What do the annual auto shows foretell?

It's that time of year again, time for the annual auto shows where the big, little and exclusive manufacturers do their utmost to outshine the competition in city after city. I recently attended the 100th Chicago Auto Show and saw more than my fair share of new coupes, sedans, SUVs and the rest.

One thing I came away with, one thing you could only miss, perhaps, if you were blind and deaf, was the continuing emphasis on evolving fuel technologies. Whether it's the push toward clean diesels from Europe (Hello, VW), gas-electric hybrids primarily from Japan and Detroit, natural gas at Honda (Didn't Checker explore that years ago?), and zero-emission fuel cell vehicles (Chevy and Honda examples stand out), the mantra that change is inevitable continues.

And, particularly with hybrids and fuel cells, that means new repairs for new processes and parts, and updating techniques and maintenance procedures. And new parts and procedures means new tools. Always new tools. Maybe it's insulated tools to work safely on a hybrid. As the spark plug gap-checker gathers dust, you know another new tool will get plenty of use. How can you keep up?

One way is to keep up-to-date with industry associations. Active participation in your profession is a great way to continually educate yourself, whether its through new acquaintances you share tips with or by reading newsletters and web forums.

The Automotive Service Association, Equipment and Tool Institute, National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence and other associations are some of the best ways to keep up.

"The Automotive Service Association keeps its finger on the pulse of the industry by keeping an open line of communication with both OE and aftermarket groups, parts distributors and manufacturers — and also listening carefully to the members of ASA," said Angie Wilson, ASA vice president, marketing and communications.

"This is an ongoing priority, as ASA wants to help its members fix the cars of today — and the cars of tomorrow."

Aside from training and education, there's always the tool side of the business to keep up with. Be sure to check out pages 24-32 to see the 2008 Innovation Awards winners. That is a great place to start to learn about tools already out there to keep ahead of the curve.

When it comes to new tools, you already know to come to PTEN for the specifics. That won't change, even as cars do.