More and more, it is becoming difficult, if not impossible, to repair and service the cars on the road without a host of specialty tools. The days of being able to use just basic hand tools to repair vehicles is becoming a thing of the past. As the owner and lead tech on a couple of older Mercedes vehicles, this became painfully obvious to me over the last week or so. Faced with the repair and replacement of some suspension components, I ended up needing no less than four different vehicle-specific specialty tools to do the repairs. So…I needed to do some basic repairs on one year/make/model vehicle; now multiply that by the hundreds or thousands of possible cars and light trucks that could show up on your doorstep on any given day, and you begin to see the scope of the problem.
The good news (I think…) is that tool manufacturers are aware of the need to be able to service vehicles and are only too happy to provide the marketplace with many choices for getting the needed tools.
Another piece of great news is that carmakers are slowly coming to the realization that keeping vehicle-specific tools for their dealer body is not the best solution. Up until just the last 10 years or less, car manufacturers would contract with tool companies to build vehicle-specific specialty tools to be released only to their dealers. At the beginning of a vehicle model release, a “tool package” for that specific car or truck platform would be sent to each of the dealers in the network. For some period of time, the tool manufacturer was not allowed to sell those tools to the general trade.
The thinking, of course, was based on a scarcity mentality of “we must control where the consumer gets the car repaired.” The notion being that if no one but the dealer has the tool, then the customer will be forced to go back to the dealer for those repairs. This works some of the time, but there are a percentage of consumers who, for whatever reason, choose to have their cars repaired by “indies” (independent repair locations) sometimes even when vehicles are still under factory warranty periods!
The number of new tools that are introduced weekly and monthly is staggering, and a large percentage of them (more than half) are vehicle-specific specialty tools. As a technician, specialty tools are a bit of a gamble.
On one hand, you might go weeks or months without seeing a certain car or truck in your bay. But, on the other hand, the right specialty tool can mean the difference between making money and losing money on any given job. Flat rate doesn’t care if you have the right tool for the job in fact, it assumes you do have the right tool for the job. So the choice is yours when it comes to investing in specialty tools, but like a wise man once said … it is better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it!
In my mind, specialty tools fall into three main groups. Here they are, starting with the least specialized group of tools.
This is the area that I always recommend that technicians invest in first and the most heavily. It is where your return on investment comes quickest. These are the basic tools that allow you to cover the most common repairs regardless of vehicle brand or model specifics. Below are just some examples of the kind of job-specific tools.
Ball Joint Press This is one of the most versatile and adaptable tools you can put in your arsenal. It really is misnamed because you can use this tool for many things in addition to ball joints. With some ingenuity and creative thinking, this tool will save your bacon day in and day out.
Pullers I included pullers here because they can be used for so many jobs, even though many would argue they aren’t really a specialty tool. This is an area I would suggest you invest in several different sizes and types. With the right assortment, you will be able to work on most anything that comes across your bench.
Hose Clamp Pliers These are almost universal tools, but still job specific. This is the kind of tool that makes so much sense because you can use it for almost every vehicle that comes into your shop.
Fan Clutch Wrenches This tool can also be used on many of the cars or trucks you work on. These are great time-savers, not to mention how they save your knuckles and your peace of mind!
Radiator Pressure Tester This is another almost generic tool for multiple cars that will make you money quickly. Designed to work on a large percentage of domestic and imported vehicles, this is a must-have.
Due to the universal nature of this group of tools, there are generally several versions from many different suppliers, which is great news for you as a technician. The law of supply and demand drives the cost down when there are so many choices!
As the category name implies, these tools are made to fit a specific brand of vehicle and do a certain job. Many of these tools are designed to fit a series or family of either vehicles or models or even engines within a brand such as Ford, Toyota, Mercedes, etc. Below are a few examples of this.
GM/Cadillac Water Pump Removal Tool
Ford Ball Joint Remover Kit
GM Northstar Cam Tool Set
Ford Driveline Socket
Ford Diesel IPR Socket
Chrysler Harmonic Pulley Puller
There are hundreds of tools like these that are made to fit a series of vehicles, motors or models. These tools are especially useful to those of you who see a lot of certain brands of vehicles. Maybe you manage a fleet or your area is partial to a certain brand of car or truck. Are you in the mountains? Maybe you should invest in a Subaru 12 mm Valve Adjustment Wrench. Or perhaps your shop is in Miami, and a Jaguar VVT Setting Tool will come in handy. Building your tool collection to include these types of tools will certainly help you gain an advantage over the competition.
The tools in this last group are the most specific and may be a little more expensive than the other two groups we spoke about. Due to the special nature of these types of tools, there tends to be fewer suppliers that make them. It is more risky to build a tool that may only fit one make and model. In some cases these tools may only fit a certain year or years of that exact vehicle.
Below are a few examples of model/job-specific tools. Some of them are ones that I just painfully learned I needed in keeping my old German “sled” on the road!
Mercedes W140 Lower Control Arm Bushing Installer kit
GM Duramax 6.6L Water Sensor Wrench
Ford 7.3L Diesel Compression Test Adapter
Toyota Supra Radiator Cap Adapter
Honda Accord Crankshaft Holder Tool
As I mentioned above, this is the group of tools that is the biggest gamble for the technician to purchase, however, they also have the greatest amount of reward in terms of time-savings for specific jobs on specific vehicles. Another great benefit is these tools will last; model/job-specific tools tend to be extremely high quality because they are made to very exacting specifications and measurements.
Hopefully this article has started you thinking about what special tool you’ve been putting off purchasing. Think back to that job that you lost your shirt on because you spent an hour trying to make some other tool do the job. Maybe one approach would be to start a wish list of the top 10 specialty tools you’d like to have. That would be a great place to start. Talk to your tool dealer and formulate a plan on buying one a month until you get the tools you want/need.