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The Best Advice for New Mechanics? Avoid the Tool Trucks!


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Recently, my daughter's (ex?) boyfriend took an entry level position as a mechanic.  With no experience and few tools, he's likely not bringing home top pay. Like many new techs, he got roped into a Snap-On account, and shortly after starting he spent $8000 on a shiny new Snap-On toolbox.  Now, I have no right to criticize the way he spends his money, but the guy is approaching thirty and pays child support, so being new to the trade and having obligations makes it a bit irresponsible to finance a multi-thousand dollar tool storage product.


I was a mechanic from roughly 1998-2001, sometimes working multiple jobs.  Started with trailers, moved on to Cadillacs, then to material handling equipment, where I also worked part-time for a large tire and service chain.  Tool trucks came by weekly, though I was a road tech at the forklift dealership so I rarely crossed paths with them.  I racked up a fair amount of debt, owing as much as $700 at some points to the tool guys, with my Snap-On and Matco accounts getting as high as $500.  My starting pay working on $50,000 Cadillacs was $6.50/hr. and by the time I left the forklift dealership I was making a whopping $12/hr.  I made do with an ancient 3-piece Mac single bank stack and eventually a Craftsman 2-piece stack alongside it.  The truck tools I bought were mostly trade-ins or specialty tools I couldn't get anywhere else.  Most of the rest of the shop had their brightly colored Snap-On and Matco boxes; my work bay reflected my low pay and lack of experience.  Later, when I worked out of the back of a service truck, I was glad I didn't have something shiny and new.  A week in the truck would have had any tool box looking the worse for wear, and the tank-like Mac mid and top box I kept in it held up fine, albeit with a little welding being needed after a few months.


Another story...my brother spent decades as a mechanic, working on quite a few different things from small engines to heavy duty trucks (he's the one that got my my first job at the trailer shop).  He prided himself in his Snap-On tools, keeping a relatively modest double bank toolbox setup and always making his weekly payments on time.  When he left his last job he owed quite a bit, but the tool guy gladly took his toolboxes and a lot of the tools as payment.  Simply put, my brother invested in overpriced tools that were worth pennies on the dollar after seeing some use.  When he could no longer make the payments, he probably gave back 50% or more of his tools to break even financially.  


The gist of this thread is this: if you're just starting out, avoid the tool trucks.  Home Depot, Lowe's, or another big box has most of what you need, and Harbor Freight is excellent for the beginning mechanic on a budget.  You might not have the nicest looking toolbox, the most tools, or the brand names that your peers have, but you'll have what's most important...that thing that you took the job for in the first place...your money!

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Great information and thanks for sharing.  Amazing how expensive the tool trucks are and how quickly you can get in debt.  I have a buddy who was a dodge mechanic and went crazy with the trucks.  He always tells me how much he regrets it but at the time, that was what people did and him being new, he wanted the same thing.

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