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Hagerty Employee

What are impact sockets, and do you need them?

Ask anyone who works in the garage and they'll tell you that it's impossible to have too many tools. I have to agree-to a point. I am also a firm believer in a small but mighty toolkit, so when a friend dropped by for a brake job the other day and I grabbed two different sets of sockets for one job, I had some explaining to do.
Hagerty Fan
Not applicable

Great points made. I was just trying to explain some of this to a friend the other day. Done way better than I could, I’ll just show him this article.. 👍
I’d remind everyone that impact sockets are always hex-sockets….with six sides. Many of the chrome or traditional sockets are 12 sided. Using a twelve-sided socket with a an impact wrench can be asking for trouble. It’s more likely to either round-off the head of the fastener or crack the wall of the socket.
And Kyle FWIW, I have the same issue with painted wheels on my FD. Maybe it’s what’s pictured but I got a set of special sockets from a certain discount tool store (HF). They’re hex and come with a plastic sleeve around the outside. Placed on the lug nut the sleeve is stationary while the socket spins inside. The set is cheap (as you’d expect) and the socket is thin-walled, but I only torque the wheel lugs to 85-90 ft/lbs and they’ve held up fine. YRMV.


Interesting. When I shopped for thin walls, those plastic lined versions came up from time to time and I figured the plastic would just disintegrate after the third use. Might have to pick up a set for the road trip toolkit.
Intermediate Driver

There are those who scrimp on tools and that's sad. There are those of us who rarely can walk away from a new tool and that may be sadder. I have an old Pontiac (SAE), Yamaha and BMW motorcycles (Metric), and Norton and AJS motorcycles (Whitworth). I wonder if the variety of vehicles was partially motivated by the need for three sets of tools!

You Whitworth folks are a different breed. I'll admit I stay away from those bikes (for now at least!)

If I'm not mistaken Whitworth predates sae. And part of it makes sense. For a 1/2' nut pick up a 1/2' wrench. etc. What could be simpler

And then there's British Standard...BS!
Advanced Driver

All sockets and most tools are made of STEEL. The chromium, molybdenum, vanadium and other stuff is merely the alloy material that fine tunes the tools' steel properties such as strength and crack resistance.

For years I owned a 1/2" air impact gun and exactly one impact socket. The good old double ended tire socket that has served me well for almost 35 years and just recently met my new battery powered impact gun, the fifth impact gun it has known. I honestly went through three air guns, and one 110 volt gun that I quickly returned, and now an 18V battery (Ryobi) gun. One of my air guns died of neglect, one of theft, and the last to attrition. All I ever used them for was changing tires because that is the only job I wanted to haul out a compressor for. I have had that battery gun for about two years and I barely touched it for the first six months I owned it until I got two sets of impact sockets (Metric and imperil) and an extension because I was installing a porch swing. Now that tool is in my hand about once a month, and in the last three weeks I used it five times.

My advice is this, if you are going to invest in impact sockets you should also invest in an impact driver that is easy to use so that you get a lot of use out of those sockets.

Excellent article! I too have both sets of sockets in both standard and metric (the affliction of owning a small fleet of antiques and a modern car for the wife). I find myself using the impact sockets much more often than my chrome ones, and never could justify why. They just seemed to bite better, even on hand tools.

For what its worth, I purchased the metric and SAE sets of 1/2" drive deep-well and standard impact sockets from MATCO and the wall thickness is very similar to a chrome socket. I rarely have clearance issues unless I'm trying to use the 8mm deep-well impact socket with a 1/2" shank (not the sockets fault). The set was not cheap at all though, all in I think it was $2-300 per set (standard and metric sold separately) but hugely worth it. Lifetime replacement warranty for any reason, and never broken one, even putting 200 pounds of torque on them.
Intermediate Driver

Aside from cracking, using chrome plated standard sockets with an impact driver can cause the plating to split and/or flake off. This is not only unsightly, the layer of nickel & chrome left partially attached can have a razor sharp edge.

