Specialty tool use may be somewhat infrequent compared to other tools techs use daily. But because the right specialty tool has the potential to save a lot of time and hassle, they are still toolbox essentials.
When it comes to buying the right specialty tools, shop owners and technicians look for quality, innovation and efficiency.
"Productivity is key," said Joe Marconi, owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y. "If it's a time-saver, you've got to factor in the cost and know you're going to get a return on your investment. That's the name of the game."
TECHS WANT ROI, REGARDLESS OF BRAND
Even when a repair seems especially unique, chances are there's a tool out there that can get the job done.
"Brand's not necessarily important," said Marconi. "It doesn't have to be a Snap-on or Mac … if it's a time-saver, it's got to be purchased."
Joel Anderson of Bonfe's Auto Service & Body Repair in St. Paul is also quick to buy the tool that will get the job done regardless of brand.
"Even though I might not have ever done anything with the tool, if I know I'm going to need it at some point in time, I'll just buy it," said Anderson.
Of course, many techs buy specialty tools as the need arises.
"If I've got a problem and I need a tool to get it done, and it's going to happen more and more … and [the tool's] going to pay for itself, I'll go out and get one," admitted Phil Cook, owner of Carolina Car Care in West End, N.C.
Across the board, techs in the market for specialty tools do their research. They look through Professional Distributor's sister magazine, Professional Tool & Equipment News, and go online to see what's available. And most of the time it's not about getting the best deal.
"As far as money goes, I've learned to accept that [cost] is what it is," Anderson said. "I might shop around a little bit for common items that I know all of the distributors carry, but when I think specialty, I think of things like a specific socket that you're only going to use on this car."
Anderson's favorite specialty purchase is a tool he bought more than a year ago, but just used for the first time recently. It is a socket made specifically for screwing off the oil filter cover on Saturns.
"Saturn's new oil filter has a plastic cap that screws the filter into the filter housing instead of the filter itself screwing off the vehicle," said Anderson. "[This socket] is shallow so that you have the proper clearance to get it into a tight place; it's specifically just for that oil filter cover that you need to screw off. That's the only thing I use it for."
Marconi listed "all the tools that have helped in replacing a timing belt," as being exceptional additions to his toolbox.
"Timing belt tension tools, removing pulleys for the crankshaft … anything that has to do with performing a timing belt job and increases productivity will make the job easier, more efficient and will make you more money," said Marconi.
KNOW WHAT'S AVAILABLE
To be successful in specialty tool sales, distributors really need to be
well-versed on the new and innovative tools that come out.
"He needs to know what's available and have the complete package — the service and the understanding of the tool," said Marconi. "Many times I'll see a tool in PTEN and [the distributor's] never heard of it. When I tear out the article, they'll say, 'Oh yeah, I could get that,' but they don't have any feedback. They should be knowledgeable about the products.
"They should read all kinds of magazines to see exactly what's on the forefront of new tools. This way, when a technician or shop owner asks them for advice on a tool, they at least know something about it. I find that's often lacking [with distributors]."
A simple "I haven't seen it yet" won't suffice when a tech inquires about a tool he's seen.