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 > Technical Articles: / BMW E36 3-Series (1992-1999) >
Stubborn Bolt/Stud Removal on Your BMW

Pelican Technical Article:

Stubborn Bolt/Stud Removal on Your BMW


1-2 hours






WD-40 or Liquid Wrench, 2 vise-grips, propane torch or oxyacetylene torch, compressed air in a can, gloves, safety mask, compressed air or electric impact wrench, Dremel tool or angle grinder, safety glasses, ear plugs, electric drill and smaller to larger drill bits, oil, pick, needle-nose pliers, tap and die set

Applicable Models:

BMW E30 3-Series (1984-93)
BMW E36 3-Series (1992-99)
BMW E46 3-Series (1999-06)

Parts Required:

Stud remover collet tool

Performance Gain:

Being able to remove stubborn bolts or studs without damaging any component on the car

Complementary Modification:

Install new fasteners, nuts and bolts that are of top quality
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If you are planning to restore a car that is even a few years old, you will undoubtedly come across the odd nut, bolt, or stud that is rusted solid and won't come off. This project will expose you to some of the methods used by several of the "experts" in the field.

The first step in getting rusty or stuck fasteners off is to perform a preemptive strike. It is often the case that you find a nut or stud will not come off after you have already stripped or damaged it. If you think a nut might give you problems, it's far better to tackle the removal process carefully rather than destroy one of your precious parts.

If you are planning to remove an old rusty bolt in a day or two, soak the area with a good penetrating lubricant like WD-40 or liquid wrench. The lubricant will seep down and penetrate the joint, making it easier to remove and break apart. This seeping process takes time, however. At the very least, soak the bolt the night before you attempt to remove it. This will place you a step ahead in the battle.

When removing these old bolts, you must have the right tools for the job. A properly fitting wrench is essential. People often use the wrong tool for the wrong bolt. The female Torx bolts are an excellent example. A simple hex socket tool will sometimes fit onto the bolts, and you may be able to remove some of them, but chances are one of the bolts will become stripped. Using the right-sized tool to remove a fastener means you are increasing the odds it will come off easily.

For pulling studs, Snap-On offers an excellent collet-based stud-removal tool that does the job very well without damaging the stud. This tool incorporates a collet that latches onto and compresses the threads of the stud, squeezing them tight. Then the tool and the stud can be removed. If you are removing studs from an engine case, an extra vise-grip or two might be useful as well to get more torque on the studs.

Exhaust studs are sometimes difficult to remove from the heads, as they rust and corrode very easily. Make sure you lubricate the area heavily before even attempting to remove a rusty exhaust manifold. Unfortunately, if a stud snaps off, there really isn't too much you can do. Since the studs are heated by the exhaust, they become very brittle over time. The only way to remove a broken head stud is to have it drilled out or removed using an EDM process.

A common propane torch or, even better, an oxy-acetylene torch may help you out when you need to remove bolts. These torches are available at most hardware stores and are useful beyond belief. A torch can give you an extra advantage in removal, particularly on bolts and studs that have had red Loctite 271 used on them.

With the torch, heat the metal surrounding the stud. This will help melt any Loctite on the threads and will also help expand the metal that is surrounding the stud. Use caution, though; do not apply heat directly to the stud, as this will heat the stud, and it will become even more stuck in the hole. If you are removing a stud from an engine case or a cylinder head, you will find it takes a surprisingly long time to heat up the case. Aluminum and steel conduct heat very well, so focus the torch on the case for a while before you try to remove any studs. Also, be sure to use the torch only in a well-ventilated area.

On the opposite side of the equation, you can sometimes use coolant to help remove a stuck bolt. One of the best-kept secrets is the "compressed air in a can" your local office supply store sells for blowing dust out of old computer equipment. If you hold the can upside down, the gas inside (which is not actually ordinary air) will drip out as a very cold liquid. You can drip this liquid onto bolts and into areas you might be having trouble with. Be careful, though. The cold will have a tendency to make the metal increasingly brittle and prone to breaking. Always use eye and skin protection when using coolants, as they can be deceptively dangerous.

The application of heat and cold together can be a powerful combination. As the joint heats up and then cools again, rust and Loctite may break free from the rapid expansion and contraction. There is no exact science for this, so trial and error is the rule of thumb.

Another important point is to make sure that the nut or bolt you are trying to remove can actually be removed. Often someone will try to remove an embedded stud or a nut that has been welded on, only to find that this is an impossible task. Before you dig out the angle grinder, check and double-check to make sure you aren't missing something obvious.

Sometimes it makes sense to weld a nut to a stud that is stuck and immovable. Doing this will allow you to place a wrench on the nut and, hopefully, remove the stud. Before you attempt to weld, make sure that you clean all of the rust, debris, oil, and anything else that might be on the stud. Sometimes the stud will be old and brittle and may not take well to welding, as is often the case with exhaust studs. Also, you can only effectively weld most studs if they are made of steel. Some alloy studs you cannot weld--the nuts just break off as soon as you try to turn them.

The impact wrench is another useful tool and is most helpful when you are trying to remove a nut that rotates on a bearing (for example, the steering wheel nut) or one that is attached with a great amount of force. The impact wrench "hits" the nut with repeated blows, knocking it loose, which will save you plenty of time when you need to remove specialty bolts. There are two types of impact wrenches available--ones that run on compressed air and simple electric ones that plug into a standard household socket. I recommend the electric style if you don't have an air compressor.

My weapon of choice when all else fails is the Dremel tool or its big brother, the angle grinder. These two tools of destruction really don't stop at anything when it comes to cutting through metal. The Dremel tool is my personal favorite because it is so small and you can place it in so many different positions. Adding to its versatility is that you can add a flexible shaft to the tool that allows you to put the rotating blade just about anywhere you can reach.

