The Best Air Impact Wrenches of 2023 | The Drive

Air impact tools are a mainstay in the garages of professionals and DIYers alike.

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The Best Air Impact Wrenches of 2023 | The Drive

In any shop, an impact wrench is a piece of gear that you really can't do without. Electric impacts are convenient, they're powerful, and they're everywhere, but air impact wrenches have their place. The power-to-weight ratio is still hard to match, the simplicity of maintenance is as good as it gets, and they're known to last. If you've already got a decent air compressor, you could use a good air impact wrench — and a collection of killer pneumatic tools, for that matter. What makes a good impact, though? I’m happy to help you find out with a quick buying guide. By the time we're done, all you'll need to worry about is finding some tires that need busting off. 

Ingersoll Rand 1/2-Inch Impact Wrench

Learning pneumatic tools is a right of passage. If you're going to work on cars, you're going to know a little bit about them. That's true even if you don't intend to use them. Much of my knowledge on air impacts comes from personal experience and industry exposure. I also made sure to do my research. That research included finding out what professionals and DIYers like in terms of brands and features, then comparing anything I considered for this list to ensure the best of what I came across. 

Power and performance of a professional tool

It's hard to top Ingersoll Rand when it comes to air impacts, which is why you'll find it in professional and DIY shops. This particular impact is capable of delivering 1,350 pound-feet of nut-busting torque and operates at around 103.6 dBA. For reference, it's a little more powerful and quiet than some tool-truck impacts but comes in at a lower price and has a similar two-year warranty. The four-position power regulator gives you the means to control torque, so you don't blast delicate projects to bits.

While this is a quality tool, that price is still something to warm up to. Many wrenchers are going to favor something else for the home shop because of it. Also, the ergonomics of this tool needs improvement, as some reviewers report it is uncomfortable to handle.

Husky's half-inch torque wrench is probably the first model you're going to try in your home shop. Why? The price and the name. This half-inch torque wrench comes from a name DIYers can trust and sits at a price they can justify. It's also backed by a one-year warranty, which isn't bad considering the low price. As for performance, it's rated to deliver 650 pound-feet of torque. It’s also reasonably lightweight, has decent ergonomics, and provides users with a power regulator to adjust it to the project.

Even if there's enough power here for the average home garage, it's relatively weak compared to others. That might not be a dealbreaker, but the inconsistency in power output reported by reviewers just might be.

Socket retention system can see improvements

Aircat's 1150 impact solves the problem others create. It's able to deliver 1,295 pound-feet of torque but produces just 86 dBA while laying it down. That's still pretty loud but is much quieter than most anything that can dish out that kind of power. Another great feature of this impact is that the power regulator doubles as the directional switch for improved ergonomics, which pairs nicely with its comfortable grip. It's also about half the cost of similarly powered tools and comes with a three-year warranty.

As for the downsides, the anvil's socket retention seems to be an area of concern, with complaints about sockets falling off being common. Also, it is slightly larger than some of the direct competition, which can sway some to take a different route.

Decent performance for the price

Quality control issues are somewhat common

Husky's 3/8-inch impact is another great place for budget-oriented wrenchers to start out. On top of being affordable, it's quiet, lightweight, and relatively compact but is still capable of dishing out 250 pound-feet of torque. That might not sound like a lot in comparison to some others, but it's more than enough to deal with the average 9/16-inch hex you'd use it for. It's also backed by a decent one-year warranty, which is a nice touch for the low price.

Of course, you should expect some issues when an impact goes for such a low price. In this case, the tool is reportedly clumsy to handle thanks to a stiff selector switch. The same inconsistencies in performance we see in its larger counterpart carry over as well.

High power output for the size

Quality control issues are common

The Ingersoll Rand 36QMAX is the impact to call on when you realize that you don't need maximum tightening for every fastener and favor a more manageable package. It's still got plenty of juice with a rating to dish out 650 pound-feet. It's just more enjoyable to use all day because of its lightweight and compact size. The smaller package also makes it a far better choice in tight spaces. And because it's an IR tool, the quality and two-year warranty is there to keep your mind at ease.

