The Garage Tools

Fix Your Car Like a Professional with GearWrench’s Torque Wrench

Torque wrenches are the best way to prevent righty tighty from becoming too loosey.

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Does working on your car ever feel like defusing a bomb in an action movie? Components are disassembled, repairs and modifications get made, and bolts are threaded back into the engine block with precision care. As our DIY hero tightens one down with their trusty ratchet, visions of said bolt rattling loose flashes through your mind, so they decide to err on the safe side and tighten it just a little more and … pop! Blood drains from your face. Sweat beads on your forehead. Suddenly, all resistance is gone, and the bolt spins freely. Guess what? That weekend project just became a nightmare you can’t wake up from.

It turns out that our wrists aren’t calibrated as accurately as we’d like to think. Can you really feel the difference between 30 foot-pounds and 40 foot-pounds? Most people can’t. Yet, one will hold your engine together for years, and the other might leave you shopping for an engine block at your local scrapyard. That’s where a torque wrench comes into play. 

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Investing in one will save you a ton of headaches, and doesn’t have to cost an arm, leg, torso, and hair. Price do vary, though, with  them ranging between $20 Harbor Freight and $500 Snap-On units. About $130, however, can be a sweet spot as is the case with this GearWrench torque wrench. I recently rebuilt the engine in my pickup, and I don’t lose a wink of sleep at night wondering if something is going to come loose. That’s because I tightened every bolt to the manufacturer’s specs with the GearWrench unit. 

Here’s what I encountered along the way.

GearWrench's torque wrench comes with a certificate of calibration. Nice.
GearWrench’s torque wrench comes with a certificate of calibration. Nice., Scott Murdock

Unboxing the GearWrench Micrometer Adjustable Torque Wrench

Unboxing tools tends to be an uneventful affair. The molded hard-plastic case is important here because torque wrenches are surprisingly sensitive instruments. Having that extra protection isn’t just necessary for shipping — when the box undoubtedly got knocked around like a beach ball — it’s where the torque wrench will be stored as long as it’s in your garage. It might seem counterintuitive that something capable of delivering so much force can be somewhat fragile, but it’s true. This case will help keep the torque wrench calibrated and ready when you need it.

In addition to the owner’s manual, it came with a certificate of calibration showing that it was tested for accuracy at three torque settings. The acceptable margin of error is 3 %, but this particular tool proved to be much closer to the indicated setting and very consistent. 

For example, at the maximum setting of 250 foot-pounds, my test wrench measured in at 250.5, 250.3, 250.6, 250.6, and 250.9 foot-pounds in five tests. That’s well within the acceptable range of 242.5 to 257.5 foot-pounds, and it’s good enough for me.

Tightening down a suspension bolt.
Tightening down a suspension bolt. , Scott Murdock

Getting After It With the GearWrench Torque Wrench

  • Good: Once you learn how to use this tool properly, you’ll be able to dial in the exact amount of torque required to properly maintain your vehicle.
  • Bad: There’s a fair amount of room for user error with this torque wrench, so pay close attention to avoid making a costly mistake. 
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I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret: Project cars are never finished. How fortunate then that a torque wrench should arrive at my doorstep. I put this GearWrench tool through its paces on the truck I’ve driven since high school. 

First, I properly tightened my lug nuts, since all four wheels had recently been off to replace the front brakes and service the rear brakes. That’s a job that’s tough to overdo with a lug wrench, but it’s nice to have the peace of mind from verifying with a torque wrench. To get around my oversized tires, I needed to use an extension between the wrench and socket. That’s fine to do with a torque wrench, but it’s important to keep the tool as stable as possible anytime you add an extension into the mix.

Next, I replaced the old shocks at all four corners. That’s another component you really don’t want to come loose. On this truck, the job is easy because I can almost crawl underneath on my hands and knees. To service items like this on a car, you’ll need to invest in a set of jack stands or go big and outfit your garage with a lift.

Because this was a new wrench with a fresh calibration certificate, I trust my work to be spot-on. The dial was easy to use, and the locking collar added a layer of reassurance when I was leaning hard on the knurled handle. The 24-inch length was more than enough to exert the necessary force without too much effort. For most automotive work, this is exactly the kind of thing I’m looking for.

What’s Good About the GearWrench Micrometer Adjustable Torque Wrench

There are two types of torque wrenches: digital and mechanical. This GearWrench is the latter. A scale on the chrome-plated handle marks force in foot-pounds from 30 to 250. The knurled handle is a nice touch. It’s higher quality than the rubber handles so many manufacturers use, and the deep knurling provides tons of grip, even for hands slathered in engine oil.

This is a tool for fairly heavy-duty jobs. Many fasteners that thread into iron blocks require about 30 foot-pounds of force, which is the minimum setting on this tool. Working with aluminum components requires even less. The highest torque value I’ve dealt with was 135 foot-pounds, and that was for the bolt that holds the vibration damper to the crankshaft on my trusty, rusty Dodge. Chassis components require a wide range of torque specs. With a maximum limit of 250 foot-pounds and a burly half-inch drive, you should be covered for just about anything on a passenger vehicle.

