Best Impact Wrenches: Ditch the Breaker Bar
Please don't be that guy who stands on the lug wrench to break the bolt.
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BY Hank O'Hop / LAST UPDATED ON July 27, 2021
Working with your hands can be therapeutic and give you the opportunity to ponder life’s big questions as you're loosening fasteners. That is up until the point you remember that it’s the hottest, most humid day of the year and you’ve only just started to rotate your tires.
Adding an impact wrench to your collection may change your life. You'll spend less time fussing over stubborn bolts and more time actually enjoying the work or your car. Even if you’ll only ever use one for freeing wheels and tires, it’s still worth adding to your collection because of the dramatic impact it’ll have on your working experience.
And there’s no shortage of options for new impacts, either. Nor is it hard to track down the latest and greatest model with all the bells and whistles. Is that really what you need for your project, though? Obviously, there is such a thing as overkill, but you also don’t want to go cheap and wind up with a fancy paperweight. That’s what we’re here for as our goal is to highlight some of our favorite impacts on the market so that you can decide what’s best for your home garage.
Mid-torque impact offers more than enough juice for average jobs. This tool is also sized perfectly to prevent fatigue despite the punch it packs.
- Adequate power levels for autos
- Balances power and size perfectly
- Premium pricing
- No batteries or charger included
A great value-for-the-money option from a reputable brand. Offers 600 lb-ft of torque with a variable speed trigger.
- Less bulk in the body than some wrenches
- No batteries or charger included
A heavy hitter in the world of impacts. This model delivers more than 1300 ft-lbs of nut-busting torque. Despite that, it operates at just 98 DBA.
- Offers superior performance
- Low noise output makes for an excellent user experience
- Reliant on air compressor
Why Trust Us
Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Best Impact Wrenches Reviews & Recommendations 2021
Our top pick goes to the Milwaukee M18 18V Fuel 1/2-inch Mid-torque Impact Wrench simply because it’s well-balanced for automotive work. It might not be the most powerful model on the market, but you don’t need much more than what it can offer. Sure, there are more compact options, but few of the little guys pack the punch that this does. At the end of the day, it’s a compromise between power and size that’s more than enough for the kind of work we’re doing in a home garage.
Tips and Tricks We’ve Learned Along the Way
- Go Cordless. Pneumatic tools still have a place. However, in the case of DIY projects, the power and convenience modern cordless impacts have to offer is unbeatable.
- Invest In a Line. If you do go cordless, don’t be consumed solely by the impact you’re considering. Instead, take a look at the line of tools the impact wrench belongs to. Consider which line has the most to offer for the type of work you do. Building a collection around one type of battery ultimately saves you money.
- Get Good Sockets. We’re not talking about yesterday’s torque outputs. Modern power tools are serious pieces of equipment. Don’t make the mistake of sending that power through anything but a decent set of impact sockets.
- Don’t Forget About Drivers. Big power is great, but versatility is almost always better. So, it’s worth adding both an impact wrench and an impact driver to your collection.
- Impacts Aren’t Always a Good Choice. We love power tools as much as anyone else, but you don’t want to rely on them for everything. That excess power can quickly destroy whatever it is you’re working on, which is why you should still put your hand tools to work.
FAQs on Impact Wrenches
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers!
Q. What are the other types of impact wrenches?
A. Impact wrenches come in all shapes and sizes. Still, they can be broken down into three types.
We didn’t show as much love to pneumatic impact wrenches in this discussion as we do to cordless impacts. That’s not because cordless tools are superior in every way, though. No matter how good cordless tools are today, pneumatics are still the choice for professional settings. The robust internal workings will take hours of abuse each day without so much as flinching. Furthermore, there are no motors, internal circuitry, or batteries to weigh the system down. In other words, fatigue is minimal. And even if electric impacts have come a long way, pneumatics still tend to pump out more power on average.
Another reason professionals will consider pneumatic impacts is because the shop they work in might already have an air compressor. That means workers don’t have to invest in additional components for operation. Because cordless models require you to invest in batteries, regardless of your work setting, pneumatics are far more affordable in this situation.
Cordless impacts make the most sense for DIYers. Obviously, cutting ties with power outlets and air compressors makes them easy to love. There’s no need to sacrifice floor space, and you don’t have to worry about cords and hoses limiting your range. You can take cordless impacts to remote locations and even keep one in your roadside emergency kit if you feel the need to.
What makes the deal even sweeter is that cordless impacts have come a long way. Today, some can deliver performance that rivals that of pneumatic models. Of course, you can argue that investing in batteries does bog down the overall value. However, the batteries can often be shared with other tools in a line, meaning that initial purchase is the first step to building a rather impressive power tool collection.
