Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The High Cost of Cheap Tools

Have you ever heard the saying “You get what you pay for”? Well, the longer I live, the more cases I find of that being true. Cheap shoes wear out quicker; cheap knives break; cheap clothing looks like it came from Goodwill after a few washings; cheap cars have more problems; and yes, cheap tools are just that, cheap tools.

I just finished changing the timing chain on one of our cars. This is always a hassle of a job, especially the first time you do it on a vehicle. Then you’re having to figure out what to remove, where the bolts are and how to get to the bolts on the thing that’s in the way of the way of the part you have to remove to get to the timing cover.

While a lot of my tools have been replaced by higher quality brands (mostly Craftsman) through the years, I still have a few el-chepos that have been around for years. Most of those were bought when I was younger and couldn’t afford good tools. Then there’s a few were bought when I was on the road and needed something quick, so I bought what was at hand. It’s actually amazing they’ve lasted this long, but then, the one’s which have lasted are ones which haven’t been used much.

In the course of this project, I had to make 5 trips to the store, just for tools. That doesn’t count the other trips for parts, and to exchange the wrong part. One of those trips was for a 24 mm socket, something that was lacking from my kit. After all, everyone uses 24 mm sockets, right? But the other four trips were to replace tools that broke. I lost 2 sockets, a screwdriver and a harmonic balancer puller on this job. That’s quite a bunch of tools for one simple… okay, fairly complex repair job.

The only one of those tools that really surprised me was the screwdriver. I’d had that one a long time, used it a lot, and thought it was better than it really was. Well, when I tried to use it to pop the timing chain cover off, the tip snapped off. So much for that one.

The real cost here isn’t the tools themselves; it’s the time it takes to go out and buy replacements. Every time I busted a tool, I had to get cleaned up and go to the store for just one thing, that tool. Even worse, because I was in a hurry, I just went to the auto parts store and bought what was on the shelf. In other words, I bought cheap tools again; maybe a little bit better than what broke, but still not all that great. Then, when I got back, I had to get myself motivated to get started all over again.

Tools are an investment in your future. The tools you buy today should last you a lifetime; at least, if you invest in good quality tools. Cutting corners on something you rarely use may make sense, but not on the stuff you use all the time. Nor does it make sense to compromise on quality for tools that will be under a lot of stress. Better to buy quality than for you to get stressed.