Impact Sprinklers Vs Gear Drive Sprinkler Heads: What’s the Difference?

Impact Sprinkler VS Gear Drive

When it comes to watering your yard or any other plot of land, you might end up having to choose between two common types of sprinklers: impact and gear driven. While both varieties will do a fine job of watering the land inside their arcs, they have a series of differences that make them more suitable for certain types of jobs or areas.

Let’s go through what makes these two sprinkler types unique and discover what they excel at in comparison to one another.

Impact vs. Gear Driven: What’s the Difference?

Impact sprinklers are more basic between the two types and move due to water motion within the head from a moving arm that’s stored inside the sprinkler unit. The water impact makes the sprinkler head rotate across the affected area or lawn; this causes the pattern to become predictable and consistent, although it can also look and feel a bit unsteady due to the method of motion.

The arc pattern for impact sprinklers is usually between 40 to 360 degrees. This allows you to cover most or all of a given section of lawn or yard. Most impact sprinklers have a spray radius between 20 and 150 feet.

Impact sprinklers are known to be a little noisy due to their method of motion and may require regular maintenance as a result. In addition, impact sprinklers use a little bit more water than gear drive sprinklers, due to the extra water required to make them move across their arcs. This can be good or bad depending on the terrain; certain ground types need a lot of water all the time and will benefit, but slopes or places with a lot of clay will suffer beneath such a heavy torrent.

Gear drive sprinklers are a bit more complicated and sometimes more expensive.

For instance, if you compared the price on this top of the line wheeled impact sprinkler to this sled based gear driven sprinkler you’d see that although the price is similar there are many more options to choose from in the impact style making them a better overall value… also you’d see that customer reviews are typically higher for the best quality impact sprinklers in comparison to geared models.

The gear drive sprinklers use an internal mechanism (a gear) instead of an arm to move the sprinkler through its watering arc. This allows the sprinklers to move without as much noise or “shaky” motion that is typical of impact sprinkler heads. Gear drive sprinklers can also be quite reliable and consistent.

Gear drive sprinklers usually have an enclosed body design that makes it so that less maintenance is required; dirt and debris will get inside the sprinkler less frequently than an impact sprinkler. Gear driven sprinklers usually have an arc between 40 and 360 degrees and a range between 18 and 55 feet.

It’s more difficult to find gear driven sprinklers in general and especially in variable types. Finding sprinklers of this type is more difficult because of their relative newness when compared to the staple that is the impact sprinkler. As time passes, gear driven sprinklers may become more common and easier to find in greater variety.

Which is Better?

So, which is the better type of sprinkler between the two? Are there any scenarios where one type might be more preferred than the other, or is there one clear superior option that’s better in the majority of cases? Let’s find out.

Impact Pros

Impact sprinklers have several great advantages that make them excellent choices for many homeowners or gardeners. They are also great for watering larger amounts of land all at once or for providing plenty of water in case of the risk of drying out.

  • Impact sprinklers are usually pretty affordable and can be found in many different types. You can get pop up sprinklers or other varieties of impact sprinklers at most stores without having to search for very long.
  • An impact sprinkler will generally be a little more consistent as opposed to a gear driven sprinkler since it relies on water pressure and movement to maintain its across-arc motion. You don’t have to worry about a gear mechanism malfunctioning and causing the sprinkler to stop watering your lawn or flowers.
  • Impact sprinklers usually water more efficiently than gear driven sprinklers; they can manage up to 1.5 inches of precipitation per hour, as opposed to gear drive sprinklers, which can usually only max out at 0.8 inches of precipitation per hour.
  • Impact sprinklers are well-suited for places that use well water as their primary source. It can also survive with hard water due to its simplistic design and uncomplicated head.
  • Adjusting the radius and arc of an impact sprinkler is much easier to do when compared to a gear drive sprinkler.
  • Impact sprinklers generally last for quite a long time since their rotors are usually made of bronze or brass. These materials will allow the sprinkler to last for several years at least, requiring less sprinkler replacement over time.
  • You can modify or purchase an impact sprinkler to deliver one or more streams of water at the same time. This can let you set the arc to be relatively short and still cover a ride range of area based on how the water streams fall to the ground.
  • It’s much easier to find impact sprinklers in different styles across various real-world and internet stores. You can find impact sprinklers that suit a particular aesthetic, size, or watering pattern much more easily than gear driven sprinklers, simply due to how ubiquitous and well-known the impact type is across the country.

