If you ever work on your car at home and it involves removing nuts or bolts, you should probably invest in a quality torque wrench. A torque wrench is a tool designed to apply a specific amount of torque to a fastener. The torque wrench you may be familiar with makes a clicking noise once that fastener has been tightened to the specified torque value. At the very least, you should have a torque wrench to properly tighten the lug nuts onto your wheels, if you ever need to remove the wheels and tires off your car.
Like other automotive tools, there are dozens of torque wrenches to choose from in today’s market. There are even digital torque wrenches for situations requiring extreme precision — such as assembling a motor. The most important factor when shopping for a torque wrench is knowing that it is accurate and well-built. This way, you are confident those nuts and bolts you’re tightening are being fastened to spec. The last thing you want are lug nuts falling off your wheels because your torque wrench was inaccurate or faulty.
Below, you’ll find our picks for the best torque wrenches and we chose to stick with adjustable or click torque wrenches, and digital torque wrenches. Sorry, you will not find any dial torque wrenches on this list.
1. Top pick: CDI torque wrench
- Made in the U.S.
- High quality
- Limited features
We understand. These days, when it comes to tools, it is getting more and more difficult to find quality ones made in the U.S. Most tools come from overseas manufacturers, and while some do have impressive build quality, sometimes you just want to know your tool comes from the U.S. If you fall in that category, you’ll want this torque wrench from CDI, a company that was originally founded in 1968 and has since become a world class torque products manufacturing company. CDI focuses on torque-related products and this particular torque wrench is one of the few that are still made in the U.S.
It’s a 3/8-inch drive micrometer adjustable torque wrench with a range of 10 to 100 ft-lbs of torque. All torque wrenches from CDI are individually serialized with a matching certificate of calibration that is traceable to N.I.S.T. (the National Institute of Standards and Technology).
Looking at the torque wrench itself, it’s a standard design featuring easy-to-read laser marked scales and a quick release button for easy socket removal. The handle is lightly knurled to enhance grip. CDI includes a blow-molded case for storage when the torque wrench is not in use.
Quality and accuracy — these are our two main factors when shopping for the best torque wrench. CDI covers both with high regard and while it is a bit more expensive than the competition, it’s worth the price premium to get a torque wrench that will last.
2. Runner-up: Craftsman torque wrench
- Reputable manufacturer
- Competitively priced
- Good warranty
- Quality control is an issue
- A little hard to read
Craftsman still has a very strong reputation for high-quality tools, but currently, many of its products are manufactured overseas. Case in point, the company’s torque wrenches are made in Taiwan, but they’re still quite reliable. Available in either 1/2- or 3/8-inch drive, Craftsman’s torque wrenches are noticeably more affordable than our top pick from CDI and they are a solid pick for any household.
These torque wrenches feature a bi-material handle for both comfort and grip, which is somewhat different than most other torque wrenches. The scales are stamped into the housing, displaying inch and metric torque settings. Craftsman claims that every torque wrench meets or exceeds ASME specifications.
If you are less concerned about the country of origin and receiving a certificate of calibration, these torque wrenches are a great option.
3. Best on a budget: EPAuto torque wrench
- Good value
- Numbers can be difficult to read
- Short handle
For hobbyists who mainly need a torque wrench for the occasional tightening of bolts or nuts, our top budget-friendly pick comes from EPAuto. The brand is fairly well-known in the automotive accessories aftermarket and we have had some good experiences using various EPAuto tools such as its portable tire inflator.
The company’s torque wrench has no distinctive features and is essentially your run-of-the-mill unit. It’s made from hardened and treated chrome vanadium steel, with a knurled handle for better grip. EPAuto claims it’s pre-calibrated to be within 4% accurate and each torque wrench comes with drive adapters and an extension bar. EPAuto offers its torque wrench in a variety of sizes, including 1/4-, 1/2-, 3/8-, and 3/4-inch drives.
For the price, this torque wrench is excellent value, but we wouldn’t recommend it if you’re going to use it very often. If it’s a tool you’re reaching for frequently, spend the extra money and get one of our two top picks.
4. Best digital: ACDelco digital torque wrench
- Digital display
- Easy to use
- Display can be difficult to read in certain conditions
- Batteries not included
- Poorly written manual
Our choice for the best digital torque wrench comes from ACDelco, which is owned by General Motors. This option meets or exceeds ASME B107.14.14-2004 and ISO 6789 standards, and each wrench is individually serialized with a matching certificate of calibration that is traceable to N.I.S.T., just like our top pick from CDI.
This digital torque wrench include multiple settings: torque, measure, and peak & trace. Measured torque range goes from 14.8 ft-lbs to 147.5 ft-lbs. Owners especially appreciate this digital torque wrench because it’s lightweight and easy to use. The soft grip handle is quite ergonomic and comfortable. Its LCD panel is not backlit, so it can be difficult to read in certain conditions.
As it is a digital torque wrench, it will require batteries to operate and they are not included!
How many clicks is enough?
When using a click torque wrench, you simply set the amount of torque you need and listen for a click when tightening. So, how many clicks are sufficient? One click is actually enough to be accurate. If you continue to tighten and hear the wrench click multiple times, you’re actually applying additional torque to those fasteners.
However, some users will click their wrench two or three times, because most torque wrenches are calibrated within a 4% margin of error. In reality, one click is enough for accuracy.
Can you loosen bolts with a torque wrench?
Although some torque wrenches can be used to loosen nuts and bolts, it’s not recommended. As a tightening tool, a torque wrench should primarily be used for tightening fasteners. You can potentially damage a torque wrench if you’re using it to loosen nuts and bolts, or it may lose its accuracy.
Besides, you should own a breaker bar for loosening nuts and bolts.
Do I need to reset my torque wrench after using it?
Before storing your torque wrench in its case or a toolbox, you should reset it to its lowest value. This helps to ensure the torque wrench remains accurate for a long period. Additionally, check the manual to see if the manufacturer recommends a specific storage setting.