Tool Junkies: How Many Tools Does a Tech Really Need?

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In a previous blog we discussed how auto techs’ purchasing of tools leads to increased stress levels within the industry. Many techs will go heavily into debt to purchase more tools in order to be able to be competitive and efficient in their jobs. How many tools they need to have is subject to debate, however, even among the techs themselves. Does every tech need to spend $100,000 for tools and $20,000 for a toolbox? Or are some techs just tool junkies? Is their desire for new tools exploited by tool salesmen? 

First, two things can be true: that techs do need to invest in tools above what they can or should be able to pay and that some of them are tool junkies. Americans love to collect things, and tools – like other pieces of technology – can be very addictive. Tool companies know this, and like all salesmen, they know to go where the market is. Salesmen for automotive tool companies stop regularly at auto shops and sell to techs directly, offering credit and payment plans for those who do not have the money to pay at that moment. 

One reason many techs give for buying off the tool truck is that those tools come with lifetime warranties. Is that the only reason?

For some techs it’s hard to say no to a new tool when it comes out, especially in an environment where other techs are buying and getting “ahead.” They will buy something every time the tool truck comes around because they enjoy the process. They want a full set, a matching set of tools. They want the name brand tools and better, fancier toolboxes than other techs have. Many techs are very attached to their personalized tool collections and don’t want to use their shop’s tools. 

Unfortunately, tools will often become too dated to use except on older or vintage cars. Some tools become obsolete quickly as vehicles become more computerized and that technology evolves with every new model. Scanners and computers will be obsolete even before the tech has a chance to pay them off. Other tools are low quality and get broken. They go missing, and then they must be replaced. 

Another problem is that auto repair tools are very expensive. There are many more affordable things to collect. They also do not hold their value over time very well. Auto shops and techs will frequently buy tools that have either been repossessed or that are used but still in good shape. They are so much more affordable that way – much like cars. They sell for a fraction of their original purchase price. 

All of the above is made more complicated by the decision to buy tools on credit. Credit can be a handy tool or a shackle, depending on who is using it. Young people with little experience with credit can have an unpleasant surprise when they learn the downside of debt. Yes, it’s great to be able to purchase what you want, but how many hours do you have to work to pay those tools off? How much more expensive were they because you bought them with high-interest credit? 

There are very good reasons to buy new tools, of course. We asked auto techs to weigh in after our last blog piece on how they felt about tools. We got a lot of great responses. Here are two:

Rick Lee said, “I quit buying much off tool trucks especially when you can get quality tools off Amazon. I try to keep costs down and only buy exactly what I need, not entire sets of something I might use one piece of. Otherwise it sure can eat into take home pay and that adds to stress.” 

Karl Nitz wondered if there were market forces at work to keep techs in an endless buying cycle: 

“the cost of upgrading every year is a daunting task. Every year new technology overrides the previous one…sure seems like a plot between the auto manufacturers and tool companies.”

What do you think about buying tools off of tool trucks? Is it a good idea? Can or should anything be done to help tool junkies from taking on too much debt buying tools? How much – if any – of this is the fault of tool companies? Or auto manufacturers? Since debt has been proven to increase stress considerably, we’d like to know your thoughts. Please leave them either here or in our forums. 

 

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