The holder of a tool company franchise says, "Sometimes the tool guys put the technicians into a bad situation" by showcasing the company's most expensive tools. "As a tool guy, you have to show a little restraint as well," says the franchisee, who asked that he and his company not be named because he is not authorized to talk about the company's sales practices.
A $1,500 roll cart serves most technicians as well as a $5,000 megatoolbox with a built-in Wi-Fi connection and LED lighting, he says. A standard ratchet can be as serviceable as an air ratchet that costs hundreds of dollars more, he adds.
The franchisee says he urges technicians to buy only what they need to do their jobs.
"If not, then you'll end up with a guy who owes you $1,000, but he can only pay you $25," he says. "Then comes the dodging and ducking. That doesn't help anyone. If you don't have the money, be honest with me. I may not be happy about you missing a payment, but if you tell me, we can work around it."
He says he refers technicians who seek larger credit lines to his company's finance department, but only if he feels they can handle it.
"Once they fall delinquent, the tools are up for repossession," he says. "I have to say to them, 'I need to come and get your stuff.' The technician usually says, 'Yeah, I get that.' "
Greg Sutton, a service technician at a dealership in Pennsylvania that he asked not be named, says he avoids debt by paying cash for tools.
"I have seen guys buy quad-bay toolboxes, spending $10,000 to $20,000 just to hold their gear," he adds. "To me, that's an irrational move. If you work for a dealership, you'll need some specialized tools rather than gear for every make and model of vehicle."
Eric Cook is a veteran master technician in Mason, Ohio, who posts auto repair videos on YouTube under the nickname "Eric the Car Guy." He says, "Sometimes mechanics have eyes that are bigger than their wallets." Tool vendors, he adds, "wanted to put their franchisees in the position to make as much money as possible, and started their own credit divisions to make this happen."
Cook says he advises young technicians to borrow specialty tools from older colleagues instead of buying them — as long as they don't make an annoying habit of it.
Ian Cavanaugh, service manager at Bill Dube Ford-Toyota in Dover, N.H., says he has fielded phone calls from tool companies about technicians at his dealership who fell behind on their tool payments.
"The tool company starts to call the dealership to see if the tech is still working there," Cavanaugh says. "At the end of the day, I think it would be a lot easier to keep good technicians on staff if we supplied the tools."
Cavanaugh concedes that his dealership, like most others, requires its technicians to buy their tools.