The Best Socket Sets for Automotive and Home Maintenance

Get outfitted for automotive and maintenance work by having a quality socket set at your side.

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Best Socket Set Options

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When you’re wrist-deep in nuts and bolts, having a set of socket wrenches on hand can make all the difference. Socket wrenches allow you to tighten and loosen fasteners with speed and ease, making them essential tools for automotive or maintenance work.

Socket wrenches come in a variety of sizes, types, and finishes, but thankfully, you don’t have to build your tool collection by purchasing one socket at a time. Buying a set of socket wrenches will outfit you for the nuts-and-bolts job you want to tackle. The best socket set includes a wide variety of sockets—both in size and purpose. Or if you’re looking for the best performance for a specific task, you could opt for a specialty set, such a spark plug socket set.

There are a lot of socket sets on the market, and they vary in price and quality. It’s important to make sure that whatever set you choose is a high-quality product that will last for years. The products below represent some of the best socket sets available in their respective categories.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Sunex 3342, ⅜ Inch Drive Master Impact Socket Set
  2. RUNNER UP: STEELHEAD 52-Piece Mechanics Tool & Socket Set
  3. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: WORKPRO 39-Piece Socket Set
  4. UPGRADE PICK: Sunex 3580, ⅜ Inch Drive Master Impact Socket Set
  5. SPARK PLUG PICK: Sunex 8845 ⅜-Inch Drive Spark Plug Socket Set
  6. TORX BIT PICK: Neiko 10083A Torx Bit and External Torx Socket Set
Best Socket Set Options

Photo: depositphotos.com

Types of Sockets

It is important to know the type of socket you need for your project before purchasing a socket set. Otherwise, you may get a set that doesn’t have what you need. Common socket types include SAE, metric, Torx bit, impact, driver, pass-through, and spark plug.

SAE

SAE sockets are primarily used for work on American-made products. This is because SAE socket sizes are based on the imperial system of measurement, including inches and fractions. SAE sockets are simply a description of a sizing system and can include regular sockets, impact sockets, pass-through sockets, and spark plug sockets, among others. SAE measurements can sometimes be found alongside metric measurements where the two coincide.

Metric

Metric sockets are the same as SAE sockets in that they are not a type of socket so much as they are grouped by a measurement system. These sockets use millimeters and are great for working on imported cars that may have bolts that correspond better to a metric socket than an imperial socket. Metric sockets include all the same socket types as SAE sockets.

Torx Bit

External Torx sockets are used for six-pointed star Torx-style fasteners and Torx bits are specifically designed for use with Torx screws, which have a six-pointed star shape impression and may have a raised security pin that requires a security Torx bit. These bits can connect to regular ratchets but give you more torque to tighten or loosen Torx screws. Torx Plus bits have a thicker wall and are made for high-torque situations. However, if you are not working with Torx screws, these bits are not that useful. Keep this in mind when looking for a socket set.

Impact

The first thing you will notice about impact sockets is the color. These sockets have an industrial finish that makes them black, instead of the polished chrome that you see with other sockets. Impact sockets are designed for use with impact drivers that put more torque and power into the bit than a human is capable of producing. Due to this stress, impact bits have thicker walls and a non-corrosive finish so that they can handle the power and vibration.

Driver Bit

Driver bits are similar to the Torx bits in that they are not true sockets. Instead, a driver bit will correspond to a screw head type and size, including flat or slotted, Robertson or Phillips. These bits fasten to regular ratchets to provide extra torque when loosening or tightening a screw, but will only work in the specific screw they are designed to fit.

Pass-Through

Pass-through sockets are handy for removing or fastening bolts or studs that have a very long shaft. A hole in the middle of the socket allows the shaft to pass through the socket and ratchet. This feature makes it easy to thread the shaft through the socket to reach the nut. When tightening with a pass-through socket you can continue tightening the bolt as the shaft passes through the socket and ratchet, giving you the ability to tighten the nut completely without needing a wrench. However, to use a pass-through socket you need a pass-through ratchet, so be sure to get a socket set that has both.

Spark Plug

Spark plug sockets are for removing or fitting spark plugs. These sockets are much longer than standard sockets because spark plugs, depending on the manufacturer, are often located in difficult to access areas in the engine. These sockets sometimes have a rubber insert to keep the spark plug from being damaged during removal or installation. For automotive professionals, spark plug sockets are necessary tools, but those who enjoy getting under the hood of their car would also benefit from having a set.

What to Consider When Buying a Socket Set

Before choosing a socket set for your workshop, take a few minutes to educate yourself on the most important shopping considerations to keep in mind.

Drive Size

The drive size of the socket refers to the opening on the top of the socket that attaches to the ratchet. This opening comes in three different drive sizes including ½-inch, ⅜-inch, and ¼-inch.

