When it comes to working on your car, one of the most important aspects during reassembly is ensuring that your bolts are torqued to the proper specification. While not all bolts have a torque spec from the manufacturer, it is imperative that you pay attention as the ones that do have them because they are critical for safety and proper vehicle function. Failure to properly torque bolts can result in failure of the bolted joint, which can have catastrophic consequences.
The more you work on cars, the more situations you will encounter that require a torque wrench. There are many types of torque wrenches, and often we get asked what type of torque wrench would suit someone best? The two most widely used types of torque wrenches are click type and digital torque wrenches (also known as electronic torque wrenches). To answer this question, we have outlined the tradeoffs when it comes to click type torque wrenches versus digital torque wrenches.
Click Type Torque Wrenches
When it comes to accuracy, neither click type nor electronic torque wrenches have a decided advantage. That is to say that both are sufficient for automotive work. The largest differences between click type versus electronic torque wrenches are in the scale visibility, torque setting, cost, maintenance, and reliability.
When it comes to the scale, click type torque wrenches have a mechanical scale that is used to set the torque. This is often shown in both metric and SAE units, but not always. To set your torque, you rotate the handle until it aligns with the desired setting. Click type torque wrenches have a decided cost advantage, which makes sense considering their relative simplicity compared to digital torque wrenches. The increased simplicity also translates to higher reliability, generally speaking, as there are fewer parts to malfunction or fail. Finally, the lack of a battery means less frequent maintenance, which is limited to keeping the wrench clean and the occasional calibration with a click type torque wrench.
One of the difficulties of such a simple wrench is that it can be difficult to see whether you set the torque correctly as the scale is not always intuitive to use for novice users. The same is true for experienced users in low light settings or when the wrench has oil or other residue that can obscure the readings on the scale, which is typically laser etched into the handle. Another downside is that you must be diligent about returning your torque setting back to the minimum setting in the wrench’s range to avoid stressing your spring and throwing the wrench out of calibration while it sits in storage.
Electronic Digital Torque Wrenches
Electronic torque wrenches have a similar function to a basic click type torque wrench. Digital wrenches use a simple push button digital interface to display torque readout and allow to you adjust your desired torque settings. The digital display is decidedly easier to read and understand than rotating the handle, and additional features like an LED light, an audible sound, or a vibrating handle are helpers to inform the user that they have reached the desired torque setting. Beyond those features, some wrenches provide a warning as you approach your torque setting to aid in preventing over-torquing a fastener during use. These wrenches can also measure torque in up to five different unit sets including Newton-meters, foot-pounds, inch-pounds, kilogram-feet, and kilogram-centimeters as the units can be toggled in the display settings. Overall, digital torque wrenches offer increased ease of use over a standard click type wrench.
With the additional features comes additional attention that a user must pay when using a digital torque wrench. The digital torque wrench display is battery powered, and as we all know by living in this tech heavy world filled with iPhones, drones, and electric cars, battery life matters. The battery will need to be changed at some point, and you have to stay on top of this task to ensure that you have a working torque wrench that is ready to go when you need it. Additionally, digital wrenches are not in the same low cost arena that a click type wrench falls into. Digital torque wrenches, because of the electronics and additional features, typically cost significantly more than a more traditional click type wrench. In other words, the features are nice but you definitely have to pay to play.
For a low cost, a simple click type torque wrench can apply torque with minimal frills and minimal maintenance. If you are the type of person who is hard on your tools and doesn’t maintain them well, a click type torque wrench is the ideal choice. Similarly, if you are on a tight budget, you can have the ability to apply torque to fasteners for considerably less coin if you choose a click type versus a digital torque wrench.
On the other hand, if you are looking for a high convenience torque wrench with all the bells and whistles and don’t mind digging deeper into your pocketbook to be able to have them, an electronic torque wrench would make an ideal choice. Additionally, if you work in low light settings such as at night or in a dimly lit auto repair shop, you may find that a backlit display is hugely beneficial and spending a little extra up front on the tool will save you significant time cost on the back end.
Overall, the choice has to be yours but hopefully this guide has provided enough information for you to make an informed decision. If you want to check out some of the best torque wrench options available, feel free to give our torque wrench buyer’s guide a read by clicking here. Happy wrenching!