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September 2011 Willie's Workbench

Posted in Features on September 1, 2011
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Torx—it sounds like something that came from the planet Zizorn. Sometimes you wish that the engineer who designed them would go back there, right?

Torx screws and bolts—in other words, the Torx head—were introduced into the automotive field during the early ’70s. They’re the ones with the funny star-shaped slots that, at first glance, appear to take a Phillips-head screwdriver. When that doesn’t work, you try an Allen wrench, which naturally doesn’t even come close. You go back to the Phillips because you’re sure with a little more pressure, you can make it work; you end up destroying the driver and perhaps a skinned knuckle or two. I’ve had a bad experience or two (or three or four) with Torx-head bolts, so I thought I’d pass on a few tips that I learned the hard way.

Buy a Torx-head wrench set as there is no substitute. They come in sets or as individual units. Those with screwdriver-type handles can be handy on the smaller sizes, but on the larger bolts, you’re just wasting your time. Every single Torx bolt installed at the factory goes in with a power impact driver. Supposedly, the drivers are periodically checked for the proper torque specifications, but I don’t believe it. Every Torx I’ve tried to remove seems to have been installed by Godzilla himself. Generally speaking, they screw into a threaded blind hole, and have a tapered head so that they will fit flush with the mounting surface. This taper also works like a wedge to prevent the bolt from loosening.

The type of Torx drivers you need to buy are the ones that attach to a 3⁄8-inch socket driver and also will fit into your hammer-hit impact driver. Many times, I’ve had to use the impact driver to loosen the bolt before I could even think of turning it with a socket wrench. In fact, I’ve gotten into the habit of nearly always giving them a rap with the impact driver, if there is enough room to swing a hammer, before I attempt to remove the Torx bolt. I’ve found that in most cases, it’s nearly impossible to hold the driver at a true 90-degree angle to the Torx head when trying to remove a stubborn bolt. In fact, it always seems that the harder the bolt is to remove, the more awkward the position of removal is. It’s always a good idea to plan ahead and spray some type of penetrating oil around the bolt a few times before attempting to remove it.

If you strip the internal head, you’re in big trouble. You might as well sit down and cry for awhile, or do whatever else you usually do when faced with an impossible problem. If you’re lucky, there’s a bit of space around the Torx head. However, like I said, they usually fit flush with the mounting surface. Try a set of clamping-jaw pliers (i.e., Vise-Grips). They won’t work for this application 90 percent of the time, but at least you’ll have given it a try before you go on to more desperate measures. Most likely, they will just spin around the bolt’s head. What you need is a flat spot for the jaws to grip onto. Try making one with a file or maybe even a hacksaw. (Remember, we’re getting desperate now.) Sometimes, you can take a center punch and hammer to the outer edge of the head, and drive it in a left-hand twist to remove it just enough to get those Vise-Grips around it.

If that doesn’t work, we’re approaching the last resort. It’s time to get out the arc welder. Pick a conveniently sized hex nut and weld it to the Torx bolt. The inner diameter of the nut can’t be any bigger than the bolt’s head or you will end up welding the nut to the mounting surface as well. Be sure that all the welding is done to the inside of the nut. Remember, we’re going to put a conventional socket on it now. Pay attention to where all those welding sparks are going; there’s no point in burning up the vehicle for the sake of one lousy over-tightened, stripped-head bolt. Don’t attempt to remove the bolt just yet; let it cool off. Now is also a good time to squirt it with more penetrating oil. The heating and cooling cycle will help free it up. If you’ve done a good job of welding, the bolt should come out readily. Naturally, you now have to buy a new replacement bolt.

Gee, aren’t you glad someone designed Torx bolts? And just where in the heck is planet Zizorn?

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