Best Torque Wrenches: Keep Everything Tight and Secure
Some of the best and most affordable torque wrenches for automotive use
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PUBLISHED ON May 24, 2019
When it comes to automotive design, torque is the thing that keeps everything together. Also known as tightening force, the right amount of torque is needed for a variety of parts to be tight and secure in order to work properly and safely. This is where a simple torque wrench with a lot of leverage and an accurate readout is a must-have addition to any automotive tool set. Here's our buying guide for some of the best automotive-specific torque wrenches you should check out.
- Best OverallCDI Torque 2503MFRPHSummarySummaryA good option for getting an accurate precision instrument with a simple, easy-to-read mechanical readout.ProsProsOffers a great build quality. The wrench handle is large enough to fit comfortably to torque down fasteners to a high degree. The finish is strong enough to take minor drops without scratching.ConsConsStorage issues with the included case. The locking ring has room for improvement since it's easy to miss and unlock unintentionally.
- Best ValueTekton 24340SummarySummaryOne of the best budget-friendly torque wrenches that is affordable enough for starting or expanding an automotive tool set.ProsProsGood, reliable build quality. All-metal construction has a good feel in the grip and isn't too shiny. Easy-to-read scale in both foot-pounds and newton-meters.ConsConsRequires proper use to get the best, most accurate results. The locking mechanism on the ratchet feels flimsy above 50 foot-pounds.
- Honorable MentionGorilla Automotive TW705SummarySummaryA good alternative to general hardware store torque wrenches if you want something made specifically for automotive use.ProsProsEasy, straightforward use. The design of the wrench handle is small and compact for convenient storage.ConsConsDifficult to torque things down to high levels without extra effort compared to alternatives. Markings on the plastic ring can come loose when knocked.
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Why Buy a Torque Wrench
- Get accurate measurements. Since many automotive parts require a proper level of torque to be safe and secure, a torque wrench offers a precise way to get the right torque specs the first time. This makes it easy to hit the manufacturer recommended levels each and every time. This is especially important for different parts like lug nuts.
- Preserve components. The main reason torque wrenches are so important is a matter of safety. Too much or too little torque on parts is dangerous. In addition to the danger of parts coming loose, too much torque can also damage parts.
Types of Torque Wrenches
One of the most common types of torque wrenches, click-type wrenches make it easy to hit the right amount of torque without any guesswork. These wrenches have a torque setting in the ratchet head where you can control the desired amount of force you want to apply. As you rotate the wrench (usually in the clockwise direction), you will eventually hear and feel an audible click that indicates you've reached the desired level. There is also typically a heavy-duty quick release to loosen the wrench as well.
Simple and affordable, beam torque wrenches lack any kind of indicator or sensor to notify you when the desired torque amount has been reached. Instead, the wrench has a basic visual indicator and a metal beam that flexes. As you rotate the wrench, the beam bends, moving the indicator. Since everything is done by eye, getting the most precise measurement can be more difficult compared to click-type and electronic wrenches.
Also known as digital torque wrenches, electronic wrenches use a digital readout in place of a click-type mechanism to notify you when the desired amount of torque is reached. In many ways, this type combines the best of click-type and beam style torque wrenches: You get a live digital readout and an automatic notification in one. With the advanced capabilities, however, a higher price tag often comes as well.
Top Brands of Torque Wrenches
Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Tekton produces a wide range of hand tools that are popular on construction sites and in garages alike. The company focuses on producing higher-quality products than most budget-friendly options offer. As a result, options like its Tekton 24320 wrench have been known to last much longer than competitors.
For 40 years, Gorilla Automotive Products has produced a large range of automotive accessories and tools to make vehicle maintenance as easy as possible. Dependability is a big value for the company. In most cases, a customer ought to purchase just a single set of tools that will last for years. Check out the company's TW705 Wrench for a look at the level of quality they produce.
Founded in 1968, CDI is one of the few companies focused primarily on torque products. Making both mechanical and electronic tools, the company's products are designed for use in a variety of settings, including professional automotive garages and scientific labs. The CDI Torque 2503MFRPH is one of the few affordable wrenches that have a high level of reliability and precision.
Torque Wrench Pricing
- $50 and under: This is the price range of more limited torque wrenches in terms of performance and durability. Options here are good for basic fastening tasks, but many will be limited for automotive parts that require a high degree of torque. Most wrenches here are on par with basic hardware store varieties.
- $50-$100: Sandwiched between true budget options and professional-grade options, torque wrenches in the midrange tend to offer higher-quality designs and builds. In use, however, these wrenches are still fairly limited and basic. A torque range of up to 250 foot-pounds is common here.
- $100 and above: Above $100, options can quickly rise in price. This range is home to a lot of professional-grade options that include Snap-On attachments, digital readouts, higher torque ranges, and an increase in build quality.
The different sizes of most torque wrench roughly correspond to its torque range; larger drive sizes tend to offer a higher range. For automotive applications, 1/4-, 3/8-, and 1/2-inch drives are the most common for small nuts and bolts. The 1/4-inch drive is on the small side, while wrenches with a 1/2-inch drive are the most versatile in professional and amateur garages. For some specific applications, like torquing down center-lugs on a wheel, a 3/4-inch drive will be required.
