Tom and I are up in North Carolina and were introduced to a completely revamped line of mechanics tools from Kobalt Tools (Lowe’s). The company flew us up here along with several other editors from publications all over the country and we are getting to learn about and use (hands-on) many of the new products Lowe’s is releasing under its Kobalt Tools line. Kobalt has basically “rebooted” it’s brand with tools that are of the caliber (or even better) that it had back in the days of its debut (circa 1998). Over the past several years there is a general feeling that the company’s products dropped significantly in quality and usability (something Kobalt wholeheartedly admits). Now, however, they seem to have a new life and have enlisted the help of none other than Hendrick Motorsports and the team behind such legends as Jimmy Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr and Jeff Gordon (among others).
The Hendrick Motorsports team almost gleefully revealed their criticism for the old Kobalt tools on videos that the company showed us. What’s nice is that these racing legends are now endorsing, and even partially using, the tools on actual NASCAR cars and giving rave reviews of their own. We say “partially” because not all of the Kobalt tools have hit the market yet, and of course mechanics tend to bring their own tools to the party. In either case, the response seems to be that Kobalt is back in the game and is presenting a very compelling value and performance product.
The new line of revamped and refreshed Kobalt mechanics tools will be on Lowe’s shelves June 1st, adding over 300 new products to the mechanics tools line. Some of the primary upgraded features Kobalt has integrated into the new tools include:
- 72 teeth on all ratchets – Craftsman’s high end ratchets have 60 teeth the last time we checked. The new Kobalt tools, as a result, beat them out and have just a 5 degree arc with which they can be used to loosen or tighten a nut or bolt. That makes them VERY usable in close quarters where you don’t have a lot of throw. We got to work with some of their latest 3/8″ ratcheting wrenches and there is almost no “play” in the mechanism. It’s jam up and jelly tight.
- Laser etched size markings – On the sides of the actual sockets themselves are laser-etched size markings. This may take some getting used to, but the sockets are easily identifiable. Besides that, however, all Standard (SAE) sizes are color-coded with a red stripe and all Metric (MM) sizes have a Blue stripe. Grabbing the right socket is pretty easy overall.
- Improved quick-release – All standard ratchets now have a revamped quick-release button that allows very quick sockets and accessory changes. We also liked the bulked-up direction lever which no longer feels like it’s going to fall off.
- Specs above & beyond ANSI & ASME – All new Kobalt mechanics tools are spec’d at 150 percent of American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) specifications. According to Kobalt, they actually broke three of their machines testing these tools to their limits. I think that should go in their marketing literature… with photos.
- One-off socket and wrench sales – Individual sale, and a wider variety, of all individual sockets, wrenches and ratchets is available at Lowe’s starting June 1st in addition to mechanics tools sets (bundles). No longer will you need to buy an entire set just to replace a single socket that got lost.
- Kobalt expanded their 3/4 drive products designed to serve those working in agricultural and farming
- New chrome finish – All tools have a full polish chrome finish with no more sharp or angular edges. They are super easy to clean up and the finish itself is of a higher quality and will hold up over time accordng to the guys at Hendrick Motorsports.
- Upgraded cases – The new cases now actually fit in all Kobalt tool chests and have much improved tool retention and increased durability. All kits come with the sockets already pre-inserted into the case, not in bags. They also have metal-reinforced hinges, so they won’t break under normal use.
Of all these upgrades we especially liked the fact that Kobalt tools have the new 5 degree arc, thanks to the use of 72 fine teeth in the ratcheting mechanism. The guys from Team Hendrick attested to the durability of the new tools and, after using them, they did indeed seem to be a new breed of tool from what we’ve experienced from Kobalt over the last few years. The finish is excellent and they just feel “right”.
Ron Malec is the car chief of the No. 48 Chevy driven by Jimmie Johnson. His comments indicated that if the Kobalt tools are good enough for them to trust on a 200 mph car that needs repairs made in just moments – it’s going to be reliable for the professional or home user in any day-to-day tasks.
Warranties and Sockets for Life
Lowe’s and Kobalt really stressed their recommitment to the Lifetime Hassle-Free Guarantee which comes with all their mechanics tools – and believe me, we gave them all of the feedback we’d received over the years. If a socket, ratchet or wrench breaks or gets damaged, you can just return it to the store – with or without a receipt – and get a replacement (and receive a “best equivalent” tool if they no longer make yours). That means that those who break and old ratchet are likely going to get a new one after June 1st. Additionally, Kobalt has launched a brand new “Sockets for Life” program that allows customers who bought a socket set to pay a small shipping fee (they were estimating $4-$5) to replace a socket in the event they lose one. To take advantage of the program there is a one-time registration required at www.socketsforlife.com or 1-888-3Kobalt.
Visit any Lowe’s store nationwide or www.KobaltTools.com for more information.
There’s more news to come from this trip, so stay tuned.