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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. This seems impossible if you are using a standard socket wrench, but a torque wrench is a specialized tool specifically made for this purpose.
The user can set the torque limit on the wrench in order to prevent over-tightening fasteners. Just keep in mind that a torque wrench is only used for tightening and should never be used for loosening, as this can result in the wrench becoming uncalibrated and may lead to problems in the future. Take a look at this list of top products to find the best torque wrench to add to your workshop or garage.
Best Overall: CDI 1/2-Inch Drive Adjustable Micrometer Torque Wrench
It’s affordable, versatile, and consistent. This top-rated tool manufacturer has come through again with this simply designed workhorse of a torque wrench. Industrial Brand’s CDI 1/2-Inch drive adjustable micrometer torque wrench is quick and efficient. Made of durable materials to apply a torque range of 30 to a whopping 250 pounds, the CDI is easy to set, fast to firm up loose nuts, and accurate. Plus, the laser-marked single scale is easy to read according to numerous reviewers.
The dual scale is calibrated for any direction, and it has a positive lock with a spring-loaded pulldown lock ring. The quick-release buttons provide tight socket retention and removal. It has a soft plastic ergonomic grip that is comfortable when getting aggressive on dogged lug nuts or winding down loose bolts.
Best Value: TEKTON 3/8 Inch Drive Click Torque Wrench
Tekton created an affordable full steel build that can work on large and small equipment and in tight spaces, making this little number quite a steal. The pre-calibrated torque wrench has a 24 tooth ratchet and an accuracy of plus or minus 4 percent, which is on the better end for precision. It has a torque of 10-80 ft-lb or 13.6-108.5 Nm in 1 ft.-lb. increments so that the screw is not too tight or too loose but just right.
An audible click lets you know when the preset torque value has been reached. This 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 and dual-ranging scale are simple and easy-to-read, which are favorite features among longtime users. The smooth grip and reverse ratcheting head moves clockwise and counterclockwise so it's easy on the arm muscles.
Best for Bikes: Powerbuilt 1/4" Drive Tpms T-Handle Torque Wrench
A good torque wrench for bicycles has a lower torque than most work wrenches meant for lug nuts and car engine repair. The best bike torque wrenches operate between the 3 and 7Nm range. The Powerbuilt T Handle Bike TPMS can holder every nut, bolt, and gauge on almost any type of bike. From the tire pressure monitoring system valves to the carbon fiber handlebar adjustments, seat raising, or lowering, this compact torque wrench has you covered. The Powerbuilt T Handle’s one-way ratcheting system is designed for precision. Although small, it is hefty in the hand and sturdy when pressure is applied. The T design allows for more efficient movement in tight spaces in and around sensitive bike parts.
Best Digital: ACDelco ARM601-4 1/2" Digital Torque Wrench with Buzzer
A digital torque wrench tends to be more expensive than the standard click type varieties. The payoff is better visibility and easier torque setting. AC Delco has created a digital torque wrench that is compact yet chock full of features. It has a torque range of 4 to 99 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. AC Delco guarantees the torque range to be within 2 percent plus or minus when worked clockwise and 3 percent counterclockwise.
A huge selling feature for this product is the certificate. Each wrench is individually serialized with a matching certificate that guarantees that the AC Delco instrument meets or exceeds ASME standards and is traceable to the N.I.S.T. Reviewers found the torque log accurate and noted that it was easy to maneuver in tight spaces.
Best for Motorcycles: PRO BIKE TOOL Adjustable Torque Wrench Set
Pro Bike has perfected a tool that can handle all of the rough and tumble lug nut loosening that can come when riding on rough terrain. Reviewers rave about its ease of use and adjustability, saying that it's a workhorse in a mini-torque wrench size. Whether going over rough mountain roads or smooth asphalt bi-ways, a good torque wrench is a road-worthy companion. The Pro Bike torque wrench has three levels to cover any issues that come up with wobbly wheels, gyrating gadgets, or other loose parts on a roadrunner.
