Get in their heads with power tools

Power tools will always be a necessity in the automotive repair industry. Do you know what mechanics look for when they're looking to replace a cordless drill? Do you stock what they need to run their business more efficiently?

Sometimes it boils down to personal preference. Many technicians know what they like from years of trial and error. When asked what they look for when purchasing power tools, some mechanics cited function and durability as ranking pretty high. But following close behind is a good dealer who knows his stuff — or at least is willing to conduct a little research.

"You know, we've been around long enough to talk to other guys, other techs who've said this was a good gun or that was a good gun," said Joel Anderson, PTEN tool review and shop foreman of Bonfe's Auto Service & Body Repair in St. Paul, Minn. "If you know that something's not the greatest … then you probably want to stay away from it. If you know of [a tool] that's got a reputation and everybody that you've ever known has loved it, and it's been durable, then that's the most important thing for me."

Anderson also mentioned that a pricier tool can definitely be a wiser investment. That is, if it comes backed by a reliable mobile dealer as well as good customer service.

"I'll tell you, [with power tools] you get what you pay for as far as customer service and things like that go. You might overpay for some tools, but the advantages of dealing with a [good] distributor make it worth it. You want a tool guy who, if you call him and need something, he's going to be willing to run it out to you that day, even if it's not his regular day to stop."

It's important for distributors to be on their game and know the equipment, Anderson mentioned, because a good mechanic remembers things like service and quality — and will remember it for years to come.

"[Buying any piece of equipment] is all kind of a derivative of past experiences," he said. "It's a learning process: who's better to buy from, whose tools are better … more durable, things like that."

For Anderson, power tool purchases are usually planned out, with immediate need not playing a big role in his buying decisions. Anderson said this would only happen if, for example, his impact gun broke down and he needed to get a new one that day. Otherwise, this type of equipment should ideally last somewhere between three to five years.

Mike Steptoe, owner of Reliable Auto in Fort Atkinson, Wis., and a PTEN tool review panelist, agreed that service efforts and durability were key points in selecting new power tools. Function was also important to Steptoe, who views cordless tools as having great benefits in the shop.

"Cordless is pretty big nowadays. It's nice to not be tripping all over cords when you're working on something," Steptoe said. "You know, you have to make sure the battery's charged, but you usually get at least an hour or two out of them.

"When it comes down to the towing part of our business, cordless impact tools are especially handy. [At our shop], drills and cordless impact [tools] are usually the biggest part of our power tool purchases.

"We're not really buying on an 'as needed' basis," Steptoe said. "But we know what's worked in the past and we stick with that. Basically what used to be our air tools, has come down to cordless and electric. And it's interesting to see what's coming out in the market now."

As a seasoned mechanic, Steptoe knows what to look for in a power tool, based on his shop's specific needs. But he's still open to input — and a well-informed suggestion — from his distributor if it means bringing to light a new tool that could prove to be an asset.

"I'm not really brand loyal; I just stick with what I know works. It really helps when the distributor can answer some questions you have about the tool. Or, if he at least says he'll research something for you. It helps when they have an educated knowledge to bring into it."