Is a torque wrench necessary, particularly when changing a tire?

That’s what we’re to torque about. And if you stop reading after that pun, I honestly understand.  Let’s start by talking about what a torque wrench does. A torque wrench allows you to set the tightness of a lug net to a specific amount of torque, or “foot-pounds” of pressure. A foot-pound of pressure, in simple terms, means that 1 pound of pressure is applied to the end of a 1-foot long lever, or wrench in this case. A torque wrench helps prevent you from damaging the rims on your vehicle, while also making sure the lug nut is tight enough to keep the wheel in place. If you tighten a lug nut too much, you may damage the rim or the lug nut, and if it is too loose, the wheel may come loose or come off entirely. Does this mean you need a torque wrench for whenever you have a flat tire and need to change one? Not necessarily, tightening lug nuts securely by hand, so long as you’re careful not to damage your rim, should get you a short distance without a problem. You always want to make sure your lug nuts are properly torqued as soon as you can, for safety reasons alone.

What is the proper amount of torque for your wheels?

That depends on your specific vehicle. Consult your owner’s manual or do a quick google search to find out for sure. A good rule of thumb is 100 foot-pounds, however it can vary widely so use caution with this rule on vehicles that are particularly small or large. A light hybrid may only need 70 foot-pounds on each nut, while a large truck or SUV will need upwards of 140 foot-pounds. Always make sure to set your torque to the proper specification whenever possible.

Torque wrenches are expensive, is it worth the investment?

Absolutely, making sure your wheels are properly secured without damaging them (and a new rim alone can cost as much, if not more, than a torque wrench!) will not only extend the life of your tires, but give you piece of mind that no wheel is going to come loose while driving, which does happen more often then you might think.

Okay, so I should get a torque wrench, do I need to spend a lot on one?

Not necessarily, if you have a smaller vehicle there are many torque wrenches that measure up to 100 foot-pounds that will be plenty for many vehicles. Even if you do end up needing to get a more heavy-duty one, say 150 foot pounds or more, there is not a major pragmatic difference between brands, so unless you plan on removing a ton of wheels, don’t go breaking the bank. One thing I would keep in mind while shopping around is that the longer the handle of the wrench, the more leverage you will have. This means the longer the handle, the easier its going to be on your back to get those larger lug nuts tightened down properly.

Does it matter if I get a 3/8 or ½ head on my torque wrench?

Both will do the job fine, a half-inch is going to be more durable than a three-eighths. For most people a three-eighths will be less expensive and do the job just fine, but if you already have half-inch sockets that fit the lug nuts on your car, you might as well go with the half-inch so you won’t need to buy new sockets. One thing that’s made my life a lot easier in this regard is purchasing both a half-inch to three-eighths adapter and a three-eighths to half-inch adapter, that way I don’t have to worry about buying the wrong socket or wrench with the wrong size head. I recommend going with impact adapters, they are about a dollar extra but it’s one way to guarantee I won’t be breaking them mid-job (which has happened to me on more than one occasion).

So, what torque wrench is best for me?

For a solid torque wrench that won’t break the bank, click here. At the end of the day, there is no one “best” torque wrench. If you’re only using it a few times a year, getting a less expensive, albeit less high quality, one is just fine. But if you plan on doing your own rotations, or helping friends and family with their vehicles, you may want to invest in something high-quality and durable. If you are driving a smaller vehicle, a torque wrench that only goes up to 100 foot pounds is all you will need, and cost much less than a higher-torque wrench. On the other side of the spectrum, if you plan to be working on larger SUV’s and trucks, you’re going to want something that can go up to at least 150 foot-pounds.

Can I use an extension while using a torque wrench?

The short answer is yes, but using an extension on your torque wrench will cause it to be inaccurate. The longer the extension, the less accurate your torque wrench will become. Granted this will be a small amount, but be sure to compensate about 5 foot-pounds per 3 inches of extension you have between your torque wrench and the socket you are using.

Is it better to over or under-tighten my lug nuts?

The answer is neither, but in some instances you aren’t sure what the exact torque specification is, or don’t have access to a torque wrench. In these instances I err on the side of over-tighten. You run the chance of damaging the rim, stud and lug nut, but better that than having a wheel come loose!

Do I need a torque wrench if I am using an impact/air gun?  Yes, absolutely. A high-impact driver can easily over-torque your lug nuts. When using one it is best to have torque sticks as well, these won’t replace your need for a torque wrench, but will save you a lot of headache in the future. A torque stick is an extension placed in between the socket and the driver, designed to absorb some of the force the driver is producing to make sure you don’t over-torque it. Keep in mind these torque sticks are not exact in their measurements, a 100 foot-pound torque stick will not set the torque to exactly 100 foot pounds, but will make sure it won’t get much tighter than that. Luckily torque sticks are not overly expensive, and in my opinion are well worth the investment for convenience’s sake.

Couldn’t I just have someone torque the wheel for me?

You bet, I imagine your local tire or auto parts shop would be more than happy to get your wheel torqued for you, they may not even charge you. As previously stated, making sure those lug nuts are properly torqued is very important, and if you can’t get your hands on a torque wrench, find someone that does. That being said, it is very convenient to have your own wrench to save you the trip or asking a friend for a favor and torque them yourself.

Okay, so I bought a torque wrench, how do I use it properly?

Luckily, using a torque wrench is not a complicated task, you use it like you would any other wrench. Once you’ve put your wheel back on and twisted on the lug nuts until they are snug (snug, not tight!) lower the tire back to the ground and then take out your torque wrench. Set the foot-pounds to your vehicle’s wheel’s specification and use the wrench to tighten them down. You will want to tighten them down in a “star pattern”, which essentially means you want to tighten them down jumping from one side of the wheel to the other. You never want to tighten two adjacent lug nuts consecutively, this can cause the wheel to be attached crooked. Most mechanical torque wrenches will ‘click’ when the nut has reached the set amount of torque. Some higher-end torque wrenches are electronic and have other means of letting you know the lug nut is secure.

 

Alright, I torqued my wheels down to the proper torque, what now?

Take a short drive. You don’t want to go too far until you know everything is as it should be. Start off slowly and work your way up to a higher speed. Listen for any unusual road noise. If you hear anything out of the ordinary, feel a shake, or your car is now pulling to the left or right, come to a safe stop as soon as possible. Chances are, the wheel was not attached properly. The easiest and most common solution is to take off the wheel and try again. Wash, rinse, and repeat until everything sounds and feels as it should. Once everything feels and sounds good, you’re all done! Hope you found this information useful, and wish you the best of luck.