Pros: Inexpensive; easy to use
Cons: Heavy and noisy, but they all are
If you have an air compressor that's big enough (at least 3 hp and 10 gallons) and like to work on cars, a pneumatic impact wrench is a real back saver. I bought a Campbell Hausfeld air compressor (5 hp and 13 gallons) at Wal-mart a couple of years ago and it came with several pneumatic tools, including the Campbell Hausfeld TL1002. The company lists the price of this tool at a modest $33, but you can probably buy it over-the-counter for $30 or even less.
The Campbell Hausfeld TL1002 is a standard 1/2-inch drive impact wrench that can provide up to 250 ft-lbs of torque. This is more than enough to provide the twisting force necessary to remove lug nuts from most cars and it is often enough to loosen nuts that are rusted onto bolts, such as the nuts holding on a car's exhaust manifold. (I'm speaking from experience here!)
The tool is shaped like every other 1/2-inch impact wrench, looking like a metal Black and Decker drill on steroids. The body of the TL1002 is made from a non-rusting metal alloy and there is a trigger to activate the tool.
Just above the trigger is a button that you push to place the TL1002 into either forward or reverse, pretty much like any other impact wrench. At the base of the handgrip is a rotary knob with four torque settings, labeled 1 through 4. Setting number 4 provides the most torque. The air fitting is also in the base of the handgrip and the tool requires at least 90 psi.
Around the body is an inch-wide rubber band that acts as a bumper when you drop the tool on a hard surface, such as the concrete floor of your garage. You won't want to drop something this heavy on your foot.
Campbell Hausfeld describes the TL1002 as a "rocking-dog" impact wrench. I'm not exactly sure what that means but it sounds like I should have to throw a bucket of water on it!
The TL1002 works with any 1/2-inch drive socket but you should use only sockets that are rated for impact use. The normal over-the-counter Craftsman socket, good though it might be, will eventually break if used with an impact wrench. (Again, I'm speaking from experience.) Since the TL1002 is just an occasional tool for me, I bought a cheap imported set of impact sockets to use with it.
I use my good quality 1/2-inch drive extensions with the Campbell Hausfeld TL1002 and they work fine so far.
All impact wrenches are heavy and the TL1002 is right up there with them. The tool has to have mass to absorb the shock of the impact process. On the positive side, it works so quickly that you usually don't have to hold it for long.
The really cool thing about the Campbell Hausfeld TL1002 is that you can jack a car's wheel up and zip off the lug nuts with the wheel dangling in the air, just like the guys down at the local tire shop. The wheel does not have to be firmly on the floor when you use an impact wrench, and it will zip off the typical lug nut in just a couple of seconds. Way cool!
Really... is there anything more appropriately masculine feeling than zipping off lug nuts with your very own impact wrench? Every guy should have this Tim-the-Toolman moment.
When you put the lug nuts back on, you should always snug them down with your fingers before you apply the Campbell Hausfeld TL1002 or any impact wrench. This will eliminate the possibility of cross-threading the nut. And set the TL1002 for the appropriate tightening torque when you re-install your wheels... setting number 4 may be too tight and could warp your brake disks.
The TL1002 works smoothly and reliably for the occasional use I give it. The forward-reverse switch is easy to use and the tool provides a lot of twisting force without transmitting it to your hands. It does make some noise, so you may want to think about ear protection. Just make sure that your garage door is open so that your neighbors are suitably impressed with the sound of your tool collection.
The Campbell Hausfeld TL1002 has a little oiling hole on its side and the simple manual does describe some maintenance, but at $30 the tool is essentially disposable. I've had mine for four years without any problems and expect that it will last for several more at the rate I use it. If you are a professional mechanic, you will want the greater power and longer life of a professional-level tool -- at a professional-level price, of course.
If you are a homeowner and car hobbyist like me, tossing out your broken impact wrench in seven years and getting a new $30 unit is no big deal... we all like to handle new tools, anyway.
The Campbell Hausfeld TL1002 is a decent, but ultimately disposable, 1/2-inch impact wrench suitable for occasional car and other heavy maintenance projects. It is not as powerful as more expensive brands but it usually gets the job done.
Updated 12/2/04 with length of ownership.