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We’ve seen quite a bit of unfocused discussion regarding the quality of Harbor Freight’s extremely cheap torque wrenches, so we thought we’d ask the question straight up: are they accurate enough for real use, or are they a crap shoot?

One reader mentioned a while back that he put an HF 1/4″ torque wrench on his tester at work and it was quite accurate.  Though I have no evidence to support it with HF’s wrenches specifically, it’s been my experience that many times cheap-ass tools aren’t necessarily all bad — quality simply varies more tool to tool because of poor quality control. 

On a side note, poor QC is a very effective way to save production cost.  If you’ve ever visited a quality tool plant — as we have — you’d be blown away by the sheer manpower that goes into good QC.

And at $12 for a 1/2″ torque wrench, you’ve got to figure they’re saving dough somewhere.

Anyway, what say you?  If you have data (or experience) with these HF wrenches, jump in and let us know in comments.

1/2″ Clicker Torque Wrench [Harbor Freight]

 

37 Responses to Hot or Not? Harbor Freight Torque Wrenches

  1. Mark says:

    I’ve bought two from Harbor Frieght. The small one was crap, but the bigger one was decent.

  2. sizod says:

    I would never buy a cheap torque wrench, you really do get what you pay for. I bought a very cheap one from a discount tool store, I was using it to tighten up a bolt on the oil pump of my truck to correct “factory” setting. Bang! cracked the casing to the oil pump. I later got a hold of my Grandpa’s Snap-on torque wrenches and was finally able to put in a new oil pump and torq’ it up to the correct setting without fear of it cracking.

  3. Eric g. says:

    I vote “Not”. On a project I was working on last year at work we bought a couple of the HF torque wrenches since we felt that where were working (in a marine environment) we would be very likely to loose them and would rather have lost a sub $20 tool rather than a $100+ tool. During the course of work we found, and later verified using some pretty good instrumentation in laboratory conditions, that the repeatability of individual tools and variance between tools was _VERY_ large (which would support your poor QC argument).

  4. JK says:

    Not: I use my HF Torque Wrench as an inbetween for my regular ratchet and the breaker bar, it’s a good size for that. Notsomuch for torquing stuff.

  5. Old Donn says:

    A torque wrench for regular wrench duty? Do you use chrome sockets with your impact wrench too?

  6. Jeremy says:

    I was the guy that put his 1/4″ HF wrench on a troque analyser. Mine was spot on across the full adjustment range. However I’m more then will to admit that my sample size was too small.

    I think this sounds like just the job for Toolmonger. How about you buy 5-10 of each size torque wrennch and then find a torque meter to chek them. Throw in a little statistical analysis and a sample set of wrenches from higher end manufactures and you’ve got a story!

    Not that they are that expensive but I bet you can return them after you’re done.

  7. hj says:

    I was given one as a gift about a year ago, and a few months ago I had a use for a large torque wrench so I took it for its maiden voyage. Darned thing wouldn’t break (click) at all, it amounted to little more than a large, cheap, 1/2″ ratchet.

    Took it back to HF, and the cashier was happy to let me exchange it for another. This one works as well as it’s intended to, but for anything but the lowest settings, it’s easy to overtorque because if you’re pulling hard enough you’ll right past the vague ‘click’.

    For $12, if it works it works, but I wouldn’t rely on it for anything too critical. Did a decent job torquing the studs when I replaced my sway bar bushings, but I wouldn’t trust it if I was torquing down an aluminum head.

  8. ba614 says:

    Hot or Not? …. Is this a joke?

    A 1/2″ drive torque wrench at 1/2 the price of a Craftsman 1/2″ drive rachet.

    As Mr.T say’s “I piddy da’ fool”

    As a wise man once told me, “A Fool and his money soon part”

  9. Craig says:

    Let’s face it, you don’t use a torque wrench because you want to be “somewhere in the ballpark,” you use one because torquing to the proper rate is mission critical to the job at hand.

    If your using a torque wrench that you don’t trust, then in my opinion you might as well use that nifty ratchet that came with your socket set and save the $12. You’ll likely get the same results.

    (Do me a favor, and don’t tighten any “torque to” type bolts with a HF torque wrench, huh)

  10. hj says:

    I agree 100% with what Craig said above.

    I never would have BOUGHT a HF torque wrench (if you’re reaching for a torque wrench, it’s a good bet you care enough about whatever you’re tightening, that it’s worth being accurate), but since I had it, I figured I may as well try it.

    Not sure I have a good excuse for putting in the effort required to exchange the dead one for a less dead one, but “heck, I was there already” seems enough :) .

  11. Mike R says:

    It’s hot for the right job. I use mine primarily for wheel lug nuts, which AFAIK should be close to a certain torque, but don’t have to be dead on. I wouldn’t use it to rebuild an engine or anything that required alot of precision.

    The main thing I like about these is that if you drop one there is no point in getting an expensive recalibration, just pitch it and buy another.

  12. cc says:

    I almost bought a HF torque wrench, but decided to go pawn shopping for a used snap on. Either way, I’d have to get it calibrated before feeling comfortable using it.