  • ½-inch drive size sockets are for high-torque applications like automotive wheel replacement and when you are using a breaker bar. This size of the drive socket isn’t the best for all-purpose jobs because the socket selection is lower with this drive size, but they can be used with any ratchet size if you have an adapter.
  • ⅜-inch drive size sockets are the most common and most available. They are used in many different industries and hands-on projects, from assembling a gazebo to working on a bicycle. Due to their common use, sockets with a drive size of ⅜-inch also tend to be more affordable at a higher quality than either the ½-inch or the ¼-inch.
  • ¼-inch drive size sockets are ideal when you are in tight spaces or when you are working with recessed nuts. Where ½-inch sockets gave you extra power, ¼-inch sockets are designed for accessibility. However, using a socket with a ¼-inch drive size regularly will make it more difficult to complete projects because you have less power and torque than if you used a ⅜-inch or ½-inch socket.

Shallow vs Deep Sockets

Standard sockets can come in both shallow and deep versions of the same size to allow you to work with any nut and bolt configuration. Both types are usually included in an all-purpose socket set.

  • Shallow sockets are for working with nuts that sit less than an inch from the end of the shaft and are the most frequently used for non-automotive purposes. These sockets can be attached to regular ratchets and make it quick to work with shallow nuts, instead of having to line up a deep socket.
  • Deep sockets are for reaching nuts that sit further down the bolt shaft. The sockets are a step away from pass-through sockets, allowing you to use a normal ratchet to reach deeply-driven nuts. However, if a deep socket hits the end of the shaft before reaching the nut, a pass-through socket and ratchet will be necessary.

Shape

The shape of the socket falls into two main categories: Six-point sockets and twelve-point sockets.

  • Six-point sockets are sturdier than twelve-point sockets because they have thicker walls. These sockets are best for high-torque applications, but they are also the most commonly used of the two types. Six-point sockets apply force to the flat sides of the fastener, making them less likely to slip off of rounded edges.
  • Twelve-point sockets cannot apply the same force to a fastener that a six-point socket can, making them more suitable for low-torque purposes. However, they are ideal for gripping a nut in any position, making them perfect for working in difficult to access areas where you can get the socket onto the nut in only one position. These situations are harder to handle with a six-point socket.

Surface Finish

The surface finish of a socket set will fall into two common categories: chrome plating and black oxide.

  • Chrome plating is used on most sockets to provide a smooth, easy to clean surface that won’t hold dirt or grime. The chrome plating also helps to protect the socket from moisture exposure and prevents rust build up. Socket sets with chrome plating tend to be more affordable than those with black oxide finishes.
  • Black oxide is primarily used for impact sockets as an alternative to chrome plating. While chrome plating is equal to black oxide in weather-proofing the socket, it is not capable of withstanding the same forces, since flaking off will occur and this exposes the metal to rusting. Black oxide is a tougher material that is better able to protect impact sockets simply because it doesn’t chip or flake when exposed to high forces, though these sockets often cost more.

Additional Tools

Socket sets can include a wide variety of different tools that can be used with ratchets to adapt to many different tasks. Popular inclusions are extension bars, swivel joints, and breaker bars.

  • Extension bars can be attached between the ratchet and the socket to reach fasteners that are located in tight spaces where you would otherwise be unable to swing a ratchet handle.
  • Swivel joints let you deviate from the centerline of the ratchet to engage with bolts that are in tight spaces or at awkward angles. By attaching the swivel joint between the ratchet and the socket, you are able to change the drive angle to suit your needs.
  • Breaker bars are long, non-ratcheting bars that are used with sockets to break free a seized or incredibly tight fastener by allowing you to generate more torque while applying the same amount of force.

Portability

The portability of a socket set can be an important factor if you want to use your socket set around the house or on different work sites. Find a socket set that has a sturdy carrying case with a handle that is easy to grip.

You also need a case that comes with a high-quality interior to ensure that your sockets do not get dislodged in your case during transportation. Interior casing needs to be able to grip the sockets tightly, but also have enough give so that they do not impede your work.

Our Top Picks

The top-rated products below are some of the best socket sets on the market based on quality, price, and reputation. Any of these socket sets would be an excellent addition to your automotive garage or workshop.

Best Socket Set Options: Sunex 3342, Inch Drive Master Impact Socket Set

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1. BEST OVERALL: Sunex 3342 3/8 Inch Drive Master Impact Socket Set

Contained in a heavy-duty red plastic storage case, you can easily carry the Sunex 42-Piece Impact Socket Set from site to site or around your home while your tools remain safe and organized. The impact-resistant sockets are for use with high-torque power tools and have a black oxide finish that keeps the sockets protected from water, dirt, oils, and other grime.

