A torque wrench is a specialized tool prominent in automotive repair that addresses various parts of a car. For example, to ensure a vehicle operates correctly, you must tighten the wheels to a specific torque level, following the manufacturer’s directions. The torque wrench sets the torque limit so you don’t accidentally overtighten the fasteners.
However, a torque wrench should not be used for loosening fasteners. This can cause the torque wrench to become uncalibrated, meaning you may not reach (or you might exceed) your desired torque level. Thankfully, you can take your wrench to a local home supply store to have it calibrated, or attempt to calibrate it yourself. The products below have been chosen as some of the best torque wrenches in their respective category based on product efficacy and overall value.
- BEST OVERALL: TEKTON 1/2 Inch Drive Click Torque Wrench 24335
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Capri Tools 31000 15-80 Foot Pound Torque Wrench
- BEST DIGITAL: GEARWRENCH 1/2″ Drive Electronic Torque Wrench
- BEST PORTABLE: LEXIVON 1/2-Inch Drive Click Torque Wrench (LX-184)
- BEST FOR MOTORCYCLES: Set of 3 Pittsburgh Pro Reversible Click Type Wrench
- BEST FOR BIKES: Pro Bike Tool 3/8 Inch Drive Click Torque Wrench Set
- BEST FOR SPARK PLUGS: Precision Instruments PREC3FR250F Silver 1/2″ Drive
- BEST FOR LUG NUTS: Industrial Brand CDI Torque 2503MFRPH 1/2-Inch Drive
Common Types of Torque Wrenches
There are various torque wrench styles and sizes, each offering unique weaknesses and strengths that you should be aware of before picking up a new tool. The common torque wrench types include beam, deflecting beam, split beam, slip, click, digital, interchangeable head, and micrometer.
A regular beam torque wrench doesn’t rely on anything except the flex of the wrench to measure the degree of torque being exerted on the nut. This style of wrench has a long beam that attaches to the head of the wrench. Near the handle, a scale indicates the amount of torque you are using. This measurement occurs when you apply force to the wrench, and the beam bends just slightly, changing where it intersects the scale. When this happens, the new position on the scale will now read the current amount of torque you are using.
This design is typically inexpensive and does not require frequent calibration or maintenance. It isn’t the best option for a beginner who may not know how much force is necessary to tighten a fastener. However, it’s an excellent option for an experienced DIYer or professional who may not want to work with the more popular click-style torque wrench.
A deflecting beam torque wrench uses a similar principle to a regular beam torque wrench, except that instead of the main beam bending to indicate the force you are using, a deflecting beam moves to measure the power. This deflecting beam runs behind the main beam to connect to the back of the wrench head. On the other end of the tool, by the handle, a scale shows the current force being applied. This scale can be adjusted on some products to limit the maximum torque the wrench can apply. However, the deflecting beam torque wrench’s biggest benefit over the standard beam torque wrench is that it is more durable, allowing you to use it for a longer period without having to replace the tool.
The split beam style of torque wrench is another beam type. This style looks and functions almost identically to the deflecting beam style. It works by using two beams, except that the second beam on this tool is only partially attached to the wrench’s head. The second beam runs alongside the first but is only used to provide a measurement to the torque dial, located on the handle.
With this torque wrench style, you can usually set the torque limit so that you don’t have to worry about overtightening. It may also include a ‘click’ sound, as with the click-style torque wrench, to indicate when you have reached the desired torque level. However, that feature is not standard for all split beam torque wrenches.
A slip-style torque wrench is one of the least popular designs for professionals in the automotive industry. It does not have a scale or gauge, so you cannot monitor the current torque being exerted with this type of wrench. You will also have a hard time finding a heavy-duty version of a slip wrench that produces the same level of torque as a regular click torque wrench.
With the slip torque wrench, you get a cheap, effective tool for smaller projects, like fixing a bicycle. You can set this type of wrench to a specific torque limit and when it reaches the limit, the teeth in the head will slip, preventing overtightening.
Click-style torque wrenches are the most popular type of torque wrench. This style of wrench can be set to a specific torque level by twisting the base of the handle to match up with the desired setting on the handle. It’s also affordable and accurate, though not as durable as a beam torque wrench.
They are called click torque wrenches because of the audible click you hear when the wrench reaches the set torque level. However, the click is only an indicator, and most click-style torque wrenches do not prevent overtightening the fasteners.
Digital torque wrenches are typically the most expensive option, with large, hydraulic torque wrenches being the one possible exception. These wrenches come pre-calibrated for precise readings that are displayed on a digital screen. You may be able to find a digital torque wrench that allows you to pre-set multiple torque levels so that you can quickly switch between everyday tasks with the push of a button.
