If you need a tool for removing lug nuts or bolts, you might be torn between buying either an impact driver or an impact wrench. Both can be fantastic tools in the right contexts, but it’s important to know the difference. When you’re dealing with this many lbs of torque, you want to make sure you’re doing things right.
While the names imply that these tools are practically the same, they’re actually quite different and are built for different tasks. While there is some overlap between the two, it’s worth getting clued up to avoid disappointment.
This article will explore the nuts and bolts of both impact wrenches and impact drivers. We’ll discuss their main uses, drawbacks and which might be the right one for you.
Impact Wrench vs Impact Driver Overview
As a general rule, impact wrenches come with more power and lbs of torque than an impact driver. They also tend to be considerably bulkier. An impact wrench typically uses a square, ½-inch drive that’s best suited for working with cars and heavy-duty fastening tasks.
Impact drivers tend to be significantly lighter than their wrench counterparts, at the cost of a little power. They use a hex drive that is normally around a ¼ of an inch and are designed to handle screws. An impact driver can also use accessories to handle lug nuts and similar tasks.
Impact wrenches are an auto-mechanic’s best friend. They’re used to quickly remove and replace the lug nuts on the wheels of a car
Uses for Impact Wrenches
We outline the main uses for these high-torque tools below.
The primary use for impact wrenches is replacing care tyres. Piston-heads and auto-mechanics use these tools practically every day. Keeping an electric impact wrench in your trunk could prove useful in times of need.
There are a number of tasks that can be made easier with impact wrenches. Fixing a shelf in your garage with large bolts is a good example. It’s probably best to use a less powerful electric impact wrench for home tasks. You don’t want to risk breaking the thing you’re working with! Impact drivers are also a great option for many home tasks like these.
Auto-repair shops usually prefer an impact wrench vs an impact driver. The power of a pneumatic impact wrench makes it ideally suited for working quickly with cars.
Construction & Manufacturing
Construction and demolition workers also take advantage of impact wrenches. They use them to swiftly build or tear down structural elements of houses. An impact driver wouldn’t cut it in a situation like this.
Limitations of Impact Wrenches
If you’re looking for a tool to tackle more lightweight, everyday tasks, an impact wrench might be overkill. Using an impact wrench on the wrong task can cause damage to both your tool and the material you’re working with. It’s important to use the right tool for the job.
These are very heavy, powerful tools that aren’t made for every hobbyist. They also generate a hell of a lot of noise, so always wear ear defenders if you’re working with an impact wrench.
Impact Wrenches – Our Two Top Picks
If you’re just looking for some quick impact wrench recommendations, we’ve got two top picks for you below.
1. Milwaukee 2767-22
This is our top pick for the best impact Wrench. This heavy-duty tool delivers 2X the removal speed for bolts than other options. The amount of power here means that even stubborn, rusted bolts are easy to remove.
You’ll be able to keep working for much longer thanks to the two lithium-ion batteries that come as standard. This tool’s rubberized, ergonomic design makes for a remarkably comfortable experience. The compact build of this impact wrench makes it much easier to squeeze into hard-to-reach places.
- Very comfortable to use
- No need for a pneumatic tool to remove rusted bolts
- Our favorite impact wrench for lug nuts
- Not the cheapest option out there
2. Porter-Cable PCE211 Impact Wrench
This is likely the best impact wrench out there for those working to a budget. This tool packs a reasonably high torque into a seriously affordable package. The 450 ft-lbs of torque should be more than enough for most everyday nuts and bolts.
Quick socket changes are a breeze thanks to the included hog angle. In general, this is a well-built impact wrench that should serve you well for a long time. Porter-Cable’s three-year limited warranty and one-year free service contract add peace of mind to an already compelling tool.
- Budget-friendly without compromising too much
- Relatively powerful 7.5-amp motor for heavy-duty tasks
- The extension cord is a bit of a hassle
So what’s different about an impact driver vs an impact wrench?
