Three best impact wrenches
If you need to change a wheel or undo a stubborn bolt, nothing beats an impact wrench. It's usually seen as the tool the pros use, but there are plenty of consumer models. Forget regular wrenches. Impact wrenches make the job fast and easy. The challenge comes in picking the right model. That's why we've put together this buyer's guide explaining all the important features. We've also selected the three best impact wrenches on the market to underline the range of capabilities and show you where you'll find best value.
Considerations when choosing impact wrenches
The first thing you'll need to decide is which type of impact wrench is right for your DIY jobs.
Hydraulic impact wrenches
These impact wrenches are extremely powerful and are used in industrial work. They are specialist tools costing thousands of dollars.
Pneumatic impact wrenches
You'll see pneumatic impact wrenches at the racetrack and in your local auto shop. Unless you have a powerful compressor, they're not practical for home use. Having said that, the wrench itself is not particularly expensive, costing around $50 to $150.
Corded electric impact wrenches
Electric impact wrenches have long been the best option for the home user. Prices for these wrenches are similar to pneumatic wrenches--between $60 and $170.
Cordless impact wrenches
Cordless impact wrenches are the most recent development. The main benefit with a cordless model is freedom of movement. You do pay a premium for that convenience, though. Cheap cordless impact wrenches can be found for $90, but you'll need to pay $200 for a quality model. High-end, professional-standard cordless wrenches can be over $500. Cordless wrenches are expensive, but they let you move around a vehicle completely unhindered by an air hose or electric cable.
You use an impact wrench to undo tough nuts and bolts, so you want plenty of torque, or twisting force. Entry-level cordless tools produce maximums in the 300 ft-lb range. For changing the wheels on an average family car, that's usually adequate.
At the upper end of the spectrum, you have impact wrenches delivering 1,000 ft-lbs of torque and more. That's great for loosening, but it can be too much for tightening. There's a risk you could damage the nut or even shear a bolt. Triggers offer variable force, but fine control takes practice. For this reason, the best impact wrenches have two torque settings. The lower setting--around 100 ft-lbs--ensures you can't accidentally over do it.
Impact wrenches are also fast and convenient when you're driving in numerous hex-head fixings. This is when RPM becomes a factor. Unlike torque, this is just about speed. A tool with a higher RPM rating will get the job done quicker.
The vast majority of impact wrenches are either 3/8" or 1/2" drive. The latter is far more common. You may already have sockets that fit and finding others is easier.
The part where the socket attaches is called the anvil. There are two types: detent pin or hog ring. A detent pin is more secure, a hog ring allows for faster socket changes--though the difference only really matters to professionals.
Size and weight
If you have to work on fixings in tight spaces, overall size might be a consideration. The battery makes cordless tools larger than other models. Weight may not be a major issue, but if you're using a tool all day, a lighter impact wrench will be less tiring.
A higher amp hour (Ah) rating means the battery will consistently deliver power for longer. For cordless impact wrenches, 2Ah batteries are common but up to 5Ah are available.
Having two batteries means you don't have to stop work while one is recharging. However, batteries are expensive. Kits with two included may save you money, but don't assume that's true. It might be more cost-effective to buy a bare tool if you already have compatible batteries from the same manufacturer.
Warranty length is an indicator of durability. It should be at least one year, but three years is not uncommon with impact wrenches.
Q. With impact wrenches, is a brush or brushless motor better?
A. Brush motors have been around as long as power tools. They are proven, reliable, and cheap. Brushless motors are quieter and require virtually no maintenance, but they cost more. With a corded impact wrench, it makes little difference in terms of performance. However, cordless tools should always have brushless motors because they make much more efficient use of the available energy.
Q. Is a 20-volt impact wrench significantly more powerful than an 18-volt model?
A. No. In fact, there's no difference. Some manufacturers choose to quote a maximum voltage of 20 volts because it sounds better. Most of the time, the wrench actually runs at 18 volts. However, that doesn't mean batteries are interchangeable. You need to check carefully. Batteries may not be compatible, even from the same brand.
Impact wrenches we recommend
Best of the best: Milwaukee 2763-22 M18 1/2" Impact Wrench
Our take: A comprehensive, versatile, professional-standard impact wrench kit.
What we like: This cordless impact wrench offers class-leading performance with clever electronics that maximize battery life. Two fastening modes reduce problems caused by over-tightening. The kit includes two batteries and a carrying case.
What we dislike: It's expensive. Mode switches are awkward if you're wearing gloves.
Best bang for your buck: Ingersoll Rand W7150-K1 1/2" Impact Wrench Kit
Our take: A quality impact wrench for the consumer market from a highly regarded commercial manufacturer.
What we like: This wrench has a bulletproof build quality and tremendous power, yet it's light and easy to handle. The kit includes a battery and charger in a durable case.
What we dislike: Not much, but it is single-speed only.
Our take: This impact wrench is a very capable, budget-friendly tool for the home auto enthusiast.
What we like: It's lightweight but has plenty of power for jobs around the garage and garden. It's among the quieter wrenches, too, and comes with a three-year warranty.
What we dislike: It's a bare tool--battery and charger not included--with limited performance.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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