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A stripped bolt is kind of a metaphor for a lot of wrenching projects out there. It’s supposed to work one way as part of a simple task, but instead, it turns into an hours-long nightmare that leaves you randomly pacing to the end of your driveway in fury.
Defeating a stripped bolt is basically THE initiation to becoming a certified wrencher in the eyes of your peers, and it provides the most important lesson any mechanic can carry with them: be patient. Patience is the key to completing any car project, and breaking a frozen bolt is one of the ultimate tests. Luckily, the age-old issue also has age-old solutions.
With some determination, a lot of penetrating fluid, the possibility of a blowtorch, and the right tools, there is no bolt you cannot beat. Here’s the informational game plan drawn up by your buds at The Drive for earning that W.
What Is a Stripped Bolt?
A stripped bolt is a bolt that has had its head rounded by age or misuse. With rounded edges, sockets and wrenches cannot grip the bolt to gain leverage to turn it. Stripped bolts are typically created when a bolt is rusted on, a bolt is cross-threaded, or when a person uses the incorrect socket or wrench size on a bolt.
The Basics of Removing a Stripped Bolt
Estimated Time Needed: 10 minutes to 1 lifetime
Skill Level: Beginner to expert
Vehicle System: Any or all
Working on your car can be dangerous and messy, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to ensure you don’t die, poke your eye out, or lose a finger in the process.
Everything You Might Need To Remove A Stripped Bolt
You might need these tools, you might not. We’ve listed everything included in our tips and options for removing the bolt.
Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You MIGHT finally need a blowtorch for this job. Just Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)
You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking that’s also well-ventilated. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting your ride out of the clink.
Options For Removing a Stripped Bolt Head
We’ve tried to organize these methods in order of things you’d want to try before attempting the next step. See what works for you, and good luck!
Penetrating fluid like PB Blaster is designed to break down rust or other grime that locks a nut or bolt in place. Spraying the rusted areas with penetrating fluid and allowing it to soak could potentially break up the bonded areas and lubricate the bolt.
Screw It In To Screw It Out
If you were able to move the bolt even a slight amount before the bolt started to strip, try screwing it back in, then screwing it back out. Try to repeat a few times, it could break the bolt all the way free. More penetrating fluid is your friend.
Any locking pliers like Vise-Grips are a great option that everybody should have in their garages. If you can apply enough pressure to the bolt, the teeth might be able to provide enough grip to turn the bolt.
Extraction Socket Set
Not everybody will have this, but there are sockets specifically designed to have more grip on stripped bolts called extraction sockets. It might work, it might not.
Smaller Socket or Wrench
In some cases, the bolt will be so rounded that you can fit a slightly smaller wrench or socket on it with the help of a hammer. If it’s hammered on, it should have more grip, and hopefully, the bolt breaks loose.
Using a blowtorch—finally, fire!—apply heat to the bolt. The expansion and contraction of the metal could break the bolt free and allow it to turn.
If the goal is to break the bond between the rust and the bolt, a bit of shock force to the bolt might do the trick. Start with light taps and use intentional movements. You could make it worse by ruining the threads if you’re not careful.
Bolt Extractor Kit
A variety of manufacturers offer bolt extraction kits specifically designed for this frustrating situation. Most include teethed cone-like tips that dig into the metal and grab it for better grip.
Cut a Slit
Using a Dremel tool or some other type of cutter or grinder, cut a slit into the head of the bolt. Then, using a flathead screwdriver or something comparable that will fit into the slit, try to use that leverage to break the bolt free.
Drill It Out
In the worst-case scenario, you have to resort to drilling the bolt out. Only do this if you are completely comfortable handling your power tools and have the correct bits for the job. Take your time, start with a small bit, and slowly expand the hole until the bolt loosens or is broken apart.
Weld On a New Bolt Head
This is really doing a lot, and you have to have a welder, but we wanted to include it as a possible option. In extreme cases, you can weld an unused squared-off bolt head onto the old bolt. This should give you the grip needed to break the old bolt free, but there’s a chance you’ll just round that one out too.
Sometimes You Need a Certified Mechanic
As much as The Drive loves to put the “you” in do-it-yourself, we know that not everyone has the proper tools, a safe workspace, the spare time, or the confidence to tackle major automotive repairs. Sometimes, you just need quality repair work performed by professionals you can trust like our partners, the certified mechanics at Goodyear Tire & Service.
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