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Best Torque Wrench of 2021: Digital, Dial, Beam or Click?

A torque wrench is a type of tool used to tighten nuts and bolts, but it uses torque calibration to alert the user when the desired tightness of a bolt is reached. There are several different kinds of torque wrenches available, and all use a different method of showing when the calibrated amount of torque has been applied to a bolt needing to be tightened.

It is considered to be a staple tool in a normal toolbox and has a wide range of applications including industrial, home, and automotive. Its versatility enables users to get into hard-to-reach places and its popularity makes it widely available in most major retail locations. Additionally, the variety of different types on the market means that anybody can use them.

In the automotive industry, it is a very valuable tool when working with wheels, engines, other engine-related parts, and underneath vehicles. Most mechanics have a wide range of torque wrenches at their disposal for different tasks, but there are also plenty available for the enthusiast and the average DIY-er, even if you do not intend to use it on your car.

The Best Torque Wrenches

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1. TEKTON Drive Click Torque Wrench

The TEKTON ½-Inch Drive Click Torque Wrench has stellar reviews, partly because it is a good product at an affordable price, and partly because it is built to be very simple and reliable. It does not contain any plastic parts that wear out or break and is made from steel to provide a lifetime of reliability and usability.

Part of its simplicity comes in the form of a simple internal mechanism that emits a clicking noise when the desired torque value is reached to alert the user. This means fewer moving parts and eliminates the need for batteries that other electronic torque wrenches require. Additionally, no calibration is necessary for immediate use since it comes pre-calibrated to +/- 4% accuracy.

A high-contrast dual-range scale is designed to be easy to read, even in low light situations, and its reversible ratchet head allows driving in both directions. This wrench is rated up to 150 ft-lb, but if this is not enough, TEKTON offers heavier duty wrench options.

2. Precision Instruments Silver Drive Split Beam Torque Wrench

Precision Instruments offers their split beam torque wrench as a more expensive, yet still highly-rated and do-it-all alternative to the TEKTON wrench. It is also rated for up to 250 ft-lb of torque. With a length of over two feet, it not only provides the leverage to reach that those levels but also helps get into hard-to-reach areas.

Its +/- 4% accuracy rating ensures extremely accurate tightening that can be adjusted with your finger. The adjustment knob does not have spring tensioners that normally make torque adjustment more difficult on the fly. An added feature is that the tool also does not need to be “torqued down” after use.

A flexible head, handgrip, and its ability to lock onto adjustable wrenches increase its usability even further, and nickel/chrome design ensures maximum durability to reach maximum torque levels repeatedly.

3. ACDelco Digital Torque Wrench

ACDelco’s ARM601-4 Digital Torque Wrench does not manage as high of a torque rating as some of the other torque wrenches on this list, but its affordability, relatively compact size and relatively low cost make it an approachable choice for general use.

Being a digital torque wrench, the display can be customized to show a wide variety of measurement units. It also makes selecting the appropriate amount of torque – up to 99 lb-ft – as easy as pushing a button. During use after torque levels are selected, an LED light, buzzer, vibration, or alarm setting can be chosen as the alert when desired torque is reached.

The wrench features an easy-grip handle, a certificate of calibration, and a one-year limited warranty. It can be used both clockwise and counterclockwise. If needed, various sizes with the same features are also available from ACDelco to suit anybody’s needs. 

4. CDI Drive Dial Torque Wrench

The CDI 3/8-Inch Drive Dial torque wrench is another different type of torque wrench designed to be simple with few moving parts to deliver durability and less braking potential. CDI uses tough, quality materials to maximize the lifespan of this wrench, and it comes with a plastic storage case for added durability.

Its torsion beam design allows for up to 600 ft-lb of maximum pressure – more than any other product on our list. The dial has a memory feature, showing the maximum amount of torque applied during the usage, and the dial housing is shock resistant. The dial itself is laser-marked for easy readability. It can work clockwise and counterclockwise, with the memory feature working in both directions.

Like the ACDelco wrench, the CDI wrench is individually serialized for matching calibration certificates. Its accuracy rating of +/- 3% is applicable in both directions within 20% to 100% of its full scale.