  13. jeff h. says:

    Mine broke the first time I used it on higher torque setting. Worked ok on lower settings, but not sure how accurate it was. Won’t buy a cheap one again.

  14. [...] Harbor Freight Torque Wrenches: Not. Everyone agreed that if you’re using a torque wrench, you need accuracy — and accuracy doesn’t come in packages this cheap. [...]

  15. JK says:

    Old Donn – Yes, I use it as a in-between breaker, as it was completely useless as an actual torque wrench.

  16. Steve O says:

    Wow… Harbor Freight and Precision Instrument. Two things that DON”T go together….

  17. Rick says:

    I have one, its great. Lots of people complain about ahrbor freight, but I have bought a LOT there and never had any problems. Definitely reccomend. These are truely ideal for the weekend warrior… for daily use, I dont know. But I dont need it for daily use.

    The electric flyswatter is WONDERFUL, and when on sale for $1.99 its impossible to pass up!

  18. Ken says:

    I have just gone through two new 1/2″ Harbor Freight torque wrenches that will not “break” at any torque setting (i.e. they act like s simple ratchet). There will NOT be a third!

  19. pete says:

    U jusat bought a 1/4 ” HF ( in lbs ) torque wrench . It did not click at a very low torque . I knew something was wrong so I didn’t go any further using it on the job. Since I have to gack to the store, I’ll try a couple more but basically thumbs down on these . I think that the cheapest Craftsman bram type would be better for those on budget .

  20. rkpatt says:

    I purchased a 1/4″ HF in lbs model torque wrench . It would not lick at any setting ether . Fortunately I noticed it early an didn’t damage the application I was working on . This taught me 2 lessons – (1) Always test a torqure wrench before your us it (2) don’t count on HF to sell working tool off the self .

    Take a look at the DIY torque wrench tester ( thanks OP )

    http://rides.webshots.com/album/516313754BTbBSN

  21. Paul Baker says:

    So the only guy with data says it is good and everyone else says they’re bad? Hmmm.

  22. Chris says:

    @Paul Baker: Well, the only guy with data says that his sample size of one worked as intended. Most of the “these things suck” posts were because the wrench was mechanically faulty — didn’t click, worked one time and then didn’t work again, etc. That speaks to a pretty bad quality control process and suggests that Jeremy’s good data may have been an anomaly rather than the norm. Like he said, though, his data isn’t worth much without a broader test.

    @rkpatt: Love the homebrew test setup. If only I had a receiver hitch :-p

    cl

  23. Kevin says:

    I don’t think I’d trust one for torquing down head bolts, but for the price I think they’re great for more forgiving applications like lug bolts. If you’ve got something you’re a bit wary of trusting to just the “feel”, but don’t want to shell out $100 on a wrench that will get used once or twice a year, the HF torque wrench is a no-brainer.

  24. I Forgot My Name sorry says:

    TY Kevin, I would never spend $100 for a “Name Brand” wrench….So many people would swear on their life that one brand is better than another. I’m not a mechanic but I work on my motorcycle a lot. I have bought numerous amounts of tools from harbor fright and I have never had a problem with anything I’ve purchased. Congrats 99% of all tools in the U.S. are made in a foreign country and imported into the U.S. chances are HF makes theirs the same way everybody else does. I’ve had HF tools outlast craftsman and dewalt tools and I’ll stand by HF 100% of the way.

  25. SaltyDog says:

    I use to work as a calibration technician for the U.S. Navy. One of my jobs was to check the calibration of torque wrenches, and I can tell you that ALL BRANDS can have problems. They can be accurate at one end of the spectrum and fail at the other. They can even pass at one specific torque and be completely out of tolerance every where else. Unless you are having your torque wrench checked at a certified calibration facility, you cannot be sure the torque is correct. I have even had brand new, very expensive, torque wrenches fail calibration right out of the box. I am not recommending Harbor Freight or any other brand torque wrench, because even the most expensive torque wrench can be out of torque when you buy it. I am not saying torque wrench manufactures sell uncalibrated torque wrenches, but in shipping and at the retail facility they can be banged, bumped, or dropped and then can be totally out of calibration when you buy them. This is the very reason the U.S. Navy requires all torque wrenches be run through a certified calibration facility before they are put in use. They must also be run back through the calibration process on a regular basis. In most cases every 90 days. The point is that unless you are having them tested at a Calibration facility, the lower priced Harbor Freight torque wrench could be as or more accurate than its higher priced cousin.

  26. Mike says:

    I appreciate the entry by salty dog. A click-type torque wrench is just not that complicated. If Harbor Freight can sell one that is calibrated at the factory at +- 4 percent, then I’ll take their word for it until a real scientific test finds they are out of spec.

    I just bought one to check if the alloy wheels on my (new) (used) Subaru Outback are torqued. All I can say is, they were all tighter than the chosen 75 ft-lbs I used on the wrench, but at least it clicked at the same spot every time as far as the pull in my hand could determine.

