THERE’S nothing more symbolic of a vehicle workshop than the high- pitched buzz of an air tool. Any serious premises has a big compressor or a bunch of air lines for the speed, convenience and power that air tools bring.
Although air tools take many forms, the air impact wrench is probably the most recognisable. Able to supply huge amounts of torque instantly, they can spin off stubborn nuts and bolts with little effort, saving time on most procedures.
Most often put to use on wheels – what better way to remove and refit 16 to 20 wheel nuts or bolts quickly? – they have myriad other applications, particularly on suspension components, wheel hubs and items such as crankshaft pulleys, for those mandated cambelt changes.
Air impact wrenches turn what would be an arduous task for a DIY mechanic into a 30- second job. We’ve looked at a small selection of wrenches to see which one we’d want to hand.
How we tested them
Aside from the raw torque rating, which will be a matter of preference depending on your workshop’s typical needs, we’ve been looking at how comfortable and easy these tools are to use over short periods and for longer-term operation. Control weightings, basic operations and vibration have also been assessed.
How much: £189.00 (ex VAT)
Where from: sykes-pickavant.com
Quality comes at a price, so it’s no surprise to find that the Sykes-Pickavant tools were among the most expensive in our test. The cheaper of the two models we tried out was this – the German-made Muller 114 – which comes with a half-inch drive, though 3⁄4- and 3/8-inch drives are also available from the same range. The wrench has a maximum reverse torque of 1,600Nm, which made extremely light work of removing the stubborn wheel nuts on our test car. The adjustable three-step speed and torque setting of the wrench also makes it easy to operate smoothly and confidently.
How much: £209.00 (ex VAT)
Where from: sykes-pickavant.com
In many ways, this tool is little different to the other Sykes-Pickavant offering. It’s also a German- made Muller 114 wrench and the basic controls are identical, but the key difference is that this one is designed very specifically for use in tyre centres and fast-fit bays. Not only is it set to have a maximum forward torque of 80Nm, aiding accuracy, especially when locating and refitting wheel studs instead of nuts, but it also automatically prevents overtightening. It has a high-visibility green body as well, making it much easier to spot on the workshop floor – an important health and safety consideration. In addition, it has the same impressive 1,600Nm of reverse torque as the black wrench.
How much: £56.34 (inc VAT, promotion)
Where from: drapertools.com
This is a relatively simple and comfortable piece of equipment that seems to be just the right size, but it’s a little let down by the weight – it’s the heaviest item here, but it’s not backed up by the torque on tap. It gets a little tiring in longer use as a result, particularly as there’s a bit more vibration than with the others. The forward/reverse switch is a little notchy, and there’s only a single reverse speed. Most of the time that’s all you’ll need, but the other guns here have a variable control.
How much: £227.94 (inc VAT)
Where from: sealey.co.uk
The Sealey wrench is impressive all round. Even ignoring the fact it has the highest torque rating here, it’s the ideal size and weight for just quickly picking up and using briefly or for tackling more intensive jobs. There’s less vibration than with the other guns, and it has a simple-to-use speed controller on the front that’s weighted perfectly to just lever with a thumb. A slider switch allows you to quickly change direction independently of speed – letting you set the right torque to unfasten a bolt and retain it when you switch to fastening it back up again.
How much: £130.20 (inc VAT)
Where from: cromwell.co.uk
The stubby Kobe is a neat little tool. The compact dimensions mean that it’s a little easier to get into tight spots and it’s by far the lightest piece here, so it’s not something that’ll wear you out over prolonged use. The light weight is a little bit of a hindrance at times – make sure you have a decent grip on it for the initial kick – and the proximity of the handle to the drive itself is a bit of a wrinkle, but it has a neat variable drive switch on the back that allows for fine control.
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