When it comes time to tighten the lug nuts on the car's wheels or replace the spark plugs, it's necessary to ensure that the fittings are tightened to the manufacturer's specified torque level; that's when you need a torque wrench. These tools, which are commonly used in the automotive industry, as well as for plumbing and air conditioning repairs, precisely measure the amount of torque—twisting force—applied to a fastener.
Yan Margulis, CEO of Capable Group Inc, says, “I like to use torque wrenches, because they are much faster than using any other wrench. I find it quicker in changing bolts, particularly when I have to do it several times in a row. I also find that ratcheting wrenches tend to slip as I try to tighten or loosen a bolt and need a firm grip on the wrench for sufficient torque. When using a torque wrench, however, the metal ring provides a very firm grip on the bolt, making it much less likely to slip. This is one of the reasons why mechanics like them so much, although, of course, the ultimate benefit of a torque wrench is the precise measurement of torque applied to the fastener.”
Margulis continues, “When using a torque wrench, never add your own extensions to the tool, such as using another screw or socket for added length. Watch your fingers to make sure they don’t get pinched, and use the correct size torque wrench for the job. There are several types of torque wrench available, but the good old-fashioned click wrench is my favorite. Never continue to turn the wrench beyond the click, or you might damage the fastener by over-tightening it.”
Our top torque wrench is the CDI 1/2-Inch-Drive Adjustable Micrometer Torque Wrench, which is accurate, easy to use, and comfortable to grip.
Here are our favorite torque wrenches.
CDI 1/2-Inch-Drive Adjustable Micrometer Torque Wrench 2503MFRPH
Easy to clamp and release sockets
Easy to read and set
Long enough for work in difficult-to-access spots
Case is too short to store the tool at its lowest setting
Industrial Brand’s CDI 1/2-Inch-Drive Adjustable Micrometer Torque Wrench is quick, accurate, easy to use, and efficient. Its all-metal construction lets you apply enough pressure to hit a torque range of 30 to a whopping 250 foot-pounds; no problem in tightening even large nuts. Plus, the laser-marked single scale is easy to read and won't fade or scratch away. The 1/2-inch drive is just right for tightening lug nuts or doing repairs on large engines, including automobiles, trucks, and boats.
The wrench's dual scale is calibrated for either direction, so it's easy to use whether you are left-handed or right-handed. and it has a positive lock with a spring-loaded pull-down lock ring that makes it easy to set your desired level of tightness, and then lock it to be sure there is no slip or wiggle. The quick-release buttons provide tight socket retention and removal. It has a soft plastic ergonomic grip that is comfortable even when the going gets tough.
The torque wrench is calibrated to provide ±3 percent clockwise, ±5 percent counterclockwise of indicated value. The full length is 24.4 inches, making it easy to reach into even tight spots within engines or behind wheels. The wrench includes a black plastic storage case.
Price at time of publish: $179
Type: Click | Torque Range: 30-250 ft.lbs | Drive Size: 1/2-inch | Length When Fully Extended: 24.4 inches | Accuracy: ±3% CW | Certificate of Calibration: Yes
TEKTON 3/8-Inch-Drive Click Torque Wrench 24330
Easy to set and read
Very reasonable price
Doesn't include certificate of calibration
Handful of complaints about inaccuracy
The Tekton 3/8-inch-drive click torque wrench is not only affordable, it's also sturdy, accurate, and reliable. Made entirely of steel, with no plastic parts to crack or warp, it has an accuracy range of ±4 percent clockwise and a torque range of 10 to 80 foot-pounds. The 3/8-inch drive is just right for working on most automotive engines, although it's not generally large enough for lug-nut work; you'll usually need a 1/2-inch drive for that.
An audible click lets you know when the preset torque value has been reached. That allows for just the right amount of pressure to be applied to the screw or nut and cuts down on inadvertent over-tightening and subsequent damage to the fitting. The high-contrast, dual-range scale is simple and easy to read, even when the light isn't great. The smooth grip and reverse-ratcheting head moves clockwise and counterclockwise, but it only measures torque in the clockwise position. The wrench includes a plastic storage case.
