DALLAS, TX — It would have been enough to make TV characters Al Borland and Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor bow down in awe. Everywhere attendees of the International Air Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating (IAHR) Expo looked, there were new gadgets and gizmos touting the ability to make their jobs easier.

The overwhelming color for the tools and test instruments at this year’s expo, held here in early February, was bright, safety yellow. Aside from possibly transporting people back to their days on that universal yellow school bus, these products stood out and invited attendees to pick them up. Of course, instruments with other casing colors were also not lacking attention.

Aside from their different appearances and different functions, this year’s new products appeared to share some common themes: faster results; more user-friendly ergonomic designs; simplified, easier-to-use application functions; and an increase in designs made specifically for the hvacr industry.

In the quest to keep up with what the competition is doing, several companies were showing products that were very similar, offering nearly all the same functions. This, of course, made it hard for contractors to distinguish which one was best.

When The News asked one representative (who chose to remain nameless) of a specific manufacturer what made his company’s new test instrument different from the two or three competing brands that were almost identical, his response was honest, but possibly disheartening for contractors trying to make a purchase.

According to the representative, there is no true difference between a lot of the new products companies are promoting. The designs are a little different, but the functions — and accuracy — are generally the same.

So how is a contractor to decide? There is really no easy answer. A very important thing when selecting a tool is to make sure that it does everything you need it to do and that it is comfortable to use. Naturally, price will be a factor, but it shouldn’t be the only thing influencing the purchasing decision.

Most companies offer a standard warranty on these products ranging in length from 1 to 3 years. So if your technicians are hard on equipment, you might want to factor that into the decision equation, too.

And most important? Making informed purchases, which means doing your homework on new products and exploring all of the options available to you.

One final word of caution: Don’t follow Tim Taylor’s examples.