Did you ever begin a handyman job and forget to bring the right tool? Now imagine a service technician at a customer's home, diagnosing the problem with the homeowner's HVAC equipment, and then not being able to make the repair because a tool or a necessary part is not on the truck. The result is usually an increase in non-billable hours.

We all know there are basic tools needed for any job, i.e., wrench sets, pliers, cordless drills, portable saws, socket sets, screwdrivers, tape measures, etc. But what about the less obvious ones? Do your service techs know which tools they need to keep in their trucks? Do you have a checklist for them, and do they periodically double-check it?

The News asked some service techs - employees of our Contractor Consultants - to assemble a list of tools they use and some reasons why they need them on the job. We also asked them to include other items they recommend keeping on the truck, including replacement parts and safety equipment. Here are some of the highlights from those discussions.

One Tech's List

Senior service tech Jim Werle has worked for Russ Donnici of Mechanical Air Service Inc. in San Jose, Calif., for 20 years. Donnici acknowledged that Werle is a good friend as well as an employee. Both are the same age and served in the U.S. military in Vietnam. Of Werle, Donnici said, "He would do anything for me if I asked. He would go on an emergency call even if he were not on call, if I called him and asked him to do it. He wouldn't ask why. He would feel that if it was important enough for me to ask him, that is good enough."

Werle said that the basic tools he needs include a service gauge set, pocket digital thermometers, superheat digital thermometer, digital multimeter, amprobes (both digital and analog), crescent wrenches (8, 10, and 12 inches), thin slotted and large slotted screwdrivers, battery drill, tubing cutters, torch set, drill index, Allen wrench set, tape measure, wire cutters, and strippers.

"These tools allow me to handle most analysis and repairs," Werle stated.

Other basic inventory would include an assortment of screw-in fuses, blade-type fuses for circuit boards, time delay fuses (250 volt and 600 volt), 30-, 40-, and 50-amp contactors with appropriate coil voltages, several types of control relays, multi-mount transformers with inline fuse holders, furnace circuit boards, hot surface ignitors, Freon, miscellaneous liquid-line driers, gasket material, a couple of common fan motors, a full range of fan belts, Schrader access tees, and condenser fan cycling control.

To fully equip the truck, Werle said he would add the following items: a vacuum pump, associated storage tanks, digital scale, natural gas pressure gauge, static pressure meter, ropes with hooks, flashlights, liquid and electronic leak detectors, hacksaw, framing hammer, ball peen hammer, pipe wrenches, needle nose and regular pliers, vise grips, flaring tool, vacuum cleaner, tarps, cleaning materials, booties, plastic gloves, water hose, chemical cleaners, hand sprayer, tank sprayer, extension ladder, 6- and 8-foot step ladders, R-22, and R-410A.

Other Techs Speak Out

While that list seems pretty complete, there are other items that wind up on the "preferred list" of service technicians.

Jim Crews is a project leader and technician for Hank Bloom and Environmental Conditioning Systems in Mentor, Ohio. He told The News why he has a soft spot for one of his tools, a megohmmeter. "I inherited it from my uncle, and it gives excellent indication of conditions in the system," he said. "It is an excellent service sales tool."

Crews lists brazing materials among the items he uses. He also points out his favorite tool of all - the rechargeable Maglite flashlight.

Rob Wallace is foreman of the installation department at Royal Air Systems in North Reading, Mass. His boss, Arthur Pickett described Wallace as his top technician.

Besides the standard tools, Wallace also listed parts he keeps on his truck, including T-stats, T-stat wire, capacitors, contactors, filter-driers, air filters, oil filters, universal motors, boiler circulator and aquastat relay, burner nozzles, expansion tank, oil pump, transformer, and electrodes.

Wallace said that with parts from this list, "Most times we can get the system up and running."

Mike Chiovaro is a field supervisor with 20 years of experience. Dave Spies is an assistant service manager with 15 years of experience. Both men work for Monsen Engineering in Fairfield, N.J. News consultant and Monsen employee Jeff Somers said that the lists both men provided reflect his company's market - commercial and industrial service.

Chiovaro has his favorite tool, the digital volt ohmmeter. "This is my favorite meter due to the overall importance and versatility," he said.

Spies noted that no list of basic tools would ensure that a technician would be ready for any contingency during the course of a repair. "There are too many different things that can break down," he said. "You need to have a service vehicle stocked with all the necessary equipment and tools and access to supply houses, vendors, and subcontractors."

Denny Mann is vice president of service for Marina Mechanical in San Leandro, Calif. His boss, News consultant Jim Hussey, said that Mann has plenty of field experience as a former service tech.

Mann thought he would "score some brownie points" by detailing some of the safety items that should be kept on a service truck. The list includes a hard hat, safety glasses, ear plugs, dust mask, cotton gloves, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, lockout-tag out, back brace, roadside safety kit, and a disposable camera.

Publication date: 08/01/2005