Price at time of publish: $44
Type: Click | Torque Range: 10-80 ft.lbs | Drive Size: 3/8-inch | Length When Fully Extended: 14.4 inches | Accuracy: ±4% CW | Certificate of Calibration: No
ACDelco 1/2-Inch-Drive Digital Torque Wrench ARM601-4
Light and sound alerts when set torque is reached
Includes certificate of calibration
Awkward to read the digital screen at some angles
A digital torque wrench tends to be more expensive than the standard click-type varieties. The payoff is better visibility and easier torque setting; instead of squinting at tiny numbers on the shaft of the wrench, you simply read them off a small LED screen. ACDelco's 1/2-inch digital torque wrench is lightweight but full of features. It has a torque range of 14.8 to 147.5 foot-pounds with an LED buzzer and flashing alarm once the wrench has reached the correct torque. Multiple setting functions, including measurement, peak, and trace, are easy to see on the brightly lit digital scale screen.
ACDelco guarantees the torque range to be within ±2 percent when worked clockwise and ±3 percent counterclockwise. The torque wrench has a soft, rubbery handle for easy grip and a slim design for working in tight spots. It requires 2 AAA batteries, which are included, as is a storage case.
Price at time of publish: $120
Type: Digital | Torque Range: 14.8 to 147.5 ft.lbs | Drive Size: 1/2-inch | Length When Fully Extended: 17-5/16 inches | Accuracy: ±2% CW | Certificate of Calibration: Yes
Best for Bicycles
PRO BIKE TOOL Adjustable Torque Wrench Set
Small and light enough for easy carry in pocket or bike bag
Sized to handle most bicycle nuts and fasteners
Not easy to change the settings
Pro Bike Tool has perfected a bicycle-specific torque wrench that can handle all of the rough-and-tumble nut-loosening that can occur when you head off the beaten path and onto the rugged trails. The set consists of a lightweight, T-shaped handle and four interchangeable tool bits. You get one each of a 3, 4, and 5 mm hex/Allen bits and a T25 bit, which cover most bicycle fasteners, including nuts on seats, handlebars, levers, and clamps.
The handle has a knob to adjust the torque setting to one of three preset levels: 4, 5, or 6 newton meters, which are the most commonly recommended settings for bicycles. Once the desired level of torque is reached, the wrench "clicks out" to prevent damaging over-tightening. The set includes an Allen wrench to adjust the torque knob.
Price at time of publish: $40
Type: Bicycle | Torque Range: 4, 5, or 6 newton meters | Drive Size: N/A | Length When Fully Extended: 4.9 inches | Accuracy: N/A | Certificate of Calibration: N/A
Best for Lug Nuts
Husky 1/2-Inch-Drive Click Torque Wrench
Long enough to reach difficult-to-access nuts and bolts
Accurate and easy to use
Includes certificate of calibration
Handful of complaints that the tool did not click upon reaching the torque setting
The Husky ½-inch-drive torque wrench has a wide range of 50 to 250 foot-pounds for tackling tough tightening jobs on lug nuts and other heavy-duty fasteners. The wrench gives an audible click when the desired setting is reached so it takes the guesswork out of the job. For reference, the higher the torque range, the louder the click will be. The tool is calibrated to within ±3 percent clockwise.
Made of alloy steel and sealed to keep out oil and grime, this is a sturdy tool that won't shirk at even tough jobs around the garage. It's easy to twist the handle to set your desired torque, and then lock the setting in place so the tool won't slip or spin while in use. It includes a hard plastic case for storage.
Price at time of publish: $60
Type: Click | Torque Range: 50-250 ft.lbs | Drive Size: ½-inch | Length When Fully Extended: 24.2 inches | Accuracy: ±3% CW | Certificate of Calibration: Yes
Best for Engine Repairs
Precision Instruments 3/8-Inch-Drive Split Beam Torque Wrench
Flex head makes it easy to work deep in the engine
Very accurate and easy to use
Includes certificate of calibration
Few complaints that chrome coating isn't smooth
A 3/8-inch torque wrench is the handiest size for working on automotive engines, as well as many other types of engines and motors, including boats, motorcycles, and large yard equipment. And Precision Instruments' 3/8-inch split beam torque wrench has a flexible head that makes it easier to reach into those tight spots way underneath the hood. Made of steel, the split beam wrench requires only finger pressure to set the torque level, and has no springs to slip out of calibration, making it very durable with little need for maintenance.