When you reach the torque level you set, it will typically notify you with a buzz, beep, vibration, light, or some combination of these alarms so that you do not overtighten the fastener. However, this type of torque wrench requires batteries, and you may need to return to zero before storing to prevent it from needing calibration.
The interchangeable head torque wrench is not a completely different type of wrench. It is a click torque wrench that accommodates various heads so you can complete a variety of tasks with an assortment of fasteners and fastener sizes. Like the regular click torque wrench, this style of wrench also emits a loud click sound to indicate when you have reached a set torque level.
Micrometers are another subclass of the click torque wrench. They operate the same as regular click torque wrenches, but come with both forward and reverse capabilities. This style also commonly comes with a quick-release trigger that allows you to set, adjust, and read the torque wrench without difficulty. The micrometer torque wrench is more expensive than a standard click torque wrench due to the extra features. Still, if you use your torque wrench regularly, the micrometer will provide more accurate results and versatility to better take on your next project.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Torque Wrench
Don’t buy before you know what to look for in a new torque wrench. Consider these important product factors and how they apply to the torque wrench you want.
Accuracy is always an important consideration when it comes to a torque wrench. If the torque wrench is not accurate, it can lead to over or under tightening, both of which can cause serious issues, like breaking or disconnecting. Typically a torque wrench manufacturer will state the measured accuracy of the tool based on a calibration test that takes place before the torque wrench is sold. This calibration level generally has a ±4 percent accuracy rating, so if you find a wrench with a smaller accuracy range (e.g., ±3 percent accuracy), then you know you have a superior product.
The torque wrench’s drive size describes the bits you can use to tighten nuts and other fasteners. The standard sizes include 1/4 inch, 3/8 inch, 1/2 inch, 3/4 inch, and 1 inch, though you won’t be working with anything above a 1/2-inch drive for most applications.
- A 1/4-inch drive is the smallest of the common drive sizes and is frequently used for motorcycles, mopeds, lawnmowers, and even some HVAC applications. They are also used to tighten tiny automotive fasteners.
- The 3/8-inch drive typically assists in major automotive repair for engine work, including tightening spark plugs. However, the 1/2-inch drive is good for working on spark plugs with the correct bit. The 3/8-inch drive is the second most common drive size used.
- The 1/2-inch drive is the most common size. Use this option to install lug nuts on vehicle wheels and tighten fasteners on your vehicle’s suspension.
- You only use a 3/4 or 1-inch drive when working with massive vehicles, like a semi-truck or a large construction vehicle. This size typically pairs with a long breaker bar to help deal with tough truck lug nuts.
The range of a torque wrench can limit the types of jobs you can perform if it is too small. On average, a torque wrench with a range that falls below 100 foot-pounds is considered ineffective for most automotive and mechanical torque wrench applications. However, a lower torque range is ideal for smaller tasks, like working on a lawnmower or bicycle.
Most torque wrenches have a range that reaches 150-foot pounds, which is more than enough to tighten lug nuts on your car. However, many torque wrenches have a much wider torque range, with some reaching 1,000 foot-pounds of force.
Before picking up a new torque wrench, be sure that you select a type with a scale that you are comfortable reading so that you are not constantly struggling to figure out the current torque level.
- Beam torque wrenches including standard, deflecting beam, and split beam have a simple scale located on the wrench’s handle to indicate the torque amount.
- Slip-style torque wrenches do not have a scale or gauge to keep track of the current torque level. For this reason, they are not typically used in the automotive industry.
- Click-style torque wrenches, including interchangeable head and micrometer click torque wrenches, use a scale on the body’s handle. This scale is frequently engraved into the metal for a highly visible result.
- Digital torque wrenches come pre-calibrated for precise readings that are displayed on the digital screen. This style of torque wrench offers the most precise readings in the most straightforward format, but you cannot use the wrench if the batteries run out.
Ratcheting is a feature that is offered with some torque wrenches, but it isn’t common because torque wrenches should never be used for loosening nuts. This is because when you try to loosen a nut, it may initially be seized, and when the torque wrench applies force, the nut can jolt forward, causing the wrench to require recalibration. The ratcheting head allows you to quickly change the direction of the wrench so that you can measure torque in both the clockwise and counterclockwise orientation, giving you better access than a torque wrench that only operates in the clockwise direction.
A torque wrench is a very sensitive measuring device that can quickly become inaccurate if it is not used correctly or subjected to impact forces caused by being dropped on the ground or knocked against other tools. Due to this sensitivity, it is a good idea to find a product that comes with a box or another protective storage container that can keep your torque wrench safe from the other tools in your workshop and any incidental contact. You may also want to find a torque wrench storage container with interior padding and a lockable clasp for additional protection and security.
