Is Harbor Freight’s Hercules 20V 1/2 in. Compact 3-Speed Impact Wrench a Bargain Bolt-Buster?
Cheesy name aside, this unit’s served me quite well.
It's no secret that compact lithium-powered tools are all the rage these days. Whether your favorite automotive YouTube channel raves about the pick of the litter in their toolbox, or you're inundated with us reporting on massive deals, there's a lot to choose from. And for all price points, too.
Milwaukee, Ryobi, Makita, and DeWalt are all household names that produce some quality pieces of hardware. But what about one of Harbor Freight's house brands, the slightly cornily-named Hercules? A little over a year ago I opened up my wallet and bought the Hercules 20V Brushless Cordless 1/2 in. Compact 3-Speed Impact Wrench, a mouthful of a name. All in with battery and charger, I threw down just over $200 after tax on the setup at the time. A steep discount compared to those labeled above. But it's proven to be an excellent purchase ever since. Well, not without a few downsides.
After putting this cordless impact through the wringer on several cars over the months, here's how it's performed, and why I'd say it was two bills well-spent.
Size Was a Major Factor
One of the main reasons I went with this model was that I wanted a truly compact impact that could go to town on the hardware underneath my old 1997 Land Rover Discovery. I wrote about wrenching on this thing at length over at Car Bibles if you're interested in checking it out.
More specifically, I wanted to point the impact at the front crank pulley bolt, take it to hell and back, and then get at the Discovery's leaky front main seal. So I figured why not buy a small-yet-muscle-bound lithium impact that could also be a faithful companion for other smaller applications I often run into as well? The Hercules' 555 ft. lbs of breakaway torque, and 322 ft. lbs of fastening torque, sounded more than ample.
Its dimensions were enticing, too. While Harbor Freight doesn't list any measurements, checking it out in person sealed the deal as this thing was a perfect size and would surely fit.
And it did! Fit like a glove. Except, it turns out that even with a fully charged battery, the Hercules 20V couldn't knock that particular Land Rover bolt free. I had to instead brace a breaker bar on the bolt and crank the engine over. This is the old, slightly sketchy way of doing things. However, once the job was done, fastening the bolt back down to its torque spec was no issue for it at all.
I’ve also used the Hercules for suspension and exhaust work on my BMW 128i. It’s been an absolute breeze thanks to being able to fit it up in all of the little coupe's underbody and trunk area crevices.
Generally Very Easy to Use
The Hercules 20V's size and power have proven to be quite effective at other jobs, too.
It not only fits in small spaces but it's also delivered more than enough ft. lbs to loosen and tighten the nuts that normally require one tool to hold the BMW’s shock shaft in place while doing so. It spins up plenty quickly, and once some load is added to the suspension, I've then transitioned to being less of a philistine and torqued everything to spec.
Changing torque output and direction, as well as checking the battery level is easy, too. While I don't use an impact to initially loosen wheel nuts and bolts (I prefer on the ground with a breaker bar), I do like putting it on the lowest of three torque settings when reinstalling them. A quick snap—er, ugga-dugga—is just below the nuts and bolts' torque specs, which I then follow up with a torque wrench.
I've put OI' Hercules through the wringer, too. It's been dropped, knocked over, jammed against metallic surfaces, and more, yet still functions perfectly. The blue beast does show quite a few battle scars, which might've been a little easier to earn than other brands' competing models, but it doesn't bother me. It looks like a well-used tool that's faithfully done its job without issue.
All Batteries Aren’t the Same
However, I do have one gripe as far as faithfully performing at peak power: battery level. When the battery is low, such as down to one bar, the Hercules doesn't provide enough torque at any setting to knock most nuts and bolts free. I'm not sure if this is battery or wrench related, but the difference between topped-up battery performance and one bar is quite significant.
But on the flip side, this thing has excellent battery life. If only two bars light up when I check the battery level when I start a job, big or small, it's never died on me.
This is also good peace of mind for track duty, as I bring a bag of tools with me to track days. Not including the massive charger is a relief. I've already got a lot of other stuff to pack and charge, such as other tools, my data recorder, GoPro, and so on. The less to worry about, the better.
The Hercules 20V Brushless Cordless 1/2 in. Compact 3-Speed Impact Wrench does a lot of what its direct competition does, but for almost half the price. And I bet Harbor Freight is fudging the numbers when it comes to breakaway and fastening torque, i.e. underrated sandbagging.
Though we're all aware that Milwaukee is usually the answer when it comes to well-built, long-lasting tools, I have no qualms with my little old Harbor Freight deal for far less scratch. I won't get into any comments about whether or not HF stuff shares the same factory as a brand-name unit like so many other tools. But its performance does make you wonder.
My Hercules setup cost me just over $200 out the door, I've gotten a lot of use out of it, and my wrists and forearms have cheered with glee ever since. If I were to pop 'round to Home Depot and pick up the equivalent model by Milwaukee, the M18, it looks like it'd cost $259 for the tool alone, before charger, battery, and sales tax. Then, the Ryobi One+ HP fetches $249 with everything before tax—significantly less, but not as inexpensive as the HF setup.
Of course, some version of the old saying "buy once, cry once" might apply, but after a year of consistent wrenching on as many as four vehicles—the Discovery, my old Mazda 2, the BMW 128i, and Audi S4—I haven’t yet felt the need to ball my eyes out. Well, besides losing some might when the battery's low.
If you've got the coin and want to play it safe, there's nothing wrong with a name brand. But there's no shame in Harbor Freight fare. At least I haven’t found any yet.
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