We don’t feature any corded electric impacts on our list, but they are out there. You might consider this type of impact because corded models might be the single best option for anyone working with a tight budget. There’s no need for an air compressor, nor is there a need for batteries. You just plug into a power outlet, and you’re off to the races.
Something to keep in mind is that corded impacts generally don’t see much attention from the manufacturer. As a result, power and performance levels are generally lower than what cordless and pneumatic tools offer. They also tend to be bulky, which causes fatigue and also means you won’t be able to use them in tight spaces. Still, they have more than enough oomph to get the job done on many applications, which may be all that matters.
Q: What are the top brands?
A. Everyone and their brother is pumping out impact wrenches these days, which isn’t exactly a good thing. That’s why we suggest keeping an eye out for the following brands.
Established in 1846 and headquartered in Brookfield, Wis., Milwaukee is easily one of the most recognizable tool manufacturers in the world. While it's most known for meeting the demands of electrical workers, there's no question that the company is responsible for developing power tools relied on in most trades. Something like that Milwaukee 2-Piece M18 FUEL Auto Kit makes it easy to see why.
With roots reaching back to 1871 and being responsible for developing the first direct-connected, electric motor-driven compressor, it's easy to see Ingersoll Rand as one of the most recognized pneumatic tool manufacturers. It is located in Swords, Ireland, and the Ingersoll Rand Air Impact Wrench,1/2 In. Drive 2235TiMA is just a taste of what it's capable of.
This Japanese tool company needs little introduction. It's been at work since 1915 and is a go-to brand for many when it comes to power tools. While compact tools aren’t all that it offers, we can’t help but talk about the mighty tike it calls the Makita XWT15T 18V LXT Lithium-Ion Brushless Cordless 4-Speed 1/2-inch Sq. Drive Impact Wrench Kit.
DeWalt may be the youngest on our list of top suppliers, but this Baltimore-based company needs little introduction. Since 1924, it's been hard at work giving the working class what they need to get the job done. The DeWalt 20V Max XR Impact Wrench Kit not only packs a punch anyone can put to work, but it belongs to a line of tools that DIYers and professionals can put to work in any field.
Q: How much does an impact wrench usually cost?
A. Impact wrenches typically sell at around $200-$400. Some have much higher prices and others much lower. It all depends on the performance, quality, and operation type. If you’re looking at cordless or pneumatic models, you should also consider what it’ll cost to set up an air compressor or how much you’ll spend on batteries as well.
Q: What are some key features to know about
A. Not all impacts are the same. To ensure you get the best for your situation, you’ll want to consider the following:
Torque and operational speeds are two of your primary concerns. That isn’t to say that you need the best of either, but the tools should be more than capable of breaking fasteners free on whatever application it is you’re dealing with. In addition, while pricing usually increases along with tool performance, you should know that a more powerful tool will ultimately get the job done more quickly.
Weight and Size
A tool’s weight and dimensions are always important. The heavier a tool is, the more taxing it becomes on the user. In other words, it can cause a lot of fatigue over any period of use. The size is also important because it determines what spaces the tool can be used in and has an impact on its balance, which also directly impacts the user experience.
Variable Speed Control
Being able to control operational speeds may not seem like a chief concern, but it does ultimately make the impact safe to use on various projects. For example, an impact wrench might not need full power to bust fasteners free. It’s also far less likely that you’ll break things when you gradually apply power rather than going in full blast.
Q: What other considerations should I know about?
A. No, your homework isn’t done yet. There are some other details to ensure you’re getting the most for your money.
Again, it’s worth being considerate of the line an impact belongs to. Don’t just think about who has the best impact. Think about other cordless tools like reciprocating saws, angle grinders, and anything else you might also want for your home shop.
If you’re just starting to build your power tool collection, it’s a good idea to see what package deals are available. For example, some impact wrenches come bundled with other power tools such as impact drivers or compact impact wrenches, both of which you might find a need for down the line. Investing in deals that include those additional tools now might cost more upfront but can save you money in the long run.
Q: What’s better: electric or air impact wrenches?
A. A reason that we’ve allowed cordless tools to dominate this list is their convenience. There’s no need for a compressor, which is a big deal for those working in a home garage. Modern cordless impacts also offer some ridiculously good performance. Still, that doesn’t mean that they’re better than pneumatics, which still have the upper hand in durability and are generally better for intensive use in professional settings.
Q: Can you use regular sockets with impact wrenches?
A. Regular or chrome sockets should not be used on impact wrenches. These sockets simply aren’t cut out to handle the forces impact tools generate. At the very least, chrome sockets can crack, and at the worst, they can shatter. So, to save yourself some money and a potential trip to the hospital, you’ll want to run impact sockets with impact tools.