The handle’s grip is an important aspect to keep in mind when you are looking for a new torque wrench. Due to the sensitivity of the torque wrench you want to ensure that it has a handle that you can grip without slipping so that you can quickly stop the motion of the wrench handle when you reach the desired level of torque to prevent overtightening. You also want a comfortable, ergonomic handle that will help you work longer without worrying about hand fatigue. Most torque wrenches come with either a rubberized plastic handle or a steel handle with a raised grip. Go with the rubber grip for heightened comfort, or the metal grip for additional friction and control.
Tips for Using a Torque Wrench
A torque wrench is a specialized tool intended for one main purpose: tightening nuts and bolts. It absolutely should not be used for loosening, and you may even want to use your fingers to hand tighten nuts as much as possible before bringing out the torque wrench.
You should take care of all of your tools, but especially a sensitive instrument like a torque wrench. Any hard impact to the wrench, like dropping it on the ground, even when it is in storage can result in having to re-calibrate the tool.
When using a torque wrench that requires you to set a specific torque level when using it, such as when you use a click-type torque wrench, change the torque setting to the intended level before storing the tool. This helps keep the device adequately calibrated when it is not in use and keeps it working longer.
- Torque wrenches are specialty tightening tools that should only be used for their specified purpose.
- Be gentle when you are using and handling your torque wrench to maintain the proper calibration.
- For setting specific torque wrenches, like click-type torque wrenches, always return the torque wrench to the manufacturer recommended torque setting before putting the tool away in storage.
Our Top Picks
The top-rated products below were chosen for quality, price, and customer satisfaction to help you find the best torque wrench for your automotive repairs.
The TEKTON Click Torque Wrench has a reversible ratcheting head that allows you to drive the wrench in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions. This flexibility enables the wrench to be used in tight spaces where a clockwise-only wrench couldn’t fit. The click torque wrench has an all-steel construction so that you don’t have to worry about plastic parts breaking or wearing out.
When the torque wrench is not in use, you can put it away in the included red storage case made of a hard plastic shell and a blown-plastic inner mold to keep it safe. The wrench has an accuracy rating of ±4 percent and an average torque range of 10 to 150 foot-pounds, allowing you to work on a range of automotive repairs.
The 3/8-inch drive of this click-type torque wrench makes it smaller than the typical 1/2-inch drive torque wrenches, allowing it to access hard-to-reach places that larger wrenches could not. However, this size difference also usually means that the torque range is lower, which is true in this case, with a range of just 10 to 80 foot-pounds.
While that level of torque isn’t strong enough for full automotive repairs, it is more than enough for fixing small engines. This affordable wrench has an accuracy rating of ±4 percent and sturdy steel construction. The handle has raised steel edges for better grip and control, and the beam and head of the wrench is chrome.
Before you hit the target torque setting, the GEARWRENCH Electronic Torque Wrench warns you with a vibrating handle, buzzing sound, and a solid LED light indicator that are hard to miss so you can stop before you overtighten the fastener. The digital torque wrench can measure torque in both the clockwise and counterclockwise directions. Still, it has a better accuracy rating of ±2 percent in the clockwise direction compared to ±3 percent in the counterclockwise direction.
The display on the torque wrench replaces the traditional scale, allowing you to set the torque level using the intuitive buttons on the handle. The handle is comfortable and ergonomic, allowing you to work for longer before feeling the effects of hand fatigue. This product also boasts an impressive torque range of 22 to 250 foot-pounds.
For a torque wrench that you can take with you from job site to job site and back to your home workshop, the LEXIVON Click Torque Wrench is an ideal option. This wrench comes with a hard plastic case with a fitted blown-plastic liner to ensure the torque wrench stays safe during transportation and storage.
The complete steel design of this 1/2-inch drive torque wrench helps protect the internal mechanism from impact damage when the tool is in transport. It has a ±4 percent accuracy rating and an average torque range of 10 to 150 foot-pounds, allowing you to work on lug nuts, spark plugs, and other automotive fasteners as long as you have the correct bits.
When working on your motorcycle, you may need more than one size of torque wrench, and luckily, this set comes with three different wrenches. The set includes click-style torque wrenches with reversible ratcheting heads and solid steel construction, with an included protective sleeve for each tool.
The first product in the set is a 1/4-inch drive torque wrench with an accuracy rating of ±4 percent and a torque range of just 1.5 to 16.5 foot-pounds. The second is a 3/8-inch drive torque wrench, with an accuracy rating of ±4 percent and a range of 5 to 80 foot-pounds. The last wrench in the set has a 1/2-inch drive, an accuracy rating of ±4 percent, and a torque range of 20 to 150 foot-pounds, perfect for working on a motorcycle.