    The instructions that came with the wrench caution users to back the setting down to minimum torque when storing, and to treat it as a calibrated measurement tool. I wonder how many buyers bother to read the instructions or comply with them?

  27. vic says:

    I am reading some of these post, wondering why people think the h f wrench is supposed to break away at the desired torque setting.

  28. kevin says:

    The thing I hate about these surveys is that most of the people that leave negative reviews have never even owned or used the item in question. You are about as qualified to leave feedback on this as I am on childbirth. If anyone is using these reviews to base a decesion on, ignore the comments from people that have never even had one. Price does not always mean everything.

  29. WBT says:

    In many cases you get what you pay for. Granted, even the high dollar stuff can come from the factory knocked out of spec but at least you know it has had SOME form of QC done to it. Some brands will even re-certify it for you (Snap-On/Matco maybe?).

    Regarding the HF wrench, I just bought the $9.99 1/2 drive wrench for the sole purpose of tightening lug nuts down to the required 100 lb-ft in a star pattern. I won’t trust this thing for anything else, and will mark it as such so nobody else does either. I do not want to run my good torque wrench up to that high in its range and put it through that type of constant abuse. And even then, I’m not going to use it at all until I verify it’s “close enough” with a known good wrench.

    IMO, you *MIGHT* get lucky and get one that’s dead-nuts but it’s not worth the chance. If you can afford expensive heads, splayed mains, etc you can afford a higher quality torque wrench. And if you do, make sure you zero it out because yes, the spring will take a set over time.

  30. Mark says:

    I run the cal department for an automotive testing company and I calibrate about 100 torque wrenches per year. All types from cheap HF clickers to very expensive Snap-On digital readouts. The build quality of the HF wrenches is horrible but in my experience they are in spec when new but “go south” with age & use. Most of the technicians here own better brands because the outcome of a customer’s test can depend on the bolts being tightened to a recommended torque. I’m writing this today because I’m searching the web looking for a clue how to open a HF wrench to adjust it, without damaging it in the attempt. There might be a good reason a couple older posts mentioned they couldn’t get a HF wrench adjusted–it might not be possible. Consider it a disposable tool and toss it when it checks bad.

    A tip: ALL click-type torque wrenches should be “exercised” before use. This means dial it up to the maximum setting & torque a fastener that’s tighter than the wrench max (for example exercise your 50 ft-lb wrench on a lug nut). Inside a clicker there is only a spring pressing a hardened block between 2 anvils. The block will roll when the spring setting is exceeded. This tilts the head-end anvil and it bangs into the wrench tube. This is the “release” you feel and the “click” you hear and feel. Any wrench that doesn’t get used often can get a little sticky and is the reason the manufacturer recommends exercising it first. The spring is the reason you reset your wrench to minimum after use so it doesn’t weaken over time.

  31. HFTool says:

    I just bought an HF 1/2″ torque wrench so I can rotate my tires myself. I hope it is satisfactory for at least lug nut tightening! I certainly don’t want to buy an expensive one for just this purpose.

  32. foolish people stuck on brands says:

    I jus used 1/4 torque wrench to tighten my intake bolts down after changing the faulty gaskets. And there was no problems I have a craftsmen of the same size and they are both the same i dont know why people brainwash themselves into believing one brand better then another I’m about getting the job done and taking my time. I’m not a daily mechanic that tries to hurry the job and uses short cuts and halfasses the job. But for daily use I would say that the only difference in some brands wear and tear kills cheaper tools of some and the more expensive tool outlasts.

  33. Rolf says:

    Carcraft reviewed them and all those naysayers dont know JACK. The 1/2″ are quite decent and the digital one is just as good as your snapon or maatco. Pull those noses out of your ****** and try something before being negative about it. There are plenty of good tools there for the hobbyist as well as plenty of crap tools. And who still has a walkin life time warranty? It aint craftsman!

  34. chuck says:

    WARNING they can be off by 10plus lbs!!! i’ve been a tec since 90s, i have very hi quality digital torque wrenchs,for xmas gift i recieved one, i figured what the hell i’ll see how close it is. the 3/8 was off by 20 freeken lbs!!! thats bullshit, so i bought the other two for the hell of it. wow they were way off, shame on harbor freight, if a person needs a t.w.and cannot afford one , dont sell them shit to screw up a job that could really do major major damage, i still have these wrenchs to show my customers that come to my shop.

  35. Mark says:

    Bought a 3/8″ FT. LB# PITTSBURG online, finally received. The minute I opened it I was afraid I had made a mistake, I was right, handle would not tighten up right, worked on low settings, high settings forget it! 3/8″ drive socket attachment twisted on first high setting, had to file down to get socket to slip back on. You get what you pay for, disappointing poor quality. Never again!

  36. edsel adkins says:

    WHATS WRONG WITH USING THE TORQUE WRENCH THAT DOESN’T CLICK I USED THEM FOR 50 YRS NEVER HAD A PROBLEM

  37. tom says:

    Most of these asshole talking shit probably have a high dollar torque wrench that hasn’t been calibrated in years and isn’t any better than the HF ones when their newer…tools don’t always make precision…a steady hand does

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