What to Look for in an Impact Wrench

Wall of wrenches

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Working on a car comes with a lot of things. There’s the satisfaction of a job well done, the grease under your fingernails and on your clothes and the busted knuckles from trying to break recalcitrant bolts loose. If you’re tired of busting your knuckles on the engine block, one alternative is to invest in an impact wrench.

If you don’t already have one or are unfamiliar with this particular tool, what should you look for in an impact wrench? Here are six factors to consider.

1. Power Source

Impact wrenches come in three varieties when it comes to power — electric, hydraulic and pneumatic. The one you choose for your garage is entirely up to you.

If you already have an air compressor large enough to power an impact wrench, choose a pneumatic model. If you don’t have a compressor and aren’t planning on investing in one anytime soon, then an electric impact wrench can be a good alternative. Hydraulic impact wrenches are rarer and designed for heavy-duty jobs — you’ll usually find them on industrial job sites, and they probably aren’t the best choice for your garage.

2. The weight of the Wrench

How much weight can you hold for an extended period before your arm gets tired? The larger the impact wrench, the heavier it will be, so keep that in mind when choosing a wrench. Once your arm starts to tire, it can become more difficult to control the wrench and increase the chances you might make an error or overtighten a bolt.

3. Torque

The torque an impact wrench generates is directly related to how quickly and easily it can remove a fastener. A wrench with a higher torque rating will have more potential applications than one with a lower score. Torque is also related to the size of the tool itself. If you can’t handle a more massive wrench, you’ll be getting less torque, but a piece of equipment that is easier to control.

Some wrenches will allow you to adjust the torque output, too, which will prevent overtightening.

4. Type of Housing

Impact wrenches come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. One thing you should consider is the housing of the wrench itself. A plastic housing might be lighter than some of the other alternatives, but it likely won’t survive a drop or two on the concrete floor of your garage. If you tend to drop your tools — or want something that will last longer — invest in an impact wrench with a metal housing. It might weigh more, but in the long run, you’re protecting your investment.

5. Impacts per Minute

This rating reflects how quickly the hammer inside the wrench strikes the anvil. A higher impacts per minute rating means the wrench spins faster and will be able to loosen stuck fasteners easier. Keep in mind, though, that the faster the wrench rotates, the lower the torque might be — it’s a trade-off. If you’re changing tires in the pit at a race track, then a wrench with high impacts per minute is vital, but if you’re working on a car in the comfort of your garage, look for a more moderate IPM rating.

6. Drive Size

Most impact wrenches will come in one of two drive sizes — 1/2″ or 3/8″, just like the socket wrenches you have in your toolbox. For most applications, 1/2″ drive wrenches work well, but if you need something smaller or more lightweight, consider opting for a 3/8″ drive impact wrench. The latter is smaller and will usually have less torque, but for backyard mechanics, it is generally more than sufficient.

Don’t just pick the first impact wrench you see on sale. Investing in a wrench will make your future repair jobs more manageable, but only if you take the time to find the perfect wrench for your needs.

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