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Special Tooling and the Modern Auto Repair Shop

Who Owns What?

The automotive business was much simpler when I first started. Mechanically, cars were far less complex, easier to fix, and most repairs could be handled with basic hand and air tools. Most shops expected mechanics to provide these tools to repair the types of vehicles the shop serviced. It had always been that way. Tools were a personal thing, like an extension of yourself, a glove or a shoe. Since the tools were basic, you didn’t need a whole lot, and they were reasonably affordable, it was easy to expect a new hire to provide everything they needed.

Fast forward and the changes are mind-numbing. Computers control everything from the lights to the engine. Even body and chassis parts are high tech. But let’s forget about computers and scan tools for a minute. It is difficult to name a manufacturer with consistent fastener use over two chassis model evolutions.. That’s because as technology improves and vehicles evolve, so do the methods used to put vehicles together: multiple metals and plastics used on one engine; all types of sealing O-rings, gaskets, sealants and seals.; HEX head, Torx, Ribe Torx Plus or Allen bolts. Remember when Chrysler began to update to metric fasteners yet everything on the long block was still SAE? That was fun. My point is that little tool box we had 20 years ago doesn’t cut it anymore, yet we still ask our mechanics to provide their tools. While some basic tools remain ‘personal’ and an extension of one’s self, perhaps it is time to reevaluate what we require of new techs coming into the automotive business.

I’ll be the first to admit that our industry is slow to change, but if we don’t keep up with the products we service we are doomed. Every year things get more complicated. Replacing a simple part often requires a special tool to fit it correctly. One example goes back 20 years; 1988 1989 GM V-6 engines used a dual crankshaft sensor. The sensor was adjustable and the crank pulley was pressed on. GM made a special alignment tool to prevent damage to the sensor or to the pulley during pressing. As a shop-owner I purchased this tool to get the job done. But if your shop didn’t specialize, purchasing special tools like this could get costly for the individual mechanic considering how infrequently one used that tool; and the need for those kinds of tools has increased greatly since 1989. Asking (or requiring) the tech to supply them seems wrong to me. While we are trying to get more people into this trade, we strap them down with a heavy tool burden.

We know how incredibly tool intensive our industry has become. Where do shops draw the line? What will the tech provide and what will the shop provide? I’ve heard of some shops providing everything, including basic hand tools. I’m not opposed to that, but I still think basic hand tools are a personal choice. Screwdrivers, wrenches, ratchets and sockets of a general nature can certainly fall into this category. So do hammers, pry bars and general service pliers. Beyond that, the shop should make the investment in scanners and test equipment, meters, battery testers and other basics. Advanced equipment like borescopes and infrared cameras should be provided. Special tool sets for engine work, pullers and other dedicated single use tools should come from the shop.

Where exactly the line gets drawn will be each shop owner’s decision. Some will provide more and others less. The idea is to examine the current policy and see if it needs adjusting. If the shop is providing a tool, make sure the tech is fully trained to use that tool. We expect this with their own tools but the shop needs to be responsible for the training to use shop-provided tools safely and efficiently.

Give your techs the support they need to feel good about tackling any job. They’ll be confident when they know they have the right tools, and that it won’t come directly out of their paychecks.