Updated on: 9/17/2018
Planning to start doing your own car maintenance and repairs? A good torque wrench should be one of your first purchases. So what is a torque wrench and why do I need it? A torque wrench measures torque of a fastener, or its twisting force. It will keep you from making very expensive and preventable mistakes.
Proper torque is critical to avoid mechanical failures, having fasteners loosen, and thread/component damage due to over tightening. People who are not professionals and are just getting into DYI car repair are more likely to under or over torque components.
Torque wrenches come in a variety of square drive sizes. For automotive maintenance and repair purposes you will stick with 3 primary ones. For suspension work and torquing of tires you will need a ½ drive torque wrench. Those wrenches are generally found in the 20-250 ft-lb torque range.
Your most used torque wrench will be the 3/8 drive. These are usually found in the 10-100 ft-lb range. You will be using it for torquing things like spark plugs, intake/exhaust manifolds, exhaust components, and generally smaller under hood components.
The last square drive of torque wrench that should be a part of your collection is the 1/4-inch drive. This drive is often ignored but is the one that will prevent the most costly damage and re-dos. Torque of smaller bolts and nuts of sealing surfaces is very crucial. When doing jobs like replacing oil pan gaskets, valve cover gaskets, and water pumps that use small bolts its extremely easy to over tighten and strip or distort the gasket mating surfaces. The ¼ torque wrench will most likely be the least used but most important tool in your torque wrench collection.
Our Picks For Best Torque Wrenches In 2018
Best 1/2 Inch Torque Wrench
CDI 1503MFRMH has been my personal favorite 1/2 click torque wrench since 2012. When I first received it I was amazed at the quality of the torque wrench. It seemed something like Snap On would produce but at only 1/2 the price. Well I wasn’t wrong. Apparently CDI manufacturers and sells their torque wrenches for Snap On to put their brand logo on.
This particular torque wrench comes in two torque ranges. One 20-150 ft-lb, and more useful 30-250 ft-lb. Let’s take a look at some of the features of the CDI 1503MFRMH torque wrench.
The 1503MFRMH is a dual scale torque wrench. Has 10 ft-lb increments on the shaft with 1 ft-lb increments on the handle. On the other side of the shaft it has Nm (newton meter) scale that ranges from 47-332 Nm.
To adjust the torque you pull down on the spring loaded ring around the base and twist the torque wrench. After you release the ring it pops back up and your torque will stay locked in that value. I was initially worried that this mechanism would wear out and loose its tension on the ring, but 4 years later it’s still behaving like brand new with no loss of spring tension.
The head of the torque wrench has a quick release button. To me it’s a pretty much must have feature as if you get just a bit of oil on your hands it becomes difficult to remove the sockets from the torque wrench. With the 1503MFRH by CDI just click on the button and your socket will fall right off.
Overall the 1503MFRH by CDI is the total package. It really feels like a $300 best Snap On torque wrench. If you want a durable, accurate and long lasting ½ torque wrench, look no further and buy yourself the CDI 2503MFRMH torque wrench.
Best 3/8 Inch Torque Wrench
CDI – the brand we looked at above also makes a 3/8 torque wrench, but in my opinion it’s pretty expensive. Tekton 24330 has nearly identical features and quality build and that’s why it earns its rank as best 3/8 torque wrench. And it seems reviewers on Amazon think so as well. With over 400 reviews averaging 4.5 the Tekton 24330 earns its spot as the wrench providing best quality and at a great value.
My biggest pet peeve with torque wrenches is when they use plastic for the handle that tends to shatter on the smallest drops. Most economy torque wrenches will have plastic. Tekton takes pride with the 24330 torque wrench and offers an all-steel construction with no silly plastic parts to break or wear out.
I’m a big fan of the dual range high contrast scales that range from 10-80 ft-lb, and 13.6-108.5Nm on the other side. That’s easy visibility of the range scales on the torque wrench is the main thing I believe the Tekton does much better than the CDI. It’s not hard to see the CDI torque wrench scale but the black outline of the numbers of the Tekton makes it much easier.
I really wish the Tekton 24330 had a socket quick release button. But I guess to bring this torque wrench at the price point its at they had to omit that feature. If a quick release button is a must, and you’re fine with paying extra you should look into the CDI 1002MFRMH 3/8 torque wrench.
