The Durable Harbor Freight Tool TikTok Swears By

You've probably seen it, and you might have even done it. It's possible you don't even know how dangerous it is or that there's an alternative to changing a tire without confirming the tightness of the lug nuts with a torque wrench. That wheel falling off and rolling into a canyon could have been prevented with a $1,000 Snap-On torque wrench ... or a $60 equivalent from Harbor Freight. And maybe even with a $12 wrench from the same store. Either way, these are must-have tools for homeowners.

Some types of work demand that you torque fasteners properly (that is, tighten them a very specific amount). This includes most automotive repairs, and not just changing tires. Without proper tightening, parts can become damaged or, worse, fall off and cause a spectacular cascade of effects. Harbor Freight offers 18 wrenches and three digital torque adapters for ensuring proper torque, at prices ranging from $11.99 to $399.99, and the lineup includes click- and split-beam-style wrenches, digital wrenches, and one specifically designed for lug nuts. 

They come in a variety of sizes, and HF sells ¼-, ⅜-, ½, and ¾-inch-drive wrenches. There's at least something for everyone who needs a torque wrench. None of these is necessarily the absolute best wrench you can buy in its category, but all are perfectly sufficient for the context below. Some are objectively great. Some of these are tools for professionals and some are, effectively, short-term-use tools for DIYers and shade tree mechanics who rarely need a torque wrench. And there's one such item in particular that has gotten some raves from an automotive TikTokker.

A top-quality click torque wrench

TikTokker Mike Randol is heaping his praise on an Icon torque wrench manufactured by Harbor Freight. The Icon brand is a sign of changing times at HF. As tool truck products become less relevant even for mechanics, one might reasonably expect Amazon to benefit the most. But Harbor Freight has stepped into the breach with the Icon tool line, offering something you can't find anywhere else: A full line of high-quality tools that can be purchased locally. Icon uses the tagline "Tool truck quality. Unbeatable prices," and the brand's reputation seems to bear this out. HF launched the brand in 2018 with two torque wrenches and then expanded it to a full line of hand tools aimed at professional mechanics.

The Icon torque wrench Randol loves is a standard micrometer wrench commonly referred to as a "click-style torque wrench." though other types also produce the click sound to let you know when you've reached your target torque. Almost half of the wrenches HF sells are part of the Icon line, and the ⅜-inch model he has (Randol accidentally refers to it as quarter-inch) is the $119.99 40-200 inch-pound professional compact model, with 4.7 stars on 179 reviews and 95% of purchasers recommending it. There are only nine one-star reviews, probably indicating a very low defect rate. By far the most common complaint is that the markings on the tool are difficult to read, which (as one reviewer pointed out) is unsurprising for a compact tool.

A bargain click torque wrench? Or a disaster?

If Icon is a brand for professionals, Pittsburgh (including Pittsburgh Pro-labeled tools) usually is not. The ¼, ⅜, and ½ Pittsburgh wrenches are currently on sale for $11.99, and they may be discontinued, which might make one nervous about buying a dirt-cheap tool. And while we don't always advise buying one-time-use tools, that might be what the Pittsburgh torque wrenches are ideal for. 

We've used them a few times without incident, including when we tried the cheapest cordless power drill at Home Depot. They come with certificates of calibration. Torque wrenches typically come calibrated and have to be re-calibrated professionally every six to 12 months. Since re-calibration costs $50 to 900 every time, it's a nonsensical thing to do with a $12 wrench. But to get a reasonably accurate wrench for a very short time, these might be the way to go.

The reviews for the ½-inch model indicate a fairly high rate of early failure, which we found in 19% of reviews. About 15% claimed that the tool's calibration was off. Interestingly, although the wrenches' calibrations are certified, none of the tools' product pages mention this, which might suggest Harbor Freight doesn't trust the certification. But it could also mean the company doesn't argue with its customers, who (based on the reviews) don't always understand that cheaper wrenches can lose their calibration quickly and that this style of wrench is generally less accurate at the lower end of its torque range.

A torque wrench for lug nuts only

The other torque wrench brand Harbor Freight sells is Quinn, and its offerings include a ½-inch-drive, 80-160 foot-pound lug nut wrench at $59.99. It's something of a unicorn in the world of torque wrenches, tailor-made in several ways for the common (and important, as we've said) business of properly attaching wheels to vehicles. It gives the user five presets suitable for most common cars, rather than a continuous range of torques. It's designed to accommodate deep lug nut recesses (the Harbor Freight website calls them "wheel wells," but we do not think that term means what they think it does) without marring wheels and the need for extensions. The wrench is a good idea, so long as it works properly. At 4.7 stars and a 97% recommendation rate, it seems to do the job.

Compared to the other Harbor Freight torque wrenches, this model unsurprisingly has relatively few reviews at 116. We tabulated 25% of these, and no two reviews had the same complaint except for two users who thought they might have calibration issues. Only 4% of the reviews were one- or two-star affairs. There were four times as many reviews that stated minor design preferences as there were reviews that identified actual problems.

