I have minimal space to work with on a BMW X3.

I am changing the coolant.

I am following these instructions: https://www.newtis.info/tisv2/a/en/e83-x3-2.0d-sav/repair-manuals/17-cooling/17-00-cooling-check/HPNNTeW

I am dealing with the drain plug on the side of the engine block, which is removed.

I am now trying to put it back on.

From beneath the vehicle I need to use a long 22mm ring ratchet wrench (no room for other types of socket) and somehow use it to pass the M14x1.5 drain plug back up to the site (approx 30cm away), line it up and thread it on.

There is no room for larger tools, such as a ratchet wrench, and certainly no room for arms and hands.

The only tool that I can get through the gap with suitable clearance is a ring wrench.

Any tips on how to get the nut to stay on the wrench on the way up and not fall off or misallign as I try to thread it into place?

  • 1
    Welcome to Motor Vehicle Maintenance & Repair! Sep 17, 2018 at 12:25
  • 1
    Aren't German cars just wonderful to wrench on? (VW owner here...) For your tight situation, either of the current answers sounds great. I'd like to suggest that you get a set of ratcheting combo wrenches (for example). That way, once you've got the bolt in place, you can just swing the wrench to tighten it instead of having to try to reset the head after each eighth turn (which is probably all you have clearance for). There will likely be other tight spots where these will pay off, too.
    – FreeMan
    Sep 17, 2018 at 13:20
  • Thanks @FreeMan. I have a set of these, this job would be impossible without. Only shame is they aren't magnetic, that would really help!
    – 8bitjunkie
    Sep 17, 2018 at 13:50

4 Answers 4


Duct tape is your friend here, you simply use a piece to cover the back of the ring so the nut can't fall through. The glue will also hold the nut in place while you maneuver it.

Another trick worth trying is hot glue. I haven't needed it for auto mechanics but I've used it successfully in the past to keep a bolt or screw in place on a driver or wrench. It works on sockets as well. The nice thing about it is you can mold it into place while it's hot, then when you're done it all breaks apart - just make sure the surfaces are grease free so it won't slip.

I've also used toothpicks, they're great because they're tapered, you put the nut or bolt into place then push toothpicks into the gaps. Snip the excess toothpick off on both sides and the nut/bolt stays in place.

This isn't a trick, but a possible tool for the future. A ratcheting gimbal palm wrench is very handy for hard to reach location, if you can get a hand to the location you can ratchet it in or out. You can't get the same torque as you can a wrench, but you can twist it on pretty tightly and then finish it up with something else if hand tight won't do.

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I have also used grease to achieve that - and once the plug is in the correct place, I have held it there with a bar and turned it with the open-ended spanner.

  • Thanks for this tip. I think the bar is an important recommendation because otherwise I don't think the nut isn't going to bite onto the thread properly and the bolt will just fall. I hope I have enough room to get a bar in there! I will give this a try.
    – 8bitjunkie
    Sep 17, 2018 at 12:50
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    Make sure the kids are far away, after it has fallen out for the 5th time, the language can be expressive :)
    – Solar Mike
    Sep 17, 2018 at 12:51

Rubber mastic tape (for example, 3M 2229) is my favorite solution. Be sure to get the stuff that's just mastic, without any kind of backing. As an anti-example, 3M 2228 has a rubber backing.

Just a small pinch of the stuff will stick to the nut or bolt but can be pulled away when you're done. It sticks well enough even if the parts are a little greasy: just wiping them with a rag is sufficient. If more hold is required you can pack the stuff into a gob all around the tool and the fastener.

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Works for screws too: slotted, phillips, torx, you name it.

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Also works for retrieving dropped fasteners.

In your case you may also find a ratcheting box ratcheting box wrench / ring spanner to be useful. Just be sure if you decide to use the same tool to remove a bolt, you don't loosen it so far you run out of clearance to remove the tool: you may have to decide between destroying the tool, or figuring out how to remove a broken bolt in a tight space. Not that I've ever had this happen to me...

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In addition to GdD's and Solar Mike's suggestions, I've also used "Blu Tack" for this - it tends to not be reusable afterwards though, as it's covered in grease, oil and muck...

  • Was just thinking that: Blu Tack, or anything other to make the nut "stick" slightly in the ratchet ring wrench.
    – MichaelK
    Sep 17, 2018 at 15:02

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