Porter Cable 18V Lithium Ion Impact Driver Review

November 23, 2009 | by Fred (email) |

What makes the impact driver so special? It’s all in the power. While regular drill-drivers deliver an average of 400-600 in. lbs. of torque, the typical impact driver delivers more than 1000 in. lbs. Impact drivers accomplish this using an internal spring-loaded cam and gear mechanism that pulsates and hammers in a circular motion, effectively delivering a shocking blow to the screw or bolt head several thousand times per minute. This differs from their drill-driver counterparts which create continuous in-line torque. Despite the added power, impact drivers deliver virtually no impact to the user, providing the ability to loosen the tightest bolts and drive screws into the most stubborn materials with relative ease.

Porter Cable 18V Lithium-Ion Tools

porter-cable-impact-driver-kitPorter Cable recently entered the market of battery-powered impact drivers with a new 18V Li-Ion high-output version of the tool. PC’s impact driver comes as part of a larger 18V Li-Ion offering that also includes a new-for-2009 drill-driver, circular saw, reciprocating saw, and more. All the tools in the line-up incorporate excellent ergonomics, sport Porter Cable’s new industrial design color scheme (sleek blacks, grays, and reds), and feature relatively compact packaging that makes them easy to store and tote. Just like most competitors’ offerings in this genre, the group shares lightweight 18V lithium-ion batteries.

Porter Cable shipped us a test version of the PCL318IDC-2, a 3 tool kit that includes the impact driver, drill driver, and flashlight. Overall, we’re very impressed with the sturdy, rugged construction and high-quality workmanship evidenced by the set, both from the tools themselves and the simple, compact carrying case. We’ll be sharing our review of each tool separately, and decided to kick-off the series with the 18V impact driver, our favorite in the line-up.

Portal Cable 18V Impact Driver Review

porter-cable-impact-driverAt 3.6 lbs., PC’s impact driver (official site) delivers big power on the job. While comparable models top out at 1200-1400 inch lbs. of force, the Porter Cable impact driver pushes the limit at a walloping 1600 inch lbs. of force2800 blows-per-minute and a 2900 max RPM. The result is the ability to loosen extremely tight bolts–for instance, removing shop-tightened lug nuts from auto wheels– or drive screws into masonry, engineered lumbers, or any other high-friction material.

>> Features Review >>

Variable Speed Motor & Control – The 18V impact driver is powered by a variable speed motor embedded in a heavy duty cold-forged impact block and controlled by a precision trigger. Power delivery is up to 1600 inch lbs. at 2800 blows-per-minute (BPM). We had no trouble pinpointing the desired force level during driving applications by adjusting pressure on the trigger. The motor features electric stop; when the trigger is released, rotation stops instantaneously — a nice feature for precision driving.

1/4 Inch Hex Chuck – Standard 1/4 inch locking hex chuck secures bits in place using a sliding sleeve. The chuck is simple to use and makes bit-swapping easy.

Dimensions – At just 6.5 inches deep, the impact driver fits into tight spots, most notably between 12′ on-center studs where traditional drill-drivers might have trouble fitting. Other dimensions are pretty typical at about 3″ wide and 10″ tall.

Ergonomics – Weight balance is good; the center of gravity when drilling downwards is near the bottom of the trigger, making the tool very easy to control. A rubberized handle and moderate proportions make the tool easy to grip and operate for small and large hands alike. At 3.6 lbs., the tool doesn’t cause instant fatigue, but over time it could become an issue. That said, no competitor offers a similar tool at a substantially lower weight. If you want the power, you should be prepared to handle the weight.

impact-driver-led-lightLED Work Light – One innovative feature PC added to this impact driver is a bright white LED lamp just below the hex chuck. The lamp activates at the slightest pull of the trigger, illuminating the work area directly in front of the tool. In a dark environment (for instance, changing a tire at night), the light is actually very useful. PC gets two thumbs up for this seemingly superfluous feature that turns out to really add value.

Tool Belt Clip & Bit Holder – Both work as expected. We would have liked at least 2 bit holders, and there is space for another in the design, but PC must have figured it unnecessary.

Carrying Case – All three tools in this set fit nicely in the storage tote shown in the picture above. We prefer the semi-soft case to the hard plastic alternative – it’s lighter, easier to transport, and comes with a decent shoulder strap.

