I was trying to remove the oil pan plug nut and found that it was on extremely tightly. I was using a fairly inexpensive socket wrench ( for only the second time ) and couldn't get it to budge. So I took a small hammer and tapped ( really just tapped as I had no clearance to make any kind of serious swing at it ) the socket wrench handle for a little bit to try and loosen up the plug. The plug didn't move, and now the socket wrench no longer moves back and forth.

Should one not ever tap a socket wrench like that with a hammer ( even very lightly ) or is that usually OK and this is just a poor quality ratchet?

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    If you are going to tap it make sure you are also torquing it as hard as possible so the taps are in addition to your effort, this ensures the pawl is properly set as well as minimizing the pounding required. – PatFromCanada Mar 8 '15 at 15:59
  • Was the engine warm or cold? You'd get all the benefits of warmth by running the motor for a while, which is easier to open the drain, and the oil will flow out easier and more completely than when its cold. – Criggie Jan 10 '16 at 7:31
  • If you really want to be technical about it, you're not even supposed to break nuts loose with a Ratchet. You're supposed to use a breaker bar, and then switch to a ratchet. Not that anyone really does that... But just saying. – NitrusInc Apr 13 '18 at 21:46

No you really shouldn't be hitting your ratchet with a hammer. This has probably jammed the mechanism inside the ratchet head.

With that said, I have done this many times. Most of the tools I use are Craftsman brand tools. While these are not the best tools, they are what I consider a good trade off between cost, quality, and warranty. If I were to break the tool, I have the availability to get it replaced, free of charge. I will also say, I've had my ratchet now for over 30 years. It has taken a lot of abuse over the years. I guess it comes down to you get what you pay for (though full disclosure, I inherited this ratchet).

To unstick your ratchet, you may try to put it upon another bolt and ding on it a little bit in the opposite direction. This may get the mechanism to become freed up and operational again.

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    I might add that in the future, when you can't get enough torque on something, use a torque extender (i.e. a length of PVC or aluminum pipe). If you must bang on something, put a wrench or breaker bar on and use a mallet. – Paul Mar 8 '15 at 15:45
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    This. I've had great luck tapping things (I once bent a two metre steel pole extender on a bolt, then asked for help and they used a half foot long spanner and a hammer to loosen it in seconds), but if you tap a ratchet you're asking for trouble. – Abhi Beckert Mar 9 '15 at 10:55

While tool quality may play a role here, there are a few things to consider here.

Ratchet size matters

Were you using a 1/4" drive ratchet? If so, I wouldn't be surprised to see it fail under sudden impact.

There is a fair amount of overlap in terms of socket size and the drive size (for example, metric size 10 is covered by 1/4", 3/8" and 1/2" drivers); the difference lies in the amount of torque that each driver can handle. Smaller drivers are easier to fit in tricky spots; larger drivers can bear more brunt before failure.

Leverage Archimedes to your advantage

[excuse the terrible pun]

Use smooth brute force when the going gets tough:

  • A longer lever (preferably a breaker bar) is a better option if the bolt is really stubborn. I've made the mistake of pounding on a standard 1/2" drive ratchet to undo a stubborn wheel bolt before realizing the world of difference a little more leverage buys you. (One learns from their mistakes)

  • Sometimes it helps to tighten the bolt a quarter-turn before it loosens, though you must be especially careful if the oil pan is aluminium as threads can easily get stripped.

  • Use of penetrating oil and heat are also common approaches to wrestle unwieldy bolts into submission but I'm sceptical about how applicable they would be for an oil pan bolt.

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  • Your heat concerns are justified, but there's an excellent source of heat right there in the engine. Its best practice to have run the engine to warm the oil in the pan which will heat the metal. Its amazing the difference this makes, and the oil flows out a lot smoother too. – Criggie Jan 10 '16 at 7:30
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    @Criggie now why didn't I think of that? :) – Zaid Jan 10 '16 at 8:08
  • @Criggie btw when I say heat, I'm talking about having it glow cherry red – Zaid Jan 10 '16 at 8:46

You shouldn't be hammering on a ratchet, ever, like other answers state. If you need more leverage, use a length of pipe that fits over the handle and is longer. I second the recommendation of Craftsman hand tools because of their no-questions warranty replacement.

Since it's an oil drain plug you're working on, a couple related comments: Look up the torque spec and make sure to hit that. Under-tighten and it could come loose (obviously very bad); over-tighten and it's easy to damage the threads of the aluminum oil pan. Also, always use the copper or aluminum crush washer. The steel bolt will electrochemically corrode against the oil pan and become very difficult to remove.

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  • I wouldn't trust the torque specs. I made that mistake once, and snapped the bolt while tightening it. When I took it to the official Honda dealer in my city they said "Yeah, happens all the time on your engine. We don't tighten them to spec." Now I just use my personal judgement and go just tight enough I think it won't fall out. Modern engines should detect low oil pressure and warn you immidiately before there's any damage if it falls out. – Abhi Beckert Mar 9 '15 at 11:02
  • Sure, mistakes happen, but that is a one-time exception and not a rule. @Abhi, want to share what bolt on which engine? I would trust the specs, and also use good judgement. Torque specs depend mostly on the size of the bolt, so learn generally how much torque a given size bolt can take. – Steve I Jun 11 '19 at 14:35
  • oil drain/sump bolt on a Honda motorcycle. – Abhi Beckert Jun 12 '19 at 7:38

If the nut is stiff, you should use a non-ratcheting tommy-bar to turn the nut/bolt. A tommy-bar is a socket-driver that can slide up and down a fixed bar - great if you can get just over 180⁰ access to the nut/bolt. T-bars a generally stronger that the ratcheting mechanism in ratchet drivers.

If you are tapping loose a stiff bolt, remove the driver and socket first, unless the bolt is buried, and the bottom of the socket isn't touching whatever the bolt is attached to, in this case remove the driver, but keep the socket on.

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I've done this before too. You should not strike a ratchet socket driver. High tensile parts are brittle and do not like shocks. Some of them fall to bits from just being dropped.

If you are ship breaking you would use something called a flogging (some localisations flodding) spanner. Still not a good idea with an oil pan or sump.

I would strike/shock the nut directly, and use a T-bar (sliding type) and try and loosen it cold. Move up to a larger drive. Look for evidence of unusual gasketing, loctite, resin etc. You don't want to deform the sump or twist out the plug hole.

Once it starts moving you should be fine.

I used to work in a hydrostatic test station, and I have broken bars (greenstick style) with drive shafts and galvanised pipe. We would have a cylinder in a vise and 2 guys walking around it pushing light truck drive shafts (hollow) capstan style on larger sockets. Be safe.

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