Proper tightening of bolts is critical on many metal structures and pieces of equipment. Internal combustion engines, such as those used in our cars, are probably one of the most critical places for proper tightening. Without adequate tightening, bolts can vibrate loose, causing serious damage and failures to engines and other equipment. To ensure proper tightening, a torque wrench is often used.
For our purposes, torque is a measure of the twisting force used in tightening these fasteners. The more twisting force that is applied, the more clamping force the bolts put on the parts. But there’s a limit to this; when too much clamping force is applied, the bolt can actually be stretched and even broken. How much torque a particular bolt can take before there is a potential for damaging it is a function of the bolt’s diameter and the material it is made of. Harder bolts, like grade 5 or 7 can take more torque than ones made of softer steel.
A good torque wrench must provide accurate adjustment for the torque that you wish to provide, as well as a clear indication that you have reached this torque. This indication is most often provided by an audible “click,” although digital torque wrenches might provide other sounds. At the same time, the torque wrench functions as a ratchet, allowing you to properly tighten the bolts.
Table of Contents
- 3 Best Torque Wrench – Comparison
- Best Torque Wrench – Review
- 1. Craftsman 3/8” Drive Digi-click Torque Wrench
- 2. AC Delco ARM303-4A, ½” Drive Digital
- 3. Gear Wrench 85076, 3/8 Drive Electronic
- 4. eTORK C1350, ½ Drive Torque Wrench
- 5. Summit Tools ½ Drive Digital Torque Wrench
- 6. Tekton 24335, ½ Drive Torque Wrench
- 7. Tacklife 3/8 Drive Torque Wrench
- 8. Precision Instruments PREC3FR250F ½ drive
- 9. Gearwrench 85062 3/8 Drive Micrometer
- 10. Craftsman 9-31425, ½ Drive Torque Wrench
3 Best Torque Wrench – Comparison
|eTORK C1350, Torque Wrench|
|Tekton 24335, Torque Wrench|
|Tacklife Torque Wrench|
One key thing you must know about using any torque wrench is that the length is critical. Adding a “cheater” (a piece of pipe) to the wrench to make it longer will throw off it’s reading, allowing you to apply much more torque than you think you are. Your hand must be on the wrench’s handle in order for the wrench to provide accurate readings.
Another important note for those using torque wrenches is that they all contain springs for measuring the torque. So when you are through using it, it is important to release the pressure and reset the wrench for zero. That way, the springs won’t stretch and the wrench will retain its accuracy. The same measure, of dropping down to zero, should be made between settings of the wrench.
A good torque wrench should last you your lifetime and be able to be passed on to your children. These tools are made to be rugged and are not used all the time. Proper care and storage of your torque wrench will help ensure that your grandchildren will still be able to use it. Never use a torque wrench for loosening, as the reverse torque can damage it.
Torque wrenches come in two basic types: digital and micrometer. The digital is so named for the digital readout, which is used for setting the torque you wish to achieve. Micrometer torque wrenches use a vernier for the setting; so you need to know how to read a vernier if you’re going to use one.
Best Torque Wrench – Review
1. Craftsman 3/8” Drive Digi-click Torque Wrench
Craftsman is considered the standard of comparison for consumer-grade tools. So it just makes sense that we would start this list out with one of their torque wrenches. This 3/8” drive torque digital torque wrench has a range from 5 to 80 ft. lbs, in .25 lb. increments. That will cover almost all auto repair and engine rebuild requirements. They also make a larger one that goes up to 250 ft-lbs.
The display of this torque wrench is backlit so it can be read even when underneath a vehicle in the shadow. A simple press of a button changes the reading from ft. lbs. to in. lbs. to Nm. Craftsman has provided a comfortable, ergonomic handle for ease of use.
- Easy to use digital readout makes it easy to set your torque
- Can be set for ft-lbs, in-lbs or Nm
- Backlit display
- Ergonomic handle
- 25 ft-lb. increments
- Good price
- Doesn’t come with a storage case
- Doesn’t have the famous Craftsman lifetime warranty (others don’t have this either)
2. AC Delco ARM303-4A, ½” Drive Digital
AC Delco provides this very nice ½” drive, a digital torque wrench with a range of 12.5 to 250.7 ft-lbs. this is one of the few torque wrenches designed for use in both RH and LH operation. It has an accuracy of 1.5% for clockwise rotation and 2.5% for counterclockwise. The precision geared 72 tooth ratchet head makes it possible to use in tight places.
