Reviews

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.

Best Overall
Milwaukee 2962-20 M18 18V Fuel 1/2-inch Mid-torque Impact Wrench
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Summary
Summary

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. 

Pros
Pros
  • Adequate power levels for autos
  • Balances power and size perfectly
Cons
Cons
  • Premium pricing 
  • No batteries or charger included
Best Overall
Milwaukee 2962-20 M18 18V Fuel 1/2-inch Mid-torque Impact Wrench
Best Value
Ryobi ONE+ HP 18V Brushless Cordless 4-Mode 1/2-inch Impact Wrench
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Summary
Summary

A great value-for-the-money option from a reputable brand. Offers 600 lb-ft of torque with a variable speed trigger.

Pros
Pros
  • Less bulk in the body than some wrenches
Cons
Cons
  • No batteries or charger included


Best Value
Ryobi ONE+ HP 18V Brushless Cordless 4-Mode 1/2-inch Impact Wrench
 
Ingersoll Rand Air Impact Wrench,1/2 In. Drive 2235TiMA
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Summary
Summary

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. 

Pros
Pros
  • Offers superior performance
  • Low noise output makes for an excellent user experience 
Cons
Cons
  • Reliant on air compressor 
Ingersoll Rand Air Impact Wrench,1/2 In. Drive 2235TiMA

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.

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Best Impact Wrenches Reviews & Recommendations 2021

Best Overall
Milwaukee M18 18V Fuel 1/2

Though there's nothing wrong with Milwaukee's competitors, the brand just seems to pummel the power tools category even if this model isn't exactly its heaviest hitter. Why does this mid-torque take our top pick over some of the more powerful offerings? Size. 


While it's not exactly a compact tool, it's much smaller and more manageable than many other cordless 1/2-inch impact drivers. Despite that, it still can turn out 650 foot-pounds of nut-busting torque, which is more than enough for most automotive applications.


The price tag can be a bit of a setback considering it’s a tool-only deal, but it's more than easy to justify when you consider just how good that balance of size and power is. A surplus of 600 foot-pounds is nothing to scoff at. Not too long ago, that was about what the best pneumatics were pumping out, which goes to show just how far cordless technology has come.

Premium Pick
Milwaukee M18 FUEL Auto Kit

Finally, the hunt for Hercules has come to an end. This thing can tear the head off nuts with 1,000 foot-pounds for fastening and turn the earth by applying 1,400 foot-pounds for loosening. I’m speaking of course about the Milwaukee M18 Fuel 1/2-inch impact wrench in this bundle. 


Along with the 1/2-inch impact, you’ll also get your hands on that M18 fuel 3/8-inch impact that’s beefy enough to turn 600 foot-pounds of torque. On top of that, you get two batteries for these monsters, meaning you can dual-wield your way through any project. Milwaukee also throws in a battery charger and a bag to complement your investment.


And it is an investment as that price tag is no joke. We wouldn't recommend this for just anyone, as it is costly, and you don’t exactly need that kind of power to tune up your Honda Civic. But if you’re looking for a professional-grade tool that’ll disrupt the rotation of the earth, you’ve found it.

Best Pneumatic
Ingersoll Rand Air Impact Wrench, 1/2

Even though cordless impacts are growing in popularity, there’s still a place for pneumatic tools. One of the reasons is how quiet it is. This model operates at just 98 decibels. While that’s still loud for a power tool, it’s not as bad as some of the competition. It’s no slouch in terms of power, either — this particular model’s fastening torque peaks at 930 foot-pounds and nut-busting torque at 1,350 foot-pounds.


The only problem to bring up is that this tool relies on an air compressor, which is a problem for many working from a home garage. Other than that, Ingersoll Rand has more than proven itself to be worthy of entering any garage. It even contends with the more prestigious offerings — despite being less expensive than many tool-truck models.

Most Versatile
DeWalt 20V Max XR Impact Wrench Kit

DeWalt fans can rejoice with this entry, as this 20V Max XR Impact is packing some serious heat as it’s ready to deliver 1,200 foot-pounds of nut-busting torque and can send fasteners home with 700 foot-pounds of fastening torque. 


Though it's somewhat bulky,  there’s not too much weight to bear as the tool only weighs in at about 6 pounds. That's not too terrible considering others like the Milwaukee weigh in around 7.5 with battery. Of course, being a DeWalt, the pricing is pretty easy to justify as well.


Yes, you can argue that a little more money can get you something more powerful. However, being a part of the 20V Max line, this model shares a battery with a surplus of 200 cordless tools. So, if you’re looking to build a collection around a single battery, this model is tough to beat.

Honorable Mention
Makita 18V LXT Lithium-Ion Brushless Cordless 4-Speed 1/2

More often than not, excess power means excess bulk. And bigger isn’t always better. Something that puts this model from Makita on the map for many is the fact that it’s about the size of the average impact driver. Even so, this compact model turns out 450 foot-pounds with the 1/2-inch anvil. 


That’s not as impressive as any of the other entries on our list, but it’s still good enough for many applications. The variable speed control paired with that lower torque range also comes in handy during assembly. The ability to control fastening speeds and only to deliver max torque 240 foot-pounds means you’re not likely to blast the threads right off your fasteners.   


The price is high for something with this kind of power output. However, it does include two batteries, a charger, and a carry bag. Ultimately, something like this comes down to preference. You might not have any issues with the size and weight of a more powerful impact, but if you are on the hunt for something that offers a little more control and less fatigue, you’ve found it.

Honorable Mention
Milwaukee M12 FUEL Stubby 3/8

This is a 3/8-inch impact that's designed with tight spaces in mind. By that, we mean that its stubby head will come in handy under the hood. Not only that, but it comes with two different batteries. One full-size battery complements those longer projects, while the compact battery is perfect for maneuvering into the depths of the engine bay. Finally, of course, the ability to pump out 250 foot-pounds of torque in either direction goes a long way for most applications.


This isn't the last impact wrench you'll ever need, but if you want something that can get into the places your full-size impact won't and apply the power your hands can't, it's certainly worth your consideration.

Best Value
Ryobi ONE+ HP 18V Brushless Cordless 4-Mode 1/2-inch Impact Wrench

What’s the first name that comes to mind when you think of affordable power tools? It’s probably Ryobi. It’s been the go-to name when you need to get something done in a hurry without going broke since the beginning. This 1/2-inch impact wrench is a prime example of why. It’s considerably more affordable than much of the competition, and it’s no slouch despite what the price tag might lead you to believe. That is unless you’re already a Ryobi fan.


Either way, it has plenty of snot despite the low price. This puppy packs a punch with its 600 ft-lb capabilities. Of course, the variable speed control trigger is there to keep you from ripping the heads of hardware along the way. Not only that, but it’s not quite as hefty as some of the more affordable options you’ll find out in the wild.


You should know that this is a “tool-only” deal, meaning you need to get your battery and charger separately. So, the price isn’t quite as good as it looks initially, but this is still far more affordable than many others. Also, since that battery works with a surplus of 225 Ryobi tools, making it possible for you to save on other cordless models in the future.

Our Verdict

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.

Pneumatic

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

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.

Corded

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. 

Milwaukee

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.

Ingersoll Rand

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. 

Makita

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

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: 

Performance Specs

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. 

Tool Line

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.

Combo Packaging

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.