You’ll also need to treat it with more care than most of your tools. It comes with a hard case for a reason, so that’s where it needs to stay when not in use. Torque wrenches can — and will — get knocked out of calibration if you drop them. Accuracy can also drift over time. It’s not a bad idea to have your torque wrench calibrated once a year to make sure it’s still measuring properly. 

What’s Not Good About the GearWrench Micrometer Adjustable Torque Wrench

The first criticism some people will have with this torque wrench is the fact that it’s mechanical. I’ve used digital and mechanical torque wrenches and had success with both. The biggest disadvantage of mechanical versions that I’ve found is the relatively small amount of feedback they give. Unlike digital alternatives, there’s no warning when you’re getting close to your chosen setting, almost no tactile indication that you’ve reached it, and only a faint audible click to let you know when to stop. I like this method quite a bit, but some people might want more communication from their tools.

Digital torque wrenches also allow you to measure degrees of rotation. This is so you can tighten a bolt to a certain torque setting, then add a small amount of further rotation to stretch the metal to a manufacturer’s specification. That isn’t possible with this wrench, so you’d either have to leave bolts at the torque setting, eyeball it (that’s the wrong answer), or borrow another tool to finish the job. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that the settings, though etched, can be tough to read. If you aren’t a neat freak like me and allow the tool to get grimey, you’ll have a hell of a time reading the small numbers on the handle. Measurements are listed on the same scale in foot-pounds and Newton-meters, so check twice to make sure you’re not using the wrong one or combining the two.

The GearWrench's torque collar.
The GearWrench’s torque collar., Scott Murdock

Our Verdict on the GearWrench Micrometer Adjustable Torque Wrench

This is one piece of gear I highly recommend. In general, a torque wrench (or two) should be a mandatory addition to every amateur wrench’s garage. This one fills a sweet spot between the cheap stuff I wouldn’t trust and the high-end garage Gucci I can’t afford. I really enjoy working with a mechanical torque wrench, and it’s a good way to save some coin compared to the digital version. The important pieces are still there: accurate calibration, consistent readings, all-metal construction, and a locking collar to keep you on the right track.

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GearWrench Micrometer Adjustable Torque Wrench

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FAQs About the GearWrench Micrometer Adjustable Torque Wrench

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

Q. How much do torque wrenches cost?

A. Small, entry-level torque wrenches can be found for as little as $25. Heavy-duty premium options can go for as much as $1,000. That’s a massive difference, but most of the torque wrenches you’ll find are between $100 and $200. That kind of money will get you a quality tool that you can rely on for years of DIY automotive work.

Q. Why are there different sizes of torque wrenches?

A. Torque wrenches are designed to accurately apply varying amounts of force. At the small end are tools that will let you dial up small amounts of torque measured in inch-pounds. These are likely to use a 1/4-inch or 3/8-inch drive and are great for working with aluminum components that aren’t heavily stressed, like valve covers.

Larger torque wrenches, like this one, use a heavy-duty 1/2-inch drive that can accommodate larger sockets and exert serious amounts of torque. When you crank down a bolt with more than 200 pound-feet of force, you can be pretty sure it’s not going anywhere unless a cheater pipe or impact driver comes along. 

Q. Do I really need a torque wrench to work on my car?

A. I suppose you technically don’t need a torque wrench. I’d rather not push my luck when high-dollar components and my status as a non-pedestrian are at stake.

Q. What’s better, digital or mechanical torque wrenches?

A. I own both styles, and either one can do the job well. It’s really a matter of personal preference. Digital torque wrenches allow you to confirm increasing pressure, and they can give you a warning beep when you get close to the preprogrammed amount of force. Mine signals proper tension with an audible tone and vibration. On the downside, digital tools require batteries and are more expensive.

Mechanical torque wrenches are simpler to use and don’t require batteries. The drawback is that they don’t give a warning before reaching the desired torque spec, and the only indicator that you’ve reached it is usually a quiet click from the ratchet head. You’ll need to pay close attention when using one, but it’s a tried and true method that generations of skilled mechanics swear by.

Q. Once I buy a torque wrench, I’m set for life, right?

A. Torque wrenches are precision instruments. That means they need regular upkeep to prevent them from losing their edge and compromising your quality of work. Always handle your torque wrench carefully to avoid dropping it or knocking it out of calibration. Keep it safely in its case when it’s not in use. Plan on having it recalibrated about once a year to make sure it stays — as the great mechanic Mona Lisa Vito would say — dead-on-balls accurate

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Scott Murdock is an avowed rust-box connoisseur. A child of the ’90s, he has a soft spot for hatchbacks and believes all aging cars deserve a second chance at life. You can usually find him drooling over winged Subarus and air-cooled Ducatis.