Buddies, beer, and bustin' your knuckles - three things that are great about customizing your truck. You also meet new friends, share good times at shows and cruise nights, and work hard int he garage creating what you consider to be automotive art. One tool that is used front to back, top to bottom when wrenching on your truck is a 3/8-inch ratchet. They come in different shapes, colors, and configurations, but at the end of the day, the goal is the same - effectively (and hopefully comfortably) loosen, tighten, and install nuts and bolts.
In a pinch they can be used as a hammer, they fly far when thrown in frustration, and if you choose the right one from the start, will last you a lifetime. A great thing about a 3/8-inch ratchet is they're used at every level of mechanical know-how. From high school kids learning to modify their new ride to ASE-certified master mechanics, a 3/8-inch ratchet is a must. In this month's Truckin Tough segment, we take the vast world of ratchets (readily available from tool/parts stores) and determine which one garners the seal of approval from The World's Leading Truck Publication.
We started by closely examining initial quality, ergonomics, design, and value. Once the formalities were out of the way, we got to work using them just like you would. Hard-to-reach spaces, tight confines, maximum torque situations, and degree of handle flex/head slop, were all test performed on each ratchet. We then timed removal of a 1/2-inch bolts in each direction to determine fluidity of ease-of-use when switching forward to reverse with sockets attached. After a full day of testing, we had a clear-cut winner and we bet it's not who you think.
14-inch Extendable, 45-teeth
Several months of testing tools have taught us one thing: Husky makes a pretty darn good tool. Winning af ew or our tool shootouts, Husky proved it hasn't been a fluke, as they handily won our ratchet test. For less than $20, the 14-inch extendable ratchet features a lockable flex-head, relatively low-profile head design, and extra torque always on tap from the extended handle. As a bonus, the kit also included a six-piece standard socket set. during our torque torture test, it was the only ratchet in the group that busted loose the 1-1/8-inch nut that was torqued to 120lb-ft. That's serious power in a 3/8-inch package. It isn't flashy, nor the best feeling ratchet in your hand, but that does everything we asked of it at a high level, and without compromise.
Cushion Grip, 72-teeth
Targeted towards the professional mechanic and home DIY enthusiast, we expected big things from the GearWrench cushion grip - and it delivered. Extremely comfortable in your hand, the two-part cushioned handle took the traditional ratchet to the next level. Combine the nice grip with a 72-tooth low-profile head design along the 9-1/2-inch overall length, and you have an impressive pro-grade tool that costs a fraction of the other major tool companies.
Roto Ratchet, 72-teeth
Imagine melding the best attributes of a ratchet with the ease of use of a nut driver and you have yourself the GearWrench Roto Ratchet. With its ingenious rotating head design, the Roto can instantly be turned to accommodate awkward angles, or turn straight out to be used as a fast-working nut driver. If you're concerned with head slop, we didn't experience any during our testing, but there is a Torx set screw that can be adjusted to tighten or fix the head angle. Again, GearWrench nailed the grip, as it's both comfortable and confidence inspiring.
Ultra Light, 72-teeth
When we bought the Durlast Ultra Light ratchet from our local Autozone, the salesman behind the counter said, "I have th at some one, and I can't bust it." We looked at each other and said, "Challenge accepted." Only we couldn't bust it either. Even when we applied more than 120lb-ft of torque to it via a jack handle extension, the Duralast didn't break a sweat. Honestly, it's hard to find much fault with the Ultra Light ratchet. it is in face light, it has a small, compact head, which is perfect for hard to reach areas, it features a 1/4-inch adapter that gits snugly inside the bottom of the handle, and it's great value.
Slim Head, 72-teeth
True Value stores are scattered all over the country, and when we walked into one to purchase a ratchet, we didn't give it much thought. Turns out, True Value knows tools, and their Master Mechanic Slimd Head performed admirably in all of our tests. Thanks to its compact head design, it passed both of the tight confine tests, which measured head thickness and overall diameter. It also fared well when our test panel looked at design and ergonomics.
Topping the price chart as nearly $60, the new Craftsman Professional was an initial frontrunner. Craftsman started with a clean sheet of paper with this design and threw the kitchen sink at it. We appreciated Craftsman actually making this ratchet in the USA, but all sentiment aside, we weren't blown away by the 84-tooth model. The handle is much more comfortable than previous Craftsman ratchets, but when we got it slipper with sweat and oil, it did become hard to grip securely. A compact head design and small degree ratcheting arc were big bonuses, but for the big price tag, there are better ratchets available.