The wrench lets you set torque from 20 to 100 foot-pounds, and it is accurate to ±4 percent clockwise. Once set, the torque setting locks in place so it won't slip as you work. Once you reach your desired setting, the wrench gives a loud click so you won't need to worry about over-tightening. The torque wrench comes with a plastic storage case.
Price at time of publish: $237
Type: Split beam | Torque Range: 20-100 ft.lbs | Drive Size: 3/8-inch | Length When Fully Extended: 17-5/8 inches | Accuracy: ±4% CW | Certificate of Calibration: Yes
Tooluxe Dual Drive Beam Torque Wrench
Includes both 3/8 and 1/2 inch drives
No need to set torque before use
Doesn't include certificate of calibration
Small numbers can be difficult to read
Beam torque wrenches let you achieve very precise torque levels, which is important when working on fasteners that have specific levels of tightening for safety purposes, such as car engine parts and lug nuts. The Tooluxe Dual Drive Beam Torque Wrench takes things even further by providing not one, but two drive heads—one is 3/8-inch, and the other is 1/2-inch—so you can handle a wide range of tasks without having to hunt down another torque wrench.
Made of sturdy alloy steel with a rubber-grip handle, the wrench has a torque range of 0 to 150 foot-pounds. It doesn't require frequent recalibrating, as do click-style torque wrenches, and it's easy to grip and use. This is a great addition to your mechanic tool kit, and it's very reasonably priced.
Price at time of publish: $23
Type: Beam | Torque Range: 0-150 ft.lbs | Drive Size: ½-inch and 3/8-inch | Length When Fully Extended: 18 inches | Accuracy: Not stated | Certificate of Calibration: No
Tekton 3-Piece Micrometer Torque Wrench Set
All three common torque wrench sizes in one handy set
Accurate and easy to use
No certificate of calibration
If you do a lot of work on engines both big and small, then you'll love the convenience of getting all three of the common torque wrench sizes—1/4-inch, 3/8-inch, and 1/2-inch—in one handy and high-quality set. That's exactly what Tekton offers with their micrometer torque wrench set, which allows you to easily drive nuts in either direction, although the wrench will only measure torque in the clockwise direction.
The 1/4-inch wrench has a range of 20 to 200 inch-pounds, the 3/8-inch wrench has a range of 10 to 80 foot-pounds, and the 1/2-inch wrench has a range of 25 to 250 inch pounds. All have ±4 percent accuracy. Each wrench in the set comes in its own sturdy plastic storage case.
Price at time of publish: $148
Type: Click | Torque Range: multiple ranges | Drive Size: 1/4, 3/8, and 1/2-inch included | Length When Fully Extended: varies | Accuracy: ±4% CW | Certificate of Calibration: No
Best for Air Conditioners
Yellow Jacket Electronic Adjustable Torque Wrench
No need for sockets
Perfect for work on air conditioners and similar equipment
Doesn't include certificate of calibration
Most torque wrenches require the use of a socket to slip over the nut being turned. The Yellow Jacket Electronic Adjustable Torque Wrench, however, has an adjustable span head like a regular wrench. Yellow Jacket sells a separate 3/8-inch-drive head for the tool, so you can interchange them if you choose. This is a great tool for work on air conditioning systems and similar equipment that requires careful but firm tightening of connections.
The jaws open from 0.2 to 1.18 inches. The torque range is 3.1 to 62.7 foot-pounds, with ±2 percent accuracy clockwise and ±3 percent counterclockwise. The tool has nine common torque values preset, but you can set your own if desired. The indicator light gets brighter as you approach your torque setting and there's also a buzzer. The wrench requires two AAA batteries, which are included.
