Flex head ratchets are really the best way to reach those annoying nuts or bolts that a traditional ratchet won’t work on. Oftentimes a flex head ratchet will save you a ton of time that you would otherwise spend searching for the right combination of extensions to use your normal ratchet. There is a reason they are one many mechanics must-have and first-to-reach-for-ratchets in the toolbox. While I used to always hate flex head ratchets because they would be way too floppy and hard to control, with the invention of locking flex head ratchets it completely eliminates that problem.
What is the difference between a flex head ratchet and a regular ratchet? Quite simply the ratchet head can pivot up and down meaning you can move the ratchet handle out of the way so you can loosen or tighten in tons of weird spots.
When I was researching the best flex head ratchets for the money, it is important to consider the drive size you need. Make sure to get the correct ratchet for the correct size sockets you will be using. A 3/8-inch drive ratchet is the most commonly used for automotive repair purposes, but many people also have matching socket sets and ratchets in 1/4″ and 1/2″. They each serve their own purpose for auto repair, however, if you are just looking for the most common ratchet size grab the 3/8″ (assuming you are working as a mechanic).
GearWrench 81230P 120XP Full Polish Flex Teardrop Ratchet Set
Using an amazing 120 tooth design, allowing the ratchets to have a 3-degree turning arc the Gearwrench 120xp Flexhead ratchets are some of the best bang for your buck around. They give you an awesome 120 positions so that you can start any fastener even in the tightest of spaces. Plus, they come with locking flex heads and in a full set (1/2,1/4 and 3/8″ ratchets included) where you can buy all four for less than it would cost to get a single similar Snap-On ratchet.
The Gearwrench 81230P set also works awesome for small spaces, as the ratchet head is super thin yet durable. It doesn’t hurt that Apex tools (which owns Gearwrench) also offers a lifetime warranty. The ratchets also exceed ANSI specifications and can be used in heavy-duty industrial applications. Lucky for you, they also make a great addition to the DIYer or home garage mechanic, because of their low price and ease of use.
The other beauty of the Gearwrench 120xp flex head ratchets is that they have a locking flex head, which means you can choose to use it as a regular ratchet or any one of its 9 lockable positions. All of the 120xp flex head ratchets can pivot as much as 90 degrees to reach even the toughest spots.
The only drawbacks to the 120xp flex head ratchet is that occasionally the dual pawl system may bind up. All it takes is reversing the direction and applying some torque. People sometimes also report the full polish finish may sometimes come with some minor imperfections. Just contact APEX tools if that happens to you, and send your ratchet in for replacement.
Professional mechanics LOVE the Gearwrench 120XP Locking flex head ratchet set, here is an awesome price on the FULL set on Amazon.
If you just want to buy one ratchet from the set at a time grab the 1/4″ here, 3/8″ here, or the 1/2″ flex head on Amazon individually. Not as amazing as a price, but still all of these ratchets are individually less than $50 and way cheaper than the competitors.
Locking Vs. Non-Locking Flex Heads:
There are a couple of important features to look for when buying flex head ratchets. The first one is that they are built sturdy and come with a lifetime warranty from a reputable brand.
A lifetime warranty is worth nothing if the company goes out of business the next week. Or, if there warranty process takes three months for them to get back to you, it is next to worthless. Stick to a reputable brand that will be arounda whilewhile.
Next, make sure you think about whether you want a loose flex head ratchet or a locking flex head ratchet. There is a big difference between the two, and I personally can’t stand using loose flex head ratchets. They tend to flop around while you are using them, and while they may offer more flexibility than locking flex head ratchets, for me, that rarely is an issue.
Locking flex head ratchets like the Gearwrench 120xp locking flex head set, allow you to lock the ratchet head to whatever setting you need. It then stays in place while you are using it and does not flop around all willy nilly. For me, they are miles ahead of the non-locking flex heads you find from other manufacturers.
Pro tip: On some non-locking flex head ratchets you can actually increase the tension so they don’t flop around everywhere. To do this, simply tighten the bolt that goes through where the ratchet head meets the handle. However, if the flex head ratchet is held in with a pin, you will not be able to tighten it. To read more about peoples dislike of floppy flex head ratchets check out this post here.
Crescent CRW10 3/8″ Drive Flex Head Ratchet
These are the cheaper relatives to the Gearwrench 120xp set. You can buy this Crescent CRW10 ratchet, for less than $30.
Are they as good as the Gearwrench flex head ratchets? No.
Why not? The Crescent CRW10 VS. the Gearwrench 120xp have only have 72 teeth vs the Gearwrench’s 120 teeth meaning more arc between ratchet clicks and less able to fit them into tight spaces. People do really like them, and they have plenty of great reviews, but they are not nearly as new and professional as the Gearwrench set. Click to read the reviews on Amazon.
J.H. Williams S-52EHFA 1/2″ Chrome Finish Flex Head Ratchet
This 1/2″ flex head ratchet is basically an exact copy of the Snap-On 936 model. These are an old-school style ratchet with very coarse gearing on the ratchet head, only 36 teeth to be exact.
The biggest drawbacks when you are comparing it to the
Gearwrench 120xp flex head? These ratchets only have 36 teeth, meaning you only have 36 positions on the ratchet compared to 120 on the Gearwrench ratchet.
This is more of the old school ratchet style which was to never have finely toothed ratchets. That is why this ratchet is a runner-up, despite it being really high-quality, a sealed head, and made in the USA it just doesn’t have the new technology.
Stick with a fine-toothed locking flex head ratchet for the best enjoyment and ease of use. The reason you buy a flex head ratchet is so that you can reach all those hard to get to nuts and bolts. Therefore, if you are buying a flex head ratchet that isn’t finely toothed you are shooting yourself in the foot.
If you still aren’t convinced the Gearwrench 120xp ratchets are a good buy, read my more in-depth review and breakdown here. Plus, Gearwrench has an older 84 toothed model that is a little cheaper, but still awesome and durable.
Just remember, if you’re buying flex head ratchets if you’re like me stay away from the non-locking flex head style. To me, they always end up flopping around and being more annoying than useful.
Check out my list of the top ten cool automotive repair tools that exist in 2019. Do you own any of these?