The ratcheting wrench is one of those instruments that sounds frivolous but is actually an invaluable addition to the toolbox.
Craig ColeFormer reviews editor
Craig brought 15 years of automotive journalism experience to the Cars team. A lifelong resident of Michigan, he's as happy with a wrench or welding gun in hand as he is in front of the camera or behind a keyboard. When not hosting videos or cranking out features and reviews, he's probably out in the garage working on one of his project cars. He's fully restored a 1936 Ford V8 sedan and then turned to resurrecting another flathead-powered relic, a '51 Ford Crestliner. Craig has been a proud member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).
So, you've got a good set of screwdrivers. Your toolbox is also kitted out with a smattering of conventional wrenches such as adjustable wrenches and metric wrenches. You also have a surfeit of sockets, a passel of pliers and maybe even torque wrenches, hammers, scrapers, picks and pry bars. What more do you need? Well, probably plenty (because you can never have too many tools), but one of the things you should immediately put on your shopping list is a set -- or two -- of ratcheting wrenches. And here are the best ratcheting wrenches you can buy right now.
While not absolutely necessary, ratcheting wrenches can be major labor savers. They meld the slimline design of a conventional wrench with the convenience of a ratchet and socket to create a highly versatile hand tool. Certain under-hood components, especially in modern cars, can be a tight squeeze; often there isn't enough room to fit a conventional socket, let alone a hand. These situations are where ratcheting wrenches shine brightest. In those hard-to-access spots, rather than using a conventional combination wrench where you have to loosen or tighten a fastener one increment at a time and then reposition the tool, ratcheting wrenches allow you to remove or install fasteners much quicker and with way less effort. They can pay for themselves in just one use from all the frustration they'll save you.
Yes, ratcheting wrenches sound complex and expensive, but neither is necessarily the case. There are plenty of ratchet-wrench sets out there that are eminently affordable, though you're welcome to spend an absolute fortune on a top-quality assortment. But no matter how modest or massive your budget, you should totally grab a set. The following recommendations are based on grease-under-your-nails, first-hand experience as well as real-world user reviews.
It's hard to beat these AmazonBasics ratcheting combination wrenches for value. At just about $20, it includes seven individual combo wrenches and a convenient carrying case. For that ever-so-modest outlay it provides 8-, 10-, 12-, 13-, 14-, 15-, and 17-millimeter wrenches. For added convenience, the ratcheting mechanisms feature a 72-tooth design, so they "click" even in the tightest of spaces where you don't have much room to swing the handle, situations where ratcheting wrenches shine. This box end wrench set is made of chrome-vanadium steel for long-haul durability, but if something does go awry, these wrenches are backed by a one-year warranty. For the casual mechanic or even around-the-house repairs, this set of ratcheting wrenches is ideal. The set's 4.7-star rating on Amazon is seriously good for a ratcheting wrench set this affordable.
If you want to keep some ratcheting wrenches in your trunk, boat, RV or other place where space is at a premium, you need a set that's compact. Well, this ToolGuards 33-piece SAE wrench set fits the bill. Not only does it come with 15 imperial and 18 metric-size wrenches, it also includes a nifty tool pouch that keeps the whole kit and caboodle organized and easy to carry. As for sizes, you get basically everything between 0.25 and 1 inch and then everything from 6 millimeters to 24 millimeters, except for a 23-millimeter ratcheting wrench. Why that's missing is anyone's guess. Other benefits of these ratcheting wrenches include vanadium steel construction for durability, a lifetime warranty and each tool is treated to a fetching, mirror-like finish. Their slimline heads also help you access super-tight spaces where a standard wrench wouldn't be ideal. This set is priced at $250, which ain't too shabby for 33 high-quality pieces, though smaller sets are available for less money. And if all that weren't enough to convince you to get this ratcheting wrench set, its 4.7-star rating after more than 3,100 customer reviews totally should.
For the handyman (or woman) on the go, this affordable set of ratcheting wrenches from Ram Tools is a great option. Priced at a totally reasonable $80, it includes 24 tools, 12 metric sizes and 12 imperial ratcheting wrenches, everything from 8 millimeters to 19 millimeters on the metric side and from 0.25 to 0.9 inches. Like other examples included on this list, these wrenches feature 72-tooth drive mechanisms for added usability in tight spaces. Fashioned of glimmering chrome-vanadium steel, these ratcheting wrenches claim to be rustproof and impervious to water. This combination wrench set also comes with a 30-day no-questions-asked return policy and a one-year warranty in addition to an impressive 4.6-star rating.
OK, if you've got to reach fasteners like a bolt or flare nut in a really tight place -- like, super-snug quarters -- this is the set of ratcheting wrenches you need. These wrenches have a stubby design, so you can rotate them without needing miles of space. They also feature flexible heads so you can access nuts and bolts at all kinds of angles. Seriously, how cool is that? Manufactured by Gearwrench, a top-quality brand, this set comes with 10 metric wrenches running from 10 to 19 millimeters. Off-corner loading helps keep you from rounding off nuts or bolts and the 72-tooth ratcheting mechanism requires just 5 degrees of rotation to click, so you only have to move the handle a minimal amount to get work done. At $155 this tool set is not cheap, but it comes with a storage case and a lifetime warranty. Reviewers seem to love these ratcheting wrenches, too, as they currently have a 4.7-star rating.
