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Air Apparent Car Repair

This is general car repair question. I do all car repairs by hand (and knuckles). I have been aware for the past couple of decades, that I have needed a good compressor and some air tools. in a recent question regarding a stuck spark plug, “air” apparently was the answer. I was thinking “Air Impact Wrench” and “The Same Mountain Bike” & “Caddyman” were two who suggested it. Those of you that use it know that it will sometimes rattle things loose that would otherwise be damaged or broken by the breaker bar, testosterone, Wheaties, profanity, routine.

I am not a professional mechanic and would not be using air tools every day and possibly not even every week. I would like to hold the price down, (I’m very thrifty) but still have something worthwhile.


Without spending a fortune (as in biggest bang for the buck), what compressor and what tools should I buy, for starters?

Are the “no oil, direct drive compressors” any good or do I want one with a belt and oil?

What minimum “specs” do you recommend for pressure and volume?

What are “must have” tools?

Sears puts Craftsman (sometimes with free tools) on sale, frequently. These are probably made by a leading manufacturer. Is this a way to go?

Any advice on what to use them on or what not to use them on?

Thanks in advance for any advice you can give. Please, if I have missed asking any questions that should be asked, throw those in to.

Any personal anecdotes using your “air” may be enlightening.

Thanks, again!

P.S. Any spouses out there looking for that perfect gift for the mechanic in the house? Look here!

It takes a pretty good compressor to run an impact wrench. If that is mostly what you want to do, there are electric impact wrenches.

I got a Craftsman 35 gallon compressor that is direct drive 110v powered. It came with a set of second-rate tools, but it had everything. I could replace one here and there as needed/wanted. It was a around $300, but that was a while ago. For specs, determine the most likely highest-draw tool you will use (PSI and CFM) and make sure your choice can power that. Use them on anything a shop would, and with care you can use it on most things. Just DO NOT use them without impact sockets. I’ve been tempted more than once, but I’ve resisted - do the same.

How good are those things??

I’ve seen them around. A good cheaper alternative…plus you don’t have to have a compressor around.

It all depends on what you want to do. 25 years ago my FIL gave me a small compressor with about a 4 gallon tank (SMALL!) and an inexpensive impact wrench, and it’s been fine for tire inflation and tire changing duties, along with running a rented nail gun for building a deck. It gets up to about 90 psi. Low deliverability means some waiting, of course.

When it comes to compressors, you want to purchase one that delivers the highest SCFM (Standard Cubic Feet per Minute)@ 90 PSI that you can afford. There’s nothing worse than having to stop what you’re doing with a pneumatic tool and wait for the compressor to catch up before you can get back to the task at hand.

As far as pneumatic tools, for the amount of times you’ll use them, the low buck ones will work fine. However, when it comes to a 1/2" impact wrench you don’t want to skimp here because this is the tool you’ll use the most. So purchase a quality 1/2" impact wrench with the highest torque spec you can afford.


I have a Sears one that comes in handy. It works pretty good, but is not as strong as a high volume air wrench. (It is better than the cheap air wrenches.)

I was thinking of getting one to remove lugnuts.

I have 1/2 impact,3/8 impact, two 3/8 air rachets.1/4 air rachet,air drill,die grinder(these use a lot of air),air chisel,electric 3/8, good for plastic lug nut covers and a Makita drill motor.

Air chisel is good for suspension work(with pickel fork) and the air rachets tremendously useful (many levels of quality I paid $300.oo each for mine)

The newest tool group (for me) is the gear wrenches (non-air) that are now priced OK these are great (mine are Matco).I am very fond of mid-lenght deep sockets (not short not long mine are Snap-on)

You must keep the psi at 90 min. on your compressor

I used to work on cars for a living, so I’ve sorta been there and done that. I did buy a craftsman oil less compressor. I’ll never again own one of those noisy compressors. I now own a Quincy air compressor. Separate dual piston compressor and electric motor. It’s twice as quiet as the oil less ones. I have a 2131 ingersal rand 1/2 in impact guy. I also have a 1/4 inch and a 3/8 inch impact wrench. I hardly ever use those. I exclusively use the 1/2 in for lug nuts, and anything else with a good size bolt or nut. It makes quick work of all jobs. I also use my compressor for my framing gun and pin nailer. Quincy is about the same price, with a 3 hp electric motor, does every bit of the job my craftsman 5 horse did. Don’t be fooled by the over rated horsepower rating and hype of the craftsman products. Get either the 231 or 2131 ingersol rand gun, you won’t ever need to upgrade.

