Best $200 (or less) Tool Kit for College Student?


Well-known member
Having said that, I keep a 94 (96?) Piece Craftsman toolset in my truck. It contains 2 ratchets (1/4 and 3/8), a bunch of sockets up to about 19mm, a couple wrenches and a screw driver with numerous interchangeable bits.

I keep a few other odds and ends, like a NOCO 1,000 amp jumper, regular jumper cables, a multi-meter, linesmen plyers, a vice grip, and some other things. Also, in my center console, I keep a half inch socket that is the correct size for my lug nuts and my half inch torque wrench so I can use it, since my kit doesnt have a half.


Expedition Leader
Wow, for some reason I didn't get any notifications about responses to this thread, so I apologize for not responding sooner. I loved the comments and yes, it has me rethinking things a bit. Let me try to answer or respond to some of the comments:

1. No, she's not a mechanic. She has helped me do brake jobs, and she helped rebuild the motor in her Montero, but it required a LOT of direction and supervision, and she's not comfortable on her own. She can change a tire, jump a dead battery, and could swap out her car battery, but not do an alternator. I use these examples, because she recently bought a battery, but needs an alternator! (do kids ever listen?). She didn't have the tools to do the battery, so she had to pay someone. As another example, last fall she was rear ended, and the repair shop could not source some of the parts (like the taillights), so I shipped them to her and she managed to install them using the universal screwdriver thing that was in the glovebox.

2. She has AAA Plus, and is armed and extremely capable marksman.

3. @billebob, you might be in a different economic bracket. I bought her 20 year old car for $1,000 in non-running condition, rebuilt a junkyard engine in my garage using YouTube and a bevy of freshly purchased Harbor Freight tools, and then set her free 1,500 miles away after driving said car all the way there and leaving it with her. I have three cars at home, including my wife's, with 186,000 miles, 155,000 miles, and 145,000 miles, respectively. The newest one is 2008 model year. If anyone in this family is getting a new car, its ME damnit!

it will make her look for a boy who has some life skills.
Yeah, that is not her psyche at all. She's a fairly independent Division 1 athlete studying Engineering. She doesn't have the time for boys and "certainly would not need a boy to do something she can do on her own." end quote. LOL. If you ever watched Tim Allen's "Last Man Standing", my daughter is a 6'-4" version of the youngest daughter Eve.

5. That Channellock kit looked pretty nice, even included ratcheting combo wrenches! Too bad its discontinued and out of stock.

6. I LOVE long wrenches. I got a set when I rebuilt the Montero engine, and I use them a surprising amount compared to other wrenches. Those pesky little 10mm nuts on the back of the cooling fan? no problem with those long reach wrenches!

7. So, I think the smart move is to build up a purpose built kit. Two kits actually. A basic set for in the car, and another basic kit for in the home/apartment. We spent a few hours touring Harbor Freight on Sunday, and got to discussing things like hammers, drills, cutters, jewelers screwdrivers, etc....

Special note: Avoid Harbor Freight ratcheting combo wrenches. Their kits are missing sizes like 8mm, 11mm, and 16mm, also their prices have gone WAAAY up. Most socket sets were between $89 and $150. Those were just small 32 piece sets. There is no value there for many of those hand tools anymore. I still like their ratchets, and their impact socket stuff, but you can definitely get cheaper basic sets elsewhere.


I hope my girls will end up in a similar position to yours, but more than likely my oldest will argue/sue a failed car into submission, my middle child is likely to tour the country in a smoke filled VW Bus, and the youngest is too early to say, but she likes to be right, so maybe engineer?

In any event, my take on tools is that most of the “sets” out there have a bunch of useless crap and low quality crap. I would focus on good stuff that is complete and make sure she has the understanding to fill in what is needed as she goes.

I would get basic screwdrivers, pliers, wrenches, a decent 1/4” socket set with lots of extensions and a universal, the same in 3/8”, but focus on the larger sizes, a cheap multimeter, a hammer and a least 1 punch, some cable ties and dielectric grease, gloves and hand cleaner, rags, safety glasses, and maybe a breaker bar and 1/2” socket that fits her wheel lugs. Beyond that… you aren’t going to do much in a dorm or apartment parking spot. Maybe add a good bottleJack and stand. And a nice tool bag or two to put everything in.

I bet it is still all brand new 8 years from now.


Expedition Leader
I hope my girls will end up in a similar position to yours, but more than likely my oldest will argue/sue a failed car into submission, my middle child is likely to tour the country in a smoke filled VW Bus, and the youngest is too early to say, but she likes to be right, so maybe engineer?
Lol... as a new girl dad this made me laugh. I always wonder if she will be an aggressive attorney like her mom or a chill and laid back finance guy like her dad. Time will tell I guess.

BUT, I can say that she will absolutely know her car basics, and like nwoods Daughter, she will be a great markswoman! Hopefully.


Is this tool kit for roadside repairs or basic maintenance? I'm assuming since it's going to be kept in the car it's mainly for emergency repairs. In that case I'd just go with very simple basic tools, you're not gonna be changing a head gasket or swapping axles on the side of the highway. I can't see doing anything more complicated than changing a battery or jumpstarting a car, or possibly an alternator or starter if the car is old enough.

