Changing your oil on your own? One of the most frustrating things that come with the task is removing the oil drain plug. Aside from being difficult to reach for most people, the oil drain plug could get stuck and, if you’re really unlucky it can shear too. How do you remove a stuck oil drain plug? There are several steps you can follow to see if it comes loose. Let’s take a look at what you can do to get the oil drain plug free.
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What is an Oil Drain Plug?
The oil drain plug on your vehicle has an important but underrated role. Sitting at the bottom of the oil pan, the oil drain plug is used to remove old/waste engine oil from the sump when completing an oil change. Since the motor oil in your vehicle is the lifeblood, you want to be free to change the oil when required.
Finding the oil drain plug is easy enough because you will spot it just by looking at the bottom of the oil pan, connected to the bottom of the engine. If you’re unsure where it might be, look at the owner’s manual.
However, while you might be able to visually spot the plug, accessing it is not always easy. You’ll need access under your vehicle and will need a socket and bar to remove.
Why Does The Oil Drain Plug Get Stuck?
Stuck plugs are nothing short of frustrating. Fortunately, there aren’t many reasons why this happens. However, knowing why the oil drain plug is stuck will help you formulate a plan of attack.
A Buildup of Sludge
The most common reason your oil drain plug refuses to budge is sludge. If you do not routinely change out your oil and oil filter, the oil will lose its viscosity, becoming more solid. Add in the effects of oxidation and high heat, too. When that happens, the contaminants—carbon, metal, dirt, water—turn the oil into sludge that builds up wherever it can, including around the oil drain plug.
Sometimes the oil drain plug is too tight. This commonly happens when an inexperienced technician changes your oil. Over-tightening the oil drain plug tends to strip the screw, which means you can’t easily twist it free. If this is the case, then the entire oil pan may have to be swapped out the next time you change your oil.
Ways To Remove Stuck Oil Drain Plugs
Now that you know the possible reasons why the oil drain plug isn’t coming lose, you can start figuring out which of the following methods is right for you.
You can also check out this video:
1. Warm Your Car Up
One of the simplest ways to loosen a stuck oil drain plug is by warming up your car. Either let your car idle for around 10 minutes or take it for a short drive. Once the car has been warmed up, park it on a stable surface, preferably a concrete pad. Grab your hydraulic jack to get the vehicle high enough off the ground. Remember to safely lift your car, and use axel stands and wheel chocks, check out the Haynes guide here. You want easy access to the drain plug—well, as easy as it gets.
Once you find the oil drain plug, start attempting to turn it counterclockwise, loosening it.
2. Use a Socket Wrench
The socket wrench is one of the best tools you can have for working on your own vehicle. Make sure you use the right-sized socket so that it is nice and snug and less likely to round the plugs head. Match up the size of the socket with the diameter of the drain plug. If you need extra torque, select a socket wrench with a longer handle or extension bar. Be extremely careful to not use too much force and shear the plug, trust me it’s even more frustrating to fix than a stubborn sump plug. If you feel like you’re using a lot of force to remove an oil drain plug stop and check that you’re trying to turn the thread in the right direction to loosen. Lefty loosey, righty tighty.
3. Use Lubrication or a Rust Remover
Does the oil drain plug have any rust around it? Deal with that problem first. Select either a rust remover or lubricant and spray it directly onto the drain plug. Both rust removers and lubricants loosen the rust and sludge, making it easier to rotate the plug. This often takes a few minutes to work. Next, scrub the oil drain plug to remove the sludge and rust.
4. Try a Hammer
Should the socket wrench and lubricant fail, you still have some options. Generally, getting to this point means that it is not only sludge keeping the oil drain plug in place. It is most likely over-tightened. This means it is time for the trusty hammer. A little persuasive maintenance never hurt.
Gently tap the oil drain plug with the hammer, hopefully loosening whatever is keeping the plug still. Remember to keep trying to turn in a counterclockwise direction. If it doesn’t move, give it a few more taps. Keep working.
As soon as the oil drain plug starts to turn even a little, you can swap the hammer for your handy socket wrench to finish the job.
5. Get a Gator Grip or mole grips
Just as nifty as a socket wrench, gator grips help you hold onto items that tend to slip out of the hands. Catch the oil drain plug in the gator’s teeth and use it to pull. Try to avoid damaging the drain plug while doing so. Gator Grips are equally useful if the plug has deformed and started to round the bolt edges.
If you don’t have gator grips and your socket is starting to slip then grab a set of mole grips to really get a hold of the oil drain plug. Apply force in the counterclockwise direction and hope for the best.
6. Apply Heat Directly to the Plug
Now we’re really getting to the last resort. Often used as an alternative to hammering away at the plug, you can use a heat gun. Direct heat works in the same vein as warming the car. Heat causes the metal of the oil drain plug to expand. This will help you maneuver the plug free. As the metal cools, it will return to its normal size, so you won’t have any damage afterward. Warming the plug may also dissolve any rust or sludge.
7. Call The Professionals
If you exhaust all the at-home options and the oil drain plug is still stuck, there is one last thing you can do. Pick up the phone and call your trusted auto body shop. At this point, there is little you can do without professional tools and experience. This also ensures that any further work on your car is going to be safely done.
The auto technician may have to remove the entire oil pan and give you a new one (along with a replacement plug). Ask them what to do to prevent such an event from happening again.
Sheared oil drain plug
Has the dreaded scenario happened? The oil drain plug all of a sudden becomes extremely easy to removed and for a split second, you think “bingo I’ve got it!” and then the sudden realization of reality, sheared oil drain plug. If this has happened check out how to remove a sheared bolt.
How do you remove a stuck oil plug? First warming the car and the drain plug, grab a socket wrench, and turn counterclockwise. Depending on whether the plug is covered in sludge or over-tightened, one method of loosening it may work better than the rest. However, if you find yourself unable to remove the oil drain plug on your own, there is no shame in asking for help from a professional.
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