Personally, I don’t care much for the oil-free air compressors as I’ve known a couple of people who bought them and the compressors suffered short life spans; usually ending with a catastrophic bang.

For the DIYer a small compressor like this will work fine.
On occassion you may find a compressor like this may run out of steam if you’re having to really apply an extended pounding on something with a 1/2" impact wrench. This might lead to having to wait a few minutes for pressure to build back up and if this not acceptable then a larger compressor should be purchased.

The biggest users of air pressure/volume are things like air buffers, DA air sanders, etc.
Keep in mind that many larger compressors may run off of 240 so make sure you have an outlet that can handle it. Some 110 compressors have an intial high current surge when activated and may trip a circuit breaker depending on the outlet.

As to air tools, a 1/2" impact wrench is a must. My Ingersoll-Rand and CP 734 have served me very well over the years.

A couple of air ratchets can come in very handy. A 3/8" drive handles most anything and if you want to go a step further buy a 1/4" drive air ratchet and keep a set of 1/4" drive sockets and Torx bits around.
The 1/4" setup is light, compact, easy to handle, and will take care of most general repairs. Once you use a 1/4" setup for a while (even on things like door panels and dash work) you’ll wonder how you ever survived without it.
Going back to hand tools is just like watching grass grow during a drought.

Note. When using an air ratchet do NOT use air pressure to break things loose. Use the air ratchet as you would a normal manual ratchet when breaking something loose and then allow the air pressure to spin the nut/bolt/screw loose. This prevents damaging the gears inside.

You might consider an air drill if you do a lot of hole boring. I love air drills because they’re lighter and more compact than an electric or cordless (I hate the latter) and one can drill the beejeezus out of something without the drill overheating.

Hope some of that helps in your decision.

As already mentioned, if you only want it for removing lug nuts, an electric impact wrench will suffice. Just to remove lug nuts, it’s a lot of trouble to fire up the compressor, hook up the air hose and oil the impact wrench and then you have to put it all away again. It’s much faster to bring out the electric wrench. I’m sure you’ll want it for other uses however. It’s then you’ll appreciate the compact size of the air impact wrench compared to the electric.

I’ll add my two cents and say the oil-less compressors are objectionably noisy. There is some occasional maintenance required for oiled compressors like changing the oil but it’s not a big deal.

You have a choice of the types of air fittings you can use but they must all be compatible with each other. I use the Tru Flate (T) style which is commonly used in automotive environments but the “M” or Milton is a very common fitting, especially in industrial environments. There are two or three others but functionally, they all work pretty much the same. It’s your choice.

In addition to what others have mentioned, I recommend an air blow gun. There are several types to choose from. When you have to chase threads such as head bolt threads (in the block), a blow gun will clean out the debris in the blind holes like nothing else. An air cut off tool will make short work of jobs you formerly used a hacksaw for.

K-Mart has a Companion oil-free compressor that could operate the air impact wrench, and inflate tires. It is also good for blowing the dirt out of a vacuum cleaner filter. It does little else for about $150. It has a blue seven gallon air tank, if I remember mine correctly. The hose and the couplings add to the expense as well as the storage space required. It gets in my way more than it helps; It’s a clumsy way to do things in a garage. Any $25 half inch drive air-impact gun will work. For those of us who would use it once a year, there are electric impact wrenches. You would never need a compressor if you had one of those. Some of them attach to the car battery but I think that those are more expensive. It keeps wives happier if they don’t have to see car things all over the garage.

Thank You, Thank You , Thanks A Lot To All Who Responded!

You guys put a lot of time and thought into your answers and I really appreciate it!
I’m up to speed now. I’ll take a look around over the holidays and see if I can get into air power and the 21st century.


Your favorite store, Sears, has the corded electric 1/2 inch drive impact wrench. It packs 350 ft lb torque. About $189. It would be loosen lug nuts. If the lug nuts are, still, too tight, because El Brutus tightened, you might have to stand on a lug wrench to loosen them. Incidentally, this skill of “standing-on-lug-wrench-to-loosen-lug-nuts” should be taught to the smaller members of your entourage. There could be a time when they may need to use it.
A battery powered impact wrench would be a good thing to include with the road flares, spare tire, can of fix-a-flat, gallon of water, a qt. of Scotch, and other emergency road gear.
There are battery powered impact wrenches. DeWalt is one brand. Sears? Check at Loews, and Home Depot.
Sears, also, has those mid-length sockets that you will find occasion to use.