This 3/8-inch drive dual-direction torque wrench has a low torque range of 7 to 44 foot-pounds because it is designed for working with fragile bicycle parts that may break in higher-torque applications. The click torque wrench for bicycles has a reversible ratcheting head that allows it to take measurements from both clockwise and counterclockwise, with an accuracy rating of ±4 percent and ±6 percent, respectively.
The included case contains a 3/8-inch to 1/4-inch adaptor, a 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch adaptor, and a 75mm extension bar, but it also has a space inside the case to store bolts while the wrench is in use. The wrench is made of steel and has a chrome beam and head, but the handle is painted black. The metal is raised to provide a superior grip and increased friction for better control.
For frequent spark plug work, a torque wrench that can apply the exact force needed without overtightening, which can break the plug, is the idela choice. The Precision Instruments torque wrench isn’t under pressure like a click torque wrench, so you need a very small amount of force to set the adjustment mechanism to the desired torque level. It also has a torque range of 40 to 250 foot-pounds.
The split beam torque wrench has an ergonomic grip that makes it easy to use for multiple hours without hand fatigue. Due to this being a split beam type of torque wrench, it is more durable than a click-type torque wrench, but it also does not need to be reset before it can be stored. With an average accuracy rating of ±4 percent, you know you are getting a quality product.
Lug nuts are the large nuts used to attach the wheels of a vehicle to the axle, and a 1/2-inch drive torque wrench is the typical size used to tighten these lug nuts. With the proper drive size to work with lug nuts and an impressive torque range of 30 to 250 foot-pounds, the Industrial Brand CDI Torque Wrench is an ideal option for any automotive repair shop or avid DIYer.
The micrometer torque wrench also has a ratcheting head that has been calibrated in both the clockwise and counterclockwise directions, allowing you to get torque measurements in tight locations that may not be possible with a regular torque wrench. You also get a quick-release button that lets you remove sockets quickly and easily, and an accuracy rating of ±4 percent.
FAQs About Torque Wrenches
Take a look at these helpful answers to some of the most common questions about torque wrenches.
Q. What is a torque wrench used for?
A torque wrench is a specialized tightening tool commonly used in the automotive industry. Despite ‘wrench’ being in its name, a torque wrench should never be used to loosen nuts, only for tightening them.
Q. How do you use a torque wrench?
You can use a torque wrench to tighten nuts, but never for loosening. If the wrench you are using is a type that needs the torque to be set, then set the torque using the physical dial on the handle or the digital keypad. Place the drive bit on the nut or bolt and tighten until you reach the appropriate torque, which will be indicated differently for each type of torque wrench.
Q. How do you calibrate a torque wrench?
To calibrate a torque wrench on your own, you will need a bench vise, a 20-pound weight, a thin rope or string (capable of holding at least 20 pounds), and a measuring tape.
- Measure the length of the torque wrench from the square drive on the head to the exact point on the handle where you grip the wrench. This line is commonly marked already on a torque wrench, so you shouldn’t have to estimate based on your average usage.
- Put the square drive of the torque wrench into the vise and tighten it.
- Set the torque wrench using the measurement you took in step one, and multiply it by 20.
- Tie a loop through the 20-pound weight with the string and hang it from the end of the handle where you took your first measurement.
- If you hear a click, lift the weight and move it towards the head of the wrench. Each time you put the weight down, if it clicks continue moving it until the clicking stops.
- If you don’t initially hear a click, tighten the spring in the wrench by turning the screw clockwise, lift the weight and lower it again to test it, repeating the process in step five.
- If done correctly, you should end up with a very precise area on the torque wrench where the weight can hang without causing the wrench to click.
- Measure the length of the torque wrench from the square drive to the point where the weight is hanging and multiply this finding by 20 pounds.
- With the information you have gathered, you can now calculate the applied torque of the wrench using the formula Ta = Ts x (D1/D2). Ta is applied torque. Ts is torque setting. D1 is the distance measured in step 1. D2 is 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.
Q. What are foot-pounds of torque?
A foot-pound is a unit of measurement used for measuring torque. One foot-pound of torque is equal to 1 pound of force operating at a perpendicular distance of 1 foot from the torque wrench’s pivot point.
Q. Can you use a foot-pound torque wrench for inch-pounds?
Yes, you can. If you want to use a foot-pound torque wrench for inch-pounds just multiply the wrench’s foot-pounds by 12 to convert it to inch-pounds.