Price at time of publish: $218
Type: Digital | Torque Range: 3.1-62.7 ft.lbs | Drive Size: N/A | Length When Fully Extended: 18.6 inches | Accuracy: ±2% CW | Certificate of Calibration: No
Best for Small Engines
Lexivon ¼-Inch-Drive Click Torque Wrench
Very accurate for fasteners requiring low torque settings
Includes certificate of calibration
Yellow numbers are easy to read
Click is not loud enough for some users
You aren't going to use a 1/4-inch drive torque wrench to fasten lug nuts or do big repairs on heavy equipment, but it's a very useful tool when working on small engines, such as on yard equipment, snow blowers, motorcycles, and mopeds, or for carrying out repair jobs on smaller parts in your car. The Lexivon tool is a very durable heat-treated chrome vanadium steel and has easy-to-read settings that are yellow for contrast against the black steel.
This torque wrench has a range of 20 to 200 inch-pounds (not foot-pounds, as with many larger wrenches), and its accuracy is ±4 percent. It drives in both directions but only measures torque in a clockwise direction. This highly precise and easy-to-use torque wrench includes a black plastic storage case.
Price at time of publish: $43
Type: Click | Torque Range: 20-200 in.lbs | Drive Size: 1/4-inch | Length When Fully Extended: 10.75 inches | Accuracy: ±4% CW | Certificate of Calibration: Yes
If you need a torque wrench that can accurately tighten even large lug nuts without too much strain or fuss, then you’ll love Industrial Brand’s CDI 1/2-Inch-Drive Adjustable Micrometer Torque Wrench. But if budget is your top concern, the Tekton 3/8-inch-drive click torque wrench handles most nuts and fasteners but doesn’t cost a bundle.
What to Look for in a Torque Wrench
There are several types of torque wrenches on the market, due to manufacturer innovation and user preferences. To choose the best torque wrench for your garage, it's necessary to learn about the benefits and drawbacks of each type. The most popular styles of torque wrench include beam, split beam, click, and digital torque wrenches.
- Beam torque wrenches rely on the flex of the wrench to measure the torque. It has a long arm or beam that attaches to the head of the wrench, and there is a scale located near the end of the handle that indicates the amount of torque currently being applied. These torque wrenches are extremely precise, making them great choices for tasks where it's critical to tighten nuts to a specific setting.
- Split beam torque wrenches are essentially the same as beam torque wrenches in how they function, but with one major difference: A split beam torque wrench has a secondary beam that runs behind the main arm of the tool. This secondary beam is known as a "deflecting beam," and it bends as the tool is turned, instead of the main arm bending, making the split beam torque wrench more durable than a standard beam torque wrench.
- Click torque wrenches are the most commonly used type. The torque level is easy to set by twisting the base of the wrench to match up with the desired setting on the handle. These torque wrenches get their name from the audible click that the wrench makes when it reaches the set torque level, though it's important to note that most click torque wrenches do not have a limiter, so users need to stop applying force as soon as they hear the click, in order to avoid over-tightening.
- Digital torque wrenches are usually the most expensive choice, but they come precalibrated and display clear, precise readings on a digital screen, making them the easiest to read and use. Just keep in mind that the torque wrench runs on batteries, and without power it will not function properly, so keep it equipped with fresh batteries whenever possible.
The size of a torque wrench's drive determines the sockets that can be used with the torque wrench. Standard torque wrench sizes include 1/4-inch, 3/8-inch, 1/2-inch, 3/4-inch, and 1-inch, though most DIYers won't need to use a wrench that is larger than 1/2-inch in size.
- The 1/4-inch drives are the smallest option, and these wrenches are really only used for working on power tools or small engines like those on motorcycles, mopeds, and lawnmowers. However, these wrenches may also be necessary for smaller fittings on cars or trucks.
- 3/8-inch drives are regularly used in automotive repair, especially when the user is working on the engine. Some spark plugs need to be tightened with a 3/8-inch drive, though most spark plugs need a 1/2-inch drive.
- The 1/2-inch torque wrench drive is the most commonly used size. These torque wrenches are ideal for reinstalling lug nuts, replacing spark plugs, or tightening fasteners on the vehicle's suspension.
- 3/4-inch to 1-inch drives aren't usually necessary for DIYers, because these sizes are really only used on large vehicles like semi-trucks and construction vehicles.
