I admit – it took me a while to fully appreciate torque and all its applications. But, now that I can “twist” my head around it, I know how important it is. And, I’m quite sure that you do too. That’s why you’re here. After all, you wouldn’t be looking for a torque wrench if you didn’t care about correctly torquing fasteners.
But, identifying the best torque wrench that suits your application and budget from the sea of products on the market is difficult. That’s why we created this comprehensive guide to make your life tension free. Before we begin, let’s quickly look at what the guide has to offer.
In this section, we’ll take you through our picks of 2019. If you’re in a hurry, you can pick your product directly from the list. However, if you want to learn more about the thinking that goes into making a sound purchase, read the section that follows this one. The two sections in conjunction will clarify everything you need to know when shopping.
|Model||Price||Item Weight||User Rating|
|CDI Snap-on 2503MFRPH|
(Best for the Money)
|Capri Tools 31000||2.4 pounds||4.2/5|
|Neiko Pro 03709B|
(Best for the Money)
The 2503MFRPH is a premium model from CDI, one of Snap-on’s industrial brands. The CDI 1503MFRPH is another torque wrench in the same product line-up. Why is this important? Interestingly, although both models cost the same, they have vastly different torque ranges. The 2503’s torque range is 30 to 250 ft*lb and the 1503’s torque range is 20 to 150 ft*lb. How come the one with a greater torque range costs more than the one with a lesser torque range?
Well, it is because the products price tag reflects the product’s high-quality design, astonishing accuracy, and robust construction. If you want to splurge and go all out, this is where you put the money. If you’re looking for the best torque wrench for lug nuts, buy the CDI 2503MFRPH. And, if you want a general purpose torque wrench, buy the CDI 1503MFRPH.
However, a typical home-mechanic may not have the budget to purchase these industrial grade torque wrenches. But, home users don’t put their torque wrenches through hours of rigor every day. So, they can let durability factors slide a little bit for the sake of economy. For such a user, there are high-quality affordable brands, such as the TEKTON 24335.
The CDI 2503 and 1503 are more durable, accurate, and functional than the TEKTON 24335. But, if you think, “Which is the best for the money?,” the TEKTON 24335 outshines the 2503 and 1503 in budget friendliness. TEKTON’s clever pricing, thoughtful design, and attention to quality have made the 24335 the most attractive torque wrench for people working in a non-industrial setup.
So, it’s no surprise that the 24335 is a bestseller on Amazon. But, let me quickly walk you through what you’re missing. The TEKTON 24335 has a torque range of 10 to 150 ft*lb. This torque range is comparable to the CDI 1503’s torque range. But, it doesn’t even come close to beating the CDI 2503’s torque range. The 24335 is 1 percent less accurate than the CDI tools and can measure torque only in the clockwise direction.
If you can live with these compromises, you can save around a hundred dollars. Plus, TEKTON warranties the 24335 for life against material and craftsmanship defects. Considering all this, I would confidently recommend this product to anyone who is out to buy their first torque wrench.
The ACDelco ARM601-4 is an electronic torque wrench. Unlike mechanical products, which measure torque mechanically, the electronic model uses a strain gauge to measure torque. Since the digital screen displays the applied torque in real time, electronic models are ideal for making high-precision torque adjustments. An electronic torque wrench can also alert you when you reach a pre-set torque.
But, both electronic torque wrenches and mechanical ones have their share of shoddy products on the market. So, if you’re buying an electronic torque wrench, buy the ACDelco ARM601-4. It’s the best digital torque wrench available right now. With an error margin of ± 2 percent clockwise and ± 3 percent counterclockwise, the ARM601-4 is more accurate than our top pick.
However, its torque range of 3 to 99 ft*lb is vastly inferior to its mechanical torque wrenches in the same price bracket. But, this is a general trend – within a given torque range, electronic torque wrenches are more expensive than mechanical ones. So, you must not see this as a problem unique to the ARM601-4. In summary, if you prize accuracy and real time feedback to torque range, this is the torque wrench you must buy.
So far, all the torque wrenches we’ve discussed have 1/2-inch drives. The Capri Tolls 31000 has a 3/8-inch drive. How does this make a difference? First, 31000 is more compact than all the other torque wrenches on our list. Its compactness grants easy access to hard to reach areas. In addition to being compact, the 31000 has NIST calibration certification, ± 4 margin for error, precision-made parts, clever design, and durable construction.
The downside is that the 31000 has the narrowest torque range among the products we have reviewed here. With a torque range of 10 to 80 ft*lb, this torque wrench is best suited for small-sized fasteners.
Now, this is not a bad thing. You see, generally, engineers place heavy duty fasteners in easily accessible locations. They use relatively smaller fasteners in areas that are difficult to access. Big torque wrenches cannot reach these spots. So, the 31000 plays a critical role in your workshop.
Although I wouldn’t recommend this torque wrench to people who have never owned a torque wrench, I would suggest buying the 31000 shortly after buying their first torque wrench. It’s not that expensive and it does a great job at what it is designed for.
I realize that although the CDI 2503 provides an impressive torque range, its price tag is downright intimidating. So, I’veincluded the Neiko Pro 03709B on this list. This mechanical torque wrench operates within a range of 50 to 250 ft*lb. It has an accuracy of ± 4 percent. It is made of durable material and has a robust design. It is a budget-friendly alternative to the industrial grade CDI 2503.