There does seem to be an issue with quality control as a few users complain about low power output and premature failure. Also, it's worth pointing out that, though this isn't the most expensive entry from the brand, you can buy similarly powered and packaged impacts for less if you're willing to take a slight hit in the quality and performance departments.

Easily works in tight spaces

Decent power for the price

Quality control issues are common

A traditional impact is going to lock you out of tight spaces, and something like Astro Pneumatic's Nano angle impact can be a total game changer in the right spot. The compact head and long handle help you to slip 415 pound-feet of torque into places even your hands may struggle to work in. It's also very lightweight, which makes handling it even more of a joy. We agree it's not the tool you'll need every day, but the low price and 1-year warranty make it worth taking for a spin.

You do need to be aware that there are some quality control issues, which seem to be common for tools in this price range. It also seems that durability is something of a concern for this tool, and it'll better serve the DIY crowd than professionals.

High power for small drive

Socket retention system can see improvements

The Nitrocat impact is the way to go if you need a little more oomph from a 3/8-inch drive. This mighty tyke is ready to send 700 pound-feet of torque through those medium fasteners that are standing between you and relaxation. That's a lot of juice for a little tool, but it stays quiet at around 86 dBA. Like the previous Aircat tool mentioned, this too has great ergonomics and incorporates the directional switch into the power selector. It also has the same three-year warranty to ease your mind.

What's not to like about this tool is its high price point, which surpasses many 1/2-inch impacts on the market. Also, the socket retention system is a source of problems for many users, with some complaints reporting the ring falling off the anvil.

It's not often a pro-level tool makes our list, but the Ingersoll Rand Half-Inch Impact Wrench is the clear choice if you're after the best from air impacts. If you just want something to learn with or need to save that money for other tools, the Husky Half-Inch Impact Wrench is a great way to go. 

When I start shopping for tools and products, I never overlook the secondhand market. In fact, it’s usually the first place I look. Whether you’re scrolling through Amazon’s Renewed section, eBay for car parts or tools, or flipping through the pages of Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist, you have hundreds of thousands of used tools, parts, and gear ready to be shipped to your doorstep. Refurbished to like-new status, they’ll be willing to give you many more years of faithful service all while saving you money. 

If those options above don’t have what you need, your local salvage yard is great for car parts, while swap meets are a great resource you should absolutely tap. Just Google either and head on down.  

To make your secondhand search easier, here are two tips to finding the best deals and making sure your new-to-you stuff wasn’t destroyed by the previous owner. 

Don't like our top picks? That's all right. I am happy to fill you in on what details you want to keep an eye on. 

The primary benefit of using air impacts is the torque-to-weight ratio. Even so, you can't assume you're getting some high-powered tool because you run an air hose to it. Torque output refers to how much force the tool can apply to fasteners and is one of the first things manufacturers are going to tell you. You don't need to work hard to find this detail and use it as a way to compare options. 

Air impacts place demands on the compressor, and you need to verify that what is required is matched by your setup. Most air impacts require around 90 psi and only around 2.5-10 cubic feet per minute to operate. If you don't want to wind up with a return or fancy paperweight, you should verify these details. 

More power often means a bigger tool. And though that's a dated concept with modern designs, it still holds true in many situations. It's important that you can feasibly use an impact on your project. Otherwise, all that power really isn't doing you any good. 

Air impact wrenches can come in many shapes and sizes. They can come with different drive types, handle designs, and power outputs. This all factors into what you pay, and air impact wrenches can run anywhere from $50 to $500 and more. Obviously, professional-grade tools are going to sit in the higher range of $250 to $500, while consumer-grade tools populate the lower half.

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.

A: Air impacts and electric impacts sit pretty much neck and neck in terms of power output, and it's only a matter of time until electric impacts take the lead. The power-to-weight ratio, however, is where air impacts have the advantage over electric tools.

A: It's very simple, really. Impact tools have an anvil and a hammer mechanism. Under little load, the two are locked together. Once resistance is met, the hammer turns one revolution until it strikes the surface it rests against otherwise.

A: You should oil your impact before every use or once a day. Doing so is as simple as adding a few drops of air tool lubricant to the air inlet.

Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

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The Best Air Impact Wrenches of 2023 | The Drive

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