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Impact Driver vs Drill: What’s the Difference?

Close-up of a red impact driver and a yellow drill

Picking the right tool for the job can make all the difference. No garage is complete without a wide selection, but power tools are arguably the most exciting to use. A few of them can seem similar, so knowing what makes them different can help you decide what you need to invest in. For instance, when it comes to an impact driver vs drill, do you need both? What’s the difference?

Drilling Down

Impact Driver vs Drill: What's the Difference?Drills use an adjustable, self-centering chuck to tighten down on drill bits of different sizes, tips compatible with fasteners, such as Phillips heads, flatheads, etc., or other attachments. Once the desired bit is in place, a drill spins it at adjustable speeds. The user needs to bear down a bit to drill through the targeted surface or drive in a fastener. It can drill holes of varying sizes or use different bits with attachments of all sorts, which makes it a very versatile tool.

Drills are an all-around great tool for anyone who dabbles in fixing things, but they’re missing the torque of an impact driver. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with drills, per se, it’s just that impact drivers are better at some jobs.

This Is Not a Drill

Impact drivers may seem similar on paper, but you’ll notice a few differences right away once you get your hands on one. For instance, they don’t have an adjustable chuck; they have a quick-connect collet that accepts quarter-inch hex shanks. This allows you to quickly connect and disconnect different bits, but they must all match the quarter-inch hex base. Another difference is that an impact driver’s rotational speed is not adjustable outside of how hard you press the variable speed trigger. They’re also louder because impact drivers have a little extra oomph in addition to that rotation: concussive action. As the driver spins the bit, a small internal hammer strikes an anvil that drives the bit forward as it rotates.

Better Together

In the battle of impact driver vs drill, neither tool is better than the other, as both are super helpful. Drills excel at projects requiring precision, such as drilling a pilot hole. Their internal clutches give you better control of torque and allow for smooth drilling without going in too far. They can also work with a variety of attachments.

Impact drivers are better suited for getting through hard materials, moving difficult or stuck fasteners and screwing things in quickly. You don’t have to apply as much pressure when using an impact driver because the tool does that for you, allowing you to focus more on alignment. And because their torque is directed at the collet, they’re easier on your wrists, too, which makes kickback less likely and less intense.

If you can swing it, it’s great to have both. Whether you’re at the DIY level or you have your own shop, you’ll find yourself using them frequently. Just make sure you’re using them to the best of their unique abilities.

Check out all the power tools available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on impact drivers and drills, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photos courtesy of Blair Lampe.


Blair Lampe View All

Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter.  In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.

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