Stocking a service van requires a check list of tools ranging from the basic to the complex for specific applications. (Photo by Joe Imel.)

Let’s say you have a new service van or truck and you want to fill it with the tools and test instruments you need on the job.

Or you’re driving a van you’ve had for a long time and you’ve finally gotten around to cleaning it totally out and now you want to figure out what you really need in there.

One way to develop a checklist of needed items is to check with Larry Jeffus. He authored the textbook,Refrigeration and Air Conditioning: An Introduction to HVAC/R for the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute;it’s published by Pearson/Prentice Hall.


Jeffus, for example, stresses safety issues and encourages technicians right from the start to have a hardhat, ear protection like plugs or headphones, and eye and face protection like visors and goggles. Then there are respirators such as those “that purify the air by filtering out harmful dust, mist, metal, fumes, gas, and vapor, and those that supply clean breathing air from a compressed air source.”

Hand and foot protection includes gloves - and different ones, such as gloves with steel mesh to protect against cuts and puncture wounds.

Footwear needs to “support the foot and provide secure footing.” That might mean footwear that covers the ankle and protects against accidental drops of harmful liquids.

Protection against a fall involves safety belts and harnesses.


Common hand tools needed by an HVACR technician start with wrenches and may involve service valve wrenches, socket wrenches, socket handles, torque wrenches, box end and open end wrenches, flare nut wrenches, adjustable wrenches, pipe wrenches, Allen wrenches and nut drivers.

“The term ‘wrenches’ is used to describe tools that grip and turn threaded parts such as nuts, bolts, valves, and pipes,” Jeffus said. “Some wrenches are specifically designed for HVACR jobs, such as the service valve wrench.”

Next are the hand tools such as pliers that can mean slip joint, multitrack, and locking pliers primarily used for mechanical work; and diagonal cutters, needle nose, and lineman pliers primarily for electrical work. Then come screwdrivers, brushes, files, and vises, along with measuring tapes and rulers, and drills.

“A useful drill should have a variable-speed control plus a reversing switch to back out stuck bits,” said Jeffus. “Rechargeable, battery-operated drilling equipment can be useful time savers where some light drilling or driving of screws is required and no power outlet is handy.”


“Testing electrical circuits is an important skill that each technician needs to develop,” Jeffus said. The inventory includes multimeters that combine a number of functions; clamp-on ammeters for measuring current flow through a single wire; voltmeters, ammeters, and ohmmeters for electrical troubleshooting; a wattmeter to read true power, including an allowance for the power factor; and overvoltage protection.

In the refrigeration sector, “digital thermometers come in a wide variety of shapes and options.” There are also analog and infrared thermometers.

An electronic leak detector draws air over a platinum diode, a pump-type leak detector uses corona discharge technology, and an ultrasonic leak detector detects pressure or vacuum leaks and provides other options.


When working with refrigerants, the technicians need vacuum pumps, the high-performance ones that are “capable of a rapid pull down and thorough evacuation.”

Gauge manifolds come in a variety of styles. Hoses that go with them are available in different lengths and colors. An electronic charging scale measures the charge by weight, a micron vacuum gauge measures deep vacuums below a level that a compound gauge or a manifold gauge set can display, and an electronic sight glass is an ultrasonic instrument that has both visual and audible bubble detection.

On the heating side, equipment is needed to measure CO2. That includes draft gauges, smoke testers, and flue gas analyzers. Then there are gas identifiers and monitors, as well as oxygen-depletion monitors.


So where do you go to get all this stuff?The NEWSdid a very informal online survey of its readers. Those who responded were split over buying from local supply houses and from big box stores.

Wherever the tools are purchased, Jeffus and most everybody else in the industry encourages the buyer to make sure the tools are of high quality and do what they are supposed to do. Jeffus said, “Choose the right kind from a dependable supplier who can supply this information.”

In other words, know what you are buying … or make sure the person selling you the stuff knows what he is selling you.

Publication date:03/12/2007