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Updated October 2021
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Buying guide for best breaker bars

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you get a nut or bolt that you just can't budge. That's when you reach for a breaker bar, which provides a simple yet effective way to get the job done, without all the sweat and swearing.

It's a straightforward kind of tool, but there are still a number of things you need to think about when making your selection. Our recommendations showcase a range of quality devices that offer excellent performance for the price. Our buyer’s guide points up the differences you'll want to look for and answers potential buyer's common questions.

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A breaker bar is designed to loosen things, not tighten them. Most lug nuts, for example, fasten at between 80 and 120 ft. lbs. With a breaker bar you could easily apply twice that, and if you overdo it, you'll damage the threads. For torque-specific jobs, use a proper torque wrench.

Why buy a breaker bar?

A ratchet wrench and a bit of muscle will handle most jobs, but especially tight or rusted bolts can be problematic. What you need is extra leverage, which generates more torque.

An old mechanic’s trick is to slide a length of pipe over the ratchet handle. It's called a cheater bar. The problem with using a cheater bar is that the ratchet mechanism in the wrench is not designed to handle the increased pressure. In all likelihood you'll strip the wrench, rendering it useless.

A breaker bar has a drive to take your socket but doesn't have a ratchet head. There's really nothing to break, so you can apply as much force as necessary. The lack of a ratchet isn't a disadvantage, because you're only using the bar to break the fastener free. After the first 1/4 or 1/2 turn, you can swap back to a ratchet wrench to finish the removal.

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Never put your full body weight onto a breaker bar. If the fastener lets go suddenly, you may injure yourself badly.

Breaker bar construction

The choice of drive – the square knob where you attach the bar to your socket – varies in size from 1/4 inch to one inch across. Given that what you're trying to do is deliver much greater amounts of torque, in our opinion a 1/4-inch drive is a little small. The 1/2-inch drive is far and away the most popular, though the larger versions are useful for heavy-duty applications.

The length of the breaker bar also varies. The shortest we found is 15 inches, the longest is 42 inches. The longer the bar, the more force you can apply, but you need plenty of space to swing the longest versions. The most popular are 18 to 24 inches. Long bars can flex if enough pressure is applied, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. That flex can transmit additional torque. Some breaker bars have a maximum torque rating, though it's often not provided.

Almost all bars are made from chrome vanadium steel (Cr-V) which is hard but has some elasticity. Except under extreme circumstances, any bending should spring back out when the tension is removed. Cr-V is also highly resistant to corrosion. By contrast, if a bar is chrome-plated steel it's more likely any bend will be permanent. Also, if the plating is scratched, moisture can get in and cause rusting.

The drive part is usually chrome molybdenum steel (often just called chrome moly), which is very hard, and highly resistant to damage.

There are a few breaker bars with telescopic handles, making them adjustable and compact to store. On the face of it, this seems like an excellent idea. However, they are criticized by some because dirt and water can wear at the mechanism, causing corrosion and making it jam. Additionally, part of the bar is, of necessity, hollow and sometimes has been known to distort under pressure. They're fine in relatively light-duty applications, but most breaker bars are put to more severe use.

Handles are often just a continuation of the bar, made from the same material but shaped for grip. Some are rubber or plastic, which has a bit of 'give' and thus offers a more comfortable and more secure feel. Users will often be wearing gloves though, so the difference is one of personal preference rather than performance.

Warranty is often an indicator of the manufacturer’s confidence in the durability of their tools. The minimum you should look for is 12 months, but some are guaranteed for life.

"Torque is rotational (twisting) force. In Europe it's given as Nm (Newton meters). In the U.S., it's ft. lbs. (foot pounds). Imagine a bar one foot long, with a one pound weight on the end. One ft. lb. of torque is the energy required to rotate that weight a distance of one foot."

Best breaker bar prices

With few differences in manufacturing materials or construction, price variation is mostly down to drive size and bar length, though you'll likely pay a premium for big brand names.

Inexpensive: Typically, a 3/8-inch drive on a bar 15 to 18 inches long costs $15 to $20.

Mid-range: A 1/2-inch drive on a bar 24 inches long costs $20 to $40.

Expensive: A 1-inch drive on a bar 40 inches long costs $70 to $90.

We have seen breaker bars for as much as $140, but unless you're a pro using one every day, we don't see any need to spend that much.

Breaker bar tips and tricks

  • Mind your hands and feet. You're going to be applying a lot of force, so make sure you're standing on a firm surface with no oil or anything else you could slip on. Consider the arc that the end of the breaker bar will take, so that if the bolt lets go suddenly, you're not going to smash your knuckles into something.
  • Penetrating oil will often help loosen rusted nuts and bolts. It's best to spray it on and allow five or ten minutes for it to work. Tapping the end of the fastener with a hammer a few times can increase the penetration.
  • Unfortunately, sometimes a bolt will shear, but it doesn't necessarily mean that the part where the threaded end is jammed is ruined. It's possible the thread could be drilled out and repaired with a helicoil or threaded insert. It's not a job for the amateur though, you need to consult an engineer to see if it's viable.
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As the length of the breaker bar increases, you apply more torque for the same amount of energy. However, it also means you'll need more space to use it. The longer it gets, the further the handle has to travel to exert that force.

Breaker bar FAQ

Q: Should I use impact sockets with a breaker bar?
Impact sockets are designed for use with impact drivers and air wrenches — they're considerably more robust than standard sockets, so they can stand up to extreme forces and should therefore work well with a breaker bar.

While a breaker bar greatly increases the torque you can apply to a nut, the action isn't as dramatic as that of an impact driver, so standard (and much less expensive) sockets should be fine. Steer clear of cheap socket sets though, as they have been known to shatter under even modest load.

Q: Isn't an impact wrench better than a breaker bar?
This is a tough question to answer, and you'll find plenty of people who will argue both cases. It's also very difficult to make comparisons, because of the wide variety of each tool available.

A cheap DIY impact wrench probably won't generate the same torque as a breaker bar, but a pro tool will generate considerably more. You can fit impact wrenches into tight spaces, whereas a breaker bar needs room for leverage. Some believe the 'hammer' action of an impact wrench makes it less likely to shear a bolt head than the constant torque of a breaker bar, though you ought to be able to replicate that action manually.

Aside from performance, there's also cost to consider. A good impact wrench can cost as much as ten times what you'll pay for a good breaker bar.

In truth, we can't provide a definitive answer because neither is really 'better.' If you need a tool for frequent use and can afford the investment, an impact wrench is great. However, breaker bars remain popular. They're basic, effective, and some people just flat out prefer the 'feel' of a manual tool.

Q: Can I use a metal pipe to extend my breaker bar?
It's a technique that some people use (often called a cheater bar), but we advise caution for two reasons. First, if you slip and the pipe comes off, it could cause injury. Second, the increase in torque could well be more than the head of the fastener can take, and it could break off. It's really only something you should try as a last resort.

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