Impact Cons

However, impact sprinklers do have a handful of downsides that can make using them a bit frustrating.

  • Impact sprinklers almost always have a noticeable sound that accompanies their watering routine. This clicking can become annoying to some and maybe loud enough to be heard by neighbors or by yourself even when indoors. Certain impact sprinklers have less of a noticeable noise factor, but this varies greatly by sprinkler model.
  • Impact sprinklers do require regular maintenance quite frequently. This takes time out of your other yard work, and although this maintenance isn’t that drastic it is unavoidable.

Gear Driven Pros

Now let’s take a look at the advantages that come along with using a gear driven sprinkler. They’re also great for homeowners and smaller areas of land.

  • Gear drive sprinklers are comparatively noiseless when you consider their quiet sounds next to the rattle of an impact sprinkler. Gear drive sprinklers are only becoming better as time goes on and the gear mechanism is becoming more sophisticated over time. This makes gear drive sprinklers a great pick if you live in an area where excess noise isn’t allowed or if you personally can’t stand the constant sound of impact sprinklers.
  • Gear drive sprinklers are also even more durable than impact sprinklers as a result of their construction. More of their parts can be refined and made with sturdy materials can be comparatively basic impact sprinkler mechanism.
  • Gear drive sprinklers require less frequent than impact sprinklers since their bodies are closed and don’t allow dirt and debris to get inside the sprinkler unit itself as often.
  • In addition, gear drive sprinklers use nozzles as a part of their design. This means that you can get a free nozzle tree with most gear drive sprinkler purchases. You can modify this nozzle for size and radius, or even precipitation rate.
  • The lower precipitation amount given by gear drive sprinklers might be an advantage depending on what’s being watered. For instance, slopes and clay areas will benefit from the lesser amount of water being poured into the ground; this will prevent sliding or muddying and water absorption will increase compared to the water given by an impact sprinkler.
  • You may save money over time due to these sprinklers using less water to hydrate your yard or another piece of land. This may offset their general increased cost for purchase.

Gear Driven Cons

Despite these advantages, gear drive sprinklers certainly have some downsides to consider.

  • If you do need to perform maintenance on a gear drive sprinkler, chances are that the actual repair work is going to be a little tougher compared to the simpler design of an impact model. This shouldn’t be too hard for most sprinkler users, but it might take more time than simply cleaning out a standard impact sprinkler unit.
  • Gear drive sprinklers are oftentimes more expensive than the normal impact variety. This is due to the increase in cost for durable materials and the simple fact that there are more complicated parts included in the building of gear drive sprinklers than impact ones.
  • Because of the above factor, it may be most costly to cover your entire yard overall with gear drive sprinklers. This is also due to the fact that gear drive sprinklers don’t water quite as efficiently or distantly as impact sprinklers, so you’ll have to buy a few more to get the same coverage in terms of feet of land watered.

The Verdict

Overall, both types of sprinklers have advantages and disadvantages. Each type will be better suited to different needs.

If you have a large amount of land that you need to be watered, a more economical choice is certainly the impact sprinkler. This is especially true if you need to water a grass field or sports area where residential noise complaints will be rare or nonexistent. However, the maintenance time will likely be high if you have a large number of impact sprinklers taking care of a wide swath of area by themselves.

In addition, impact sprinklers are great if you have plentiful water to draw from since they take more water to operate than gear drives. They might be your only potential pick if your water source is hard water, as these sprinklers shouldn’t be gummed up too easily from using this water type.

In contrast, gear driven sprinklers are excellent choices for homeowners who just need to water their front or back yards. These sprinklers should have enough power to cover most or all of your land relatively easily and they won’t be loud or annoying to your or your neighbors. They might cost a little more individually, but if you only need a few units the overall price shouldn’t hurt your wallet too drastically.

Gear drive sprinklers are also better if you live in a place where water is at something of a premium. They use less water than impact sprinklers since they don’t rely on water pressure and momentum for motion.


Overall, the ultimate choice between sprinkler types is totally up to you. There’s no ultimate right or wrong answer; instead, each type of sprinkler is better suited to different needs and environments. Will you go classic and stick with the tried and true impact sprinkler? Or will you try the quieter, more technologically advanced gear driven model? Let us know and thanks for reading!