Impact drivers are generally much lighter and easy to use than the pro-grade tools we explored above. Their primary function is to drive long screws into wood and metal. They normally use a hex drive that’s around a ¼ of an inch. They look very similar to a cordless drill but come with significantly more power.
These tools tend to be pretty compact and are very easy to carry with you from job to job. They can handle a wide variety of materials including bricks, wood and metal. Most models of impact driver will protect you against dangerous reactionary torque that can twist your hand round when drilling.
Uses for Impact Drivers
Impact drivers can be fantastic for home use on many DIY projects. We outline some of these below.
If you regularly build sets of furniture with lots of screws that need drilling, an impact driver will likely come in handy. This is especially true if you’re working with large screws and tough materials. If you’re drilling through metal, a cordless drill might not be enough.
A long list of construction tasks are made easier with an impact driver. If you’re drilling into tougher materials like brick, the power that comes with a tool like this will prove useful. DIY projects like decks, flooring and any other task that involves tough materials, long screws and fasteners are all made easier by a good impact driver.
While they’re certainly not purpose-built for car repair, you can use impact drivers on lug nuts if you’ve secured the correct adapter. You’ll want to use a hex-shaft-to-square-drive adapter to accommodate the correct socket. If you’re working with more stubborn lug nuts, you might need an impact wrench for some extra torque.
Limitations of Impact Drivers
We mentioned earlier that an impact driver far surpasses your average cordless drill in terms of power. The issue here, is that impact drivers don’t come with a clutch. What this means is that it’s possible to over-drill into your material and cause damage. It’s important to practice caution when drilling with an impact driver.
One other drawback with impact drivers is that they’re not compatible with most drill bit sets. You’ll have to pick up a new set of drill bits.
Finally, these are noisy power tools; use ear protection when working.
Impact Drivers- Our Two Top Picks
The power tools below are two of our favorite impact drivers.
1. DEWALT DCF885C1
This offering from DEWALT is fantastic for compact spaces on the jobsite. The lightweight, portable design is great if you move around a lot for your work. The long-lasting, 20V battery provides more than enough power for most standard drill tasks. The three LEDs on this impact driver dramatically improve visibility when working.
We really appreciated the 20-second delay on the LED trigger that makes shadows way less of an issue on this driver
- A super-portable impact driver
- Bright, smart LED system
- 3-year limited warranty for peace of mind
- Doesn’t use a brushless motor design
2. GALAX PRO Impact Driver
This is an excellent budget impact driver that crams a lot of value into an affordable package. This impact driver comes with a variable speed of 0-2800 RPM, giving you plenty of flexibility for a broad range of tasks. The product we’ve linked comes with six screwdriver bits that can be changed without any tools, making adjustments quick and easy.
Other key features include a handy LED, ergonomic design and long-lasting 1.3 Ah battery. This is one of the best impact drivers we’ve seen for those with a budget to consider.
- Very affordable
- Tool-less bit changes
- Comfortable to use
- The torque output could be higher
Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Use an Impact Driver as an Impact Wrench?
This depends what you’re hoping to achieve. If you use a hex-shaft-to-square-drive adapter, an impact driver can be used to remove and refasten lug nuts. If you’re working with rusted nuts, an impact wrench will provide the torque you need.
What are the Best Brands?
As a general rule, DEWALT, Milwaukee, Makita and Bosch consistently deliver high levels of quality and performance. GALAX Pro and Meterk offer some great budget options.
If you’re still unsure, this section should clear up any confusion.
If you work in car repair or need a tool with tons of torque, an impact wrench is probably what you need. If you’re looking to blast through some everyday DIY tasks around the house, an impact driver is probably more your speed.
It’s a common beginner’s mistake to assume that these tools are much of a muchness. The reality is, the differences between impact drivers vs impact wrenches are more than you might expect. The power of an impact driver might disappoint you if you’re working in auto repair.
Conversely, an impact wrench might cause significant damage if you use it in a situation where you’d be better off with an impact driver. Use the information we’ve outlined in this guide to choose the tool that’s right for you.