However, I have two problems with the Neiko Pro 03709B. First, the torque wrench is 25 inches long. Second, it weighs 6 pounds. Clearly, this is a very bulky unit. You could use it to tighten lug nuts, but you may struggle with suspension bolts. The tool’s dimensions and weight creates accessibility issues.
Before you go for this torque wrench, I suggest that you read your car’s manual to study the torque setting for all the critical fasteners on your car. Among the torque settings, identify the bolts that need the maximum torque. If this value lies above 120 ft*lb, you may need a heavy-duty torque wrench like the Neiko Pro 03709B.
Engineers put a lot of work in designing fasteners for critical fasteners. Although this is most apparent in automotive work, the principle of tightening fasteners to their correct torque applies to everything. That’s why a torque wrench is an indispensable instrument for any work involving fasteners.
However, there are different types of torque wrenches, and each type has its advantages and disadvantages. Also, within each type, there’s a lot of variance in performance parameters, such as build quality, accuracy, and reliability. So, buying a torque wrench isn’t as easy as picking one randomly from a store.
Fortunately, this part of the article discusses everything you need to know before buying one. Before we begin, let’s see why you need a torque wrench in the first place.
When you tighten a fastener, the threads on the fastener converts the applied rotational force to a linear force. The linear force stretches the fastener and the fastener’s mechanical properties resist the stretch. It’s the result of these opposing forces that create the clamping force that holds components together.
Here’s an analogy to help you understand the dynamics. Let’s say you want to secure a bundle of sticks using a rubber band. To do that you would bundle the sticks together, hold it in place, stretch the rubber band around the bundle, and release the rubber band to secure the bundle. So, how is the rubber band holding the bundle together?
The thickness of the bundle stretches the rubber band. At the same time, the rubber band’s mechanical properties create a force that opposes the stretch. The opposing force is what holds the bundle together. But, unless you’re a superhero, you can’t manually stretch a steel bolt. So, we must use a wrench.
Now, you may be wondering, “Why should I use a torque wrench, and not a regular wrench?” Let’s continue with the rubber band analogy. If you stretch the rubber band too much, the rubber band will snap. If you don’t stretch it enough, the bundle will fall apart. The same way, over torquing can damage the fastener and the components. And, under torquing can cause the parts to come undone.
A torque wrench allows you to adjust the torque on the fastener to its rated value. This way, the fastener provides adequate clamping force without causing any harm to itself or the components.
Broadly, torque wrenches fall into two categories: mechanical and electronic torque wrenches. Mechanical models consist of three common subtypes: the beam type, the dial type, and the click type. Here’s an overview of the four types:
If it isn’t already apparent, I recommend you go for a click type torque wrench. But, for some reason you want to record and analyze torque characteristics, you could buy an electronic torque wrench that records data.
The most crucial factor you must consider is the torque range. For example, the TEKTON 24335 has a torque range of 10 to 150 ft*lb. This range covers most of the fasteners you’d encounter in automotive work. But, you must always check your vehicle’s manual to ensure that no fastener falls out of the tool’s torque range.
After checking the torque range, you must identify the accuracy. Manufacturers express the accuracy in percentage. For instance, the TEKTON 24335 has an accuracy of ± 4 percent. Note that tools that allow clockwise and counterclockwise operation may have a different accuracy for each direction.
Also, manufacturers will tell you whether the accuracy applies across the full torque range or part of the torque range. If this information is missing, assume that the torque wrench is most accurate at the middle third of the range.
Now, all torque wrenches lose their accuracy over time and need to be recalibrated. However, high-quality tools will hold their calibration for a longer time. That’s why, in addition to range and accuracy, you must prioritize build quality. A poorly calibrated torque wrench is nothing more than an expensive ratchet wrench.
Next, evaluate the dimensions and weight of the torque wrench. Make sure the size is right and the weight isn’t too heavy. For example, the CDI Snap-on 2503MFRPH and the Neiko Pro 03709B work in almost the same torque range and accuracy. But, the Neiko Pro is 4 inches longer and 2 pounds heavier than the CDI Snap-on.
Lastly, look at the drive size. The most common drive sizes used for automotive work are 3/8-inch and 1/2-inch. 1/4-inch is too small and 3/4-inch is too big.
The list of reviews covers the five most notable torque wrenches on the market. You’ll most likely find a product that suits your budget, torque range, accuracy, and build quality in the list. But, if you want to expand your options, use the information in the second part of the article to research the full range of products from TEKTON, CDI, ACDelco, Neiko, and Craftsmen.
From the reviews of torque wrenches, I hope you’ve gathered that three factors heavily influence your choice: budget, torque range, and accuracy. As the accuracy and torque range increase, so does the price. Choosing the right one is a matter of balancing these three factors.
But, before concluding the article, I’d like to give you my verdict on the best model. If you’ve never owned a torque wrench, go for the TEKTON 24335. But, if you’re looking for a commercial grade torque wrench, the CDI 2503 is second to none.
Today, what was once a costly equipment, has become affordable. We have the rising popularity of the DIY community to thank for this. Demand for home-use versions of industrial tools has pushed manufacturers to develop products for this category of buyers.
As a result of this demand-supply interaction, there are lots of good products in every price range. However, this proliferation of products has also created a lot of clutter. But, with the right knowledge and guidance, it’s not hard to spot the best buy.
I know that it can get a little confusing out there. But, this guide has everything you need to get going. Hopefully, you will find the perfect product for you right off the bat.
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