The six-point impact sockets have a drive size of ⅜-inch and come in both SAE and metric measurements. The set comes with a 3-inch extension bar and a universal swivel joint. It also has eight standard SAE sockets, eight deep SAE sockets, twelve standard metric sockets, and twelve deep metric sockets, including all of the most common sizes for both.

Best Socket Set Options: STEELHEAD 52-Piece Mechanics Tool and Socket Set

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2. RUNNER UP: STEELHEAD 52-Piece Mechanics Tool & Socket Set

The SteelHead 52-Piece Socket Set gives you a variety of options to choose from, and allows versatility as you work on different jobs. The set has both six- and twelve-point sockets, with all the six-point sockets being deep and all twelve-point sockets being of standard size. The chrome plating keeps the sockets safe from moisture, while the durable plastic case and the sturdy metal latches protect them while in transit.

The set includes 3-inch and 6-inch extension bars and a universal swivel joint, along with 24 standard twelve-point sockets, divided into 12 SAE and 12 metric sockets. It also has 24 deep six-point sockets that are also divided into 12 SAE and 12 metric sockets, covering the most popular socket sizes.

Best Socket Set Options: WORKPRO Socket Set

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3. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: WORKPRO 39-Piece Socket Set

The WorkPro 39-Piece Socket Set ratchet has a drive size of ⅜-inch but the set includes an adapter so that it can be used with ¼-inch sockets. This affordable socket set also includes a 3-inch extension bar, a spin disk for quickly removing nuts that have already been loosened, and a socket spinner that is shaped like a screwdriver but adapts to sockets.

The socket set has a rust-resistant chrome finish and has sockets with drive sizes of ¼-inch and ⅜-inch. Twenty-eight sockets are a drive size of ¼-inch, with 15 being SAE and 13 being metric, and six sockets are a drive size of ⅜-inch, separated into three SAE and three metric. The plastic case protects the sockets and its small size makes it convenient to carry around.

Best Socket Set Options: Sunex 3580

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4. UPGRADE PICK: Sunex 3580, ⅜ Inch Drive Master Impact Socket Set

The Sunex Drive Master Socket Set comes with a black oxide finish and is rigorously tested for function and durability with impact tools. The six-point, ⅜-inch socket set comes in a durable red plastic storage case for easy transport. It comes with a universal swivel joint, 3-inch, 5-inch, 10-inch, and 15-inch extension bars, nine Torx bits, and nine external Torx sockets, making the socket set well worth the price.

The set also includes 23 SAE sockets divided into eight standard sockets, six deep sockets, and nine swivel-joint sockets, and 34 metric sockets, with 12 standard, 12 deep, and 10 universal sockets in the most common sizes.

Best Socket Set Options: Sunex 8845

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5. SPARK PLUG PICK: Sunex 8845 ⅜-Inch Drive Spark Plug Socket Set

The Sunex ⅜-Inch Drive Spark Plug Socket Set has a high-quality chrome vanadium finish, which makes the sockets more resistant to cracking. The six-point, ⅜-inch socket set comes with only seven sockets, but each has a rubber retaining ring to help protect spark plugs during the removal and installation process.

The seven sockets are separated into three standard SAE, with sizes of 9/16-inch, ⅝-inch, and 13/16-inch, one standard 16 mm metric socket, and three extra-deep 6-inch long SAE sockets, with sizes of 9/16-inch, ⅝-inch, and 13/16-inch. According to the manufacturer, these seven sockets will cover most applications, unless you have a specialized spark plug that can be found in some German cars and Ford trucks. The ⅝-inch sockets will see the most use for vehicles, but the others can be used on your chainsaw, trimmer, or leaf blower. The set comes with a quality case for safe storage.

Best Socket Set Options: Neiko 10083A Master

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6. TORX BIT PICK: Neiko 10083A Master Torx Bit and External Socket Set

The chrome-plated Torx socket set can be used with ratchets that have a drive size of ½-inch, ⅜-inch, and ¼-inch, including Torx sockets and bits for all three drive sizes. The set comes in a durable case for organized transportation.

Included in the case are 14 external Torx sockets with five ¼-inch, five ⅜-inch, and four ½-inch. These sockets are used with Torx-style fasteners, common on motorcycles. Also in the set are 17 Torx bits, with ten ¼-inch, five ⅜-inch, and two ½-inch, and 17 security Torx bits, which are used on Torx screws and have a raised security pin. The security Torx bits can be broken down into ten ¼-inch, five ⅜-inch, and two ½-inch bits. For high-torque applications, this socket set also includes 12 Torx Plus bits, with seven ¼-inch, four ⅜-inch, and one ½-inch bit. You will have to purchase a ratchet separately, but beyond this minor inconvenience, this is an impressive Torx socket set.