Mechanically Speaking: Special tools not always the right fit

"Your mechanic probably is the best tool creator of any of tradesmen you are likely to encounter."

When it comes to special tools I am glad my business is an independent one. I feel sorry for the service departments of any of the car dealerships. Every year new cars come on the market that require special tools to repair and maintain. The dealership usually automatically gets shipped a whole raft of special tools and they have to pay for each and every one whether they use them or not.

Believe me many times those tools never come out of the box. The person who was in charge of having those tools made to do certain jobs did not even know if some of those jobs would ever need to be done.

In the lifetime of a vehicle some things just never break or wear out.

Sometimes those special tools were poorly conceived. They just won’t do the job they were designed to do. The designer may not have realized how rusty the part would be when it came time to remove it. Many times an alternate method of removal must be used. In some cases removal without destroying the particular component is next to impossible. If the cost of the part is such that destructive removal is the best approach that is what will be done.

Your mechanic’s time is valuable. No use spending an hour removing a part that is only worth ten minutes of a labor charge when destructive removal is a mere thirty seconds.

When special tools are poorly contrived but the job they were designed for always needs to be done you can bet someone designed a better one.

Not having to buy the original tool and buying the improved version only is a benefit for the independent repair shop.

Your mechanic probably is the best tool creator of any of tradesmen you are likely to encounter. That same guy who was saddled with making the dealer tools to fix the new cars probably forgot a few. Your mechanic, when faced with the impossible, will always figure out a way. His job depends on it. Broken rusted bolts always present special tool challenges.

Modern technology has made a much bigger category of electronic tools that perform special tasks. Most of these tools deal with your vehicle’s network of computers. Thankfully most of the manufacturers comply with some standards.

A basic computer and what is called a J2534 interface will typically give any independent repair business the ability to diagnose and repair modern automobiles. The equipment is not too costly but each and every brand has its own software. The software comes at a cost though. Each brand sells subscriptions. Some are ridiculously expensive where others are super reasonable.

Using the manufacturer’s tool is sometimes the only way to perform some repairs. Software might be required that no other tool makers have access to in order to program a replacement computer and set it up to work on your car.

Special tools are a big part of staying in the business of auto repair. The challenge is making sure you have the right tool when you need it.

Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail:

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