Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Remove a rusted bolt

Remove a rusted nut or bolt

If you’re working on an older vehicle you know you’re going to face a situation where you have to remove a rusted bolt, a stripped bolt, or a stripped nut. This article shows you how the pros do it.

First, if you haven’t read my other article on how to loosen rusted bolts, read it now here. Once you’ve read it, you’re be up to speed on the “rules” on how to remove a rusted bolt, remove a rusted nut, or remove a stripped bolt or nut.

If you didn’t read it, I’ll recap:

Rule #1 Soak with rust penetrant
WD-40 is a great all-purpose lube. It may eventually loosen a rusted bolt. But there are much better rust penetrant products (IMHO). I prefer Liquid Wrench, PB Blaster, FreezeOff, Knock’er Loose, or Aero Kroil Lubricant. Always start by soaking the rusted bolt with a rust penetrant. Then move on to Rule #2

Rule #2 Set up vibrations to shock the rust
Think of rust as a sort of hardened glue. In order for the rust penetrant to get down into the threads to lubricate, you must first break up the glue. The best way to do that is with vibration. I use an air chisel outfitted with a hammer bit.

remove rusted bolt

SG Tool Aid 91125 Smoothing Hammer Air Chisel

Locate the hammer bit next to the bolt or nut and blast away. Shoot more rust penetrant and repeat. Then try loosening the rusted bolt or rusted nut. If you don’t have an air chisel, use a ball peen hammer and rapidly bounce it next to the rusted bolt.

If this still doesn’t loosen the rusted bolt, don’t automatically reach for the heat. Many pros and most DIYers are too quick to use heat, and when they do, they usually overheat the fastener. If you get the nut or bolt cherry red, you’ll destroy the temper.

Here’s the tool I prefer— Lisle 60260 Seized Fastener Remover Set. The shaft fits into an air hammer and applies blows to the center of the bolt head. By applying blows there, the vibrations transfer down the shaft and break up the rust on the threads. The socket centers the shaft on the bolt and allows you to apply vibration and turning effort at the same time.

Lisle 60260 Seized Fastener Remover Set

Here’s another trick when using the Lisle 60260: If the rusted bolt won’t loosen, try tightening it by 1/8 turn. If it tightens, apply more rust penetrant and then alternate between tightening and loosening. This technique has worked for me on bolts I thought would break.

remove rusted bolt

Watch the Youtube video for the Lisle seize fastener tool

If the Lisle seized fastener kit doesn’t work, then it really is time to break out the heat. Here are some tips for heating to remove rusted bolts.

First, go easy on the heat. As I said above, cherry red is NOT your goal. The goal is to heat it and then quench it. Just like the vibration technique, you want to shock the rusty “glue.” That’s what breaks it and allow the rust penetrant to seep in and lubricate. Get a spray bottle and fill it with water. Heat/spray, heat/spray. Then let it cool a bit and soak it with rust penetrant.

Remember this about heat. Yes, it expands the metal and helps break the rust. But in order to remove rusted bolts, you need lubrication. If you heat the fastener but don’t add a rust penetrant, the rust particles will gall the threads and make removal even harder. Worse yet, it can damage the threads.

Remove stripped bolts, remove stripped nuts

Once again, special tools really help when you strip a bolt or nut. Resist the temptation to reach for a vice grip. I’ve found they only make the problem worse. You want a stripped bolt or stripped nut remover socket. If you’re removing a stripped lug nut, you need a special tool set. These are the tools I use.

remove stripped lug nut

Hanson stripped lug nut remover

2015 Rick Muscoplat

Posted on by Rick Muscoplat

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