The number of tools at an automotive technician’s disposal is truly amazing. Socket options alone can span pages and pages of a tool catalog. But there is a growing list of specialty pro tools that can help a technician nail down a problem quickly and efficiently. Unless you are doing a lot of repairs, most of these tools won’t be found in the average DIYer’s garage, but they are right at home in your local NAPA AutoCare. Here’s a look at some of the cool specialty pro tools that automotive professionals use to get the job done.
Diagnostic tools have come a long way since the old engine analyzers of the 1960s. Today’s diagnostic scanners allow a technician to tap directly into the vehicle’s onboard systems and pinpoint problems. Modern vehicles have multiple systems that must all work together precisely. While it is possible to buy a code scanner for home use, the diagnostic scanner that a technician is magnitudes more powerful. These top end diagnostic tools can not only help extract information from onboard computer systems, they can actually interact with the various components. Valves can be shut, pumps turned on, circuits energized and more. These highly precise functions help a trained technician pinpoint problems effectively.
Refrigerant Recovery Machine
In the old days of working on automotive A/C systems, mechanics would simply open up a schrader valve and let the gas vent to the atmosphere. Luckily those days are long gone and A/C refrigerant recovery machines have been common place for years. These machines allow a technician to safely remove refrigerant from a system without damage to the environment. Some units can even remove, filter, and then return the refrigerant back to the system once a repair is complete. Top-level units can even automatically perform A/C system flushes, leaks checks, and system refills with computerized precision.
Transmission Flush Machine
A traditional transmission fluid change usually only involves dropping the transmission pan to drain the fluid and refilling it with new fluid. Due to the extremely complex nature of most automatic transmissions, there are lots of nooks and crannies where fluid resides that can be very difficult to reach. A transmission flush is more capable of exchanging the transmission fluid found in those hard to reach places (like the torque converter). There was a time when transmission flush machines got a bad reputation. Modern units are lightyears ahead of their antiquated predecessors in their operation. These machines transfer the old fluid out of the transmission and replenish it with new fluid. Most machines use the vehicle’s existing transmission cooling lines to drain/fill the fluid, but there are some models that use the transmission dipstick tube. Regardless of how the fluid is removed, the goal is to replace as much of the old transmission fluid as possible. A transmission flush machine makes the process faster and cleaner.
Finding leaks in an automobile can be maddening. If the leak isn’t obvious, like a busted hose, it could take serious time to track down. A neat tool in the technician’s arsenal is the smoke machine. This machine emits a visible “smoke” without actually setting anything on fire. The smoke can be used to find leaks in anything designed to be sealed. For emissions work it is great for finding elusive evap system problems. Finding leaks in door seals or window seals are another application. Exhaust leaks are easy to hear, but hard to find sometimes. A smoke machine can help track down sneaky leaks efficiently.
Radiator Vacuum Tool
Engine cooling systems used to consist of a water pump and a radiator, with plenty of space to house everything under the hood. Today’s vehicles have cramped engine bays, busy firewalls, and complex cooling passages winding through the engine. Draining the coolant for a repair is still as easy as unscrewing the radiator petcock or removing the lower radiator hose. But what about getting all that coolant back in? While pouring in coolant may look like it is filling the system, there could be air pockets waiting to cause problems down the road. There are many vehicle specific procedures for “burping” the air from a cooling system, but there is another way. A radiator vacuum tool is an effective way to get rid of cooling system air pockets and draw coolant into places that can be very difficult to fill. This tool draws a strong vacuum on the entire cooling system. Once a steady vacuum is achieved, the technician opens up a valve allowing new coolant to flow through the tool and take up the space previously occupied by air.
These are just a few of the specialty pro tools that technicians across the globe rely on to keep customer vehicles on the road. As automotive technology progresses, so do the tools necessary to maintain them. While these tools are mostly found in pro shops today, advances in technology also mean that newer versions may make their way to home DIYers years down the road.
Check out all the tools & equipment available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on specialty pro tools, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
With an automotive writing career spanning over two decades, Brian has a passion for sharing the automotive lifestyle. An avid DIYer he can usually be found working on one of his many project cars. His current collection includes a 1969 Olds Delta 88 convertible and a slant-6 powered 1975 Plymouth Duster.