Testing torque: Harbor Freight vs Snap-On

The old saying about buying tools is “buy right or buy twice”. But does it hold up in modern times? Real Tool Reviews put that saying to the test with a video comparing the renowned Snap-On brand with a recently released ICON tool line from Harbor Freight, which is best known for budget-friendly tools, rather than high quality.

The video is pits the two manufacturers of torque wrenches against one another, measuring for performance in accuracy and consistency. Comparing the two side by side does not immediately give away the $300 price differential, but the ICON-branded tool does measure almost a half-inch shorter in overall length. Most would not view this as significant, not would they pay much attention to the difference between engraved and laser-etched markings for the adjustment settings.

What is of concern is how these two perform at their designed task. To test them, Real Tool Reviews uses a fixture with a half-inch-drive connection connected to a calibrated meter with a digital readout. Each wrench is tested across its entire usable range in 50 foot-pound increments. The results show the more affordable ICON wrench was more accurate across the range for 50-250 foot-pounds of torque.

That could be luck though, right? Surely the more expensive tool will be able to repeat a specific torque specification more consistently. Testing showed the opposite. Both wrenches were within the appropriate margin of error (four percent for clockwise, six percent for counter-clockwise), but the ICON wrench defeated the Snap-On wrench with a narrower spread between the highest and lowest readings.

This is perhaps the most scientific torque wrench test we have seen yet. It also serves as a reminder that torque wrenches are accuracy tools and do need to be calibrated from time to time. (Some sources cite every 12 months, others 5000 use cycles.) If assembling sensitive items like engines, having your wrench calibrated could save you many headaches in the future.

To be fair, this test does not account for the long-term reliability or durability of the tool, which is an area where the Snap-On could potentially have the edge. Have some life experience with budget vs. top-shelf tools? Tell us in the Hagerty Forums below.