For very large bolts (example: axle nut) I often see mechanics just use an impact wrench, typically they let it "rattle" a certain time and then they consider the bolt tightened. Is this also common/considered acceptable practice in other shops/locations? For smaller bolts or applications like head bolts, alloy rims and other delicate stuff I am 100% sure that you need a torque wrench and taking shortcuts leads to disasters, but on real massive bolts I am inclined to consider the mentioned practice to be alright (within certain limits).

Why I am asking this question:

The axle nut on my Astra H demands 250NM, my larger torque wrench has a range up to 200NM, so I cannot use it for this job. I do not want to buy a wrench that goes slightly over 250NM, because then I would have bought two wrenches with mostly the same range. An expensive alternative would be a 3/4" wrench, so I would be prepared for future tasks, but it seems to be overkill, also financially.

I am quite reluctant to spend a lot of money on tools just for the axle nut, also I do not think that I will be using it often. The axle is a M22 fine thread, the nut is self locking, the bearing is in an integrated unit and already pre-loaded. Should I buy a matching torque wrench or just bash the nut on with the impact wrench ?

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    Depending on your location, some auto part stores or shops will 'rent' out their tools - where you pay full price to rent it, and get a full refund when you return it in the same condition. They began doing this because people would buy the tools, use them once, and return them anyways, so they figured they may as well have one community tool rather than having to constantly send new tools back for repackaging. Aug 15, 2016 at 17:58

3 Answers 3



Just get a 1m long bar (by extending a breaker or similar), stick it on the nut so that it is horizontal and simply hang 250N of mass at the end of it: (*)

250N = 56.2 lbs = 25.5 Kg

250N * 1m = 250Nm

Rinse and repeat until it hangs and doesn't tighten the nut anymore. The trick is to keep the bar horizontal, you'll likely need a 12-point socket to achieve this.

Doesn't need to be 1m, just do the math for whatever length you've got there:

Kg = 25.5/length

lbs = 56.2/length

Water in a bucket could work well for mass.

(*) this ignores the integrated mass of the breaker bar itself, which will mean that there will be slightly more torque than calculated. - this effect will be 'worse' the longer the bar is. But then we're also not accounting for static vs. dynamic friction anyway, which isn't usually accounted for with standard torque wrenches... :)

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    That's a Math Teacher answer! A Mechanic's answer is to 'borrow a torque wrench of the correct capacity'
    – PeteCon
    Aug 16, 2016 at 3:50
  • @Pete, my way is (likely) much cheaper ;) Aug 16, 2016 at 3:52
  • Borrowing is usually free!
    – PeteCon
    Aug 16, 2016 at 3:55
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    That's just over 6 average house cats in a bucket!
    – Jason C
    Aug 16, 2016 at 4:09
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    @Lamar: I will use your approach, just a bit varied: Instead of the weight i will use a spring scale. Thereby i will be independent of the alignment
    – Martin
    Aug 17, 2016 at 8:04

To answer your question directly, this is a "standard practice" but a VERY poor one. Getting the correct torque is by far more important than getting it done quickly.

With the axle nut it is imperative you tighten it to the correct spec. If you tighten it too tight, the wheel bearing will self destruct within a few hundred miles. Using an impact gun can surely over tighten it. You'll not know what torque it really has gone to. I tightened up the axle nut on my 06 Silverado with an impact gun, then went back to torque it to spec, only to figure out I had over tightened it. I had to go back, loosen, then torque it. Like I said, an impact can easily go over your torque threshold. If left unchecked, can cause catastrophic damage. It is well worth your time to get the tool or borrow one which will allow you to get where you want to be.

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    Absolutely agree. I've personally seen (mainly apprentices) tighten a bolt with an impact gun then pick up a torque wrench, tighten it, see it click straight away and consider the bolt to be the correct torque. In fact all you can say for certain is that the bolt is AT LEAST the minimum torque selected and quite probably set in excess of this figure. Aug 15, 2016 at 15:24
  • @SteveMatthews - Exactly. I've also seem the techs rock the car as they are tightening lugs with a torque wrench. They are almost always over torqued when they do it this way. And it isn't just the "apprentices" which do this. Like I said, wanna-be mechanics with no clue. Aug 15, 2016 at 15:27
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    Unfortunately a standard practice with lug nuts in tire/wheel shops as well. Not only damaging, but damn near impossible to remote the lugs when you're stuck on the side of the road with a flat. After leaving these shops, I always go home and re-torque the lug nuts at home.
    – JS.
    Aug 15, 2016 at 18:10
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    Impact wrenches should be produced in counterclockwise-only form. :-) Aug 15, 2016 at 20:14
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    You guys should go back and forth a few more lines awkwardly explaining your jokes. Aug 16, 2016 at 3:57

I've worked on axle nuts holding tapered roller bearings together where the correct torque was way lower than a windy gun (common UK name for an air powered impact driver) would produce... using an air or electric driver would take the torque up to the point where you'd risk putting flats onto the rollers. Axle nut torques can be pretty low which is why you see staked nuts or castellated nuts with pins to stop them adjusting in use. So using a high torque tool to do up such nuts or bolts to some random high torque is a recipe for future failures. Of course, it's not the mechanic who will have to pay for a replacement bearing in a few hundred miles...

My personal peeve is tyre places that use windy guns to do up the wheel bolts (lug nuts...) to ridiculously high torques... add a bit of corrosion and you end up with bolts you can't undo with typical roadside tools if you get a flat.

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