The LCD display on this unit is four digits, with a “tenths” column, meaning that the wrench can be set for tenths of a pound of torque. It also operated in metric mode, allowing you to set it for Nm (newton-meters). Audio, visual and tactile (vibration) alarms are provided when the desired torque is reached.
- Can be used for both tightening and loosening, without damaging the wrench
- 72 gear ratchet head
- Excellent accuracy
- Backlit display
- Comfortable non-slip handle
- Triple alarms; audio, visual and tactile
- Torque range from 12.5 to 250.7 ft-lbs.
- Comes with a fitted metal storage case
- Takes time once you turn it on, before the digital readout is ready
- Price is a bit high
3. Gear Wrench 85076, 3/8 Drive Electronic
This comes from the same people who made ratcheting box-end wrenches popular. They’ve got a reputation to uphold and seem to do a good job of it with this wrench. Like the AC Delco wrench, this one is usable for both RH and LH tightening or loosening, with a 2% CW and 3% CCW accuracy. The ratcheting head is essentially the same, with 72 teeth, allowing for a five-degree swing.
One unique thing about this torque wrench is that it is rated in metric, at 10-135 Nm. Even so, it also provides for readings in-lb, ft-lb, Kgf-m and Kgf-cm, the primary readout is in Nm. This torque wrench not only lets you know when you arrive at the desired torque but warns you when you’re getting close, via a vibration, a buzzer and solid LED light.
- Target torque alert lets you know when you are approaching the desired torque
- Readout in five different measurement options
- 72 tooth ratchet head works in both directions
- Good torque accuracy
- Calibration accuracy is only warrantied for 90 days, although the tool is warrantied for a year
- Doesn’t come with a storage case
- Auto-sleep function kicks in after only one minute
4. eTORK C1350, ½ Drive Torque Wrench
This is probably one of the nicest micrometer adjustment torque wrenches around. Instead of the typical adjustment vernier, this tool has s window to give you a clear indication of what your adjustment torque is. So even if you don’t have any idea of how to read a vernier, you can be sure you’ll get your settings right, each and every time.
Torque adjustment is extremely easy, as the adjustment mechanism is ball-bearing mounted. The handle is also padded, which is something normally only seen on digital torque wrenches. Compared to other similar wrenches, this one is more accurate at 3% (instead of the more common 4%). It will measure to that accuracy in both directions as well, not just allow you to loosen a bolt in reverse. A calibration certificate from the manufacturer provides you with sure information on the wrench’s accuracy.
- High accuracy
- Range of 30 to 150 ft-lbs is sufficient for automotive applications
- The reversible head that reads torque in both directions
- Easy-to-use adjustment
- Padded handle
- Ball-bearing mounted release and adjustment for ease of use and accuracy
- Comes in a storage case
- Comes with calibration certificate
- Um, um, can’t think of anything
5. Summit Tools ½ Drive Digital Torque Wrench
For a lower-cost, digital torque wrench, check out this model from Summit Tools. It’s clear from looking at it that they intended to build a lower-cost wrench, as it isn’t as “pretty” as some of the others; but that’s really not what you’re buying. The idea is to have a torque wrench that’s easy to use.
This torque wrench has a ½ inch drive and a range from 12.5 to 250.7 ft-lbs, adjustable in tenths of a pound. While it doesn’t provide readouts for other measurement options, most information is still provided in ft-pounds and conversions are easy. However, you need to realize that this torque wrench is going to tell you the torque you have reached, rather than telling you when you have reached a preset torque.
- Excellent price for a digital torque wrench
- High range with good accuracy. Rated at 3% in a CW direction
- Measuring actual torque applied, rather than looking to reach a preset gives you a good picture of what you’re doing
- Torque measurement hold, so you can check it later
- Comes with a storage case and 3 sockets
- Not rated for CCW directional accuracy
- Can’t preset desired torque
6. Tekton 24335, ½ Drive Torque Wrench
Tekton is one of those little heard of brands, who nevertheless produce some great tools at a great price. This is one of the least expensive wrenches on our list, yet still maintains 4% accuracy, which is pretty good for a micrometer torque wrench. It is also reversible, allowing you to accurately apply torque both in a CW and CCW direction.