All torque wrenches have certain limitations when it comes to the amount of force they can deliver. This is known as the torque range, commonly measured in foot-pounds. On average, the range corresponds to the drive size of the wrench. For example, smaller sizes like a 1/4- or 3/8-inch drive tend to max out at 21 and 75 foot-pounds respectively. The common 1/2-inch drive has a range of 30 to 250 foot-pounds, which is suitable for most work done on a vehicle.
- Accuracy: In order to get the best results, a torque wrench needs to be as accurate as possible. Accuracy partly depends on the calibration and precision of the instrument itself. For example, the beam needs to be aligned correctly on a beam torque wrench. Accuracy also depends on the readout of the wrench. Better results are common with electronic and click-type wrenches because of the digital readout and/or sound notification.
- Comfort: Since all torque wrenches require force from the user to work, comfort and usability are two important considerations in terms of overall ergonomics. The size, length, and grip of the shaft, for example, influence the overall comfort of the wrench. More leverage makes it easier to apply higher amounts of torque without extra effort. A grip makes it easier to maintain a secure hold on the wrench, even if your hands are slippery from engine oil or automotive grease.
- Ratchet Design: A ratcheting head is a simple way to maintain a precise level of torque as you increase the overall amount. Beam torque wrenches, for example, force you to apply the torque all at once in a single rotation. Wrenches with a ratchet, however, hold the current level of torque as you rotate the handle to apply more force. A ratchet tends to be common with electronic and click-type torque wrenches. Other good design traits include steel construction, a reversible ratchet function, quick release buttons, and a good chrome finish.
Best Torque Wrench Reviews & Recommendations 2019
Best Overall: CDI Torque 2503MFRPH
CDI's 1/2-inch torque wrench makes it easy to get precise and accurate measurements when locking down fasteners. The dual direction, dual scale readout is easy to locate and read while using the wrench at odd angles and positions. With a torque range of 30-250 foot-pounds and an easy-removal socket, a wrench is also a versatile tool that's found in many automotive applications.
The build quality of the wrench is where it shines the most. With all metal construction, the wrench feels solid within the grip, especially while torquing something down to a high degree. The finish is also slick, doing well to resist impacts and scratches if you happen to accidentally drop the wrench onto the garage floor. Measurements tend to be accurate.
Storage is a bit of an issue with the wrench. The case is tough enough to protect it from casual drops, but the wrench won't fit unless it's turned down to the lowest setting. The locking ring is also in an awkward spot that's easy to miss when using the wrench and can unlock unexpectedly due to a weaker-than-average locking spring.
Best Value: Tekton 24340
It can be difficult to find a high-quality, budget-friendly torque wrench for automotive use. Tekton has a good option for anyone starting to expand or upgrade their automotive tool set without spending too much on a single tool. While not the best in terms of torquing capability, this torque wrench offers a lot in terms of reliability and durability for garage use.
The wrench has a surprisingly sturdy feel in the hands without seeming unmanageable in terms of overall weight. The feel is enhanced with the rough grip that still feels comfortable in the hands. With both foot-pound and newton-meter markings, the wrench has enough capability to handle most automotive applications without feeling like it will break or buckle.
As a ratchet torque wrench, there is a small learning curve compared to other torque wrenches. Proper use without any cheats (i.e. a pipe to extend the leverage) is required to get the best results. The ratchet lock can also feel a bit flimsy above 50 foot-pounds as well.
Honorable Mention: Gorilla Automotive TW705
It can be hard to find common hand and power tools that are designed primarily for automotive use. While the Gorilla Automotive TW705 1/2-inch torque wrench can be used in any setting where you need to fasten something down to a precise level, it comes from a company focused on automotive tools and accessories. As a result, the torque range is higher than most options you will find at the local hardware store, going all the way up to 250 foot-pounds.
Using the torque wrench is fairly straightforward in terms of securing different attachments and fasteners. The handle is a decent length with a comfortable grip, all of which is small enough to fit in compact areas around the garage when not in use. Readings are available in both foot-pounds and newton-meters.
The design of the wrench does leave something to be desired at higher torquing levels. The length of the wrench, while great for storage, makes it more difficult to hit higher levels without more effort than higher-end competitors. The measurements could also use a design change since they are printed on a plastic sleeve that easily comes loose if knocked.
- If you are searching for just one torque wrench for your automotive tool set, start with one with a 1/2-inch drive size. This will give you a great torque range that is suitable for most automotive applications.
- Make sure you calibrate the torque wrench at least once a year. Some manufacturers offer a basic procedure to do this yourself, or you can get a professional to do it for you.
- Clean threads before you torque a fastener down. Debris and rust can make it more difficult to get the right amount of torque.
- Never lubricate a fastener unless indicated by the part's manufacturer.
- In most cases, it's smart not to use a torque wrench as a breaker bar. This can damage the wrench.
Q. Will a torque wrench keep me from over-tightening a fastener?
A. Most likely, no. Many wrenches give you some indication of when you hit the desired amount of torque, but they won't keep you from cranking down on the fastener even more.
Q. What happens if a bolt is over-torqued?
A. This depends on how much it's over-torqued. Slightly above the manufacturer's specification rarely does major harm, but it is easy to break the bolt right off with just a bit of extra force.
Q. What automotive parts can or need to be torqued?
A. Anything that screws into something else usually has a precise amount of torque it requires. Common nuts and bolts, wheel lugs, spark plugs and more all benefit or require an accurate torque wrench.
For its general build quality and ease of use, our top pick for the best torque wrench is the CDI Torque 2503MFRPH.
To save some money, check out our top value pick, the Tekton 24340 instead.