Modern Must-Have Tools

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I’m not going to list every tool you must have in your arsenal, but I’ll give you some to consider purchasing if you don’t already have them. These tools, from my experience, have made life a lot easier or saved my butt from a complex diagnosis that was not going well.

Infrared Scanner – This tool saved tons of time trying to track down battery drains, overheating brakes, and anything else that was temperature related. It is excellent for testing the output of window defrosters and seat heaters, clogged catalytic converters, failed thermostats, and water pumps. Also, shorted BMW comfort access door handles. This is one of the best tool investments you can buy for the price. You will see an immediate return on your money.

Lab Scope – This is one of the most common tools missing from shops. It changes educated guesses into confirmed failures. A lot, and I mean a lot, of technicians are afraid of the lab scope. They have no clue how to connect it, or what the waveforms mean. There have been times that we found fuel pumps failing the current ramp test. Within a few weeks, the client’s vehicle returned on a tow truck because they declined the suggested repair. There are so many uses for the lab scope, especially when it comes to driveability concerns.

There are many different levels of lab scopes. You can buy a more basic one that tells you which wires to connect your scope to, what waveform is ideal, and what settings to use. You can get a more advanced one that has little vehicle specific information, but is completely customizable and has more channels. Regardless, you need one.

Bi-Directional Scan Tool – I’m relatively sure that this paragraph should be moot. Still, I’m going to discuss the value of bi-directional scan tools. You must be able to read codes, activate outputs, and see live data. This is for every computer that is in the vehicle you are diagnosing if it has the capability. If your scan tool does not meet the factory tool’s level, you really should invest in a better tool.

Owning the tool doesn’t make an exceptional tech. You need the training on the device, and the documentation to run the tests. You will also need a qualified level technician to use the tool properly.

  • DVOM and Power Probe – Digital Voltmeter and a Power Probe are essential to diagnosing anything electronic in the vehicle. Your technicians should have both in their toolbox. This is not up for discussion. Tell them that it is required that they have each.
  • The DVOM usually can do very little damage to a vehicle. The Power Probe can cause massive amounts of damage in inexperienced hands. Ensure that your technicians are adequately trained and certified in electrical repairs before letting them tinker.
  • J2534 Box – If you plan to reprogram modules, you will need this device. You can make it easier by hiring a company that will remote access into your vehicle and handle the programming for you. It will save the technician a ton of time, and you can make revenue at the same time.
  • Laptop – This may sound redundant, but it is surprising how many shops do not have tech supplied laptops. Every single technician in your shop must have his or her own laptop. They need access to online sources to research repairs and have access to the shop system software and online parts catalog. We also have a messenger for the techs to be able to instant message the service advisors. It saves a lot of time.
  • Smoke Machine – It can be used in just about every low-pressure vehicle system to locate leaks. It will pinpoint vacuum leaks, exhaust leaks,  EVAP System failures, wind noises, water intrusion issues, and has many other uses.
  • Boost pressure tester – You need this! A smoke machine will fail you when you are trying to find boost leaks. The boost pressure tester is designed to isolate the turbocharger to the throttle body portion of the induction system. It also can be used for the intake manifold itself. Instead of low-pressure smoke, it uses regulated shop air and soapy water. It is handy for finding leaks that happen only near full boost levels.
  • Induction heater – The flameless solution to heating seized nuts and bolts. They are great for seized tie rods too. The induction heater gets used quite frequently at my shop in the northeast. Seized tie rods are a common issue, and it happens with only a few years of them being in service. This tool will save the day and keep your technician’s sanity level in check.
  • Emissions Analyzer – This is old technology, but still a very useful tool to have. If you work on classic vehicles, you must own this tool. Adjusting fueling levels of mechanical fuel injection vehicles is a simple process using an emissions analyzer. Anything carbureted will benefit from this, too. It will also detect hydrocarbons in the cooling system if you do not have chemical testing fluid. Spend the extra money and buy a portable one that you can use during test drives. The older vehicles will become much more profitable with a lot less time wasted.
  • Vehicle Specific Specialty Tools – Get yourself a cabinet and use it strictly for specialty tools. That timing belt tool or crankshaft seal installer will fit nicely in that cabinet. I set mine up by car line and keep an inventory of the tools in the cabinet. Truth be told, a lot of the specialized tools that the manufacturer says are a must, are really not needed at all. Still, more often than not, you will need the factory tools to complete the job, though. Your shop foreman can assist with deciding what is required and if it makes sense to purchase the tool or rent it.

I am hoping that you were able to take at least one thing from this article to better your tool department. Hopefully, it can be a game-changer for you and save you time and make you money.


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