For my car took kit, I normally carry:

HF combination wrench set
set of HF Screwdrivers
6" and 8" adjustable wrench (the 6" is probably the most often used tool in the kit)
A few pliers
Odds and ends - some wire, jb weld, zip ties, pocket knife, etc.

If I need more tools than this, it's getting towed home or to a shop. Most of these tools are HF or spare tools from my garage, so it cost me almost nothing and I won't be sad if it gets stolen.

I carry it all in one of these. Easy to stash out of the way and won't drive you crazy with rattling.
Tool Roll

Even if your daughter has the ability and space to work on a car, the last thing a busy college student wants to do on the weekend is wrench on cars, so no matter how many tools you give her, it's likely to go unused.


Rendezvous Conspirator
I see so many people on the side of the highway fiddling with a flat tire. Like you, I tell anyone I know, either call AAA and stay put, or drive it slowly off the next exit and fix it off the highway.
My wife (and soon our daughter) are under STRICT instructions that one should NEVER try to change a tire on the side of the highway. I have stated on multiple occasions that I don't care if they have to drive on a bare rim to the bottom of the offramp, and step out of the car in slow motion as it bursts into flame. DO NOT CHANGE A TIRE ON THE SIDE OF THE HIGHWAY.

Maybe it's a major-metro area thing, and other folks' highways are quieter, but round my area of the country, that's a good way to die.

EDITED TO ADD: On some freeways here, even AAA won't change your tire on the road. They will tow you to a park-n-ride commuter lot or similar safe space before trying.


Active member
Does she have the skill to do basic maintenance herself? Is this an emergency repair kit? Will it be used? If she is likely to be using these tools for years on her own, I would suggest getting less stuff of higher quality. If this is just to make you feel good *and her boyfriend might use it if she’s lucky enough to find a smart one….* Go cheap-cheap or buy it when needed locally.
Hopefully this hypothetical boyfriend isn’t this sexist, either.


It isn't sexist if it fits the personality of the person, and accurately describes the situation.
I will even take it one step further and state that the scenario was offered, and the questions were asked, in good faith. I met my wife shortly after her college degree was earned and a few months into her career. She had a really poor quality tool set selected by her father. It included a stripped ratchet, broken screwdrivers, and ruined sockets. When I asked about it, she said she had never used it, but her ex boyfriend had borrowed it several times to fix his car.

I set about to improve her tool set. For over 18 years, the same nice tools have sat untouched in every car she’s owned. Upon meeting her father for the first time, I came to realize why such low quality tools were in the kit to begin with.

of course, AAA or other roadside services have been dispatched to her cars a handful of times, but … I digress. Strangely enough, a few days ago she left for LA and carried in a case of stuff from her car, including the tool set. Yep… it’s in the way, so she leaves it in the house on long trips! When I questioned her plan for breakdowns she suggested that just buying a new car could solve any roadside problem!

So, as a father of 3 beautiful, engaging, smart, and (hopefully) competent young women, I still say if she has the skill, invest your $200 in fewer tools of higher quality and help grow the set as funds and need come along. If she lacks the skill or the will, save your money completely. Only you and she can be judges of where she might lie on the spectrum in between, and invest accordingly.

You might want to hold a few dollars back to buy a drink and coach her through dealing with people who get triggered by internet posts.

All in all, you are doing the right / great thing as a father supporting her dreams of attending an out-of-state school and trying to help her prepare as much as possible! Kudos to you and happy belated Father’s Day sir!


Active member
It IS sexist to assume someone’s daughter is incapable of holding a wrench and needs the help of a “smart” man to do so for her. Keep in mind at the point in the thread where this was mentioned the only evidence we had was someone asking about an emergency toolset for his daughter at college. There was no mention of a lack mechanical ability, that was assumed, which is what’s wrong with the statement. If someone asked for a toolset for their son, I really doubt anyone would be questioning their need or suggesting he needs a smart girlfriend to teach him how to change a tire.

Perhaps this is not obvious because many of these beliefs are so engrained in our minds that they are subconscious. It’s a phenomena called “unconscious bias” and I have my own too, but I’m working on it 😃

This aside, there’s plenty of good advice here. I keep a small tool bag in my vehicles for long trips. Like someone else said, the usefulness of your tools will be limited by parts on hand, and since I don’t keep much in the way of spares, the set is really just enough that I could patch up a hose or remove some trim to expose a problem and limp somewhere. It’s honestly a useless kit, but it makes me feel like I’ve got *something* I could do if necessary.

I’ve also got my credit card and AAA, which is the real plan 😂


Well-known member
No woman I have ever changed a tire for or helped with an overheating radiator has ever accused me of sexism.
:unsure: Have any men that you've ever changed a tire for or helped with an overheating radiator ever accused you of sexism? ... :)
... It’s a phenomena called “unconscious bias” and I have my own too, but I’m working on it 😃 ...
Many of us (Most of us? All of us? :cool: ) have unconscious biases. I know that I have worked to recognize and eliminate mine, and that I still have work to do! :)