It is easy to overlook hand-held tools, favouring the latest digital diagnostics instead, but Rob Marshall examines why they remain not just relevant but essential.
It is a little unfair, let alone inaccurate, to refer to analogue tools as ‘basic’. ‘Fundamental’ is a better term. After all, many technicians up and down the country are expected to supply a decent toolset by their employers and, understandably, they can be very protective of them. At Autotechnician, we get it. We understand totally why many technicians welcome mobile tool sales van arrivals with open arms, eager to jump on board and sample the latest products that can make tricky tasks that little bit easier and more comfortable. We also respect the pride on display, when technicians show-off the contents of well- stocked boxes to us, revealing collections that they have grown throughout their careers, almost as a rite of passage.
Alistair Mason from Schaeffler reports that both garages and technicians continue to invest in tools, with better than ever availability being thanks, largely, to the Internet. In addition, tool prices are becoming more reasonable for quality items. However, he says:
“The two problems I see is that you do not know you need a tool until you need it (this is where job preparation is crucial) and the amount of investment required to have every tool required to work on a modern-day car is significant. This is where we see brand specialists, or system specialists.”
Any technician buying tools must juggle cost against quality and preferences. Even so, most purchasers look for optimum value. While the cheapest spanners and sockets, as examples, are bound to possess compromises in their materials to meet the required price-points, they also may not fit the nut/ bolt head accurately. This situation could increase the risk of slippage, causing not only the fixings’ heads to round, thus complicating/lengthening the repair, but it also increases the risk of injury, skinned knuckles included. Many technicians agree that costlier tools tend to be more pleasant to handle, although this is not a universal rule. Yet, consider that the slightly dearer ratchet with more teeth in its mechanism, for example, makes a task considerably easier, when conducted within the typical cramped confines of a modern engine bay.
Do not forget to have a decent range of tools, either. While Dayco makes timing belt kits, among other OE quality components, it neither manufactures nor sells fitting/ tensioning equipment, currently. Yet, it agrees that every technician should use a good selection of decent quality and well-maintained tools. Of particular relevance is a calibrated torque wrench that works accurately to as low as 4Nm, because certain water pump fixings need to be torqued initially to such lowly settings.
While some tool brands are geared more towards workshops, do not dismiss companies that offer tools for both the occasional DIY user and a separate range for the professional technician. Sealey, as an example, highlights its Premier range as manufactured from the highest quality materials to exacting standards that offers exceptional performance for daily professional use. Yet, Sealey also offers the Siegen brand for lighter use, the hand tools from which also comes with a lifetime, no quibble guarantee.
LET THERE BE LIGHT…
A repair can be made so much easier, if you can see what you are doing. Thankfully, more recent advantages in LED
and battery technology means that you do not necessarily have to resort to work by touch alone. So, updating your range of hand-held lamps is worthwhile, whether financed by technicians, or supplied to staff by the garage.
The Leeds-based lighting specialist, RING Automotive advises that LEDs offer superior light production than filament bulbs but it has found that some technicians have found them to be too bright. For hand-held lamps, it reports that the market has settled on a 500 lumens output. Yet, good quality hand- held lights will possess well-thought-out optics internally, so the LED source is diverted to specific focal points, instead of causing dazzle from light scatter. To assist with getting the light to where the technician needs it, the compact dimensions of LEDs offer manufacturers greater design freedom. Ring highlights its new generation of slimmer inspection lamps that facilitate access to previously hard-to-reach places within an engine bay, including its RIL3900HP, RIL86 and RIL4300.
Battery and charging technology advances have also benefitted supplementary workshop lighting. In its experience, Ring reports that most technicians work with two inspection lamps; one of which is in use, while the other one is recharged. It reports that its latest Fast Charge inspection lamps mean that this situation is not necessary any more. While the new- generation lamps are designed to be recharged fully from flat within an hour, the battery can also be topped-up, should the technician take a brief break – such as while clambering aboard a mobile tool van.
While obvious inappropriate use of hand tools is not conducive to a long life, tool maintenance requirements is not always that obvious. While cleaning oil, chemicals, or moisture, from spanners, ratchets and sockets before storing them away is fairly obvious, it is worth consulting the instructions for advice that accompany more complicated tools. Sealey highlights not leaving a torque wrench ‘loaded’, will help to prevent it from going out of calibration prematurely. Consider also that torque wrenches require calibration checks after a certain timeframe. Interestingly, Sealey reports that the main reason for warranty returns tend to be caused by users not adhering to the instructions provided with the tools, or equipment.
Ring acknowledges that the workshop environment tends to be hard on tools and reports that, no matter how robust they are, they will take a metaphorical beating. It recommends that technicians avoid placing hand-held lamps face down, because the resultant scratching will affect the light output. Ring also reports that, because continuous oil exposure makes certain plastics brittle, technicians should wipe them down before placing them on charge.
While many column inches emphasise that digital diagnostics is evolving and developing continually, we should not forget advances in hand tools. Regardless of whether funded by the garage, or the technicians, it is worth keeping up-to-date with what is on offer and why certain tools have become intrinsic to certain repairs on modern cars.
While Dayco’s online timing belt resource is a prime example of a parts manufacturer assisting aftermarket technicians, by detailing which special tools are needed for each application, decent tools still cannot take the place of good working practices. For instance, not cleaning mating surfaces, or overlooking important fitting instructions, can cause problems that are the fault of the installer, not the tools. This is why many aftermarket parts suppliers, including Dayco, recommend that technicians take advantage of training opportunities, which detail why new installation procedures are needed for the latest vehicles, even if they were not required before.
Understandably, it is impossible to perform some tasks without vehicle-specific tools. Timing belt setting equipment is an obvious example. Yet, as vehicle component technology has developed, other tools have been introduced that are worth the investment because, while they are specific to a certain operation, they can be used across a broader range of makes and models.
Schaeffler recommends that technicians use its LuK Self Adjusting Clutch tool, because it removes any risk of installation error. The implications of wasted labour time, let alone the inconvenience of an occupied ramp, are considerable after you discover that a new clutch is not releasing properly and the only cure is to strip the car down again. Schaeffler advises that the LuK Self Adjusting Clutch tool’s cost is recouped in the first clutch change that it prevents from going wrong.
Sach’s XTend is ZF’s version of the self-adjusting clutch. It told AT that many of its clutch warranty returns result from disengaging complaints, caused by distorted pressure plates. This can be caused by pulling the pressure plate in contact with the flywheel, using the bolts, rather than using the installation tool. Sachs highlights that its XTend self-adjusting clutches seem to be particularly vulnerable to poor fitting techniques, demonstrated by the automatic adjuster on returned clutches being extended fully. As the adjuster cannot be reset, it proves that the installer did not use the correct tool.
Schaeffler adds that, with its FAG brand, most general tools and a workshop press will be adequate for most wheel bearing replacements but the popular Generation 2.1 types require a dedicated tool. AT plans to detail this procedure in more detail, shortly. To assist technicians, Schaeffler highlights that it promotes best practice through training events, technical evenings, procedural articles and even social media posts. The company also details the tools needed in the literature, provided with its parts, as well on the REPXPERT workshop information portal.
Most technicians look upon tool purchases as an investment but it is not a bad idea to keen an eye on future technology and keep your tool kit up to date. While Sealey reports that, aside from spanners, sockets and Allen keys; breaker bars, torque wrenches and hammers, pliers and chisels remain strong sellers. However, the company sees a “significant increase” in sales of its VDE insulated tool kits, fuelled by technicians working on more high voltage hybrid and electric vehicles. This is a trend that is worth noting.