10 Tools You Should Think Twice About Buying From Harbor Freight - SlashGear (2024)


ByRuss Good/

Here at SlashGear, we've got a soft spot for Harbor Freight. The discount tool retailer has inspired a number of our articles, and for good reason: While Harbor Freight sells many budget-friendly tools,the quality of the majority of its products is surprisingly high. Impact wrenches, battery-powered tools, and mechanic's tools are all on shelves and online, available for a fraction of the cost of some of the bigger name brands.

However, it's not all puppy dogs and ice cream. While there are many underrated Harbor Freight tools, a number simply don't hold up under any kind of scrutiny, whether that's in a professional setting or just at home after a run to the tool store. If we're going to be so quick to highlight Harbor Freight's must-have tools, we should also point out the ones you might want to think twice about before purchasing.

Reviews on Harbor Freight's own site appear good for many of the products we've listed. However, a quick browse proves that reviews on literally every product are above three stars, implying either a wide discrepancy between HF's reviewers and the internet at large, or (more likely) a bit of gaming the system. Either way, the tools we're listing today are less than reliable, as evidenced by YouTube videos, Reddit discussions, and the author's personal experience with every item on this list.

Detail brush set

Who could possibly complain about a set of three detail brushes that sells for under three bucks, right? There are four ways these three tools commonly fail. The brittle plastic handles have been known to snap or crumble right after opening the packaging. The bristles on all three brushes seem to be attached by the weakest adhesive known to man, falling out after only a few uses. The brass bristles are too thin to provide any real abrasion, and the steel bristles somehow feel even thinner than the brass ones.

Using any of these for cleaning often results in gunk becoming trapped between the bristles, making them best used as a disposable tool, but even going in with a single-use mindset, these brushes often leave the user without a tool part way through the job. The hanging holes are toosmall for pegboards, and they seem to make the ends of the handles even more prone to breaking.

All in all, while the small size might make these brushes seem ideal for detail work oreasily cleaning off car battery terminal ends, their poor quality makes them so frustrating to use that one is better off spending a little more for a better product — even if that just means walking a little further down the aisle at Harbor Freight.

Pittsburgh Automotive Multi-Use Transfer Pump

A transfer pump is an incredibly useful tool, able to move fluids from one place to another. In the automotive repair field, it can save a ton of time and mess, allowing users to pump GL-5 from a bottle directly into a differential's fill port or remove the coolant a customer accidentally poured into the windshield washer fluid reservoir.

In theory, the Pittsburgh Automotive Multi-Use Transfer Pump is available to accomplish those tasks and more. In practice, it's a collection of bad design choices. The hoses are far too stiff, too short to reach a container on the ground when under a lifted vehicle, and they tend to explode off the pump during use, especially when thicker liquids like differential fluid are being transferred. The pump is made of cheap plastic. The manual pump handle can pop off the body of the unit. And when the unit is in use and manages to not fall apart, there is nearly always a seam that springs a leak.

While it seems affordable, selling for under 10 bucks, the need to invest double that amount in paper towels to clean up after the pump explodes more than negates those savings.

Pittsburgh ½-inch Drive Star Bit Socket Set

Patented in 1971, the Torx screw was designed for security and ease of use. While the security feature has largely been phased out as Torx drivers have become more widely available, the star-shaped design continues to be one of the better fasteners, holding a driver in place better than a slotted or Phillips-head screw. The design also discourages over-tightening, making it popular for applications in electronics and low-torque automotive fastening.

Unfortunately, star bits (Torx is the trademarked name of a star bit like Kleenex is to tissues) are notoriously delicate, and the Pittsburgh ½-inch Drive Star Bit Socket Set doesn't do anything to change that reputation. If the bits aren't rounding off screws, they're snapping off from the socket itself because of their hollow cores. The bits are also notorious for simply sliding out of their sockets, often leaving the user in a bind that requires a small six-point socket to complete the tightening or removal of a bolt.

The set itself also has its drawbacks. It's missing a T47, useful for some GM vehicles. The plastic rail these sockets are sold on is also tough to get the sockets off of, practically requiring the purchase of a better quality storage solution, be that another rail or a tray. And, when the large amount of torque a ½-inch ratchet will apply to a little T25 becomes clear, it becomes a must to buy smaller star bit sets to avoid rounding out bolts or sockets.

Pittsburgh Curved Jaw Locking Pliers Set

Good locking pliers are vital in any toolbox. They're versatile and help with a number of random tasks, often providing a solid grip on objects that are difficult to grasp in a conventional tool or vise. However, they're also an inherently disposable product — eventually, parts in these tools break or become damaged, requiring replacement. Unfortunately, some sets of locking pliers depreciate much faster than others.