Absent Features — Some competitor’s lithium-ion batteries can self-report charge level, a feature absent on the Porter Cable 18V batteries. Other than that, this impact driver has it all, and makes up for any deficiencies with the amazing power delivery (see below).

>> Performance Review >>

Driving Power: For traditional driving applications, the tool performs as expected (…almost all in this genre would, so no biggie). The real story is in the amazing power this driver delivers. The PC really shines when loosening or driving really tough screws and bolts.

We decided to try our hand driving a galvanized 3 inch #14 (1/4 inch wide) flat head wood screw into the side of a 2×4 without pre-drilling, an application that would make typical drill-drivers cry ‘uncle’, and quite honestly leave most impact drivers in the same situation. The real test: could the Porter Cable impact driver countersink the screw head?


The answer is that it can and did fully drive and countersink that screw, albeit with a tremendous amount of racket (as the BPM increases, so does the noise level – you should wear ear protection when operating for extended periods).

And, lest you think the test was rigged, we decided we would try consecutively smaller screws until the impact driver could deliver results. The largest wood screw we could find was the #14, 3 inch screw in our initial test, and the Porter Cable bested it. This is the most powerful cordless impact driver we’ve ever used.

Battery Life & Recharges: Battery life is dependent on the load put on the driver in different applications; we were unable to test overall life, but suspect it is on par with similar 18V models. Porter Cable includes a 30-minute fast charger with the kit, a very nice feature… Unless you’re moving really fast, you should be able to charge one battery while using the other. PC claims their batteries don’t lose much life when shelved for some time, a claim we can believe given our experience with other 18V kits and improved charge-retention technology.

Editor’s update: We found after using this tool for about a year that Porter Cable’s batteries died after about 50 re-charge cycles. We later learned that the batteries are 1.3 amp-hour models, where nearly all competitors are supplying 1.5 amp-hour batteries. You should factor this into your buying decisions.

Comes With?

The three-tool test kit we’re reviewing comes with:

  • 18V Impact Driver
  • 18V Drill-Driver
  • 18V Flashlight
  • Two (2), 18V Lithium-Ion Batteries
  • 30-Minute Fast Charger
  • Storage / Carrying Case

Price & Where to Buy

Porter Cable products are available at Home Depot, Lowes, ToolKing, and many other retailers.  If purchasing at Home Depot, check our Home Depot Coupons page for common coupons available for THD.

The 18V Impact Driver Retails by itself (no battery, or charger) for $70-$80.

For the complete three tool kit (drill driver, impact driver, and flashlight), expect to pay $240-$250.

16 Responses
  1. Keith says:

    I have and use a corded impact driver for driving lag bolts when building decks, I haven’t ever used a cordless impact, but would certainly like to try one for smaller applications. Nice review…

  2. john says:

    Absolutely love it for sure the most powerful one i have ever used.
    dewalt,hitachi,makita cannot touch it.

  3. joe says:

    I was a little bothered by the batteries that were supplied with the kit. I forget what the specs were for them but they are the smallest they make. I would have liked maybe a small battery and a medium battery in the kit.
    The tools themselves are very very good. I was told these are the Caddy of the DIY’ers level of tools. I just wish for more battery life from the kit.

  4. Shane says:

    This is a very rugged tool, however the batteries don’t last very long on a full charge.
    they also are tempermental when it comes to charging if it is cold or if the battery is warm due to working the impact, find that i do a lot of waiting for the charges with the 2 supplied batteries. They were very strong for the first dozen or so, but after numerous charging they wont hold like you would expect them to. I think they could have done a little better in that aspect. It is a good light to moderate duty tool for the money, however it would be forcefully thrown down the street if i had to do any production work with it.

  5. Brian says:

    I have a ton of 1.5″ screws to drill into 1x material. Will this be the right tool for this task, or would a smaller unit, or simple drill be better? How hard is it to control the force with the trigger?


  6. Fred says:

    Brian, this is big time overkill unless the 1″ material is extremely hard or the screws are extremely wide. You should look into a drill driver for the application you are considering. An impact driver is too much.

