Tools can easily become contentious issue to discuss with anyone who has an opinion. Do a search comparing the various tool-brands and one thing will quickly become obvious is that people have their favorites and defend them adamantly. Read through enough tool arguments discussions and two themes become obvious:

  • The more expensive the tool, the better it's considered
  • American made is the way to go (I don't disagree with this one)

Now I don't mind spending money on a tool if it's worth it, but if two tool brands give you similar performance and warranty but one is ten times the cost, are you really getting a deal? I had to re-write this page because initially I had gone with Kobalt tools. They were cheap, high teeth count, had good reviews and a good warranty backed by a national chain. I even used them on a couple of repair jobs for a couple of cars with great results.

So why did I go in a different direction with so many initial positives with Kobalt tools? A couple of shortcomings popped up - missing sizes that were commonly used and hard to find (until I figured out why). These gaps were expensive and time consuming to fill, even if not always needed (I mean which vehicles actually use all socket and wrench sizes). If there was a metric size that was the same (approximately) as an SAE size, they didn't make the metric version, or vice-versa. Additionally, they seem to have something against 6-point tools. There are no six point wrenches and few/no six point deep sockets (impacts excepted).

After a lot of searching and browsing the back-n-forth of the various brand-enthusiasts I stumbled upon good reviews for a brand I had not heard of before - Gearwrench and ordered a couple and ended up loving them. The 120 teeth, double paw'ed ratchets were excellent and strong with the 1/2 ratchet being able to break free seized wheel bearing nuts on a 2009 Honda civic (what caused those to go at only 3.5 years and 58K miles is beyond me, but I guess manufacturing defects can surface at any time) when my old Crapsman wouldn't do the same on a similarly aged Chevy Cavalier I previously owned.

So I've quickly moved my collection to Gearwrench and have given many of my Kobalt tools - still excellent tools - to my dad as gifts. He's a retired Diesel/large machine mechanic and very hard on his tools. So far, he likes the Kobalt I've sent him and uses them when he can.

So in the end, I went with three brands:

  • Gearwrench comprises the majority
  • Kobalt Most of screwdrivers and pliers and a few of the extended handle ratchets that work awesome on brakes
  • Craftsman Most of the chrome sockets

Why did I initially go with Kobalt?

  1. Kobalt ratchets have 72 teeth which makes wrenching easier on smaller, space constrained engines
  2. I like the rounded, smooth, ergonomic handles on their ratchets
  3. The smooth handles (as opposed to Craftsman's dimpling) make it easier to clean up the tools
  4. Price
  5. Warranty - no hassle replacement
  6. Quick release ratchets

So why the craftsman blend? Getting complete sets of sockets in the kobalt line, especially deep, isn't the easiest. Craftsman made it a very simple, straight forward process, so in the deep socket lineup, they won; and at the time, I wasn't overly familiar with GearWrench.

Why the Transition to GearWrench

I found the problems with Kobalt mentioned above a bit annoying - nothing worse than trying to loosen an overly-tight bolt with a 12-point only to start to round it out. Gearwrench on the other hand had so many more options than Kobalt - they had no gaps in their sets and they had 6-point wrenches. Additionally, they're just as affordable, they've been getting great reviews from everyday professionals, and multiple youtube videos show them being stronger than snap-on at 1/10th the cost with a better warranty*!

*With the truck tools you don't have an unlimited warranty - if you read the small print they only warranty manufacturing defects and not everyday wear and tear where as the big box stores don't care (it may also be the case that they have those clauses too, but they don't enforce them as rigorously as the truck brands do). Additionally, if you break a GearWrench or a Craftsman or a Kobalt, etc, all you have to do it bring it to the nearest store and have it replaced. With the truck brands, you have to wait for the truck to come around. If it's a different owner/operator than you originally purchased from, they're not likely to replace it unless you already have an account with them. And, because the truck brands cost so much more, you generally can't afford backups like you can with the other brands.

Kobalt vs Snap-On vs Gearwrench

First, Snap-On is not as strong, and read any forum on tools and strength is highly touted, as some of the other options. Both Matco and GearWrench are stronger and can take more than Snap-on. I know this section is going to generate a lot of anger "debate," but sometimes that's just as fun as the project itself, so let me dive in to why I didn't go this route. First and foremost, they're prohibitively expensive and a poor warranty. Now I know what you're saying - Snap-on has a no-hassle replacement too. But that's not true - Snap-on only replaces tools with a manufacturing defect. While the Snap-On driver may choose to classify your broken tool as a manufacturing defect, it's purely subjective and depends on a few criteria:

  • How much money do you or your shop spend with him on a monthly basis
  • Is the manufacturer giving him a hard time on warranty replacements