5. Craftsman Drive Torque Wrench

Crafstman is a recognizable brand in hardware, lawn, and tooling, so it no surprise that their ½-inch drive torque wrench makes our list. All wrenches come with a handy carrying case for added portability as well as an easy-grip, multi-material handle for comfortable use.

The wrench is designed to meet ASME standards – the American Society of Mechanical Engineers – with its sturdy design. It also features a swiveling head, a long shaft for extended reach, and easy-to-read scales that are stamped into the housing in both inch and metric settings. Combined, these features make the Craftsman wrench easy to use and extremely versatile.

It is rated for up to 250 lb-ft of torque and is about two-and-a-half feet long. For quick and easy use, the wrench has a hassle-free locking feature.

Types of Torque Wrenches

best torque wrench

A good variety of different types of torque wrenches are represented on the aforementioned list, but there are even more types of torque wrenches available on the market. They all carry their own list of pros and cons, as well as optimal situational use.

Click

Click torque wrenches are some of the simplest torque wrench designs. Its name comes from the clicking noise made when the desired torque is reached. Often, the torque is set by twisting the handle, causing a spring-loaded level to adjust the measurement.

Dial

Dial torque wrenches work as their name suggests – they feature a dial that shows the torque pressure exerted. Because a flat dial is larger than most wrenches’ beams, they tend to be wider than other types of torque wrenches but are prized for their high accuracy.

Digital

If click torque wrenches are like rotary telephones, digital torque wrenches are like cell phones. They feature a digital display that sets and reads torque measurements as a result of a sensor in the wrench. They use noises, vibrations, or even lights to tell a user when the desired torque is reached, and they often store values within their computer chip to be analyzed later.

Beam and Split Beam

Beam torque wrenches are another simple design with the torque wrench family. They utilize a single beam with a scale to measure torque amounts. Their simplicity comes with the benefit of low cost and ease of use.

A split beam torque wrench features two beams rather than one to further increase the wrench’s accuracy.

Hydraulic

A hydraulic torque wrench is a more expensive, yet more accurate and heavy-duty version of most other types of torque wrenches. They are prized for their high accuracy at high torque levels. As the name implies its use of hydraulics creates the power this wrench type possesses.

How Does a Torque Wrench Work?

torque wrench

A torque wrench is a tool used to tighten, and sometimes loosen nuts and bolts. It is called a torque wrench because it is designed to measure the amount of torque applied to the wrench – the amount of rotational force – and alert the user when a specified torque amount is reached. This is done to prevent overtightening nuts and bolts.

If overtightening occurs, especially in automotive and industrial settings, the nuts or bolts could experience a decreased lifespan or unexpected failure. 

Torque Wrench Calibration

For a torque wrench to work correctly, it must be calibrated. Many wrenches come pre-calibrated from the factory so the buyer does not have to figure it out themselves. However, over time and consistent use, a torque wrench will need to be recalibrated. If a torque wrench is not calibrated correctly, under-tightening or overtightening could occur and render the wrench almost useless.

Calibration is usually measured by showing plus or minus a certain percentage within an operating range of the wrench. The lower the percentage, the more accurate the wrench will be. The actual calibration process can be quite overwhelming for someone unfamiliar with tools, but ultimately, it usually requires tightening the tensioner lever in the wrench.

Torque wrenches can be professionally calibrated by an engineer, mechanic, or even the factory if you do not have the necessary tools to do so yourself or if you are hesitant to perform the calibration.

Final Thoughts

A torque wrench is a great tool to have in anybody’s toolbox. Regardless of what you need it for, torque wrenches are a must-have for those who perform maintenance on anything. They are not that expensive, offer the precision necessary for many applications, and can be had in many different forms, ideally suited for various situations.

Richard Reed
I've been a General Manager of a moving company and I've also been a Professional Mover for over 30 years. I've driven flat beds, reefers, dropdecks, moving vans, heavy machinery, etc. In my time as a Mover I've driven over 1,000,000 safe miles. My days of moving and driving truck are past me but The Vehicle Lab allows me to share the knowledge I've gained over the past 40 years.
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