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Impact vs. Regular Sockets: What’s The Difference?

A set of deep metric sockets. Not all sockets are created equally. Impact sockets are different from regular sockets. Here are the differences and times when you should use one over the other.

When considering impact vs. regular sockets, you might be wondering why there’s a price difference between the two. After all, aren’t they doing the same job? The answer to that question is, of course, “yes” — but it’s how they get the task done that accounts not just for the extra cash associated with impact units, but also their different construction.

What Is an Impact Tool?

A quick primer on how impact tools work. Rather than using human strength to turn a socket, they instead feature a set of small hammers that strike against an anvil in order to turn it — hence the term “impact.” The hammers are themselves powered by either air or electricity, and slam into the anvil at a high rate of speed, providing a significant mechanical advantage when trying to turn a bolt.

Consider then that impact vs. regular sockets have to deal with varying levels of force when in use. The repeated impacts of the hammers, combined with the torque applied to the socket, requires a different approach in constructing the tool itself.

Very Metal

Impact sockets

Some of the key differences between impact vs. regular sockets are directly linked to the former’s need for additional strength. First and foremost is the metals that are used. Rather than a chrome vanadium finish as found on most hand sockets, impact units are made out of chrome molybdenum, which is then carbonized, giving them a flat black look.

Molybdenum as a metal is more capable of absorbing vibration than vanadium, which is prone to cracking and splitting when repeatedly slammed by an impact driver’s hammers. The carbonized metal also helps improve the overall strength of the metal itself.

You’ll also find a locking pin inside most impact sockets to keep it from vibrating off of the tool while it’s in use.

Choose Wisely

Can you use impact sockets with hand tools? Definitely, although you’ll notice that they are heavier than standard sockets and may be too thick at the borders to fit into tighter spots. Can you use regular sockets with an impact gun? You can, but you’re running the risk of shortening the life of the socket due to the vibration and stress associated with the driver.

Pick the right tool for the job each and every time, and you’ll run into far fewer problems while working on your projects.

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

Image courtesy of Creative Commons.


Benjamin Hunting View All

Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time.  I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

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