The entire purpose of a torque wrench is to ensure that the nuts, bolts, and other fittings are tightened to the exact specified level of torque, so accuracy is one of the most important considerations when deciding on a torque wrench for the home garage. After all, over-tightening or under-tightening the lug nuts on the car could lead to problems when you are driving.
Typically, the torque wrench manufacturer will indicate the measured accuracy of the product based on a calibration test that is performed prior to the torque wrench being packaged, shipped, and sold. The calibration level usually has an accuracy rating of about ±4 percent, though there are superior torque wrenches with higher accuracy ratings (e.g., ±3 percent accuracy).
Some higher-end torque wrenches include a certificate of calibration from the manufacturer, demonstrating that they were tested and calibrated before shipment.
What is a torque wrench?
Torque wrenches are commonly seen in automotive garages, because there are many vehicle components that need to be tightened to a specific setting. Any fastener that's too tight or too loose could cause problems or even create a safety hazard. Torque wrenches allow the user to tighten fittings to a precise level, allowing DIYers and professional automotive techs to be confident about the torque of each fitting. Along with automobiles, torque wrenches can be used for repairs on heavy equipment, motorcycles, ATVs and similar sports vehicles, and even bicycles.
Outside the garage, torque wrenches are often used in plumbing repairs or air conditioning installations.
How do you use a torque wrench?
The method for using a torque wrench differs among the various types, but it's important to note that a torque wrench should never be used for loosening fittings, only tightening them. In general, you use a torque wrench by setting the torque level (if necessary), placing the appropriately sized socket on the fitting, and then tightening the lug nut or other fastener to the appropriate torque level.
Torque will be indicated differently, depending on whether you are working with a digital torque wrench, a click torque wrench, or any of the other torque wrench types.
Does a torque wrench require special sockets?
You can use your torque wrench with your standard socket set or with sockets made for impact wrenches. Either way, the drive of the sockets must match the drive of the torque wrench, or the sockets won't fit onto your wrench properly.
How do you calibrate a torque wrench?
Calibrating a torque wrench by yourself can take some time and patience, especially if you have never calibrated a torque wrench before. You can take a torque wrench to a local hardware store for calibration or gather the following items: A bench vise, a 20-pound weight, a measuring tape, and a thin rope or string that can hold at least 20 pounds. With those items on hand, follow the steps below to calibrate your torque wrench:
- Use the tape measure to measure the length of the torque wrench. Start from the square drive on the head, and measure to the exact point on the handle where the user grips the wrench. Typically, there is a line on the handle to indicate that point.
- Take the torque wrench, and put it into the bench vise. The torque wrench should be held in the bench vise by the square drive.
- Determine the torque setting by multiplying the length of the torque wrench (measured in step one) by 20.
- Hang the 20-pound weight from the handle of the torque wrench by looping the string through the weight and tying a knot. The string should be lined up with the mark on the handle.
- When the weight is in place, listen for a click. If the wrench clicks, lift the weight, and move it slightly toward the head of the wrench. Hang the weight from the new position, and listen for a click. Continue moving the weight toward the head of the wrench until it no longer clicks.
- If the wrench doesn't click the first time you put the weight on the handle, tighten the spring in the wrench, then lift the weight and lower it again to test for a click.
- If you are successful, this should indicate a precise area on the torque wrench where the weight can hang without any clicks.
- Measure the length of the torque wrench again, but this time take the measurement from the square drive to the point where the weight is now hanging. Multiply the measured length by 20.
- Use the formula Ta = Ts x (D1/D2) to calculate the applied torque of the wrench. Ta equals applied torque. Ts equals torque setting. D1 equals the distance measured in step 1. D2 equals the distance measured in step 8.
- Using this number, you can multiply your intended torque by the difference to give you the correct torque setting for your specific torque wrench.
Why Trust The Spruce?
This article was written by Michelle Ullman, the tool expert for The Spruce. She has extensive experience not only in writing about all things related to the home, but also in carrying out various DIY projects, including landscaping, painting, flooring, wallpapering, furniture makeovers, and simple repairs around the house and yard.
For this roundup, Michelle considered dozens of torque wrenches, evaluating each for accuracy, ease of use, and versatility. She also considered feedback from customers, both positive and negative. Yan Margulis, CEO Capable Group Inc, also offered input and advice.