7. Pittsburgh Pro
Heavy-Duty Composite, 72-teeth
Continuing to be the best bang for the buck, Pittsburgh Pro's composite ratchet proved to be well made, solid, and comfortable in all of the tester's hands. At just $8.99, the Pittsburgh features a 72-tooth gear mechanism, thumb reverse, and a push-button socket release. There were only two major drawbacks to the design, one of which was the large head profile (thickness) and the other being the handle base. Whereas it was comfortable to use, the large oblong shape was too big to slide a jack handle over and because of this, failed the torque torture test.
Pear head Full Polish, 72-teeth
When we spoke to GearWrench, they told us the full polish ratchet outsells the cushion by a considerable margin. Our only guesses as to the reason is the price and perhaps the buyer thinks the full polish is more traditional and will outlast the cushion grip. Based solely on performance, the polished and cushion grips were nearly identical, with the grip being 1-inch taller and providing more leverage. The compact and low-profile head fits into hard to reach areas, while the 72-tooth gear is quick and smooth.
Pear Head, 54-teeth
During our testing, the Stanley pear head ratchet didn't wow us, but it did prove that for just $12.88, you can buy a decent and reliable tool. nothing flashy here, just a pear head design with a 54-tooth mechanism that provided 15 degrees of ratcheting art. Available at Wal-Mart, the Stanley is a good value for $12.88 if you don't spend much time spinning your own wrenches.
Stanley’s been manufacturing tools since 1843, and they’ve been successful by creating unique and innovative products for all skill levels. The Rotator is truly unique, as you can tighten and loosen a nut/bolt by simply twisting the handle, or by using it like a traditional ratchet. Whereas this function is perfect for situations where you can’t get a full sweep of a traditional ratchet, it also makes using the ratchet in a traditional manner tricky when it tries to spin in your hand. Also, the head is extra-large because of the unique gear mechanism, and it’s heavier than the others in this test. It is comfortable and it is priced at a value, however, during real world testing it was more novelty than must-have.
11. GM Performance Parts
Keep in mind the expansive world of private labeling when buying name-specific tools. From food, to manufactured parts, and especially China-manufactured tools, the name a on label is oftentimes just a name. In the case of the GM Performance Parts quick-release ratchet, the name didn’t help it perform any better than towards the bottom of our pack. A sticky thumb reverse, basic ergonomics, and standard size head meant the GMPP ratchet was outclassed in this competition. Add to that a price higher than its similarly equipped rivals and the quick-release quickly dropped towards the bottom.
1/4 & 3/8 Dual Drive, 72-teeth
You’ve no doubt seen these dual drive ratchets on top of the checkout stands at parts stores and your local tool stores. If you’re like us, you were intrigued but never pulled the trigger on a purchase. For that very reason, we sacked up and dropped the $12.99 at a local Pep Boys. Keeping in mind this is a .-inch test and not a ¼-inch test, the ergonomics for the . were not particularly good with an oval handle, nose-heavy balance, and awkward angle. We could not perform the torque test due to the handle’s diameter and the addition of a ¼-inch shaft on the other end doesn’t make it compact.
Kobalt tools typically perform well in our testing, however we think the engineers missed the mark on the comfort-grip ratchet. Not only is the ratchet heavy, but the handle is square. Although it is wrapped in rubber, the square shape doesn’t feel natural in your hand. We also noticed the handle material coming of in our hands during testing. Because of the handle shape, we could not perform the torque test, nor did it pass the tight confines test. For nearly $30.00, we expected a better ratchet than we got.
Most auto enthusiasts start of with a tool set with this ratchet included. It was a unanimous "yes" when we asked everyone on staf if they owned this Craftsman quick-release ratchet. What we learned from our extensive testing was just because everyone has one, doesn’t make it the best choice. Uncomfortable in our hands after just a few minutes of wrenching, the shortest ratchet in our test made it dificult to get any real leverage. With only 36 teeth, the ratcheting arc angle is below par. If you have one of these and it’s all you use, take it from us, step up and try one of the other ratchets in our top three.