What tool truck tools are worth the money?

  I am of the opinion that it is not worthwhile to buy only or all tool truck tools, but I wanted to offer my opinion on what tools are worth the money you will pay for a tool truck (mostly Mac, Matco, or Snap-On) tool.  There are a lot of tools that we as aircraft mechanics can get by without, but sometimes it is worth plunking down for the good tools.  I am convinced that the only good reason to spend more money on a tool is that it allows you to do a job better or faster.   In other words, only buy tools that help you to make money.  I believe that many tools are purchased because of peer pressure or because that is what the older mechanics have.  It seems like a lot of guys want to start out with the same toolset as a guy who has been working 25 years.  They seem to forget that he probably took at least 10 years to build up that tool collection.  The availability of credit from the tool trucks and company sponsored tool credit programs have made it easy for guys to rack up five figures plus in tool debt.  All that being said, there are a lot of times when a tool truck tool can save your bacon, or shave hours off of a certain job.  I am going to point out a few of the tools that I think are very worthwhile for a mechanic to own.
The general rule of thumb for what to spend money on is this: if it is a hand tool with moving parts or that will be used in spots with clearance issues, the tool truck tools are likely worth the money.  If neither of those two criterion exist, it probably isn't.  Frequency of use is another important criterion.  If you will only use a certain tool a couple of times a year, it probably won't pay to invest a lot of money into it.  The final factor is that sometimes innovative tools are only available through the tool trucks (meaning the Chinese haven't figured out how to copy it yet).

  I just wanted to highlight a few of the tools that I believe are worth spending in order to get quality.  (Disclaimer: I have bought exactly three tools off the truck.  I use either Ebay or Craigslist to buy spendy tools.)  Our shop is serviced only by the Mac and Snap-on trucks, and the Snap-on Customer service is lacking, so my tool collection reflects that.  Some shops have a good Matco or SK or Cornwell guys, so that is a consideration when you are buying tools.  If your shop gets good customer service and prompt warranty from one or more of those companies, that can make one tool stand out a little more than the others.

  As an aircraft mechanic, one of your most used tool will be your 1/4" drive ratchet.  I have a decent collection of them and I have borrowed a lot more.  I can tell you that hands down my favorite ratchet is the Mac tools MR4C.  Nobody else that I have found makes one that is as small, low profile, fine toothed, and tough.  This is the most common ratchet in our shop.  There are six of them floating around, with very good reason.  If you can buy it with the student discount it is only around $26, but even at $52, this is a must have tool.  There are certainly other good options, but I am partial to the 72 tooth design.  It seems to have a smoother action, and it can be invaluable in tight areas.

Snap-On Driver
Gearwrench Driver
    Another of your most used tools will likely be your ratcheting screwdriver.  I highly recommend springing for a fine toothed ratcheting screwdriver.  It will save you a lot of frustration and anguish in the long run.  The Snap-On screwdriver undoubtedly sets the bar in this category.  It has a really smooth action, and the hard plastic handle even stands up to skydrol (nothing else that I know of does).  I personally rock the Gearwrench set that I picked up for $17 on sale at Sears.  It does everything the Snap-On does, just not quite as well.  The reversing switch is counter-intuitive (moves opposite the direction you want to go), the handle is rubber (gets nasty and needs wiped with alcohol weekly), and the butt cap likes to come off at awkward times, but at less than 1/3 the cost of the Snap-On, I can deal with the issues and it was worth it to me.  

Another tool that is worth spending for is a good set of 1/4" drive flex sockets.  The cheap ones do not last or work as well, and most of them are six point.  You will want twelve point in case you work on turbines.  The Mac set (which I own) is good quality and very low profile, but sometimes it will not work for cylinder base nuts on reciprocating engines because the socket is not deep enough, so several guys have the Snap-on 7/16" and 1/2" because they are longer and deeper.  In my experience, however, the low clearance that the Mac set provides is more important.  

Top to Bottom: Harbor Freight, Mac, Snap-On
  I have to confess that I don't actually own a set, but the Snap-On 4-way Angle Wrenches are the bomb.  I am working on finding a bargain because I borrow them all of the time (update: I found a set of Caterpillar 3/8-7/8 angle wrenches for $74 on ebay.  They are made by Snap-On for Caterpillar, but the plating on them is not as good a quality, not a big deal to me considering I saved almost $300!).  The 3/8"-3/4" set runs $245, or roughly $35 a wrench!  Pretty salty for my taste.  These don't have any moving parts, but they are awesome for a several reasons.  They are made from better steel than the cheap ones, so they will not spread when you are putting a lot of torque on a nut.  The better steel also allows the head of the wrench to be smaller.  It is common to see the cheap wrenches (i.e. the Harbor Freight set which I own) have a lot more steel around the jaw, which can be an issue in areas with tight clearances.

Mac and Snap-On wrenches with 15 degree end (Mac) aligned
 with 30 degree end (Snap-On)
    The thing that really sets the Snap-On set apart from any other in my experience is the angle of the head.  A normal wrench has a 15 degree offset on the open end, and almost all angle wrenches have one 15 degree end and one 60 degree end.  The Snap-On angle wrench is set up with a 30 degree offset on one end and a 60 degree offset on the other.  That really makes a difference when you are only able to move a nut a quarter turn at a time.  Word on the street is that Snap-On has a patent on that design, but a company called V-8 tools does sell a 30/60 degree wrench, but again, it seems like their design replaces good steel with bulk, hindering clearance.  I think that you could probably grind them down without affecting strength enough to matter to an A&P, but they probably aren't a very good option for heavy equipment mechanics.

Top to bottom: New Snap-On, Caterpillar, old Snap-On
    Caterpillar also offers a 30/60 angle wrench, but it is made for them by Snap-On, and I don't know where you can purchase it new.  It looks to be identical, just a little less expensive and without the convenient warranty service from the tool truck.  Those are probably not going to be a big issue for A&P's because we seldom break wrenches.

The newer Snap-On and Caterpillar wrenches are identical,
 but the older Snap-On is slightly smaller headed.  I am
guessing that they thickened it up to save themselves
 some money on warranties.

  These are just a few of the most important tools that will cost you to skimp on.  There are many others, but I think that these are the most important.  Watch for my breakdown of what tools are not worth buying off the truck. 

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