    • Brian says:

      I have been wondering if the 12V drills or perhaps an impact driver (12V or 18V) would be a good fit for my application. What I am doing is putting down a metal roof onto 1×4 slats. The metal gets pre-drilled on the ground, but I am looking for a light weight tool to use up on the roof.

      Then I plan on building two 12×12 storage buildings, a 42″ high x 170′ fence, and a 10’x12′ screened in porch, plus deck repair, home improvement stuff, etc.

      The problem is that I don’t have any idea when and where a 18V impact driver, a 12V Max impact driver, or a 12V Max drill would work for task like these.

      Currently, I have a Makita 18V hammer drill with something like 560 in. lbs of torque, but this tool is way overkill for 98% of what I do. And, I have some drills in the 12V, 14.4V, and 16.8V range which are great for most things (power wise), but are getting a little on the “old and worn out” site of things.

      So, I have no idea what are the right tools for the jobs I face and therefore I don’t know what I should buy.

      Any ideas, suggestions, comments to help me?

      Thanks 🙂

      • Fred says:

        Brian, we definitely like the Bosch line-up of 12V and 18V tools. The trades are pretty simple: higher power = heavier weight. For most tasks like what you describe, we use one of a number of 18V drill/drivers, including the porter cable. Only draw back of the PC models that we’ve experienced is short battery life. Bosch is better for that.

  7. Rex says:

    Will the 18v Driver PC181D use the Nicd Battery or does it use the Lithium-Ion ? Thank You

  8. Rob says:

    I have the Porter Cable 18v Impact driver and I love it… A guy from Lowe’s bet me that I would like the Porter Cable Impact driver more than the Dewalt Impact driver for HALF the price. I told the salesman I had 2 B & D drills @ home and they just weren’t doing what I needed them to do. AND then that’s when he said I will never pick up my Black & Decker 9.5v or my 12v drill again, once I get a taste of what this P C driver will do.. He was absolutely correct! There’s no comparison to them and you can’t beat the price, either. It’s really unbelievable for how little I paid for it.. AGAIN, I was skeptical & almost didn’t buy it becuz it was so cheap, but the salesman insisted & made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. ( I was always under the impression, you always get what you pay for)
    I NEED SOME HELP!!!!! How would I go about finding lug adapters for the PC impact driver? What adapters would be the easiest to load in the driver to break these lugs loose? Thanks for any advice!

  9. says:

    some of yo out there are claming that this tool can take wheel nuts off, i feel that this is a over exagerated statement. also the 1600 inch pounds is also exagerated, i mean that is over 130 foot pounds.thta is a lot of stres on a quarter drive end on the driver,and that would break the adapter if that rating was actualy true.

  10. Brian McInnis says:

    I just purchased this with the sole purpose of using it to remove and re-install lug nuts on my 3 vehicles. Is this the right cordless tool for the job and if so how do i go about finding the right adapter and sockets for the lug nuts?

    • Fred says:

      Nope, not enough torque. You want an impact wrench, which normally has a 3/4″ square connector and is air powered. You can find electric impact wrenches.

      This tool might be able to do the job, but it might not have the power, and also, it’s easy to snap a hex bit under the load required to remove lugs.

      Good luck

  11. Doug says:

    I just bought the 18v Lithium Ion Impact Driver and used it to drive almost 500 2 7/8″ Headlok fasteners in erecting a structure. The unit was throwing black grease at the tip by the end of this. Clearly not a tool for serious users. Tool did not even last 7 days!!

  12. David says:

    I’ve had this model for over 2 years now, and it was actually a reconditioned unit. I burnt oiut one of the batteries in about 6 months. Pulled it all apart, and found one of the 5 18650 LiOn cells was dead. One of these days I’ll order a new set of cells for it, no biggie. I did go ahead and buy the largest battery pack they make for this model, which ran me about $60 on ebay. I’ve beat the snot out of this driver every day, and I’ve had no issues with it. Unless you specifically need to use a drill bit/hole saw/spade bit/etc, you’ll never pick up a regular drill again. In fact, I like it so much, I grabbed another (bare driver only) at Lowes a few months ago for $40. I haven’t tried to pull lug nuts with it yet, although I do have the adapter to run 3/8″ sockets with it. I should give it a try. Worst case scenario, I snap the adapter….

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