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Provides leverage to loosen stubborn lug nuts and bolts. Heavy-duty steel construction. Swivel head stays securely in place with very little play.
Length can be difficult to work with in tight spaces, such as when working on brakes or changing oil. Swivel joint may fail during high-torque applications.
Strong enough to loosen rusted or over-tightened lug nuts. Enough leverage to loosen notoriously difficult axle nuts (though that is at the top of its range). 90-degree swivel stop makes it easier to use in tight engine compartment.
The small circumference and smooth finish of the handle make it difficult to push or pull. Swivel head has quite a bit of play in it.
Rugged design with plenty of leverage for lightweight jobs. Grip is smooth but comfortable in the hand.
Molybdenum head may not be as sturdy as the bar itself. Shaft may warp after several uses.
Well-built with little tendency to bend after heavy use. Reaches easily into wheel wells to loosen brake calipers. Handles lug nuts and trailer hitch bolts with ease.
Smooth grip makes it difficult for some to use. Swivel head likely won’t hold up to heavier uses over 350 pounds.
The ability to collapse the bar for toolbox storage is a nice plus. Swivel head increases reach and application. Bar does a good job loosening lug nuts.
Bar can rotate and unlock during some tasks. Water can get inside the bar, causing corrosion. Bar may warp and no longer telescope after several uses.
We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Q: Should I use impact sockets with a breaker bar?
A: 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?
A: 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?
A: 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.