Recommended tools for working on car audio and security projects.  A bit of advice:  It is better to spend a bit more money to get a nice heavy duty tool that will last you a lifetime, rather than buying a cheap tool that will break easily.

Wiring Tools

Strippers: Used to remove insulation from wires. Spend the extra couple dollars and get a good set ($15 – $20). The simple adjustable strippers are the best kind. “Automatic” strippers and other more complicated models just tend to be to big end cumbersome to use in the cramped spaces of a car.
Crimpers: A basic tool all installers should have. Get a good Professional-grade crimper ($15 – $30) from any reputable mail order catalog such as Parts Express.
Fish wire: A piece of home electrical solid core wire (insulated). Cut in different lengths, it can be used to pull wires under carpet and through firewalls. Just tape up the alarm or stereo wires you want to run to the “fish” wire and pull. Price: $1 – $2. Available at any electrical supplies store, or hardware store.
Soldering gun: Not only used for soldering. Can also be used for “plastic surgery” (melting plastic) and heating up metals. Can be obtained pretty much at any hardware store, electronics store, or Sears for about $30 – $50. It is highly recommended that you spend the extra money and get a high powered model (100W and above)
Test light: Used to test for power (be careful not to use it on sensitive electronics, or you might fry your car’s computers). Try to get the best you can afford ($1 – 30). Available at hardware stores, tool trucks, Sears, catalogs, even dollar stores.
Multimeter: Used to check voltage, current, resistance, etc. Use it on sensitive electronics where a test light could damage car electronic modules. Price ranges from $20 and up. Available at Sears, some hardware stores and most electronic supplies stores such as Radio Shack.

General Installation

Mechanic’s tool set: Will be needed to remove screws, nuts, bolts, etc. Sets available from Sears and other stores from $50 up to $1000 or more, depending on what you get.
Power screwdrivers: Will save you a lot of time, especially if you do installs on a regular basis.  Most have reversible rotation, variable speed, and clutches to control torque. It is highly recommended to get a good quality 9-volt or higher screwdriver. Good power screwdrivers/drills start at around $100. Most common brands are DeWalt (personal favorite) and Makita.
Angled screwdrivers: Ideal for getting in tight corners, where normal screwdrivers will not fit. The famous Skewdriver Pro comes even with attachments and bits and is available for about $30 at most mail order catalogs such as Parts Express and Crutchfield.
Door handle clip remover: Usually a piece of flat metal with an open hole that goes behind the window crank and pushes the clip out. Cost: $15 – $25. Available at car parts stores and specialty tool stores.
Hook: Used to pull panels and components, bend the tabs on DIN radio rings for installation and removal. Available at specialty tool stores such as Sears. You can make your own hook by grinding the end of an old screwdriver, then bending the end after getting it red hot with a torch.
Panel removal tool: Another must have tool for any installer. A mutation of a screwdriver, fork and pry bar, used to remove panels, and pulling snaps off. Cost: About $15 – $20.  Available at auto parts stores and specialty tool stores.
Pry tool: Small flat screwdrivers are a bit sharp, and easily scratch plastic. You can either grind a small flat screwdriver, so that the edges are rounded, or better yet, make your own tool using an old antenna rod and a grinder.
Drill: Another essential tool. Used for audio and security installation. Good drills run $40 and up.  Available at any store.
Knives: A basic utility knife and carpet knife are a must have for any installer. Get good contractor-grade knives. ($10 – $20) available at any hardware store.
Dremel tool: A rotary tool that has many attachments used to cut, polish and grind metal, wood, plastic, etc. It ranks high on the list of essential tools. A kit with carrying case and attachments sells for $50 – $60. Attachments such as cutting wheels can get pretty expensive, but well worth it.
Metal Snips: They look like scissors, but are used to cut sheet metal to enlarge speaker holes.  There are 3 types: Left, right and straight cut. Each runs about $15 – 25. Available at any store where tools are sold.
Files: Used to smooth out cuts and enlarge holes in panels. Get at least a round file and straight file.  Price:  $10 – 20, available at any tools store.
Hot glue gun: An essential tool. Electric or battery powered. Glue is heated and get fed via a trigger. You can get one for $10 – $30 at any hardware or crafts store. The glue sticks are a lot cheaper at crafts stores than in hardware stores. Usually the bigger the gun the better.


Phase tester: A CD is played on the system’s head unit that generates a series of polarity pulses.  The tester is a small device that is placed in front of the speaker and shows if the speaker is hooked up backwards. Prices range. Monster cable has a polarity checker available for about $120.
Phase tester (homemade): A cheap alternative. All you need is a 1.5-volt battery. If you want to get a bit fancy, you can get a small case, battery case, LED, switch, some wire and a couple alligator clips. You can make one for about $15.
SPL meter: Used to check sound pressure levels (how loud a car gets). Very helpful for system tuning and adjusting. Radio Shack sells digital SPL meters for about $60. Better (and more expensive) brands can be obtained at other electronic supplies stores at higher prices.
RTA: An installer’s dream machine. Figures out frequency response of a system. It sends a signal with equal energy at all the frequencies (pink noise), and measures the different pressure levels at certain fixed frequencies. Price ranges from $800 (the famous PC RTA) up over $1000 (Audiocontrol, etc). Available mainly directly from the manufacturers.

Box Building/Wood Working



Saws: Table saws, miter saws, etc., are nice, but can get very expensive. A basic Jigsaw ($30 – $150) and circular saw ($30 – $200) will get you through all the wood, plexiglas and metal cutting you will need to do. Even if you get a cheap saw, make sure you get professional-grade blades that will give you fast and smooth cuts.  Available pretty much everywhere.
Sander: An orbital or palm grip sander will simplify polishing and sanding duties greatly. A DeWalt or similar brand sander will cost about $70 to $100. Available at any hardware store.
Router: Very useful tool to make moldings and trim panels. When serious woodworking and plexiglas shaping are required. Routers range between $50 and $200. Available at hardware stores everywhere.
Stapler: Whether it is a manual, electric or air powered stapler, it is an essential tool when carpeting and vinyling panels and boxes.   Cost is $15 – 20 (manual), $30 – up (electric), very expensive (air).
Heat gun: Can get as hot as 1500 degrees. Used for molding plastic and laminates, stripping paint and heating up heat shrink tubing, among other things. Very useful for making custom plastic panels and bending plexiglas. Available at paint stores, specialty stores and mail order catalogs such as Parts Express. Heat guns run anywhere from 50 to 70 dollars, or more, depending on what nozzles you purchase with the gun.