Best 1/4 Inch Torque Wrench
I mentioned in the beginning of this article how the 1/4-inch pound torque wrench is the most underused but most important torque wrench in your tool arsenal. Small bolts that hold things like oil pans, valve cover gaskets and water pumps are extremely temperamental and sensitive to over torquing. You will waste hours laying on your back trying to extract that broken bolt or repairing a stripped hole you caused from over tightening.
And that’s why you should get a very accurate 1/4-inch torque wrench to avoid those headaches. The CDI as we’ve discussed earlier makes amazing torque wrenches. Torque wrenches so good they make them for Snap On to put their names on, and you know Snap On makes some of the best hand tools. I’ve had this CDI torque wrench for over 3 years now without a single issue, and it gets used almost daily.
The CDI 1501 torque wrench comes with a torque range of 20 to 150-inch pounds which is a perfect range for torquing those smaller bolts. You still get the same features as its big brother. The spring loaded pull down ring to adjust the torque setting. The quick release button makes taking sockets off a breeze. The torque wrench calibration is spot on from .1 to 1.2%.
If you are shopping for a quality, accurate, USA manufactured torque wrench the CDI inch pound torque wrench 1501 is the perfect buy.
Best Digital Torque Wrench
CDI Computorq 3 Line Of Electronic Torque Wrenches
CDI not only makes great click type torque wrenches but they make the best electronic torque wrenches. Their top line Computorq 3 digital torque wrenches are amazing. The first benefit of using these digital torque wrenches is you can change the torque values with a click of a button. The CDI torque wrench comes with following torque units: ft-lb, in-lb, Nm and kg-cm.
The second and my favorite feature of using digital torque wrenches is you get to see current torque applied as you are tightening the fastener to see as you get closer to the desired torque. When final torque is reached a green LED lights up to let you know you’re all set. Along with the light up of LED you also hear an audible alarm tone with torque is reached.
CDI 2503CF3HA (1/2-inch drive) comes with a very usable torque range. The 25 to 250 foot pounds matched with a high accuracy of 1% or less makes it a great tool for many jobs.
CDI 2401CI3 (1/4-inch drive) has a range of 24-240 in-lb or 2-20 ft-lb.
CDI 1002CF3 (3/8-inch drive) has a perfect usable range of 10-100 ft-lb.
All three come with a flex ratcheting head and a quick release button. The handle of the torque wrenches is a molded non-slip rubber grip which feels great in your hands and keeps the electronics inside safe in case of a drop.
The major downside of CDI digital torque wrench is their price. Most people who see the price would probably freak out. If you look to invest into a high quality and accurate tool that will last you a very long time you should definitely buy this torque wrench. But if price is an issue and you’re OK with using a traditional click style torque wrench scroll up and get one of the regular ones.
What About Digital Torque Adapters?
Digital torque adapters are another fairly inexpensive way to measure torque on a fastener. ACDelco Digital Torque Adapters are small devices that attach between your ratchet and your socket. They are able to measure both clockwise and counter-clockwise torque of the fastener being tightened or loosened with your regular ratchet.
ACDelco digital torque adapters come in a 3/8 drive adapter (ARM602-3) that has a functional range of 3-59 ft-lbs and a 1/2 version (ARM602-4) with a range of 4-147.6 ft-lbs. The torque adapter can be pretty convenient and is very easy to use. It has an LCD that shows torque goal which you select by pressing the up or bottom buttons on the torque adapter. When the torque is reached the tool will provide an audible confirmation with a buzzer.
I recommend not using the 1/2 version for torques under 15 ft-lbs as it appears to be inaccurate at those ranges. Another use for these adapters would be calibration of your torque wrenches.
Both ARM602-4 and ARM602-3 come in a durable looking case and two CR2 batteries. The tool comes with a 1 year warranty which is fairly standard for a product in its price range. If you want to get something very similar to a digital torque wrench, but can’t afford the price tag these digital torque adapters provide a good medium.
A great video by ChrisFix “How to use a Torque Wrench PROPERLY” – Definitely worth a watch if you’ve never used one before. Check out his channel!