by Tannon Weber
Sometimes modern automobiles offer problems to those who service them. Among these problems are inaccessible or difficult to access fasteners, and while sometimes one can fudge them to make them work, other times one is working on something particularly important, like a cam timing gear, and excessive fudging could lead to a devastating result.
Different tools have been created over the years, like crow's foot wrenches, s-curved combination wrenches, and ratcheting wrenches, and in the last several years a new type of tool has appeared, called the Passthrough Ratchet, the Go-thru ratchet, or the through ratchet.
These tools use a socket driver and sockets, like a conventional square-drive ratchet system, but have a lower profile and the ability to run nuts down threaded rods. On the downside, they require special sockets to operate, and are incompatible with one's existing system. Additionally, no one markets a torque wrench at a practical cost for the average hobbyist or even the professional mechanic.
Several companies make Through Ratchets, or are planning to market such as of this article. Sears is preparing to release their Max Axess line, Gear Wrench has the XL line, and even Snap-On (Sears' supplier for Craftsman sockets) has as set. The trouble is, there's no indication that any of these medium-market or high-market sets will ever have a torque wrench. Armstrong Tools had an Eliminator passthrough torque wrench, but it appears now to be discontinued. Since one of these companies could someday introduce a torque wrench, for me it made sense to not pick any of them until I could choose correctly. Which brings us to Harbor Freight.
The much-maligned Harbor Freight Tools sells a small Passthrough Ratchet kit, part number 67974. Not all stores stock it, I had to go to a second store to get one. I decided to buy theirs because it was $25 on sale (normally $35 — pricing from April 2012) and if another company introduces a torque wrench, I wouldn't feel too bad about wasting $25 now.
Other companies appear to be selling the same 21 piece kit with different branding on it, so if you encounter a similar set from Boxer or Delco, check to make sure that it's not this same set before you pay too much.
The kit is fairly straightforward. It comes with the driver, essentially a glorified 12pt 3/4" or 19mm reversible ratcheting box wrench with a thick handle, eight fractional sockets ranging from 5/16" through 3/4", ten metric sockets from 10mm through 19mm, a special extension bar, and an adapter to allow for the use of 3/8" drive sockets and 1/4" bits. There's also a blow-molded case to store everything.
First, the ratchet. As mentioned, it's essentially a reversible ratcheting box wrench, twelve point, with an offset handle. It doesn't feel as well-made as Gearwrench or Craftsman ratcheting combination wrenches, but it feels adequate. It's smoother than old-school Craftsman conventional raised panel ratchets, but not quite as solid feeling. The offset handle is interesting, but I don't know if it'll actually be advantageous or not, as there are circumstances when a flat ratchet would work better. Given the drive is just a twelve point 3/4" or 19mm pattern, one could probably just use one's existing flat ratcheting combination wrench from another brand if needed.
I was disappointed with the rubberized insert in the handle of the ratchet, as it weakens the tool and also reduces the possibilities for one who modifies tools by grinding bits off. One can't grind the end of the ratchet to accept a conventional end wrench to extend the length of the tool that way, and would instead have to use a pipe.
The sockets are a little odd in that they're neither twelve point where they meet the ratchet nor twelve point where they meet the bolt head, strange considering the ratchet. The sockets do seem sized appropriately relative to the ratchet (sizes not too large or too small).
The sockets have retainer balls to hold them into the ratchet, but the spring is a little different in that it's a ring running around the inside of the socket. I don't know how well it'll wear- I've had other Harbor Freight tools that came apart and lost the retainer ball.
The sockets are labeled with painted or otherwise surface-applied markings. The metrics are labeled in blue, the fractionals in red. The paint was already starting to flake on some of the sockets as I inspected them in the packaging. There is no alternate laser-engraved or stamped size information. Down the road I can see this becoming a problem.
When ready to use, the Passthrough Ratchet is much lower profile than conventional ratchets and sockets. I compared them to both Craftsman 44811 and to a knockoff Powerbuilt from an autoparts store- the Passthrough set is about 40% lower profile than the Craftsman, and more than 50% lower profile than the Powerbuilt, given the reversing mechanism.
I did not need to use the ratchet today, but I did see how well it fit where I had trouble- tightening the cam gear retaining bolts on the 2.4L engine in the '97 Dodge Stratus. When I had tightened these before I had to use a conventional box wrench. It took a long time. This tool fits on the 18mm bolt heads quite well by comparison, and would probably be adequate for at least the latter part of this job.
The ratchet is essentially the same length as the Craftsman 44808 ratchet- the longer of the two Craftsman 3/8" raised panel ratchets in the picture. One could reasonably expect to put about the same amount of force on it as one could on a longish mid-length ratchet. It should be adequate for use in tight spots where a fairly significant amount of force is necessary to secure the fastener.
The extension bar works in reverse compared to a conventional square-drive, in that the male end goes into the ratchet and the female end accepts the socket. It could probably also work as a 19mm or 3/4" socket in a pinch. The converter to conventional 3/8" drive is almost useless, as it slides into the ratchet from above, not below, and putting any downward force on the ratchet will disengage it from the adapter. Reversed for the hex-drive bits would probably work fine.
There certainly are some rather significant flaws with this kit- the labeling, the ill-considered 3/8" adapter, the odd mix of six and twelve point, but the price isn't too bad. If I were designing this fairly specialized but cheap set I would have probably labeled one socket for both 3/4" and 19mm, and possibly one for both 7/16" and 11mm, as the tolerances are low enough that this wouldn't have mattered. Instead I would have included one more size in each of fractional and metric, probably 13/16" and 20mm. I also would have stamped the size into the metal in addition to painting it on, and I probably would have put the color ring into a groove to reduce the wear that it will see.
In summary, I think that with its flaws, it's a good set at $25 (on sale), and might even be a good deal at $35. If Sears or another company ever gets a torque wrench for their Passthrough system then that would be the way to go, but for the casual hobbyist mechanic this set should meet most of one's needs at a good price.
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