The wrench emits an audible click when it reaches the desired torque. This can also be felt in your hand, in case you don’t hear it. Adjustment is fairly easy, with the high-contrast vernier, calibrated for both ft-lbs and Nm.
- Excellent price
- Range from 10 to 150 ft-lbs is going to cover all automotive needs
- Solid steel construction for long life
- Reversible head for removing bolts, although it only reads in CW direction
- The high-contrast scale is easy to read
- Comes in plastic storage case
- It’s not a digital, so it’s a bit harder to use
- Only reads in CW direction
7. Tacklife 3/8 Drive Torque Wrench
Track life provides the least expensive torque wrench on our list, yet one which still has won a lot of customer accolades. This 3/8” drive wrench has a range of 10 to 80 ft-lbs, which is enough for most all automotive applications. You’re not limited by the 3/8” drive either, as it comes with adapters for ½” and ¼” drive, as well as a 3/8” extension.
This is a standard click type torque wrench, letting you know when you reach the desired torque. The vernier is nicely etched and high contrast, making it easy to see and use. The ratchet head is reversible, allowing you to use the torque wrench for removing bolts as well.
- Excellent price
- Easy-to-read scales
- Comes with ¼” & ½” drive adapters
- Comes with a calibration certificate, so you’ll know the exact readings
- Reversible ratchet head
- Comes with a storage case
- Quality is lower than some of the other ones we’ve looked at
8. Precision Instruments PREC3FR250F ½ drive
This wrench is different than any of the others we’ve got on this list, in that it is a split-beam torque wrench. As such, it’s neither a digital or a micrometer. Rather, the fingertip adjustment knob allows you to dial in the exact setting you want, quickly and easily; and the wrench will hold it for multiple uses. The split-beam design also eliminates the need to turn down the torque after use, saving you time and avoiding potential damage to your tools.
Split-beam wrenches, like this one, also eliminate the need for a breaking in period for a new wrench. It will work correctly from the very first time and will retain the same calibration, even when used in a harsh environment. It goes up to 250 ft-lbs.
- Extremely easy to set
- No problem with having to turn down the torque, as the setting is not under tension
- Easier to read than a vernier
- Flex head for hard to reach places
- Ergonomic, the padded handle is easier on the operator
- Locking torque adjustment for repeat tightening
- Comes with a storage case
- A bit pricy
- Doesn’t work in reverse
9. Gearwrench 85062 3/8 Drive Micrometer
The outstanding thing about this Gearwrench torque wrench is the head. It’s low-profile and a smaller diameter, allowing it to fit into places others can’t. Yet it’s still reversible so that your torque wrench can be used for removing bolts too.
The locking ring for this one is nice as well. Rather than being in the base of the handle, where it is hard to work with, it’s at the top of the handle; right where you need it when setting the torque. With a range of 10 to 100 ft-lbs, you’ll be able to use it for anything you need on your car or light truck.
- Compact teardrop head fits into tight places
- The reversible head can be used to remove bolts
- Easy to use the snap ring for locking in the torque
- Vernier scale is not high contrast
- No storage case
- Price is a bit high
10. Craftsman 9-31425, ½ Drive Torque Wrench
We mentioned a Craftsman wrench at the beginning of this list and it only seems right to wrap it up with another. This is the non-digital version of their wrench, although in a ½” drive, rather than 3/8”. It has a range of 20 to 150 ft-lbs. I’ve used a wrench just like this for years, with great results.
One of the nice things about this particular torque wrench is that they use a locking ring to hold the torque setting, rather than the button on the base of the handle. That is more secure and considerably easier to work with. The handle is padded as well, which is nice when you’re trying to pull 100 pounds of torque.
- The adjustment lock ring is much nicer to work with
- 20-150 ft-lbs range
- High contrast vernier for easier reading
- Padded handle for comfort
- Comes with fitted storage case
- Craftsman full lifetime warranty
- Not reversible
- Scales stamped in the tool shaft aren’t painted for high contrast
Any of these torque wrenches will provide you with excellent service, helping you with auto mechanic work or other projects. The big decision you need to make is whether you want a digital or micrometer torque wrench. That’s going to make a big difference in the price you pay.
Always be sure to take proper care of your torque wrench, dialing the torque back to zero when not in use.