Socket sets are an essential feature of any well-stocked garage, whether you're just one to do the occasional service or a die-hard greaser with your head under the hood all weekend.
In this roundup of the best socket sets, we've specified socket sets for automotive use - obviously. However, one of the fortuitous traits of socket sets is that they have a multitude of applications. Therefore, you don’t have to feel like you’re buying something very specialist - there are myriad other applications, from DIY projects to looking after your pushbike.
What are socket sets used for on cars?
Socket sets are for tightening and loosening fasteners, and are key items in your car tool kit. An army of nuts, bolts, and screws still hold modern cars together, from number plates and bumpers to seats. Having a set that lets you get to work on any area of a car when needed is a must.
Because automotive is one of the primary uses for sockets, standard socket sets usually include socket sizes to match the most common bolt/nut sizes used on cars.
Which sockets are used for what?
SAE/Imperial: Classic cars are where you'll find imperial socket size. Americans also still use imperial socket sizes for some reason. If you see SAE attached to a socket set, it means it’s imperial. SAE stands for Society of Automotive Engineers, which is US-based. The rest of the world uses metric units.
Six-point/Hex: The most common type of socket is the six-point or hex socket, designed to fit over a hexagonal bolt head or fastener. These are the most versatile and fit the majority of fasteners. Available in both metric and imperial measurements.
Specialist: Some sockets are specialist in nature, such as spark plug sockets. Carrying an apt name, these are for removing and fitting spark plugs. Depending on how much you work on your car, these sockets may not be required.
Size: Regarding drive sizes, these still use imperial measurement even with metric socket sizes. The smallest quarter-inch drive is best for accessibility in confined spaces.
Three eight-inch drive sits in the middle and is the best for DIYers because of its versatility. This drive offers better accessibility than half-inch but more torque than quarter-inch. Half-inch drive in automotive applications is for high-torque jobs, like fastening or loosening wheel nuts.
The best socket sets
Here are the best socket sets that you need in your tool chest.
Bahco S330 1/4 and 3/8-Inch 34-Piece Socket Set
Bahco is a brand with an international reputation for high-quality alloy steel sockets. The S330 sits at the affordable end of Bahco’s line-up and is great for DIYers and home mechanics. Residing within the chunky plastic case are 3/8-inch sockets, including spark plug sockets, plus a collection of 1/4-inch slotted, Phillips, and hex bits.
• Excellent build quality
• Dynamic-Drive doesn’t damage fasteners
•10mm the smallest socket size included
Workpro 3/8-Inch 24-Piece Drive Socket Set
Best socket set for beginners
If you're a green home mechanic, a £200 socket set is of no value to you - it's overkill. Workpro’s 3/8-inch, 24-piece socket set is ideal for occasional users. Consisting of the most common metric and imperial socket sizes, plus two spark plug sockets, most scenarios are covered with this set. The Bahco is still a better set but using chrome vanadium steel alloy, it’s still corrosion-resistant and durable enough for DIYers.
• Metric and SAE sizes
• Hard case included
• Bahco set is better quality
RS PRO 1/4 and 1/2-Inch 94-Piece Mechanical Tool Kit
Best for the serious home mechanic
RS Components is a massive multinational that produces industrial products, electrical components, and tools. Lurking amongst its vast product line-up is this comprehensive toolkit. In addition to the large collection of 1/4- and 1/2-inch drive sockets, there are also screwdriver bits, precision screwdrivers, and combination spanners. People who frequent the home workshop will benefit from this set more than casual DIYers.
• Accurately comprehensive
• Very high quality
• Good value
• Overkill for casual users
Sealey AK691 3/8-Inch 35-Piece Socket Set
Best socket set for classic cars
Sealey's AK691 mixed socket set serves as a suitable companion to home mechanics with a classic or American car, due to its inclusion of 11 imperial socket sizes (1/4 to 7/8-inch). Sealey is a tool manufacturer with a catalogue as enormous as it’s possible to have, ranging from specialist tools to those for general DIY use. It has an established reputation for quality - you should enjoy a lifetime of use with this set.
• Metric and imperial socket sizes
• Metal hard case
•No deep sockets
Sealey AK6556 3/8-Inch Spark Plug Socket Set
Best spark plug socket set
By and large, a standard socket set will cover almost all the jobs you need to undertake. Although a socket set may well include spark plug sockets, annoyingly there isn’t a universal size for spark plugs. Addressing this issue are specific spark plug socket sets. This one from Sealey is our pick of the bunch because it’s well made, great value, and bears all the sizes you’ll need.
• Excellent quality
• Completes a socket set
• None, but you may not need it
Draper Expert 1/2-Inch Wheel Nut Socket Set
Best wheel nut impact sockets
Impact sockets are for use with impact wrenches and a tell-tale sign is the black rather than polished finish. High-torque tasks like removing and fastening wheel nuts require tougher sockets, and these Draper sockets are the only ones here suitable for use with a power wrench. While removing and fitting car wheels is quite simple, it’s crucial to be done properly. Therefore, we only recommend this job and these impact sockets to highly competent home mechanics.
• Can be used on locking wheel nuts
• Use with an impact wrench
• Only suitable for highly competent users