Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2014   by Jim Anderton, Technical Editor

Tool Review

Milwaukee M 18 FUEL cordless impact wrenches

In the building and fabrication trades, there’s no doubt about it: cordless power tools are the future. In automotive repair, however, the-fixed base nature of the work, combined with ready access to compressed air has made pneumatics the power source of choice for driving and removing nuts and bolts. Wisconsin-based Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation, well-known in the building and construction trades, aims to change this with a new line of cordless tools designed with the repair trade in mind. SSGM tested two examples of Milwaukee’s new cordless philosophy, both marketed under the M18 FUEL brand. We tested the 2763–22 half-inch high torque impact wrench, and the 2655B–20 half-inch compact impact wrench kit, in real world conditions.

The big boy of the pair is the 2763–22, which offers up to 700 foot-pounds of tightening torque and up to 1100 foot-pounds in reverse, powered by Milwaukee’s 18 volt red lithium XC 4.0 battery pack. The unit uses a brushless motor and an electronic control unit to avoid overload damage and increase battery life. At nine inches in length and 7.2 pounds in weight, it has the look and feel of a pneumatic impact wrench and has similar balance, neutral to slightly nose heavy. The tool features two modes, with 0-to-450 or 0-to-2300 impacts per minute, selected by pushbuttons in the handle. The handle and motor housing are resin, but the business end of the wrench, the snout and front third of the anvil housing, is die cast metal fastened by beefy screws. It has the look and feel of pro equipment and operates that way. We tested the unit mainly at its higher mode two setting and used it almost continuously for three hours with plenty of battery life left in the 18-volt pack.

The unit ships in a suitcase-like blow molded resin case, including a charging stand and spare battery. The stand charges both Milwaukee’s 18-volt and 12-volt M-series battery packs and is intelligent, meaning there’s no risk of overcharging. The charger can be wall or bench mounted. There is a convenient LED spotlight mounted below the snout, and usefully the unit sits upright on the flat bottom of the battery pack, making it easy to reach during under car work.

The little brother of the “–22” is the 2655B–20 compact impact wrench. The smaller unit also uses a brushless motor and intelligent motor control and uses the same 18 volt lithium battery pack as the big unit. It’s significantly smaller and lighter, with three operating modes offering 80, 120, and 210 foot-pounds of torque, also selectable on the tool handle. The 2655B also features the LED spotlight and includes a belt clip for gunslinger style carriage, although it’s light enough at 2.4 pounds to simply carry in your hand. This unit retains sockets with a ball détente, unlike the friction ring of its big brother, but in our tests using both Milwaukee’s Shockwave thin-walled impact sockets and thicker off-brand tools, retention was excellent and didn’t require undue force to either mount or remove sockets.

Which one is best for automotive use? It depends. To fully replace conventional pneumatic impact guns, the big 2763–22 matches air tool performance at acceptable weight and battery life. For heavier chassis and under car work, it’s quieter, and works anywhere under the lift without snagging or tangling of hoses. Power is not an issue, as we blew off corroded idler arm and ball joint nuts without difficulty. While the smaller 2655B–21 isn’t suited to those big jobs, its tiny head makes it perfect for under hood work like manifolds and heads. Although Milwaukee makes the smaller impact gun in both hex and 3/8 inch drive models, we liked the ability to use half-inch sockets on a lightweight tool; the fewer trips back to the box, the better.

Incidentally, both units operate at temperatures as low as -18 Celsius, a feature we tested with an emergency outdoor battery swap during Toronto’s recent cold snap. Units work in the cold as advertised, although the chargers need time to warm the battery packs at very cold temperatures before the charging cycle will begin. Best to keep the chargers near the bench. Is this the beginning of the end for pneumatic impact tools? That remains to be seen, but for everyday work under hood or under car, both Milwaukee cordless guns deliver.

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