TOOLS OF THE TRADE

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One of the greatest joys of being an automotive technician is that of owning and using tools. There is something satisfying about having just the right tool for a particular job and knowing how to use it. A technician's tools are as important as the person's hands and mind. The technician cannot make a living without them.

BUY THE BEST

Anyone who is genuinely sincere about a profession as an automotive technician will buy the best tools, he or she can afford. Cheap tools may be fine for the person who makes minor repairs around the house, but the professional technician relies on his or her tools to make a living. The tools will be used many times during the course of a single day and must be able to endure constant use. Poor quality tools are a waste of money.



The tools you buy should be durable, sturdy, well finished, and they should look and feel good in the hand. They may be some of the most expensive tools anyone can buy.

Many companies make excellent tools for the professional technician. If you are interested, you might want to write to some of the tool companies and request a catalog and price list. Some current information can be found at www.etools.org.

A SUBSTANTIAL INVESTMENT

Tools can be a substantial investment. The average mechanic's investment in tools is in the range of $7,500 to $11,000 for the basic assortment and toolbox. Some technicians have up to $27,000 invested in tools that they buy during their career. An apprentice set (more than one hundred pieces) with a five- drawer tool chest cost about $2,400 in 2000. For the entry-level technician, the initial investment in tools is about $3,500 to $5,000. Although that is a lot of money, for the professional technician it is a necessary investment.

Many automobile dealerships have a selection of specialized tools, and some independent repair shops and service stations also may supply special tools. If the individual had to supply them, the figure for his or her tool investment would be astronomical.

A 1995 Motor Service Equipment and Tool Institute survey found that most technicians spent between $2,000 and $11,000 on their tools. Your choice of an employer and a specialty will play a key role in how much you'll need to invest in tools only 12 percent of service station employees "owned more than $11,000 worth of tools," but 36 percent of fleet repair shop technicians spent that much or more, as did 30 percent of independent repair shop techs, and 37 percent of car and truck dealership technicians. In other words, the more advanced technicians tended to spend more. If you bought one manufacturer's fully loaded tool chest in 2001, that set alone would retail for $27,000. That may seem like a fortune, but few technicians buy all their tools at once. Vendors and lenders offer financing plans to spread out payments. Your school may have an arrangement with a local tool dealer and can tell you more about the options available.

Fortunately, most automakers are reducing the number of special tools required to service their vehicles. Very few mechanics or shops could cope with the enormous array of special tools required, and often the wrong tools have been used to do the job. This has resulted in damage to the parts, or worse yet, unsatisfactory repairs. Few mechanics have been willing-or able-to pay for the multitude of costly special tools to service every different make and model of vehicle. One alternative is to invest in after market manuals, which can reduce the need for special tools. These manuals describe correct procedures using common tools, the technical manager at the Equipment and Tool Institute points out.

Those who are interested in servicing larger vehicles like trucks and heavy equipment face even higher tool costs. As a general rule the larger the tool, the greater the cost. A typical end wrench, like a 9/16-inch used on cars, may cost as little as $3.50 or as much as $27.50; a one-inch wrench may cost from $4.50 to $61.00, depending on brand, quality, and source.

ADDITIONAL INVESTMENTS

Besides the initial tool assortment investment, most technicians can expect to spend money every year to replace lost, broken, or stolen tools. According to the Equipment and Tool Institute, the annual replacement cost may amount to about 6 to 11 percent. In other words, for somebody whose gradual basic investment in tools is $8,000, the replacement cost will be from $480 to $880 annually.

Technicians who wish to specialize in an area such as alignment or transmission should expect to invest another $6,800 for the tools necessary to specialize. It is not at all uncommon for professional technicians to spend about $25 to $60 every week for tools. That is more than he or she will most likely spend for lunch.

Tool loss is a big problem. Tools are occasionally lost because they are left in the vehicle that was serviced. Some tools are "lost" because they were used improperly, and they broke. Although many tool companies warranty their tools, they will not replace tools that are damaged due to misuse.

Tools do not usually disappear because of outright theft, although some less than scrupulous person may walk off with a tool or two. What is more frequent is that the tools wind up in some other mechanic's box. Generally, that person did not intend to take the tools. What commonly happens is that someone borrows a tool to help do a job and absentmindedly puts it in his or her own toolbox when the job is done. The person may not notice it for weeks or months. By then he or she has forgotten that it was borrowed from a coworker, or one of the persons has moved to a different job with another employer.

TOOL SECURITY

The most beneficial thing anyone can do to protect tools is to identify them. There are plenty of fine tools that you can use to scribe some identifier into each of your tools. The best identification is to scribe your social security number on them.

Some tool companies sell shadow boxes. For each and every tool, there is a groove, slot, or other type of location where it, and only it, belongs and fits. If one of the spaces is empty, you immediately know that one of your tools is missing. Shadow boxes are well worth the investment.

TOOL CARE

The first step in tool care is to use the correct tool for the job. Misuse not only can damage the tool but is a safety hazard as well.

Second, keep your tools clean. Dirt, oil, and grease in a tool can change the lines of force during use, causing the tool to break.

Third, keep tools in good repair. Some tools naturally wear with use. Chisels are a good example. The points get dull, and heads will mushroom from repeated blows from a hammer. Keep the points sharpened. Use a file to remove the mushroomed area and restore the bevel to the head.

THE BARE NECESSITIES

There are plenty of package deals that the tool manufacturers offer. For the most part they are excellent bargains. However, the choice of tools is a rather personal thing, and there are some that come with the kit that you may seldom use. In addition, there may be tools that you will rely on much of the time that may not be included in the package. If you cannot afford the full package at the start, you may find yourself in debt to the tool company for a long time.

If you are enrolled in a vocational training school or junior college, tool companies will often offer you a discount. Take advantage of the deals if you are financially able.
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