While it can be easy to simply bring your car into the mechanic’s shop when there’s a problem, it’s much more convenient and cost-effective to do some simple repairs yourself. If you’ve noticed that your vehicle has a stripped oil drain plug that needs to be removed, you can do it yourself.
In the 1980s and 90s, cars typically had steel pans. Now, vehicle manufacturers have moved towards aluminum oil drain pans.
Aluminum transfers heat easier than steel does, so it can help keep your engine oil cool when it sits in the car sump waiting to go around the engine again. If you think you might have to remove a stripped oil drain plug, here’s how to tackle it.
What is an Oil Drain Plug?
First, let’s break down exactly what an oil drain plug is and what it does. This piece of the car has an underrated yet essential job. For this reason, it’s rarely acknowledged how important the oil drain plug is.
Your vehicle’s oil drain plug is located on either the bottom or side of its oil pan. The plug keeps the motor’s lubricant from pouring out because of the constant effects of pressure created inside of the vehicle’s crankcase and gravity itself.
Locating an Oil Drain Plug
It’s usually not too hard to locate a car’s oil drain plug. This is because it’s usually located at the lowest possible point on the oil pan, which is itself attached to the bottom of the vehicle’s engine. (Side note: you should be checking your car’s oil levels regularly!) Because the plug isn’t always on the bottom side of the plug, you will want to check the side - that’s where it is most of the time. This location better protects it from damage that could come about from scraping against a pothole or even driving over a speed bump.
That being said, locating the drain plug and reaching it is not the same thing. Plugs can be put against engine or chassis components which could render them difficult to reach without using the correct tools. For that reason, it’s important to have these tools stocked handily in your toolbox. The easiest way that you can remove your vehicle’s oil drain plug is by using a ratchet; still, you might need to use an extension to be able to reach and unscrew it.
Why is it Important to Remove a Stripped Oil Drain Plug?
If your car has a stripped oil drain plug, it’s a big deal and needs to be treated as such. This is because this issue can ultimately lead to major engine failure, which will be significantly more costly and time-consuming to repair than it would be to simply catch it before it’s too late.
You might be wondering how this can even happen to your oil drain plug. Oil changes are necessary to maintain the health and wellbeing of your vehicle’s engine. That being said, manufacturers are always hunting for ways to reduce costs and weight. As a result, drain plugs are being made out of soft metals such as aluminum. Aluminum can strip easily if you or your mechanic are not being careful as routine maintenance is performed.
Why You Shouldn’t Ignore a Leak From Your Drain Plug
We know that a car’s engine requires oil to run properly, and a drain plug that’s slowly leaking allows contaminants to infiltrate the engine and ultimately cause internal damage. That being said, there are even larger problems at hand if the vehicle’s oil pan quickly hits dangerously low levels or is even entirely empty.
Without oil in it, the car’s engine rapidly fails. This is because friction can build heat, and moving components seize and break. As we mentioned earlier, of course, your car needs oil changes to function properly. That being said, every single change is an opportunity to develop a leak stemming from the car’s drain plug bolt if precautions aren’t taken. Therefore, you have to be proactive - and if you notice a leak, don’t leave it alone. Take action.
How Can A Drain Plug Get Damaged?
There are a variety of ways that your vehicle’s drain plug can get damaged. As we mentioned, every time your car gets an oil change, either by you or a mechanic, there’s a chance that the drain plug will be accidentally impacted in the process.
Cross-threading and Overtightening
The plug usually gets damaged through either cross-threading or overtightening. Either of these will ruin the structure and spacing of threads on the pan, bolt, or worse, both of them. Cross threading happens if/when the plug isn’t installed straight to begin and ultimately gets forced the rest of the way. By contrast, overtightening occurs when there’s a power tool used, and it exerts too much force to screw the plug into place.
- Here’s how you should do it.
- First, you should clean the plug and the threads.
- Next, check for signs of damage or wear that shouldn’t be present.
- If you suspect that there is any, simply replace the gasket or the washer. These prevent the bolt from threading too far in.
- Lastly, tighten the plug by hand — go as far as you can.
This will be most of the way, but not the whole way. If you experience resistance early on in the process, then forcing it could strip the threads. This is not what you want to do. Make sure it’s properly positioned and proceed. Also, be sure to torque to spec using the correct tools. You don’t want the tools you use to be the reason there’s an issue. You should consult your vehicle’s owner manual if there are any unanswered questions.
How to Remove a Stripped Oil Drain Plug
Let’s walk through the process of removing a stripped oil drain plug. It’s not extremely complicated, but doing it yourself can save you both time and money. In addition, it’s far more convenient to simply repair your oil drain plug from the comfort of your driveway.
Be sure that you order a new drain plug for your car before removing the stripped one. This will ensure that all you have to do is simply pop the used one out and the new one in; there won’t be any waiting.
Use a pair of round-jaw vice grip pliers. Place them around the stripped drain plug. You should avoid using flat-jaw vice grips because they’re unable to lock around the bolt as securely as the other pliers can.
Turn your pliers counterclockwise - to the left. This allows you to loosen the drain plug. In the event that it doesn’t move, you can try to tap the vice grips with a hammer. Eventually, it will begin to turn. Be gentle!
- Finally, you’ll feel the drain plug begin to loosen. You can now wedge a flathead screwdriver between the plug and the vehicle’s oil pan. This will allow you to pry it out.
That being said, if the plug is tightly cross-threaded or if the threads in the oil pan are already damaged, you will need to make some adjustments to this process. First, it’s important to note that it will likely be difficult to remove if it’s cross-threaded, so using vice grips could ultimately strip the head and cause greater issues. In this case, you should be sure to use a proper-sized socket with the correct number of sides instead.
We have a few notes to add. First, you should never rely on a rubber plug - not long-term, at least. That’s why it’s a better idea to have a brand new oil drain plug to the side waiting. Also, put your safety first by using mechanic’s gloves and eye goggles any time you are underneath the car.
And then you’re all set! Removing a stripped oil drain plug only requires four simple steps, but it’s an essential process to follow if yours is damaged. Taking precautions and caring for your vehicle’s health will help ensure that it runs well for a long time to come.
Even though oil changes are necessary to maintain your vehicle’s health and well-being, they can potentially cause damage to the car’s oil drain plug. If you notice that yours is damaged, it’s essential that you take immediate action to replace it.
You should never ignore a stripped oil drain plug for the simple fact that it can ultimately lead to internal vehicle damage that could be more costly and time-consuming to repair. You can take your car into the mechanic’s shop to get the oil drain plug fixed up, or you could do it yourself by following our handy guide.