If you plan on doing any automotive maintenance or repairs, you should own a torque wrench, whether it's a beam-style, a clicker or even digital.
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).
A torque wrench is one of the most important tools if you have to do serious automotive work. You can't just disassemble your vehicle's front suspension, swap out the wheels or pull a cylinder head and then expect to put it all back together so easily. You are required to make sure every fastener and bolt is tightened properly with a torque wrench. Otherwise, you won't be going very far in your car. Even if you're not a professional mechanic, a torque wrench is a good tool to have by your side.
The upper control-arm bolts on your
may require, say, 55 pound-feet of twist, whereas the aftermarket head studs for a
engine you're building might take 115 pounds plus an additional 90 degrees of rotation to be securely fastened. In these cases, and countless more, it's mission-critical to have a torque wrench. Available in a range of sizes and types, torque wrenches enable you to tighten fasteners to a desired torque value, which is important when the machine you're working on needs to be trusted to take you from place to place at high speeds.
The types of torque wrenches include basic to advanced -- beam or deflection (split beam torque wrench), dial indicator (dial torque wrench), click-style torque wrench, hydraulic torque wrench and digital wrench. Tightening nuts and bolts in a clockwise direction to a manufacturer-recommended torque range enables specific components -- and the vehicle itself -- to function as designed. Not following these torque specs can result in damage to your car or truck, shortened component life and many more headaches down the road. Properly tightening head bolts to a specific torque setting, for instance, is critical, and you might need a different torque wrench for a different bolt. You don't want to go through the aggravation of replacing a head gasket just to have it blow out again two weeks later because you didn't use the correct torque wrench.
All this sounds both complicated and expensive, but luckily, it's neither. There's a wide range of available torque wrenches on the market today for every application and budget, from simple beam-style torque-wrench models that cost but a few bucks to electronic torque wrench units that are super accurate when it comes to achieving desired torque value. Here are a few of the best torque wrench options available today, with our recommendations based on personal experience and buyer reviews. We'll update this list of the best torque wrenches periodically so that you can find the best torque wrench for your needs no matter what setting you need to reach.
The EPAuto torque wrench is an easy recommendation. A click wrench unit, you set the desired proper torque and start tightening in a clockwise direction. When the preset torque measurement amount is reached, it clicks to let you know. For added versatility, it works between 10 and 80 lb.-ft., which makes it ideal for a large number of tasks, automotive and otherwise. For added versatility, this click torque wrench has a 3/8-inch drive size end, meaning it fits midsize sockets, though it also comes with an extension, but that's not all. Two adapters are included, too, allowing you to use 1/4-inch and 1/2-inch sockets as well.
Ensuring the EPAuto torque wrench lasts, it's made from a hardened, chrome vanadium steel alloy. It also comes with a plastic storage case. Making this product a cinch to use, its adjustment knob, which easily turns to change how much torque it applies, is clearly labeled in both foot-pounds and Newton meters, plus it has a knurled handle so you don't slip, even if your hands are greasy or dirty. You could do a lot worse than this EPAuto torque wrench, which costs just $23 and has a 4.5-star rating out of 5 stars after more than 2,300 user reviews.
The next torque wrench on this list is burlier and more expensive than the EPAuto model listed above, but it's still very reasonably priced and even more versatile. The Lexivon unit highlighted here features a 1/2-inch drive end and is a click type torque wrench. Like many other torque wrenches, its adjustment barrel features a knurled handle for a nonslip ergonomic grip and its numbers are clearly marked -- a high-contrast yellow over black. This is a pretty stylish click torque wrench!
But looks are irrelevant; functionality is what counts, and this mechanical torque wrench unit offers plenty. It operates from 25 lb.-ft. up to a whopping 250 lb.-ft. of torque range. This gives you a huge torque setting range to work with, making it great for heavy-duty applications from engine and front-end service to tightening the lug nuts on a commercial truck. For added versatility, Lexivon offers several other torque-wrench models with 1/4-, 3/8- and 1/2-inch drive ends. This unit is super versatile and affordable to boot, at just $56. But the icing on the cake is this product's 4.7-star rating after nearly 2,000 customer reviews.
Quality costs money. If you want the best, be prepared to spend more. Case in point: The Gearwrench ½-inch drive digital torque wrench. Sure, it's expensive, but that's money well spent if your livelihood depends on a torque tool like this or if precision is paramount. Having personally used Gearwrench products myself, it makes great stuff, so you shouldn't be disappointed. This tool's operating torque range is between 20 to 250 lb.-ft., plus it should be accurate to within about 3% for the jobs that require precise torque.
But are digital torque wrenches better? The short answer is yes and no. They're easier to use and arguably more accurate, but tend to cost more. Setting this product apart from the other torque wrenches highlighted here, it is electronic. Rather than a clicking mechanism or a bar that bends as you apply force, it features circuits and sensors. You easily set the desired torque level using a series of buttons and the handle vibrates, a buzzer sounds and an LED shines when you reach that target torque amount, so there's no excuse for over-tightening any fasteners. For extra flexibility, it can be set in lb.-ft., Nm, kgf-m and kg-cm. Keeping this precision instrument safe and secure, it comes with a plastic carrying case. This Gearwrench torque wrench's 4.6-star rating doesn't hurt, either.
