The stripped bolt conjures images of beet red faces, bloodshot eyes and thrashing body movements usually resulting in fastball style pitches of hand tools thrown across the garage.

Those suckers just won't come out.

The stripped bolt comes in several forms. The stripped bolt head which offers little grip for removal. Stripped bolt threads preventing removal of the bolt. Finally, the threads to the nut or whatever hole the bolt is secured into get stripped which also prevents bolt removal. It's the kind of strip club nobody wants to enter. Screws are also not immune to this maddening getup.

It's just a small bolt, probably has little effect on the operation of your machine, but still you must scare away thoughts of kicking your dirt bike into oblivion or ghost riding the thing full throttle into a lake, brick wall or large tree thus giving you a reason to start over and buy a new one. Yes, it would certainly be easier to fork out the cash and buy a new bike rather than deal with the stress and headache that comes with retrieving a stripped bolt.

And wouldn't it feel oh so good to unleash hell on that despicable little thing?

Hold on! Options exist. With a little patience and a bit of dedication you too can extract the holy grail of man-made meltdowns in garages worldwide.

A tray of bolts waiting to wreak havoc

Stripped Bolt Threads

The best case scenario of all the rage inducing situations discussed here is stripped threads on the bolt. Stripped bolt threads happen for a variety of reasons:

  • Forcing the wrong size bolt into the bolt hole
  • Overtightening
  • Angled tightening
  • Wear and tear from riding with improperly tightened bolts

If you're lucky, with a little twerking, the bolt works loose with some minimal effort. The stripped thread is also known as cross thread which you've experienced when loosening a bolt or screw and it suddenly stops tight with nowhere to go but back in. The threads on the bolt have mismatched with the threads on the nut or bolt hole.

You'd think a bit more strength might break this log jam and though that sometimes provides an answer often the head of the bolt melts right off and now you've got real problems. The best solution is to gently work the bolt free using every available angle, tightening and loosening, that gets around the stripped or cross thread.

Mechanics note: This occurs more often with aluminum bolts so next time you're in the market for some fancy new anodized aluminum bolts, save your money. And eliminate a future headache.

Stripped Threads on the Nut or Bolt Hole (Female side)

All of the above can happen to the nut or bolt hole. Quite often, too, because the female side is usually aluminum which has no defense against a steel bolt. So, when overtightening, forcing a big screw into a small hole, jamming in a wrong thread pitch, starting at the wrong angle, or using power tools to get the job done the hole side gets jacked.

This poses a bigger problem especially if we're talking oil drain plugs because if the bolt hole is fixed or built into the frame or a specific part, you can't easily replace the nut like you can a damaged bolt. So if this occurs, first get the bolt free.

If you can replace the part holding the nut hole you've just messed up, do that. It'll save you a lot of time. Of course, if that part is exceedingly expensive or it doesn't make sense to replace then you've got to address the stripped thread. This is not your backyard fence or the hinges of a door that respond to epoxies or the broken off toothpick trick. You literally have to remake the hole and rethread it.

You can either drill out the hole and re-tap it using a tap and die set or drill it out and use a Heli-Coil or other threaded insert. In either case, if you're not comfortable drilling into your bike, get a mechanic.

Hand tighten bolts on your dirt bike or ATV

Stripped Bolt Head or Broken Off Bolt

A stripped bolt head is also known as a rounded off bolt head. Somehow you've managed to turn that nicely defined hexagon of a head into a pile of snow. Weak-kneed aluminum is often the culprit but you've exposed its true nature by overtightening in the first place, using the wrong sized socket wrench or using the wrong measurement, i.e. using SAE tool on a metric bolt.

Remember too, bad (read above) can get worse if you try and force a stripped bolt out of its hole. Thus, the broken off bolt occurs for the same reason but instead of rounding off the head, your brute force strength snapped the head right off leaving the shaft snug as a bug in the nut hole. Now you have no way of getting the bolt loose.

Permission granted to accidentally spill gas over your bike and accidentally drop a lit match on the bike. OK, don't do that but feel free to throw a tool or two. Just don't hit anybody. Once your blood pressure returns to normal you've got some work to do and it ain't gonna be fun.

In the case of a stripped bolt head you'll need a stripped bolt or damaged bolt/screw removal tool. Craftsman makes a good one but any name-brand high quality tool manufacture that offers this type of device should suffice. Be careful, go slow.

If you've broken off the bolt head, maybe, just maybe you can press your finger into the top and loosen the bolt shaft that way. Highly unlikely because it was probably overtightened to begin with. You can try drilling it loose or at least drilling it to bits. Heat extraction could work by using a torch. Various penetrating lubricants might help at least loosen the shaft so you can work it out and grab the tip with some pliers.

If all else fails find a work around and leave the bolt in place. Eventually it might work its way free and you can remove it later. Otherwise, time to find a mechanic.

Word to the Wise

You can avoid all of the above by following directions and a few simple rules.

  • Don't overtighten. This means use your hand not power tools...
  • Therefore use your hands to start the tightening process. You can tell quickly if it's not lined up correctly.
  • Ensure clean and intact threads before placing.
  • Use anti-seize
  • Understand thread pitch. Basically, it's the size of the thread (those ridges) and spacing between threads. Don't grab a bolt that "looks right" from the pile of used bolts in your garage to replace what you removed from your dirt bike.
  • Avoid aluminum bolts whenever possible but understand steel and titanium can overpower an aluminum nut.
  • Use the correct tools.
  • Use the correct bolts.