Dear Car Talk:
I'm just starting out in the auto repair business and working for a dealership.
It strikes me as odd that this seems to be one of the only professions where you have to provide your own tools in order to work in the field.
Why don't more garages and dealerships provide company-owned tools for their technicians? -- Tyler
Because you guys would steal them.
It'd be like pens at any other workplace. Except replacing wrenches is a lot more expensive.
Plus, mechanics like to have their own tools. They like to use tools they're familiar with and trust. A lot of professionals do. Baseball players like to have their own bats. Burglars like to have their own ski masks.
You'll find that most mechanics will etch their names or initials into their tools, so that when other mechanics borrow something, they have a snowball's chance of getting it back.
Of course, there are some tools that the shop provides for everybody. It's usually the big stuff. In addition to the lifts and tire machines and stuff like that, we'll also provide larger and less frequently used tools that are not practical for each mechanic to own. For instance, our shop has a ball-joint press and a bunch of spring compressors, and anyone who needs them is welcome to use them. And we're not worried because they're too big for any of our guys to sneak out in their pants.
As you've probably discovered, Tyler, buying a set of professional tools isn't cheap. It's a major investment in your career. So you have to be sure you want to fix cars for a while. Even the most basic set of tools from a good quality manufacturer like Snap On is likely to cost you $20,000. And that's bare bones. You'll have to add to it over time.
My one recommendation is that you buy a good quality set of tools. The cheaper tools will break, or even worse, they'll round off nuts and bolts and cause you big headaches, so they're not worth it. Consider taking out a loan if you have to.
Be sure to etch your name on your tools. Then be very sure to never accidentally leave one of your tools inside a transmission after you rebuild it, because when the customer gets towed back to the shop, it'll have your name on it!