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Air Ratchet vs Impact Wrench | What’s the Difference?

Power Tools can make the job easy. They usually come as electric-powered, pneumatic (air tools), or hydraulic (fluid). Of these, the automotive industry chose air tools as they are lightweight, flexible, safe, and needs less maintenance. Of all the air tools, Impact Wrench and Air Ratchet are very popular in garages and workshops. So, to understand more about these tools, we decided to make Air Ratchet vs Impact Wrench comparison guide.

Here, we will learn the basics of these two air tools. After that, we will list some pros and cons and finally build a side-by-side comparison of Air Ratchet vs Impact Wrench.

Air Tools

Pneumatic or Air Tools are those power tools that use compressed air as the source of “power” instead of electricity (corded or battery). Even though most workplaces have electric tools, air tools dominate automotive shops.

The four main advantages of Air Tools are:

  • Safety: There are no traditional motors in pneumatic tools. So, there is no risk of arcing or sparks, which is crucial in sensitive work environments. Also, these tools don’t possess any shock hazard.
  • Flexible: The operating temperature of air tools is much lower than electric tools. The speed and torque of the tools are much higher. As there is no motor or gear system, air tools don’t have a problem with overloading or stalling. You can easily use them in tight spaces.
  • Lightweight: When we compare the weight of air tools and electric tools, then you can see that air tools are significantly lighter than their electric counterparts. This means the operator or technician needs to put little effort while using them.
  • Low Maintenance: The number of moving parts in pneumatic tools is very less. This means the mechanical wear and tear is also less. But most manufacturers recommend lubricating the air tools with oil on a daily basis.

Some popular Air Tools are:

  • Impact Wrenches
  • Drills
  • Grinders
  • Air Nozzles
  • Jacks
  • Ratchets
  • Pumps

There are many other air tools but these tools are very common in typical automotive workshops.

Impact Wrench

If you go to any repair shop or garage, then you will definitely find at least one air tool and that tool is an Impact Wrench. It is also known as an Impact Gun or Rattle Gun.

Whether technicians are trying to remove the wheels or replace the tires, they need Impact Wrenches to work on the lug nuts. This tool can provide high torque to remove the lug nuts.

Air Impact Wrenches can rotate in either direction. So, you can use them to loosen nuts as well as tighten them. But when tightening lug nuts, the high torque of the impact wrench can sometimes over-tighten it.

So, technicians usually use impact wrenches only for the initial tightening and use other tools for the final tightening.

A heavy-duty air impact wrench can deliver more than 500 foot-pounds of torque (which is approximately 678 Nm). The free spin speed of impact wrenches can be anywhere from 2,000 RPM to more than 14,000 RPM.

Impact Wrenches are available in four different drive sizes. Here, drive size is nothing but the size of the drive anvil. This is where we fit different sockets, extensions, and joints.

The popular Impact Wrench drive sizes are:

  • 1/4″
  • 3/8”
  • 1/2″
  • 3/4″
  • 1”

The 1/4″, 3/8”, and 1/2″ drive size impact wrenches fall under the “lightweight” or “light duty” category. While the 3/4″ and 1” models are heavy duty impact wrenches.

Air Ratchet

An Air Ratchet is very similar to a regular hand ratchet wrench but it is slightly larger in size. The fat grip of the air ratchet houses the air vane motor and the drive mechanism. It uses high-pressure compressed air to turn the ratchet drive.


Technicians use Air Ratchets to work on small nuts and bolts. Due to its relatively small size than other air tools, you can use air ratchets in tight spaces.

Most air ratchets come with a 90° angle drive. This means it can easily reach places where other power tools cannot go.

An important point about air ratchets is that they do not have high torque ratings. While loosening, you can use a torque wrench to apply high torque on the nut and use an air ratchet to completely loosen the nut or bolt.

While tightening the nut, you can use the air ratchet to snug up the nut or bolt. But you have to use a torque wrench to finish the tightening.

Air Ratchets are available in two popular drive sizes: 1/4″ and 3/8”. Due to its very high rotation speed, an air ratchet can quickly remove a nut or bolt when compared to hand operation or other power tools.

