Learn about torque wrenches, how they work, the different kinds and what to look for when buying one. Then, check out our top picks for the best torque wrenches on the market right now.
Best Torque Wrench Reviews
Any wrench can tighten a nut or bolt, but it takes a torque wrench to do it precisely. Without the precision that a torque wrench provides, working on machinery with demanding specifications would be a lot more difficult and even unsafe. You would be hard-pressed to find a mechanic's garage without one.
But they, of course, are not just for professional mechanics and industrial engineers. If you have even a passing interest in working on your automobile or other heavy machinery, a torque wrench is invaluable.
To help you get started, we’ll go over the basics of what a torque wrench is, how to use one, which ones we think are the best torque wrenches on the market and what to look for when shopping around.
The Torque Wrench
Like every wrench, the torque wrench is a tool to gain leverage for the purpose of rotating something, most often a nut or bolt. The torque wrench, however, is a more precise tool for situations when specific amounts of torque or “tightness” are required. Some nuts and bolts need to be tightened to a certain level, no more and no less, for safety and operational functionality.
The torque wrench has built-in features that show the amount of torque being applied to whatever is being rotated or has built-in alarms to alert the user when a certain level of torque is reached. Without these features, say if you were using a normal wrench, you would not know exactly how tight you were tightening a nut or bolt.
The result would be either something that is too loose which might come undone or something that has been tightened too much which puts it at risk of cracking or breaking off completely. Sure, not everything requires such precise torque but the parts of many machines, like automobiles, require exact tightening. Lug nuts, for example.
How Torque Wrenches Work
There are several kinds of torque wrench designs in use today. Some types of torque wrench you will see include:
The most common types of torque wrenches used in homes and garages are click torque wrenches and electronic torque wrenches. The other kinds are either old and considered outdated, like the beam torque wrench or specialized and not intended for general use like the hydraulic torque wrench.
Click Torque Wrenches
This more traditional wrench is the most common kind of torque wrench around. It consists of only mechanical components and doesn't need batteries or much-specialized knowledge to operate. It is characterized by a long handle with a head, upon which you can put different sized sockets for use with different sized fasteners.
There is also a dial on the handle, usually close to the grip. This is where you set the level of torque you want to reach. After setting the torque, you start tightening. When you tighten the fastener to a certain point, it will begin resisting your turning motion.
The internal mechanisms of the wrench measures that resistance and when the preset level is reached, there is an audible click to alert you.
It is up to the user to cease tightening at this point, as there is not a feature in place to stop the wrench from overtightening. This gives the user a bit more leeway and doesn’t over-restrict the process.
Electronic Torque Wrench
This kind of torque wrench accomplishes the same outcome as the click wrench, but it does so with a higher degree of precision thanks to modern technology. Electronic torque wrenches have their torque levels set with a built-in torque monitor complete with buttons and LCD.
Not only can you set the torque threshold electronically, but you can also see the level of torque in real time in most cases.
When the preset torque level is reached, there is an audible buzz or beep to alert the user. This method is considered by some to be more precise and reliable as opposed to a mechanical click torque wrench, but others see it as overkill and unnecessary. In any case, the electric variety requires batteries to operate.
Best Torque Wrench Reviews: How We Chose Our Ratings
Before we get to the reviews, let’s explain how we came to our conclusions and what criteria we looked at when grading the best torque wrench. The list is put down roughly in order of importance to us. As a note, we only considered electric and click wrenches as beam wrenches are too old fashioned and not precise enough for the modern garage.
The point of a torque wrench is precision, so an inaccurate wrench is not even considered. Without accurate settings or readings, you’re looking at stripped fasteners and possibly even more catastrophic damage. We looked at wrenches with five percent or better accuracy. Any higher and it isn’t worth looking at (more on accuracy later).
Several small features and additions make using a torque wrench easier and make the tool more versatile. These features are not "make or break," but they certainly add to a rating and their absence has a negative impact. Things we liked to see include:
What the wrench is made of will contribute greatly to its stability and durability. This isn’t a delicate tool for fine motor work; this is a tool that requires a bit of English. You want a tool that can take a beating and not buckle under the pressure you put it on.
You also want it to stand the test of time; good tools should last years if not decades. Steel is the best material to make a torque wrench out of, but some manufacturers cut corners and replace components and pieces with plastic. The more steel, the stronger the wrench is and the higher our rating.
