Would you rather have a considerable expense now and save money in the long run or save cash now but spend more over time? Taking the hit up front is the choice most sane people make. Still, there’s no shortage of low-cost, gimmicky products that take advantage of those who are none the wiser.
I’ve been burned by my fair share of cheap tools. I learned the hard way that you’re better off buying the good stuff now because you’re going to do it anyway when the cheap stuff fails you. I’ll likely continue to make that mistake, as there are a few diamonds to be found in the mounds of coal. There’s also the thrill of discovering a good but cheap tool. That can become something of an addiction.
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An intriguing option among this class of tools is Performance Tool’s W30504 114-piece Mechanic’s Tool Set. It’s a product I’ve all seen on the shelf and moved past many times, figuring it’s probably a headache in the making. But is it? That’s what we’re here to find out.
The Drive is on the case. We took an in-depth look at this budget-friendly bundle, put it to use on our project cars, and can now tell you whether you’ve been walking past a hidden gem this whole time.
Everything inside is held somewhat firmly in place, which is good. However, a slight bump is all it takes to kickstart the jigsaw puzzle. Ask me how I know.
Unboxing the Performance Tool Mechanic’s Tool Set
Opening up the Performance Tool tool set is a pretty standard experience. The cardboard sleeve that the blow-molded case sleeps in is a lot more detailed than others, but nobody reinvented the wheel here. The blow-molded case is a little behind the times, considering the sockets aren’t really held in place. They sit loosely in their pockets, waiting to roll out as soon as you pick up the case.
Call me spoiled, but I’m used to the well-made plastic sarcophagi that many of the premier names in the DIY segment offer. I like the kind you don’t need to worry about opening upside down. If that Performance Tool logo isn’t looking back at you, look out. I do enjoy the occasional puzzle, but sorting scattered sockets isn’t the most fun when work there’s work to do.
At least sorting through those sockets gave me a good opportunity to inspect each piece. Overall, the set isn’t bad. It’s a medium-size set with only 114 pieces, but you’ve got a good selection of hand tools to work with. As for the quality, there’s better out there.
No laser etching in sight. That’s already two thumbs up from me.
I’m not saying that these are the worst tools out there. The sockets feature sizing legibly engraved on them, there are no initial imperfections in the finishes, the ratchets and wrenches feature smoothed edges, and even the small bits and hex keys look OK.
We’re primarily concerned with the ratchets and sockets now, and that’s where I found the biggest downside. The ratchets are less than stellar, not because there are any manufacturing imperfections, but because the detents the pawls rest on a pass right through the casing. This is beneficial when it’s time to oil the tools, but dirt and gunk can get in and pollute the internals.
As much as I dislike that aspect, I know it isn’t fair to judge a book by its cover. Rather than studying the details any further, I decided to get to work.
Getting After It With the Performance Tool Set
- Good: Affordable, decent selection, acceptable performance.
- Bad: Dated ratcheting mechanism, poor-quality case, excludes some essential sockets.
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I might not have pushed Performance Tool to the limit, but at least I’m leaking a little less and my spark plug wires are less likely to fry.
This kit has a bit more to offer than others, so one job wouldn’t be enough to test it all. I decided to use it for a collection of small jobs. Swapping pulleys, chasing down leaks, and doing some cleaning up under the hood of my Dodge Charger project car were all on the agenda.
These tasks aren’t enough to break the tools. These tools make up a good starter set. So, I intended to see how they hold up performing tasks a person who’s just getting into cars might tackle. Seeing as I’d also be working in some tight spaces, it’d be a good way to feel out the low swing arc that the 72-tooth ratchets have to offer.
Overall, the tools did alright. The bit driver that I had no confidence in wound up being the most useful one in the batch.The ratchets didn’t skip any teeth — even if the metallic ping while cycling made me anticipate sheared gears — nor did anything lock up. All in all, it proved it is worth the low cost.
Any time ratchets are on the table, it’s worth getting anatomical, which is why I took apart the ratchets. The mechanism, as with the plastic case, is outdated. It’s not awful, but it’s not going to do anyone any favors in the long run.