Differences Between Air Ratchet and Impact Wrench

Weight and Size

Air Ratchets are very lightweight and compact. Technicians can use this tool for long durations without any fatigue. You can easily use them in tight spaces.

Impact wrenches are slightly heavier equipment when we compare them to air ratchets. But overall, they are lighter than other air tools.

Due to its size, you cannot use impact wrenches in hard-to-reach places.

Drive Size

Impact Wrenches are available in 1/4″, 3/8”, 1/2″, 3/4”, and 1” drive sizes.

Air Ratchets are available in 1/4″, 3/8”, and 1/2″ drive sizes.


Air Ratchets are not very powerful tools. You can find air ratchets with 60 foot-pounds or 130 foot-pounds of torque.

But Air Impact Wrenches are very powerful tools. Light-duty impact wrenches have 500 foot-pounds of torque. Medium-duty tools have about 1,000 foot-pounds of torque while heavy-duty impact wrenches have 2,000 foot-pounds or more torque.


Both Air Ratchets and Air Impact Wrenches run on compressed air. So, they both are quite noisy. But due to its low power, air ratchets make somewhat less noise.

Impact Wrenches have additional hammering function. If you take this into account, then they make a loud noise.

Irrespective of the tool, if technicians are working around air tools for more than 10 minutes, we recommend good ear protection.


Due to their small size and relatively less torque, air ratchets are suitable for tightening or loosening small nuts and bolts, even in tight spaces.

The main application of Impact Wrenches is to tighten or loosen the lug nuts of cars. You can also use them on other large nuts and bolts.

Comparison of Air Ratchet vs Impact Wrench

Now that we have seen some basics of Air Ratchet and Impact Wrench, let us make a simple side-by-side comparison of Air Ratchet vs Impact Wrench.

Parameter Air Ratchet Impact Wrench
Weight Lightweight (about 3.5 to 4.5 Pounds) Medium to Heavyweight (about 5.5 to 8 or more Pounds)
Size Small and compact Big and bulky
Speed No load speed of about 160 – 180 RPM is typical for small air ratchets No load speed of about 8,000 RPM is typical for light-duty impact wrenches
Torque Small torque, between 60 and 130 foot-pounds Very high torque, between 500 and 2,000 foot-pounds or more
Drive Sizes 1/4″, 3/8”, and 1/2″ 1/4″, 3/8”, 1/2″, 3/4″, and 1”
Noise Less noise Very loud noise due to hammering action
Uses Tighten or loosen small nuts and bolts Tighten and loosen lug nuts, large nuts, and bolts
Cost 3/8” Air Ratchet with 60 ft-lbs. of torque costs about $60 – $80 1/2″ Air Impact Wrench with 500 ft-lbs. of torque costs about $60 – $80

Air Ratchet vs Impact Wrench – FAQs

1. How does an impact wrench differ from a ratchet?

Ans: Impact wrenches are heavier and provide more torque than impact drivers and ratchets. Impact ratchets, with lower torque output, are suitable for tasks involving smaller nuts and bolts.

2. What advantages does an air ratchet offer?

Ans: An air ratchet is a versatile tool that proves valuable in tight spaces, making it essential for auto mechanics and various industries. It helps save time and effort, contributing to cost-effective repairs.

3. Is it necessary to use impact sockets with an air ratchet?

Ans: Using impact sockets with an air ratchet is recommended because they are made from higher-grade steel and hardened to withstand the impact from air tools like an air wrench. While regular sockets are suitable for standard hand tools, it’s advisable to use impact equivalents when working with air tools.

4. What makes an impact wrench superior?

Ans: An impact wrench surpasses traditional tools like ratchet wrenches or breaker bars, significantly boosting productivity by swiftly tightening and loosening nuts and bolts. Its exceptional torque is derived from a hammering mechanism in the motor, delivering powerful and rapid concussive blows, making tasks more efficient and expedient.


Air Ratchet and Air Impact Wrench are two popular and common air tools in automotive workshops and garages. Repair shops usually have both these tools as one is small and compact that can reach tight spaces, while the other is a powerful tool to remove tight nuts and bolts.

In this guide, we saw some basics of Air Ratchet and Impact Wrench. After that, we found the differences between these two tools. Finally, we made a side-by-side comparison of Air Ratchet vs Impact Wrench.

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