If value is important and simplicity a top priority, consider this Tooluxe beam torque wrench (gotta love a punny name). This type of torque wrench is less convenient to use than either the click torque wrench or digital counterparts, but they are cheaper and dead simple. With no settings or mechanisms to deal with, you simply tighten fasteners in a clockwise direction while observing the indicator. When it points at the desired torque setting, you're all set.
This beam wrench is 18 inches long and operates from a torque value of zero to 150 lb.-ft. Made of steel for long-haul durability, it's treated to a bright chrome finish that will look good in anyone's toolbox. For added versatility, it comes with a 1/2-inch drive end plus a 3/8-inch adapter. For less than 25 bucks, you can't go wrong here.
Thanks to its blend of versatility, value and excellent user reviews, this Tekton 1/2-inch drive torque wrench is our best overall recommendation. This clicking-type torque wrench can accurately tighten fasteners anywhere from 10 lb.-ft. to 150 lb.-ft. of torque value. It's made of durable steel, comes with a storage case, has easy-to-read scales and features a reversible ratchet head that drives in both directions, handy if you ever need to tighten something with a left-hand thread.
Another benefit of this Tekton torque wrench is precision. It's accurate to +/- 4%, which is hard to argue with. As for pricing, you can own all this goodness for less than $50. And if buyer ratings are any indication, it should work extremely well, having earned a 4.7-star score from more than 7,000 reviews.
Finally, if you need a torque wrench but don't have a place to put one, consider a digital torque adapter, like this nifty ACDelco unit. This tool clips onto the end of a ½-inch-drive socket wrench you already have, so you don't have to make room in your toolbox for another piece of hardware. Like the Gearwrench one listed above, this tool is digital. It can also be set between 25 and 250 lb.-ft. of set torque. When the desired torque is reached, three LEDs illuminate and an audible sound chimes, a digital way of saying, "Whoa there, partner. That's enough."
A precision piece of hardware, this tool is so accurate, the manufacturer says it can be used to calibrate other torque wrenches. For added peace of mind, this ACDelco tool comes with a one-year warranty and is highly rated. Not too shabby for $60. If you need a 3/8-inch-drive torque adapter, the company offers one as well, priced at $50.
Clicking-style torque wrench; includes carrying case; includes 1/2-inch extension plus 1/4-inch and 1/2-inch adapters
Best clicking-style torque wrench
Lexivon 1/2-inch drive
25 lb.-ft. to 250 lb.-ft.
Clicking-style torque wrench, high-contrast scales, accurate to +/- 4%
Best digital torque wrench
Gearwrench 1/2-inch drive
20 lb.-ft. to 250 lb.-ft.
Digital; vibrating handle; accurate to within +/- 3%; reads in lb.-ft., Nm, kgf-m, kg-cm
Best beam-style torque wrench
Tooluxe 1/2-inch drive
0 lb.-ft. to 150 lb.-ft.
Includes 3/8-inch adapter, bright-chrome finish
Best overall torque wrench
Tekton 1/2-inch drive
10 lb.-ft. to 250 lb.-ft.
Clicking-style torque wrench, includes carrying case, easy-to-read scales, accurate to +/- 4%
Best digital torque adapter
ACDelco 1/2-inch drive
25 lb.-ft. to 250 lb.-ft.
Audible and visual alerts, one-year warranty
4 things to know about torque wrenches
Manufacturers specify a torque rating for everything, whether it's a taillamp housing, wheel lug nut or a critical component like a cylinder-head bolt. Every component needs to be properly tightened -- but not overdone -- to work as designed and last as long as intended. This is why torque wrenches are so important.
Yes, you can fudge things when tightening fasteners, that is, skip using a torque wrench because some automotive parts and systems are more important than others. If you're reattaching a piece of interior trim that should be torqued to 12 inch-pounds torque limit, you can probably just guess and nothing bad will happen. But if you're doing brakes, working on a steering system or tightening main-bearing caps, using a torque wrench and following the manufacturer's recommendations are mandatory.
Torque wrenches are offered with different ends. These typically include ¼-, 3/8- and ½-inch sizes, though larger ones are offered. For many applications, a 3/8-inch unit is perfectly fine. For added versatility, many torque wrenches also come with adapters so they can be used with various sockets.
Digital torque wrenches are probably the easiest to use. Just set the desired torque and they will alert you when you hit that amount. There are a few downsides, including that they require batteries, are more complex and tend to be a touch costlier than their analog counterparts. On the flip side, beam-style torque wrenches are incredibly simple, with basically no parts to break, but they're far more cumbersome to use. Splitting the difference are the clicking-style torque wrenches.
A smart thing to have in your toolbox
Torque wrenches... nope, they're not sexy, but they are super important. If you're planning on tackling automotive repairs, you'd be wise to have one of these in your toolbox. And the good news is, all versions are very affordable, easy to use and should be plenty accurate. It just boils down to personal preference. Do you want a simple one that's a bit more difficult to use, would you prefer a clicking-style torque wrench or a preset torque wrench or are you all digital, all the time? Really, you can't go wrong with any of these tools, but you could certainly go wrong by not having one.