Choosing a Torque Wrench

When choosing a torque wrench for today’s cars, it can get pretty confusing.  This article explains what to consider when choosing a torque wrench and recommendations for different users.

Torque wrenches have evolved over the years from a basic beam type to the newer digital toque-angle wrench for the torque to yield bolts that are now being used.   So what do you need to satisfy your specific needs?

Beam Type Torque Wrench

My first torque wrench was a beam type torque wrench.


That was many years ago when I was working on my ’57 Chevy.  The beam type torque wrench has been around since the 50’s, and are still being used today.

Click Type Torque Wrench

I used the beam type of wrench until I entered the profession in 1978, and then moved to a click type torque wrench.

This type of wrench was the choice of the professional mechanic at that time.  Over the years cars changed and transverse engines appeared on the scene.  Tighter engine compartments with less room to access the workspace made flex head torque wrenches a necessity.

Flex Head Torque Wrench

The flex head torque wrenches were generally a click style wrench.  I personally used this type of torque wrench throughout the majority of my career, and still use one today in many situations, such as torquing lug nuts.  It is fast and easy to use.

Digital Torque Wrench

The digital torque wrenches are not as user-friendly as the mechanical click or beam type wrenches.  Digital torque wrenches have a lot of buttons, are more expensive, and have battery life to deal with.  The advantages here are accuracy and control of measurement, which can be easily switched.

Digital Torque Wrench With Angle

The latest version of torque wrench is the digital torque wrench with angle.   Most cars today have torque to yield bolts, particularly head bolts.  These bolts will have a specified torque setting, ft lbs in domestic and newton meters in import applications, and then an additional tightening in degrees.  The wrenches with angle are ideal for this type of engineering.


Another option for torque to yield bolts is a torque angle meter that you can use in conjunction with a standard torque wrench.  The drawback with this is that you have to be able to see it, which can be difficult unless you have the engine on an engine stand.

Which Torque Wrench to Buy

Clearly, there are many options when choosing a torque wrench.  With the many options come many price points.  Choosing the proper torque wrench for your needs will take some consideration as to what your needs actually are.


The minimum you would need is a basic beam type wrench.

GearWrench makes a good quality beam wrench that has a range to 150 ft lbs. GearWrench is a product of K-D tools and is a very reputable company.   This tool could be a suitable choice for a home mechanic that may only need a torque wrench occasionally.  As stated earlier, these have been around since the 1950’s and have been used successfully for many generations.  Of course when using on torque to yield bolts, you would need to use a ratchet or breaker bar to turn the additional degrees.

GearWrench Also makes a very good flex heat click type torque wrench.  This tool is a great choice for the home mechanic who is a little more serious and does a lot of engine work.  It is also suitable for the professional mechanic.  This wrench would fill my needs at my shop, R&L Automotive, where I work on all phases of auto repair and do not do engine work day in and day out.  It has a range of 30-250 ft lbs.  A mechanic can use a breaker bar or ratchet to turn the additional degrees in a torque to yield application.  I would recommend this tool for most situations a mechanic runs into.  The versatility of the flex head allows access in tight situations that are common in the cars today.


If you choose to go with a digital torque wrench, you will want to get one with angle capabilities like this one by ACDelco.  This wrench also has a range to from 12.5 to 250 ft lbs  (17-340 Nm).  It has a angle measure of 720 degrees.  The ARM303-4A is a very reliable wrench that will meet the needs of the professional mechanic, or serious car enthusiast.  This tool is great when you are doing torque to yield in tight proximity.  It utilizes LED flashing, vibration, and buzzer when the torque settings are achieved.


CDI makes a very nice (and very pricey) digital angle torque wrench that incorporates the flex head design.  Clearly this design meets the needs of any situation.  This wrench has a range of 30-250 ft lbs.  The flex head design allows use in tight proximity situations that are common in cars today.  This would be the ideal tool for the professional mechanic that needs a torque wrench that has angle feature day in and day out.


As you can see, there are many choices of features.  The tool that fits most needs would be the GearWrench 85087 flex head click type torque wrench.  The price point is reasonable and it works well in tight proximity.  Personally, I have no problem torquing torque to yield bolts to the specified ft lbs, and then using  a breaker bar to turn the additional degrees.  Understand though that I do not do engine work every day.

The digital angle wrenches are more convenient in a day to day application.  There is no question that if a mechanic is torquing head bolts on a daily basis, this would be the right choice.

For the home mechanic, the GearWrench 85087 would be a good choice.  It is reasonably priced and is very reliable.

Do Not Compromise

Any of these torque wrenches will get the job done, it all comes down to features.  Consider what your needs are, and what you are working on.  The flex head feature should be considered if you are working in tight proximity applications.  Choosing a torque wrench is not a decision to be taken lightly.  Do not compromise quality for features.  You are better served to buy with less features than to buy a discount brand with more features.  Reliability and accuracy are the single most important consideration.





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