A Substantial Investment of an Average Mechanic in Tools

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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 today (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 aftermarket 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.


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.
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