Auto mechanics, techs and shop owners have a greater selection of cordless power tools than ever before with significant improvements in product size, weight and battery life over the last three years. The introduction of lithium-ion battery platforms has revolutionized the cordless power tool industry.
Almost every cordless manufacturer has launched a line powered by lithium-ion batteries. This latest power platform offers several core improvements over existing nickel-cadmium and nickel-metal hydride platforms:
• 40 percent lighter weight — reduces operator fatigue.
• 25 percent more compact — coupled with a compact power tool enables greater access and operability in tight spaces.
• More work per charge — increases overall productivity.
• Very low self-discharge — significantly reduces the need to constantly keep batteries on a charger.
• More charge cycles over the life of the battery — reduces replacement battery costs over the life of the tool.
• Faster charge times (some as low as 15 minutes for an 18V compact battery) — virtually eliminates the need to invest in extra batteries to combat downtime in the shop.
These improvements have inspired tool manufacturers to either retro-fit existing product lines or completely redesign tools with improved specs and features to complement the lighter weight, more compact li-ion batteries. This is great for the automotive repair business since smaller, more powerful tools bring more value to the shop and toolbox.
Li-ion cordless tools appeared over three years ago at a premium price, keeping many automotive repair technicians from adopting the new technology right away. NiCd and NiMH cordless tools can be a rather affordable option. Not willing to part with existing tools, but want to try out li-ion batteries? Some manufacturers do offer li-ion batteries that are backward compatible with tools originally sold with NiCd or NiMH batteries. Making use of these backward compatible options gets the user the new li-ion batteries, but misses the opportunity to enjoy the reduced size and redesigned cordless tool itself.
A tool’s size and weight is a personal preference; some feel bigger is better while others value a more compact tool. Regardless of the preference, you might want to consider a tool’s power vs. its weight. Why tote a big, heavy tool when a smaller tool can do the same type of work? Many pros are surprised within a given voltage that there are many cordless tools that pack more punch in a smaller size. Innovations in motors, battery technology, tool grips and improved balance have enabled manufacturers to deliver more performance, comfort and convenience than ever before. Some new 18V tools have the weight of a 12V or even a 9.6V tool.
The cordless power tool industry offers almost too many choices. There are new features that increase the appeal of cordless tools, such as built-in LED, torque limiters to protect motors, more comfortable grips, better balance, slide-type batteries with a one-pinch button instead of two for easier battery removal and fast charge times. Driver-drills with more than one speed range offer greater flexibility in addressing high- or low-torque applications.
Keep an eye open for special values in the form of promotions and value-added accessories. Combination kits offer one of the best ways to make an initial investment. Don’t forget that most manufacturers offer cordless tools without the batteries and chargers, making it easy to expand your cordless toolbox without having to invest in additional batteries and chargers you don’t want.
BREADTH OF LINE
Some manufacturers offer a small range of cordless products focused on certain applications, others offer a broad lineup. Make sure to check manufacturers’ websites to see the range of products they offer. You may be surprised. Since many techs use their cordless tools at home, investing in a broader line with tools outside the domain of auto repair has its advantages.
It is a great time to be an auto repair technician or shop owner with so many options in the market, complete with new technology or existing technology with prices for any budget.
Bradley Wheeler is the senior product marketing manager/cordless for Makita USA Inc.