- Bidirectional ratcheting for tightening clockwise and counterclockwise
- Ergonomic grip
- Carrying case that is protective and compact
- Highly visible scale or torque readout
Best Torque Wrench Reviews: Our Top Picks
Here are our top picks for the best torque wrench available right now. We ordered them with our favorite at the top, but don’t let that stop you from looking at others. Depending on your preferences (electric, click) or needs (included sockets, etc.), you may find that one with a lower than perfect rating is actually the best torque wrench for you.
This torque wrench is held up as the gold standard of torque wrenches according to many mechanics. It might not be the most powerful or professional grade, but it does everything the average user would need, and it does it all exceptionally.
It is highly accurate to +/- 4% factory calibrated and is made from solid steel with no plastic components. The click is loud, and you can feel it through the handle so even in a loud garage with other machinery working you can tell when it is time to stop.
The scale reads in imperial and metric and is highly visible, even in low light. The reversible ratchet rotates clockwise and counterclockwise for higher versatility. It even comes in its own custom carrying case.
The only areas it fell flat were minor at best. The grip is not as ergonomic as some, but it's still comfortable and gets the job done.
It doesn't come with its own sockets, but for the money you save on its affordable price, you can buy a big set of your own. It's rated to a maximum torque of 150-foot pounds or 203.5 newtons which is not the highest rating, but more than enough for the average user.
These wrenches are a good addition to an experienced mechanics toolbox. You get three wrenches of various sizes for one low price. They are accurate to +/- 4% factory calibrated like our top pick and made mostly of solid steel as well. As the name suggests, they are reversible, and they are also quite durable.
The range of the largest one is comparable to the Tekton, but the minimum torque setting is a bit high. However, with two smaller wrenches, this is no problem. Setting and reading the scale is not as easy as it could be, but an experienced mechanic should have no problem. There is also no newton setting, which may irk some metric users who do not use kilograms per centimeter.
If you are looking for a futuristic and high tech torque wrench, this ACDelco model is for you. This electronic torque wrench has an LCD readout for precise settings and an audible buzzer to alert you that the preset level of torque has been reached. You can use it to tighten, but you can also use it to measure the torque of an already attached fastener without taking it off.
We liked how much guesswork the electronic design eliminated, but it does have its flaws. This model is considerably smaller than others, so that may limit the tasks it can perform. Also, setting the torque wasn’t as intuitive as we’d have liked.
However, its accuracy is rated slightly better than the mechanical click wrenches on this list. That degree of accuracy might be overkill, but it is nice to have.
Maybe you aren't a hardcore gearhead and just want a simple torque wrench for odd jobs now and then. If that's the case, this EPAuto model is right up our alley. It is as accurate as the Tekton and rated up to 200 foot-pounds. It is sturdy with a decent grip and has a nice finish. Surprisingly, it is highly affordable even though it comes with an included carrying case.
It didn't top our list due to a few glaring drawbacks. The scale can be hard to read if any grease gets in the notches, and the wrench only tightens in one direction. Also, the click is not as loud as others in some situations. Still, these are problems only heavy users would experience so casual users will love it.
Torque Wrenches: A Buyer’s Guide
If these wrenches aren’t for you or you can’t find them at your local hardware store, here are a few things to look at when you go comparison shopping for your best torque wrench.
Accuracy is important and measured in percentage. +/- percent means that the wrench will click when it reaches the preset torque level, give or take that much percent of the torque. For example, a wrench of +/- 4 percent, when set to 100 pounds, will click when it reaches anywhere from 96 to 104 pounds. This margin of error is quite acceptable for nearly all users.
Make sure the packaging of the box includes calibration information or better yet, a certificate of calibration. If it lacks either of these, don’t bother; it probably is not calibrated well and won’t be even if you do it yourself because it is low quality.
Depending on what you use the wrench for, you'll need a certain drive size for different purposes. Larger drive sizes can fit larger sockets, and smaller drives are for smaller sockets. There are four common drive sizes.
- 1/4″ Drive: for small and precise nuts and bolts.
- 3/8″ Drive: The most versatile size, for most applications on cars and trucks.
- 1/2″ Drive: For larger nuts and bolts, used in engine and transmission mounts.
- 3/4″ Drive: For especially large jobs.
If you only get one torque wrench, make it a 3/8″ drive it is best for most average users. 3/4″ drive wrenches are for specialists, and the average user won't ever need one.
Other than those two things, refer to our ratings guide to see some of the little things you might like such as:
- Warranty (one year or more)
- Included carrying case
- Reversible ratcheting