Snap-On...or should I say Crap-On

Lets go with a couple of real-world, first-hand experiences with Snap-on. In the winter of 1996, the spindle on my 1984 Cutlass Supreme broke, forcing me to change it in my driveway in about 9" of snow. Being poor, I had no tools of my own capable of tackling this job. My dad, being a diesel mechanic, had a lot. So we used his. Removing the lower A-frame is no simple task, but with his brand-new 1/2" Snap-on and a blow-torch to loosen up the frozen (read: rusted/seized) bolts, we start wrenching away. And, true to its name, the twice used before Snap-on, snapped. Not too happy, my dad figured it was no big deal as he had just bought it a few weeks prior; he would simply wait for the truck to make its rounds and get it replaced. So we grab what was previously the go-to, but in Snap-on's presence, the now back-up, his 15 year old, 1/2" Craftsman ratchet and work the parts free and finished the job.

Like clockwork, the Snap-on truck made its rounds at the shop a couple of weeks later and refused to replace the ratchet claiming my dad must have abused it. In short, there was $250 down the drain. Had it been a Kobalt or a Husky or a Craftsman, it would have been as simple as taking it to the store and getting a new one just like that.

Fast-forward a couple of years, I find a mixed-bag of tools at a yard sale - $20 and I had a couple of ratchets and a lot of sockets of varying, and missing, sizes. I'm working on the wheel bearings of my 2000 Chevy Cavalier. They were not budging one bit. One of the tools I had was a 3/8" Snap-on and a 1/2" Craftsman - I ended up braking both before the nut was loosened. Yes, a 3/8" was probably too small for wheel bearings, especially ones seized by going bad and heating up very quickly. The Sears down the road replaced my yard-sale special with a brand-new, off the shelf, 1/2" socket with no explanation or lies needed. The Snap-on? Not working in shop, it's almost impossible to find a place to replace it locally, so I initiated an on-line warranty claim. Finding: well, I couldn't provide any proof-of-purchase, so it was yet another junked out Snap-on.

The Problem with Snap-On

In my short, limited experience with Snap-on I've already encountered these problems:

  • Too expensive (I checked, everyone did recommend them)
  • Bad Warranty / Impossible to deal with
  • Break just as Easily (Disclaimer: I'm not claiming they break more easily than others, it's just for the price point, I would expect a better price-to-performance ratio)
    • Yes, the other brands I've worked with break too, but since we know all tools are bound to break, why choose one that costs upwards of 10 times more and can't be replaced unelss you're spending thousands a year on the brand when you have suitable alternatives that are cheaper and have better warranties?
  • Time to replace
    • Remember, you can't take it to a store, you have to wait for the Truck to come to you
    • So this means, you have to spend twice as much as someone who uses Craftsman or Kobalt so as to have backups in the event something breaks - are you going to tell your boss: "Sorry, that'll have to wait a week until the Snap-On guy comes and replaces my broken tools. See, I spend $ooo much on these, I can't afford backup tools"
  • Because the legalese of Snap-On specifically states that they will only replace/repair tools purchased from the original authorized dealer, their warranties are not lifetime anyways - they have an expiration date - that dealer's retirement date (can the next dealer still honor it? Yes, but he's not obligated to, and that's my point)

The Problem with Kobalt

Kobalt seems like they're trying to move to being a professional supplier but they have some major deficits in their business plan. Their sets are small and they're missing many of the common sizes. One set I bought didn't have 9/16. Their metric sets skip 2 to 3 sizes on just an 8-piece set. The same goes for the SAE sets. They're ratcheting wrench sizes stop at a relatively small size - 18MM.

They lack six points in a lot of tools - wrenches, sockets, etc. They do have impact sockets that are all 6-point, so that's a viable route to take, but the lack of 6-point wrenches is almost unforgivable.

Why all the Snap-On bashing?

I don't consider it bashing, but I guess it's pretty close. I chose Snap-On because they seem to have become the de-facto standard in tools and they are not without their problems. The price being right, I would consider buying Snap-On - I do like to support American made products, but there are so many problems with the Snap-On business model if you're not a professional dealing with a trusted authorized dealer. The big box store brands just make more sense in so many ways. I've known 4 professional mechanics in my life and they were polarized in theer opinions - 2 loved craftsman and swore by that brand (warranty and cost - they knew they were going to break tools, you just can't avoid it, so they got their sets cheaper and warrantied). Of the other two, one used Mac, the other Snap-on and both had their reasons why it was the choice of pros.

So don't interpret the passages above as I would never use Snap-On. The truth is, I would never buy Snap-On, but given/inheritting a free set, I would gladly use them knowing that as they broke, they would have to get replaced with something else as Snap-On wouldn't warranty them anymore and replacements costs would be too steep.

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