When you mention a torque stick to the average mechanic, you tend to get one of two responses: “Yeah I love those things!” or “What is a torque stick?”
While some old-school mechanics may stick by the idea of the “hand tightened lug nut,” the truth is that hand tools simply aren’t the best option for meeting lug nut torque specifications.
While a good torque wrench is most commonly used, there’s actually another option.
Here, we’ll take a look at the value of torque sticks and discover how they can make a mechanic’s job much, much easier.
How Do Torque Sticks Work?
Torque sticks, also referred to as a “torque limiting extension bar,” are an extension for your impact wrench, and they basically act as a shock absorber.
They work on a torsion theory, which is just a fancy way of saying they flex at a certain rate, then stop applying torque when they reach a specified flex point.
Don’t let the simple design of the torque stick fool you – this handy little tool can make a big impact on busy mechanics.
Not only will a good torque stick help you avoid over-tightening lug nuts, but you’ll also see a few critical benefits, including:
- Speed – Perhaps the biggest benefit of a torque stick is that they are very quick to use, allowing mechanics to significantly speed up a project without sacrificing quality or safety. Almost all torque stick sets include an easy-to-use color-coded chart that tells you which stick is needed, without having to look up separate torque requirements. This handy feature lets you grab the right stick, plug it onto your impact wrench, and go.
- Accuracy – When used correctly, a quality torque stick offers mechanics a high level of precision and accuracy. Keep in mind, though, that it’s considered the best practice to double-check the torque settings with a torque wrench once the vehicle is on the ground. Remember, safety is your first priority!
- Convenience – Few things are more frustrating than having to stop multiple times during your project to change tools or make adjustments. It can really hurt your concentration and interrupt the flow of your work. A good set of torque sticks lets you choose the option you need and run smoothly through the entire lug nut tightening process.
Who Needs a Torque Stick?
Simply put, torque sticks are a great addition to any mechanic’s toolbox, right alongside your impact wrench.
In case you were wondering what exactly makes us so intent on these things, let’s take a step or two back and go over how an impact wrench works in the first place. Buckle up, because this gets technical fast.
As a matter of safety and practicality, lug nuts are tightened to the point that they will not move under the force of the relatively large machines of which they are part. The same power that can force an errant automobile through a guardrail in an accident is applied to these nuts continually. To withstand this force and prevent a laundry list of accidents, lug nuts must be rendered immobile as if they had been welded to their spots.
Tight as they are, removing the lug nuts to service the car can be something of a challenge. An ordinary socket wrench is rarely enough even to unseat the lug nuts, let alone actually remove them entirely.
A common remedy is the breaker bar, an extension to an ordinary socket wrench that creates the enormous mechanical advantage needed to force a lug nut free.
An impact wrench uses repeated sharp bursts against the socket rather than continual pressure, imparting multiple jolts to the lug nut to work it free. A jolt will apply force differently from a slow push, breaking corrosion or debris that block the lug nut threads where a hand wrench could not have any effect.
This method has the added advantage of being motorized, eliminating the element of human fatigue and strain that complicate so many procedures in the workshop. Like any power tool, it puts the task of removing lug nuts in reach of those without the physical strength to force the bolts free using manual tools.
Any wrench imparts motion to lug nuts by way of the many points that appear on the lug nut’s cross-section. Brace the planes on the wrench’s socket against corresponding planes on the nut and pushing. The planes cannot move past the points and so push them along, removing the nut in the process.
This changes somewhat when a motor is involved. A mechanic with an impact wrench can easily put enough force on a socket and lug nut to force the steel parts through each other, scraping the points smooth in the process.
This can lead to a rounded lug nut that will be impossible to remove with a socket, and require a lengthy procedure with an extractor kit and likely need to be replaced.
To avoid this, the mechanic can attach a torque stick to their impact wrench. Torque is the name for a twisting force. Torque sticks are made of a sprung metal that will twist to a certain degree when pushed against a lug nut.
Twisting the stick absorbs the force from the impact wrench instead of transferring it to the lug nuts. This makes the socket strike the planes of the lug nut without forcing them past the point, sparing both the nut and the socket from rounding out or ‘stripping’, as it is sometimes called.
These devices are not needed in ratchet wrenches, as they do not use the speed or force of an impact wrench that necessitate a torque stick. As they are rated for different tools and situations. Make sure to choose one that matches the specifications for the vehicle and project at hand.
Note: torque sticks are designed only for use with impact guns; they will not limit your torque with hand tools.)
If you do a lot of wheel work on a regular basis, investing in a good quality set of torque sticks will have a huge pay off for you.
You’ll be able to finish tightening your lug nuts much faster, without sacrificing quality or safety.
Torque sticks are very simple to use, but keep in mind that they are not foolproof.
As with any tool, please be sure to follow the usage guidelines carefully.
Improper use can lead to problems like loose lug nuts, broken wheel studs, or even warped brake rotors.
How to Find the Best Torque Stick
Interestingly enough, many mechanics have found that buying the most expensive torque sticks doesn’t always give you the best quality tool.
To find the best quality torque sticks for your projects, look for the following features:
- Torque settings – Most torque stick sets cover 65, 80, 100, 120, and 140-foot pounds. If you tend to work on special projects, make sure the set you choose covers the settings you need.
- Fastener types/sizes – Some sticks were designed to fit only a single size fastener, which means you may need to buy multiple sets to work with all of your projects. Instead, we recommend finding a set with universal fittings, which should work with any impact gun you may buy in the future.
- Color-coded system – Look for sticks that are color-coded and engraved with the torque setting values, so you can quickly find the stick you need and you’ll never have to guess if you’re using the right setting.
- Accuracy ratings – Before buying a set, do a quick search for review from other mechanics, to make sure it produces accurate results. While most torque sticks on the market are extremely accurate, some brands can fall short on this important feature.
- Carrying case – Many sets come packaged in a quality case that makes it easier to keep your sticks organized, move them around the shop without losing one, and store them in your toolbox.
Here are a couple of good torque stick sets we recommend:
To learn more about torque sticks and how they can help with your next tire project, check out this video:
- Best Torque Wrench for 2020 [Our Reviews & Comparisons]
- How to Remove a Stripped or Rounded Lug Nut (2 Methods)
- Lug Nut Sizes for All Car Manufacturers