What’s Good About The Performance Tool 114-Piece Set
Before we pick on this budget tool set, let’s talk about what’s decent about it. First, you can snag the 114-piece mechanic’s set for pennies per piece. Most folks aren’t shy about spending a little more on tools they rely on, but getting a set of tools without going broke is tempting. Say your car breaks down while you’re on vacation, you’ll be able to run to the parts store and grab this kit without having to worry about skimping on the kids’ sunscreen.
You also get pear-head ratchets with 72-tooth mechanisms. That’s a big step up from the kind of ratchets that budget sets came with when I started turning wrenches. (Ed. Note: Hank is 26 years old. He’s not a miserly old man who’s been doing this for six decades. Hank, stop fronting.) The smooth edges are a nice touch, and so are the radius corners.
This is a respectable socket collection. Metric sizes span from 4 to 18 mm, and SAE sizes run from 5/32 to 1 inch across all three drive sizes. There’s enough here to work on your car, motorcycle, lawnmower, and even that blasted Ikea furniture you swear is only temporary.
Using this set isn’t a life-changing experience that’ll leave you swearing by Performance Tool for the rest of your life, but it’s not terrible. It ultimately pulled through without a hiccup, and I have faith it will hold up through any entry-level project.
The twin-pawl mechanism isn’t terrible, but newer designs feature a better single-pawl design that I feel is worth spending extra for.
What’s Not Great About Performance Tools’ Mechanic’s Tool Set
Alright, now for the not-so-good news. One thing this kit could benefit from is the inclusion of spark-plug sockets. Performance Tool does include a 5/8-inch spark-plug socket in its larger, more expensive kits, but you might as well sink your money into something a little more robust.
Speaking of robust, I’m not too fond of the ratchets. A little online searching revealed that the toolmaker’s newer ratchets don’t have holes in the casing, but I’m not convinced they’re worth the trouble.
The ratcheting mechanism works with the older dual-pawl configuration. Many of the newer fine-tooth ratchets favor a single pawl due to the increased contact, which extends durability. But that’s not the issue. The flimsy springs that drive the pawls into the drive gear tend to fail first. When they break apart, the pawls no longer engage the drive gear, rendering the ratchet useless.
The final drawback is the case. Even if you don’t open the case upside down, the sockets will likely wander from their placement. There is a foam pad to help mitigate this issue, but it doesn’t seem to do much. I found a jumbled mess nearly every time I used this tool set, and that gets to be tiring.
Our Verdict On Performance Tool’s 114-Piece Mechanic’s Set
Overall, the Performance Tool mechanic’s tool set is just OK. It’ll do fine in a pinch. It might even make a good gift for someone just getting into wrenching. If you’re simply chasing leaks, changing sensors, or throwing on a cold-air intake, this kit can go the distance. Even if it doesn’t hold up, you’re not taking a major hit financially, and Performance Tool backs up the set with a lifetime warranty.
Otherwise, I’d have to give it a hard pass. That’s not because anything broke or because I strongly dislike anything in the set. It’s because I know a little more money will get you far better tools.
The Performance Tool mechanic’s tool set is just OK. It’ll do fine in a pinch, but spend your money elsewhere.
FAQs About Performance Tool Mechanic’s Tool Set
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.
Q. Is Performance Tool a good brand?
A. Yes. It isn’t the premier name in the industry, but it does a great job of supplying decent tools at low prices. If you’re in a bind or don’t have a lot of money to spend on tools, you can still get a good selection with this brand. It’s also one you’ll find on the shelf of many parts stores.
Q. Where are Performance Tool sets made?
A. According to the packaging, these tools are made in Taiwan. I can’t say that’s the case for the remainder of Performance Tool’s collection, but I’d have to assume most of its tools come from the same place. That’s not much of a surprise considering just how affordable its tools are.
Q. What tools does a beginner mechanic need?
A. Whether you’re a professional mechanic or just turning wrenches in your free time, you will need more than what this kit has to offer. At the very least, you’ll need a more comprehensive selection of wrenches and ratchets, a good set of pliers, an oil wrench, an OBD scanner tool, and a litany of specialty tools. Professionals will obviously need more than the DIY crowd, but anyone who works on cars can still expect to sink a good amount of money into their tools.
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