Tool Debt Hurts Technicians and Crushes Team Morale

By Ted Ings, Executive Director

The allure of the Snap-On truck: how tool debt hurts techs and damages your team

Most people don’t know a Snap-On toolbox can cost as much as a new car – nearly $20,000. High-end models can push $30,000 (Google the 144″ 26 Drawer Five Bank EPIQ Series). And we’re not talking about tools here; these prices are just for empty boxes.

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So, it comes as no surprise many technicians are overcome by tool debt – some to the point of bankruptcy. The cost of tools keeps many would-be-techs from entering the industry as well. What can your service department do to help fix the problem?

Technicians struggle with tool debt; lose motivation

Technicians are drawn to tool vans the way kids are drawn to ice cream trucks. Whenever Snap-On – or any of the other brands – pulls up, nearly every tech drops what they’re doing to run outside. I remember being enticed myself when I was a tech in my early 20’s.

Fortunately, my frugal parents raised me to be a tightwad. The only products I bought from the truck were items I couldn’t get from Sears or Harbor Freight. But a lot of my co-workers splurged on big-ticket items – and one technician became so tool-addicted he had to file bankruptcy.


In a recent article from Automotive news [Automotive News], technician, Kevin Inkell, tells a similar story:

"I started to pull credit lines from all the tool guys," Inkell told Fixed Ops Journal. "I had $10,000 here, $15,000 there, $8,000 at another. I just went on the truck and said, 'I want this, this, this and this.' I handed the tool guy my credit card and told him to charge it."

When it was all said and done, Inkell’s tool bills, combined with an injury and divorce, forced him to file bankruptcy.

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Tool debt, like that incurred by Inkell, is undeniably crushing to team morale. After all, having a tool bill that’s larger than your paycheck is incredibly discouraging. Furthermore, the cost of equipment scares off many young people who might consider entering the industry. And that’s something dealerships can’t afford with the current nationwide technician shortage.

How techs can turn things around

One of the sharpest technicians I’ve known, who was also my mentor when I was younger, had two Husky-brand toolboxes. Each was filled with a hodge-podge of different tool brands. Sure, there were Snap-On products in his collection, but there was plenty of Craftsman as well. To me, my former mentor is proof that, although techs can’t escape the tool truck 100% of the time, there are ways to cut back.

Here are a few suggestions you can make to help techs avoid tool debt:

Only buy what’s needed: There is a lot of enticing, shiny new equipment onboard the tool truck. It’s easy to get sucked in, especially when everything can be bought through a credit line. But techs need to remember: they’re in the business to make money; not to collect tools and rack up bills. So, only buy what’s necessary to get the job done efficiently.

Stop being brand-bias: Being brand bias is inefficient; regardless of whether you’re a technician addicted to Snap-On tools, or an aspiring fashionista stuck on Louis Vuitton purses. Sure, Snap-On makes a great product, but middle-grade brands, such as Craftsman, are usually sufficient for most jobs. And for tools that are rarely used, it’s wise to downgrade even further to a brand like Harbor Freight.

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Buy used: There’s a lot of great used equipment out there. Check online sites, such as eBay and Craigslist, as well as local venues such as estate sales, auctions and pawn shops. You’ll be surprised at what you can find.

Essentially, it all boils down to having self-control and buying what you can afford. Michael Sullivan, a personal finance consultant at Take Charge America, a credit counseling and financial education agency in Phoenix, sums things up nicely.

Speaking to Automotive News, Sullivan says: "Were they (the tools) required or were they an impulse buy, coupled with pressure from other workers who might have better tools? Sometimes we need to look in the mirror and ask, 'Am I making enough money to cover the cost of this job?' If not, you might be in the wrong line of work."

What management can do to help

Another thing your service department may consider, although it’s not the industry standard, is supplying basic tools to entry-level technicians. New hires are less likely to be scared off by equipment costs if they can start out slowly. Supplying specialty tools and equipment for all techs to use is helpful as well.


And, of course, if you see a technician racking up a giant tool bill, point out the bad habit. Suggest the methods mentioned earlier: buying only what’s needed, forgetting brand bias and purchasing pre-owned tools. Getting techs out of debt and into money will help boost team spirit, while also increasing productivity and revenue.