For bigger jobs than the previous set of tools can handle, check out this full-size set of swivel-head ratcheting wrenches, also by Gearwrench. This kit comes with 12 metric wrenches in sizes from 8 to 19 millimeters. With longer handles, they provide plenty of leverage for breaking loose even stubbornly rusted fasteners, and the swiveling heads ensure you can access nuts and bolts in all kinds of weird orientations. The ratcheting boxed ends click with just 5 degrees of handle rotation and the alloy-steel construction means they're built to last. A nifty organizing tray is included, as is a 4.5-star rating.
For gearheads that demand only the best, check out this super-premium set of ratcheting wrenches from Wiha. At around $486 it's by no means cheap, but this is one of the best ratchet wrench sets you can buy. It includes 13 imperial wrenches and 18 metric ones, with sizes from 0.25 inches to 1 inch, and 8 millimeters to 25 millimeters. This 31-piece ratcheting-wrench set also comes with a tri-layer laminated foam storage tray to keep everything organized. As with other ratcheting wrenches, these feature 72-tooth drive mechanisms that enable the ratchets to click with as little as 5 degrees of movement. Designed and engineered in Germany, these Wiha tools are treated to a sexy satin-chrome finish for corrosion protection and come with a lifetime warranty that protects you from any defects in materials or workmanship.
This set of ratcheting wrenches for SK tools is as gorgeous as it is functional. With an X-Frame design for added strength, these ratcheting wrenches are super durable and treated to a lustrous chrome finish. But there's brawn beneath that beauty. Inside, they feature an innovative six-pawl drive mechanism that should be strong enough to handle more torque than competing one-pawl systems. Not only that, this design features 216 engagement points, which means the ratcheting assembly clicks with just 1.7 degrees of handle swing, the lowest in the industry. This tool set includes 12 ratcheting wrenches from 8 to 19 millimeters. These ratcheting wrenches are made in the USA from American steel and come with a lifetime warranty. Overall, these tools are ideal for professionals, though they're not ridiculously expensive, priced at about $250.
This professional-quality set of ratcheting wrenches from Tekton is tough to top. Of the metric persuasion, it includes six wrenches but gives you 12 different tools, from 8 to 19 millimeters. Does this involve some sort or sorcery or other arcane practices? No, not at all. Rather than having a ratcheting mechanism on one end and an open wrench on the other, these Tekton wrenches have a ratcheting mechanism on each end and they're two different sizes, which is super clever. With long beams for added leverage, 180-degree swiveling heads, 72-tooth ratcheting mechanisms and an unbeatable warranty, these Tekton wrenches are an excellent addition to your toolbox. This excellent set of ratcheting wrenches also has a 4.7-star rating.
Six-pawl drive mechanism, 1.7-degrees of movement per click, X-Frame design, made in the USA, lifetime warranty
Best ratcheting wrench set if money is no object
Includes 13 imperial and 18 metric wrenches, handy storage tray, 72-tooth ratcheting mechanism, satin-chrome finish, German engineering, lifetime warranty
5 things to know about ratcheting wrench sets
Ratcheting wrenches can be an absolute godsend when working in tight quarters or trying to remove a stubborn bolt in an awkward position. These tools are ideal in spots where a conventional socket and ratchet don't fit.
Ratcheting wrenches are also super helpful because you don't have to keep repositioning the tool each time you loosen or tighten a fastener. If a nut or bolt isn't quite finger loose, it can be extremely annoying using a conventional wrench because you have to turn the wrench, then take it off the fastener and reposition it again to continue tightening or loosening. In comparison, ratcheting wrenches do all this in one smooth motion.
Many ratcheting wrenches come with 72-tooth drive mechanisms, which is a great feature. This means the ratcheting mechanisms "click" without requiring huge movement of the wrench handle, something that makes them more versatile. Many of these tools ratchet with just 5 degrees of handle movement, though the SK set listed above clicks every 1.7 degrees, about a third as much as other ratcheting wrenches.
You don't have to spend a fortune to get a great set of ratcheting wrenches. Of course, you can, it's just not absolutely necessary. For general-purpose use, many of the value-priced sets listed above are perfectly fine, hell, they'd probably hold up a-OK in professional settings, too. And if something does go wrong, all the tools listed here are backed by a warranty, some by lifetime guarantees.
Ratcheting wrenches are offered in a variety of shapes and sizes. Not only do they come in metric and imperial sizes, you can get long-handled ones for greater leverage and stubby models that fit in tight spaces. Examples with swiveling heads are offered, as are stubby models with swiveling heads. This variety is designed to give you lots of choice and to make the job of wrenching, particularly in cramped quarters, just a little bit easier.
Any well-stocked toolbox is going to have sockets and ratchets, pliers and screwdrivers. But only serious gearheads are likely to have ratcheting wrenches in their instrument repertoire, which is a real shame. Ratcheting wrenches are super versatile and can be real labor savers, which makes them just as essential as car ramps, coveralls and work lights. In fact, a good set can practically pay for itself the first time you use it just because it saves so much frustration. If you haven't already, seriously consider getting a set of ratcheting wrenches; you'll thank me later. They're not necessarily that expensive and are well worth the investment.