The pliers in the Pittsburgh Curved Jaw Locking Pliers Set have two major complaints against them. The locking mechanism fails, allowing whatever is being held by the tool to move or fall — usually at the worst possible time, like when heat is being applied, or a cutting wheel is being used. The toothed metal jaws frequently smooth out as well, allowing pipes or bolts to spin in the grip of these pliers. And once rounded out, the viability of these locking pliers is negligible; one is better off returning the set for a refund, if possible, or just spending more money on a better set from a more trustworthy toolmaker.

Merlin ⅜-inch x 25-foot PVC Air Hose

An air hose seems like an easy enough tool to manufacture at a low cost. Produce a durable hose, attach brass fittings to either end, bag it up, and sell it for profit. And yet, here we are, listing the Merlin ⅜-inch x 25-foot PVC Air Hose. What, one might wonder, could a company do to make a hose a bad purchase?

For one thing, the packaging keeps the hose coiled, and even after months of use that coil remains intact, limiting movement and increasing the risk of tripping over it despite its obnoxious color. The hose itself is also notoriously stiff, with many reviewers claiming to have left their air hoses in the sun for a full day with no improvements to flexibility, or reduction in kinks or coils. Connections require Teflon tape (not included or suggested on the packaging) to minimize leakage and they have been known to pop off during use when connected to an air compressor.

The kink-proof collar at the ends of the hose slips out of place after only a few uses, and despite an advertised temperature range of -5 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, many users complain of cracks and leaks if the hose is left outside. Overall, the low price of this hose reflects its quality, and it's simply not worth the headache you avoid by spending a few more bucks on a better air hose.

Pittsburgh Automotive Mechanics Roller Seat

Low to the ground, easy on the knees, and often with onboard storage, a little mechanic's stool or seat with wheels to zip around the shop is a cheap must-have addition to any gearhead's setup.However, when one starts to shop around for the right work seat, some good-looking chairs don't hold up to real-life use. Harbor Freight carries a number of different styles of mechanics seats, and somehow the worst one isn't even the cheapest option.

The Pittsburgh Automotive Mechanics Roller Seat features a plywood seat covered by two inches of the least-cushioning foam ever made, wrapped in thin vinyl that tears at a stern glance. The seat feels cheap, and several online reviews claim that the plastic tray that rests under it to hold small tools shatters quickly, or even comes out of the packaging cracked.

The biggest complaint about this roller seat is the wheels. They aren't pre-installed and require the use of Loc-Tite or similar thread adhesive to keep them in place. Even then, the bolts that hold the casters on don't reliably stay together, and they often tear the threading out when the wheel studs come out of the chair. It's a problem that could likely be avoided by simply installing the wheels prior to shipping, but that fix doesn't seem like a priority to the manufacturer. One is better off choosing any of the other roller seats from Harbor Freight over this poorly designed chair.

Pittsburgh Automotive Waste Oil Storage Container

An oil change is a pretty simple procedure, all things considered. Remove the oil, secure the drain plug, swap out the oil filter, then fill, run, and check the level. Even the tools needed for the procedure are simple. A wrench and something to collect the oil are the bare minimum, but even then, choosing the wrong tool can end up complicating things. Oil collection pans vary in size, capacity, and design, and some newer innovations just prove that the old ways are still best.

The Pittsburgh Automotive Waste Oil Storage Containerhas an interesting design. However, its engineering decisions must have never been tested out. The indent in the main drain collection area is way too shallow, causing splashback and spillage from overflow. The plastic used in the tool's construction is very thin, denting in and even melting if hot oil is drained into the container. The manufacturer claims that the container can store an additional 10 quarts of fluid if it's vertical, but a lack of a solid, flat base on either end makes that impossible — even if it's leaned against something, the weight of the oil against the drain valves is often enough to force a leak.

Harbor Freight offers a regular, reliable oil drain pan for the same price, or you could even upgrade to a handy oil dolly if you're in a shop setting or have access to a lift. Either option is better than this poorly designed storage container.

Pittsburgh Automotive Slide Hammer and Puller Set

Slide hammers are specialty tools often used in the automotive industry for pulling bearings, sleeves, slide bolts, or bushings from their housings. The best versions of the tool come in a kit with different fittings for different applications, allowing the hammer to safely and securely connect to the object it's trying to remove. When it's a decent product, it will have that stubborn wheel bearing out of the steering knuckle and on the workbench after only a few careful (but aggressive) slides.