Many higher-end wheels need to be hand torqued - BMW for example....
Intermediate Driver

I can't speak to higher end wheels, but my lowly Hondas, Minis, Toyotas, et al have always been hand-torqued so that my rotors don't warp. Or that's the theory I've always operated on...
Hagerty Fan
Not applicable


If this is partly in reply to my post…yeah. Figured that could be left unsaid. And they don’t need to be “higher-end” wheels. Wheels that are just expensive…BMW for example, should be torqued properly with a wrench. 

Pit Crew

Interesting points. When I was a Snap-On dealer many years (1978-85) ago I was told that all of their hand iron was made from chrome-moly steel, which I tend to believe. As a tool dealer I saw many broken sockets (and many injuries) from many different brands. I would refer to chrome-vanadium tools as “glass” tools due to the way they broke. Most of the time, when a Snap-On tool broke, it would simply crack along a line, but remain intact. CV tools would frequently fracture into multiple pieces, which made them shrapnel generators when used on impact tools. How the tool was heat treated also made a great difference. There used to be a great film from Snap-On that showed how their combination wrenches were heat-treated differently on open and box ends. It showed workers flipping the wrenches over in tubs of salt so they could be put back in the heat-treat ovens to treat the opposite end to a different spec.

A couple of other points. Chroming steel can cause a problem called hydrogen embrittlement which also can cause fracturing in steel if not dealt with properly. I suspect some of the cheap, “shiny chrome” tools I’ve seen over the years suffer from this problem. One more thing - look closely at the pictures of the socket ends in this article. You’ll notice that the corners of the sockets are radiused and are not sharp angles. Snap-On used to hold the patent on this broaching process, and it was called flank drive. When the patent expired, most tool makers copied it for their sockets, wrenches, etc. I owned a jet boat for many years that I named “Flank Drive.” I had a traveling artist paint it on the stern with the end of a socket showing the corner radii and the Snap-On logo in red. It’s still plying the waters of Lake Havasu, albeit with a new owner.


About 20 years ago I began shedding all of my 12-point sockets. I don't even know why they make them.
Advanced Driver

The only reason I can think of is to possible give you a smaller angle of adjustment to get the ratchet into the socket and on the bolt.
Pit Crew

12 point sockets fit square head nuts and bolts.


True that - and I surely found a few of those when disassembling my Model A!


The greatest issue most people suffer is they know tools but they don’t always know the variations to know how or where to use the right tool.

Using the wrong socket is like using a ratchet as a hammer. It might work but it’s still not the right tool.

A trick to working efficient and properly is to know not just the tools but the subset of tools.

Like with most DIY'rs, the tools you should buy are the tools you will need.  If you cut down trees, buy a good chainsaw.  If you make cupboard doors, get a decent table saw.  Chainsaws and table saws have specific uses and are not interchangeable.  If you tinker with watches, you sure as heck don't need a 1/2" impact gun and impact sockets.  But since this is a forum mainly aimed at automotive maintenance, repair, restoration, and alteration, I would implore you to get impact sockets for those jobs that they are best suited for.  Taking off your valve covers?  Not needed.  Breaking apart a crusty old third member from your '58 Chevy?  Use CV 12-point sockets at your own peril, 'cause you are gonna break one sooner or later.  So your level of involvement in working on your vehicle should dictate the tools you have in your kit.  Get the right tools for the job, and you'll never be sorry.  Try to "make do", and you'll be sorry all the time...

Intermediate Driver

For wheels with tight lug nut pockets, consider the spline style lug nuts that are popular with the tuner crowd. They look good, are small in diameter, and use special small diameter sockets. They even provide a little theft resistance, since wheel thieves are less likely to be carrying a spline socket. Just be sure to keep an extra socket in the car for roadside wheel changes. That can also be a hassle saver if you should take the car to a shop that doesn't have a spline socket!
Intermediate Driver

Impact socket are six point & heat treat hardness is less. Your two pictures of the sockets together showing the hex very nicely shows the reliefs in the corners that grab on the flat & not on the corners, like all newer sockets sold today (just different reliefs for patent purposes).