Harbor Freight's split beam models are also favorites

Harbor Freight sells two split-beam torque wrenches, both from the Icon brand. We took a look at the 1/2-inch-drive model, as we did in most cases because it's the size most commonly used by mechanics (who are also the most common users of torque wrenches). Split-beam torque wrenches represent an evolution of the cheaper (and unavailable at Harbor Freight) beam torque wrenches. Many consider split-beams more consistent and reliable than standard click-type wrenches, and with fewer moving parts and resistance to damage from being dropped, the split-beam torque wrenches stand up better to demanding professional environments. Perhaps most importantly, they don't have to be periodically re-calibrated... a fact that, by itself, justifies the $139.99 price tag.

The reviews are very good; the ½-inch split-beam gets 4.8 stars and 98% recommendation on 253 reviews, only two of which are one-star and two of which are two-star reviews. Of the 65 lowest ratings for this wrench, 43 offered no criticism at all, and 17 only noted minor design flaws or preferences that were different from the Icon design, such as the blow-molded case being unnecessarily long and the wrench not being reversible. The four one- and two-star reviews had no complaints in common, and the single three-star review was about the lack of reversibility ... a fact that's intentionally emphasized on the Harbor Freight website.

A great digital torque wrench

Harbor Freight sells ½-inch digital torque wrenches under both the Quinn and Icon brands. Both appear to be quite solid, and we've chosen the Icon Professional Flex Head Digital Angle Torque Wrench. At $349.99, this is the second most expensive torque wrench at HF, but it's still less than half the price of the comparable Snap-On model. Digital torque wrenches are generally the most accurate and tend to come with a load of features that simply can't be added to non-electronic wrenches. 

For example, the Icon will allow you to store up to nine presets so that you can quickly recall commonly used settings. When you reach the desired torque, the wrench can let you know with an audible beep, vibration, activation of the LCD screen, or an LED color change. The 72-tooth ratcheting mechanism is less than the 90 claimed by other HF products, but Icon still boasts of a very good 5-degree arc swing. The flex head gives you as much as 15 degrees of rotation to help with awkward positions.

Our M.O. of carefully combing through negative reviews was undermined by this wrench, which has 4.9 stars and 99% recommendation on 84 reviews ... including only one three-star and no one- or two-star reviews. (For almost any other vendor, we wouldn't trust reviews that positive.) We turned our attention to the nitpicking in the reviews and looked for patterns. The only real complaint, from three customers, was that the battery life was poor.

A digital torque adapter

The battery life problem mentioned by a few reviewers has been solved in the Quinn digital torque adapters ... and some customers are complaining about the solution. We'll come back to that. Harbor Freight offers three digital torque adapters, which are a bit of a different animal from traditional torque wrenches. They are not, themselves, wrenches, but instead are inserted between a standard ratchet or breaker bar and the socket or crow's foot, and in this position add the functionality of digital torque wrenches. All three sold by HF are from Quinn and range in price from $39.99 to $69.99. We examined the $49.99 ½-inch drive model with a 25-250 foot-pound rating.

This adapter gets the least favorable reviews of all the products we're recommending, but they're still very good at 4.5 stars and 91% recommendation on 225 reviews. Only one issue stands out when you examine the reviews: The wrench apparently has a habit of resetting when bumped during use. Reviewer Tom Bryant noted that this happens when the device is "slightly shocked in the axial direction." Another reviewer, Farmer Jeff, blamed this on the natural shock that occurs when inserting a ratchet and the resistance of the ball detent is overcome. Also, an unnamed purchaser made the interesting observation that the most dramatic flashing lights and the first sound from the device come when you've reached 80% of the target torque, and it can be difficult to determine exactly when you've hit it.

How we selected products

While we have some experience with the then-$20 Pittsburgh torque wrench as mentioned above, we mostly relied heavily on consumer reviews for these product evaluations. This is an approach increasingly fraught with danger, and might often be impossible. Bogus reviews on Amazon have spawned a cottage industry of AI fake-review detectors like FakeSpot and ReviewMeta

Additionally, many companies curate — and often pay for — their reviews using marketing services that tend to bias reviews toward the positive, as we learned when we tried to find the items at Lowe's with the worst reviews. These reviews are often sourced from suppliers and are widely syndicated to other websites. Harbor Freight may employ these same tactics, but we have found that its site is more likely to include a larger number of negative reviews, apparently undoctored, and these are often a source of good information about specific products or product lines.

We combed through hundreds of these user reviews, along with dozens of articles and forums, to unpuzzle which are your best bets within the major categories of torque wrenches, and what they're best for. For HF reviews, we started with the worst reviews and reviewed a minimum number set at 25% or 50 reviews (if that covers all 1- and 2-star ratings). In several cases, we went well beyond this minimum when it seemed warranted. We tabulated the issues raised by reviewers and, when possible, confirmed any quality or design issues independently.