A smaller hammer like the Pittsburgh Automotive Slide Hammer and Puller Set may seem like a great value, especially given the number of hooks and attachments included. However, for a two-pound slide hammer with dozens of uses on the label, what's most impressive is the number of different ways this tool has failed or angered its users.

The tips, designed to catch things like bearings or seals, are molded in a way that prevents them from properly catching, making them functionally useless. The pins that secure those tips to the main shaft snap off, as do the angled ends of the hooks and jaws. The main handle crossbar also isn't designed to prevent smashing one's hand between the handle and hammer when using the tool. Pinching is also a concern on the adapter end, as one often needs to hold the tips in place to prevent them from rotating off, and there's no stop for the hammer on the far end of the tool.

Pittsburgh Pro Universal Impact Joint Set

Swivels, or impact joints, are a necessity when one is being paid to finish a job quickly. Working around impossible angles to remove a fastener is a part of any technician's job, and using a swivel or two to get that ratchet or impact wrench into a tight spot can save a ton of time compared to removing additional parts simply to access the same fastener. And while they are generally the kind of tool one expects to replace in time, some impact joints are better built than others.

This Pittsburgh Pro Universal Impact Joint Set has failed me personally on a number of occasions, and thankfully the local Harbor Freight store has been very generous in honoring the warranty on these tools several times over. Less-than-precise machining allows sockets to pop off the end of the joint, and the end that keeps the adapter on one's impact ratchet or breaker bar has been known to round out or crack during use. The swivel has a number of ways to fail the technician: It can become immobile due to a tiny amount of grit or sand getting into the ball joint, and the tool is prone to simply snapping in half during use. Complaints on Harbor Freight's product page for this setalso mention that the ⅜-inch adapter shatters on the first use for many customers, either with power or hand tools.

Central Pneumatic Air Impact Hammer

Impact hammers can be a lifesaver in a number of different situations, as their chisels and striking power in small spaces make them perfect for knocking off a fastener head or removing a rusted strut bolt from a steering knuckle. A dependable air hammer, used safely alongside proper PPE, is a must in a mechanic's toolbox, but they can find a place in any DIYer or construction worker's tool kit as well. However, while lucking into a discount air hammer is great, one has to consider the tool's construction and whether it has enough power for the task at hand.

Harbor Freight's Central Pneumatic Air Impact Hammer is only $17, but reviews commonly cite poor construction, a badly designed chisel bore, a cheap plastic trigger that breaks off, and a low power output. Rankings on YouTube frequently put theimpact hammer near the bottom of the bunch, but there's a solution, and it's likely on the same shelf as this tool.

Harbor Freight carries several different air impact hammers, with the Chief Professional Long-Barrel Air Hammer and McGraw Medium Barrel Air Hammer both garnering more positive appraisals than the Central Pneumatic impact hammer. The $20 McGraw is about the same size and price as the Central hammer, and it feels better built and has better reviews. The Chief is more expensive at $140, but also features significant upgrades to both power and reliability, with reviewers not only rating it Harbor Freight's top offering but ranking it alongside several well-known brands as well.


In addition to these tools, we'd be remiss if we didn't call out the "consumables" offered at Harbor Freight. After all, part of the reason so many of us walk out of the store with a full cart and a minimum $100 receipt is the volume of low-priced bits and bobs. Blades, gloves, tape, and more are all very low-priced, but there's a reason for that.

The miles of electrical tape one can get for under five bucks rarely sticks, and often has an oily, gooey residue on the backside from sitting on the shelf for a while. Blades for reciprocating saws and circular saws are often dull or break after only a few uses, while drill bits and cut-off wheels frequently shatter during use. Blue nitrile gloves, popular among mechanics, tear easily regardless of the thickness purchased. And the batteries sold at Harbor Freight are widely regarded as some of the worst available.

While not all of the store's disposable or limited-use products are trash — itszip ties, for example, are very well-regarded — it's important to balance the low price of many of these tools and accessories with their lack of quality.


In preparation for this list, we referenced several online forums, as well as blogs, Reddit threads, and YouTube reviews. The author asked several former co-workers in the automotive and construction fields for suggestions as well. He's also owned every tool on this list — and had them all fail in some way — during a 15-year career as an automotive technician and a lifelong history of DIY projects and home improvement.

It's important to note that there are exceptions to every rule, and this list is no different. For every dozen people online who slammed one of the tools in this article, there always seems to be one that loudly proclaims that they bought the only pair of Pittsburgh locking pliers that have never worn out, or the one Central Pneumatic Air Hammer that actually does what it's intended to do. So while we're not saying buyers necessarily wasted their money if they own any of these tools, we do suggest research and caution.

10 Tools You Should Think Twice About Buying From Harbor Freight - SlashGear (2024)
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