The Dremel, or rotary, tool spins at about 50,000 rpm and uses small ceramic-like discs to cut and grind through steel. There are other small fiber-reinforced discs available that are more expensive than the regular discs, but they last longer, and are more effective at cutting through steel quicker. I recommend using thesediscs, particularly if you can buy a large bag of them at a swap meet or other venue. Make sure you don't ever use the Dremel tool without eye protection.

The angle grinder makes no apologies for being the most destructive of all the tools in my collection. The grinding wheel can grind, wear, cut, and melt away steel much faster than any other tool I own. It's especially useful for grinding off nuts and studs that are so badly rusted there is no way to get a grip on them. Make sure you use appropriate eye, ear, and nose/throat protection when using the grinder, as this tool kicks up a lot of small metal particles.

When all else fails, you can sometimes use a hand drill to bore out an embedded or broken stud. While not the prettiest solution, the hand drill is still an effective method of removal. For greater success with a drill, start out with a very small drill bit and gradually increase the diameter. Also, use plenty of lubricant. When the hole you are drilling gets to be about the size of the stud, try to remove the remains of the stud using a pick. Be careful not to damage the threads of the hole by drilling too large of a hole. When you are finished, chase a tap down the hole to clear out the threads, or if it's damaged, thread the hole to a larger diameter.

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Figure 1

The propane or oxy/acetylene torch is one of my personal favorite tools. Make sure you heat the case and not the stud. You may notice it takes a long time for the case to warm up. Keep the torch focused on the area and don't let it stray onto the stud. The white inner portion of the flame is the hottest; the blue part indicates a cooler region. Make sure you only use the torch in a well-ventilated area, as the propane will create harmful carbon monoxide gases.

Figure 2

The tools of destruction and mayhem are shown here. The Dremel rotary tool (right) with flexible attachment is best suited for cutting off small nuts, bolts, or studs. This tool will solve about 95 percent of your problems. The angle grinder (lower left) is for more serious tasks where you must completely grind down rusted nuts. WD-40 is an excellent penetrant for removing rusted and stuck bolts. The Snap-On stud remover (upper left) is a hard-to-find tool, yet very useful for removing those troublesome studs. Finally, the electric impact wrench (center) is good for removing nuts that have been mounted with a lot of torque.

Comments and Suggestions:
Sirgwhiz Comments: Irwin has some wonderfui bolt extractors that sound a lot like the StudPuller by SRT but are less complicated and work finer than any other extractor I have ever used.
December 20, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the additional info and feedback. We appreciate it.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
rusty Comments: There is a much easier way called the StudPuller by SRT Manufacturing. It is a stud remover that works like a socket with an internal cam. The more you rotate, the tighter it gets and it directs all that energy to the stud. Check out
August 6, 2011
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the additional Info. We appreciate it. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
maicodoug Comments: Exactly, tightening carefully listening for a "tink" sound from the threads. You may not see any rotation at all what so ever, but if you hear that "tink" sound, your home free. Then with more WD-40, start the process of removing the fastener very increments at a time. If you are in luck, it will start to turn in the removal direction only a very slight amount. Go back in, tightening again, DON't torque anything, most important to search for that "free" turning feeling. When it wants to stop, may only be an eighth of a turn, then go back in again to feel for the loser turning bolt, dont make it torque and tighten up. You are the threads mercy here and it will dicitate how and when it wants to come out. Just use plenty of lube and cruze it back and forth until it's now moving a half turn, keep going ever so slightly more, no more "tinking" sounds allowed. That is cold welding and the biggest NoNo. Just cruze it feeling for the least friction while going back & forth. Dont be impatient, Chances are that you will be able to reuse the threaded hole if you are carefull. Use a plumbers "Teflon Crayon" to insert all fasteners into trouble holes after you "chase the threads" with a Threading Tap. Ace hardware is about the only store that carries these beside industrial supply outlets. If the fastener is not specified to use locktite, use the teflon crayon trick. Wipe it all over your taps. It holds the chips, but be sure to clean them out of the tap's flutes, and recharge it again for the next hole. Chasing threads with teflon is a good idea because, it's non conductive an impregnates into the coroded areas of the threads. Threads only intergrate about 60%, so there is plenty of room for debris to mess up your threading & unthreading. Try the slow walk always not torquing during the back & forth process, except the first time that you will tighten the fastener and listen for the thread to unseat. It works for me, being a machinest, no screw, bolt has ever beat me, but I can grind it out, weld back a place to put in a new thread. I'd rather take my time, use the almost dry teflon crayon lube, and the bolt will always come out, after 20 years on an exhaust manifold. Chase those threads with a tap, don't cut new threads, just "chase them". Remember, no torquing, look for free movement, back & forth, no sezing, and I dont like never seaze actually, builds up clearences and makes things tight. The teflon crayon trick works.
November 13, 2010
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Thanks for the additional Info. We appreciate it.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
jwkaufer Comments: Hi,
I can not remove the drain plug from my 915 transmission from the 911sc. Do you have any majic solution before I start drilling.

The transmission is out. I followerd your very helpful steps on removing my engine. I build a jig that I mounted on a Motorcycle stand to remove the engine and trani.

June 21, 2009
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Try tightening it using the iron-grip-of-death. That may actually loosen the threads and allow you to release it (if it's really stuck). Also, you might want to heat the outer part of the case carefully with a propane torch, while cooling the plug itself (hold a can of compressed air upside down and let the fluid drip on the plug). That may work. - Wayne at Pelican Parts  

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Page last updated: Wed 1/17/2018 02:05:17 AM