Best for Spark Plugs: HUSKY 564464 Torque Wrench
The Husky ½-inch drive torque wrench has a wide range of 50 to 250 fee pounds. Husky designed the slender wrench to produce 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 twist lock ring locks and holds the torque setting in place. It is factory calibrated to within an impressive 3 percent of clockwise accuracy in the upper 80 percent of its torque range. The slender torque wrench has an ergonomic handle that is oil-resistant, so it's great for messy jobs. Even better, it has an alloy steel construction with a sealed head to keep out dirt, oil, and dust.
Reviewers found it to be sturdy for jobs that required brute strength and light enough to quickly tighten nuts and bolts without stripping them. This tool also comes with Husky’s lifetime warranty.
Best for Lug Nuts: Precision Instruments Split Beam Torque w/Flex Head Wrench
A quality torque wrench will cut through tight lug nuts in minutes. Precision Instruments Split Beam torque wrench with flex head is perfect in its design and capability for removing lug nuts from trucks and cars. It clicks once when it arrives at the selected torque setting. The range is 50 to 250 feet pounds, perfect for big trucks and all types of cars. The flex head allows you to change the angle when working on stubborn lug nuts without scraping the skin off your knuckles on the tread of the tires. It has a nickel and chrome finish with an ergonomic grip. The adjustment knob takes out the guesswork of spring tension. Reviewers found it consistently accurate, dependable, and durable.
Best Portable: Prestacycle TorqKeys T-Handle Preset Torque Tool
The Prestacycle Torqkey fits nicely in the palm of your hand while providing serious leverage to handle quick changes on bicycles or street vehicles. With the Prestacycle, you can choose from 4Nm up to 12Nm rather easily. The tiny T hold is revered for its accuracy and ease of use. The ergonomic handle fits neatly in the palm of your hand and holds a 20-degree torque overrun when the limit is reached. The Prestacycle Torqkey is small and efficient for long-distance bicyclists and home improvement enthusiasts alike. The palm-held torque wrench gets you securely into small spaces with a tight fit without breaking the bank. Users found it strong and precise in its torque.
What to Look for in a Torque Wrench
There is a wide variety of torque wrench types due to manufacturer innovation over the years. 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, deflecting beam, click, and digital torque wrenches.
- Beam torque wrenches are basic tools that 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.
- Deflecting beam torque wrenches are essentially the same as beam torque wrenches in how they function with one major difference: A deflecting 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 instead of the main arm bending, making the deflecting beam torque wrench more durable than a standard beam torque wrench.
- Click torque wrenches are the most recognized in this tool category because they are the most commonly used. The torque level is easy to set by twisting the base of the handle 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 to avoid over-tightening.
- Digital torque wrenches are usually the most expensive choice, but they come pre-calibrated 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 bits 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 small power tools or vehicles, like motorcycles, mopeds, and lawnmowers. However, these wrenches may be necessary for smaller fitting on a car or truck.
- 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).
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 tighter or looser could cause problems, so this specialized tool tightens the fittings to a measured level, allowing DIYers and professional automotive techs to be confident about the torque of each fitting.
How do you use a torque wrench?
The method for using a torque wrench differs between the various types, but it's important to note that a torque wrench should never be used for loosening fittings, only tightening. In general, you can use a torque wrench by setting the torque level (if necessary), placing the drive bit on the fitting, and tightening to the appropriate torque level. You can use a torque wrench to tighten nuts, but never for loosening. 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.
How does a torque wrench work?
A torque wrench works differently depending on the type, but all torque wrenches are made to measure the current amount of torque on the target fitting and apply the right amount of torque to tighten the fitting to the ideal torque level.
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 these 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 this 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 towards the head of the wrench. Hang the weight from the new position and listen for a click. Continue moving the weight towards 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.
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Additional research for this article is provided by Timothy Dale, a seasoned home improvement expert. He specializes in a number of topics, including plumbing, construction, and product recommendations.