case

Just like good lights, a car mechanic can never have enough tools. No matter how well equipped he or she is, the likelihood a beloved wrench will go missing just when it is most needed is always high. Consider also that the budget mechanic may be making do with less than stellar tools or ones inherited after a generation or two of hard use already.

Visit your auto parts store or a department store with a good auto supply section and ask the most knowledgeable clerk on duty to point you to a good collection of tools. If you don’t have much money to spend, you can even narrow this down to a single tool or two that may be highly prized, like a torque wrench or a set of sockets. This is a better option than buying a large but cheaply made set of tools that may break after just a single work session or two.

I always like tools in a great case because it’s something I can slip beneath the car seat or stash neatly into the trunk or baggage area without taking up too much room. A good car mechanic, even an amateur, knows that tools on the road will be needed but does not always have the resources – time or money – to put a kit together. Such basic kits with cases often start around $30-35 and go from there.

Garage Organizer

There are all types of garage style organizers out there to help home mechanics keep track of small parts and tools. Often starting at around $12.99 and easily going up well over $100, you can buy one or more to help your favorite amateur car mechanic easily store tiny car fuses, bulbs, screws, bolts, gauges, and ever so much more.

You can find these organizers just about everywhere auto supplies are sold. You can also buy great general purpose organizers that can easily be made into garage organizers as well. As a budget gift, this one can be hard to beat. A bag of clean clothes or great grease-killing hand cleaner can be much appreciated, too, also beginning around $15.

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