Harbor Freight’s Hercules 12V Cordless Ratchet Offers Eye-Opening Handiness
This compact, reasonably priced, 3/8th battery ratchet just makes life easier.
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No matter the amount of time saved, it's always worth investing in tools that make life even the slightest bit easier. Especially if you're a slow wrench like yours truly. Ensuring you have the right tool for the job is the most immediate and effective time saver, and in a close second is trusting in modern lithium battery technology.
Recently, Harbor Freight sent me its Hercules 12V cordless 3/8th inch ratchet for testing. This was my first time ever using such a contraption, and after having a generally very positive experience with the value-minded company's mighty little compact 1/2th inch impact wrench, I was quite excited to see how much this unit could be utilized in my normal, everyday wrenching.
I was not disappointed, especially when it came to working in mildly hard-to-reach places.
Nice Overall Construction
The first thing I noticed when removing the baby Hercules from its basic packaging was how sturdy it felt. It’s constructed of the same hard plastic and rubbery grip material as my impact and definitely feels up the challenge of dealing with more than a few whoopsie moments. Lord knows I'm guilty of frequently dropping or knocking over my tools.
This cordless ratchet is also a great size, as its overall length isn't too long at 12 inches (compact battery attached). It's a slim tool, and the grip size was perfect for my hand—I could get a firm grasp on it without overlapping my fingers with my palm. Between its size, weight, and shape, especially when matched with HF's 12V 2Ah Lithium-Ion Compact Lightweight Battery, felt sturdy and in no way chintzy, yet quite easy to wield. You can confidently twirl it around in your palm, which who knows, could come in handy while wrenching in especially tight quarters. A larger battery with more power capacity would make its handling more awkward.
Its trigger pull—which sounds corny to say for a tool but I'm gonna go with it—is quite nice, too. There's barely any side-to-side movement to it, and it’s quite easy to modulate to either slowly turn hardware or reach the ratchet's maximum 40 foot-pounds of fastening or loosening torque. In fact, it's nice to lightly press on it just for the small-yet-bright-as-hell light aimed at its drive tang, just to see what you're about to unleash it on.
How convenient: my 2002 Audi S4 is the perfect candidate to test this lively little lithium lad. It's infamous for being tough to wrench on, particularly because there's just no room to work on anything. Or, you're faced with having to remove more than a few plastic components to reach even the simplest crucial parts, like coil packs.
My initial trial run with it went well: it had enough breakaway and fastening torque to quickly remove the Torx bolts holding in its headlights. But those are the easiest hardware to reach on this old German steed. Coil packs are a slightly different story.
Granted, the 10mm hex bolts holding them in are easily reachable with a standard, manual ratchet, though in an effort to avoid removing as much as possible, I opted to see if the Hercules could make quicker work. And it did.
The Hercules was svelte enough to aim at bolts underneath the coolant reservoir and airbox, pull the trigger, and have the bolts off in an instant. Well, at least to the point of being nearly off, and then hand-loosened all the way. This allowed me to avoid giving the turbos sitting down below along each cylinder bank new friends and possibly never be able to fish out ever again.
Speaking of dropping things: it was nice to have something large enough that wouldn't require fishing out from between the frame rail and cylinder bank, which is a bigger pain in the ass on the B5 S4 than one might automatically assume. Trust me, it took more than a few minutes to rescue a ¼ inch ratchet when I did the spark plugs a month or so back.
One thing I noticed, and perhaps this is a product of its higher torque value, but the thing has some kick to it once it's got the bolt nice and snugged down, so you have to keep a firm grip on it. But that's almost certainly par for the course.
The Hercules Cordless Ratchet Is a Time-Saver
I barely had to remove anything getting at the coil packs bolts, and a long extension made quick use of the bolts sitting at an odd angle. Swapping the coil packs is easy on this car all said and done, but the ratchet makes it even easier.
From start to finish, including snapping photos, repackaging the old coil packs, and removing/reinstalling engine covers, the job took about 25 minutes. I might've saved as much as 10-15 minutes, possibly more if my manual ratcheting were to smack some nearby piece of ancient plastic and end up with a leak in the coolant reservoir or something. Not that I used that time saved for anything productive, but swift and easy just makes life more enjoyable.
I guarantee I drastically cut down my swearing-per-hour as well, which is always a plus.
The Competition and How the Hercules Cordless Ratchet Stacks Up
Harbor Freight's top cordless ratchet fetches for just about $100 on its site, with an accommodating compact 12V battery for another $25. Its cheapest charger commands just $45. All in, you’re only spending $170 on your initial investment. And if you're working on cars that give no quarter in wrench-turning space, experience wrist pain from time to time, or are just curious about how this piece of kit could make your life easier, it’s not a bad deal.
Milwaukee's most-base unit commands the same piece of coin, though has 5 foot-pounds lower torque, and its own batteries start at around $10/pop more expensive. To charge 'em up, Milwaukee's got very inexpensive options. Though, like the Harbor Freight option, if you're in the ecosystem already with Milwaukee, without putting my own hands on it, it might be a good idea to stay with them.
All-in-all, I'm a fan of Harbor Freight's modest blue-and-black cordless ratchet. It feels good in the hand, has good power, and is of good overall construction. Though, not that I was expecting it to perform poorly—like the ultra-competitive compact crossover market, even the cheapest or least-well-known option is good enough.
As someone's first ratchet, it's a great choice. And after sending my Hercules 20V compact impact to hell and back, it'll hopefully hold up just as well.