Always Remember This
Unless you're working with a self locking type of nut, if you cannot thread a fastener together (or into a hole) several turns (preferably until almost bottomed) by hand alone, there is probably something wrong that needs addressed before picking up any tools for additional leverage on the part being tightened, otherwise things are almost certain to get worse by the turn.
Here's Why Alot of Dirt Bikes End Up with Damaged Threads
One of the most common problems occur when over tightening a bolt (or Oil Drain) in aluminum and the threads get pulled out of the aluminum resulting in whatever it was you were tightening just becoming loose all the sudden and this is usually realized upon removal of the bolt or plug to see what went wrong, as the aluminum threads are generally attached to the bolt or drain plug at this point.
If you need a little bailing out on why the bolt you were just tightening became loose all the sudden, or it won't tighten at all, you may be able to find a legit excuse in the list below. If you're curious as to all the ways (or at least most of them) that threads in a hole or on a shaft can get to looking hammered, here are some of the most common causes:
- Over Tightening
- Nuts, Bolts or Shafts Were Not Started Straight (Cross Threaded)
- Nuts, Bolts or Shafts Are Not The Same Thread Pitch as Their Mating Part
- Putting something together with threads that are already damaged
- Nuts, Bolts or Shafts that have been over-tightened resulting in "Pulled Threads"
(This would be the oil check bolt or drain plug that just became loose while tightening)
- Bolts or Shafts that are stuck (seized due to lack of maintenance) and then "Beat Through" to the other side with disastrous results.
(This would be swingarm and linkage pivot bolts)
Starting a nut on a bolt or shaft, or having a bolt started into a threaded hole while cross threaded NEVER ends up with a desirable result, unless the result you're after is that of metal shavings falling on the floor or getting into places that metal shavings shouldn't be, so it's really important that you have the parts which are being assembled, assembled with care and attention being given to being "straight".
Now what to do about the Damaged Threads on the Dirt Bike...
First lets ensure you know that if the threads are too far gone, it's likely going to require a Heli-Coil for threads that are internal such as the oil check bolt that won't tighten, and if this problem resides on a shaft or bolt it may require replacement.
If the threads are only slightly damaged and look salvageable but won't thread together easily...
There are thread chaser sets which are available that are usually equipped with the most common thread sizes and pitches along with specialty files designed to restore threads on the outside diameter (OD) of a shaft and these thread restorer sets can usually be used to clean up damaged threads on a shaft or inside a cavity if the hole is not too deep for the reach of the thread chaser as well as these chasers being ideal for restoring damaged threads inside a nut.
Before getting too far ahead, it's important to determine the original thread pitch of the threads in question. If the damage is on the end of a shaft or a bolt, it may be possible to use a thread pitch gauge and measure the thread pitch beyond where the bolt or shaft is damaged to determine the appropriate thread chaser that needs to be used to restore the damaged threads, although if the damage is in a hole too small for a thread pitch gauge to be inserted into to measure the thread pitch, or there are not any threads which are measurable due to damage, the thread pitch gauge can also be used to measure the thread pitch of the part that threads into the hole to determine the thread pitch inside the hole at which point, if use of the proper sized thread restorer cannot clean the threads to a reusable condition, the bolt, shaft or nut is going to need to be replaced or a Heli-Coil inserted into the hole.
Also, It's important that you don't out do me here and bring out the tap and die set for restoring threads, even though a tap and die set may be just the ticket because you've used it before and you have a nice set out in the shop, using a tap or die to restore damaged threads is NOT the recommended method, reason being is that a tap or die will cut new threads which will weaken the gripping power of a nut, threaded hole, a bolt or shaft and a tap or die should not be used for restoring threads except in a very last resort type of situation such as while at a track, riding area, a compound or a race and you nor anyone else has a thread chaser set, also considering that a tap or die will cut new threads is why specifically designed thread chaser sets are available and should be used in lieu of a tap or die.
If the problem is a bolt or shaft and the threads are slightly damaged, maybe "rolled over" as can occur when a part is dropped or struck, such as can happen when using a hammer and punch in the vicinity, and you either don't have a thread chaser, or there is likely not one available for the particular application such as a steering stem here's a trick method that may just be what saves you:
When working with external threads (such as on a bolt or pivot shaft) that only have minor damage which prevents the nut from being threaded on cleanly by hand and there is not a thread chaser available for the application, you may want to pick up a thread file to clean up any external threads, provided they are only slightly damaged as a proper thread file can usually save whatever part or shaft it is that moments ago seemed like it was destined for the trash.
When There's Not A Thread File Available
If there is not a thread file available with the proper thread pitch and you're careful, you can use the corner of a file's edge or a fine toothed hacksaw blade (without the frame) to gently work between the peaks of the threads and using this method with care, you can frequently restore external threads to a re-usable condition although this method should only be used in an emergency situation where there is no other means of restoring the damaged threads.
How to Repair Damaged Threads in an Aluminum Part Such as an Engine Case or Cover
If the damaged part is a something such as an aluminum case or part, it is likely that the hole had either a 6mm x 1.0 a 12mm x 1.5 or a 10mm x 1.25 which are all the most common fastener sizes used on a dirt bike and to repair one of these, it will likely be necessary to use a Heli-Coil to restore the damaged threads.
If this is a situation where the damaged threads are deep within the engine cases, this may require major engine disassembly to be able to reach the threads which are damaged such as case screws which are on the opposite side of the engine to where the bolt is inserted, (bolts generally longer than 10mm) although if this is a situation where the threads are visible and near the surface of where the part or fastener tightens against, (bolts will be very short) the repair may be possible without disassembly of anything much more than a stator or other external part.
Note: If there is damage to threads that are in a hole which goes through to the inner parts of the motor, such as an oil level check bolt, or the affected hole has a long bolt, this will require engine disassembly or removal of the cover or part which the threaded hole is in, otherwise further engine damage may result or additional metal shavings as well as a Heli-Coil tang may end up inside the motor and none of which are any good.
Once everything is apart and evaluated, If there is a threaded hole in an aluminum part such as an engine case, it is likely going to be necessary to use a Heli-Coil insert to properly repair this, as once the threads are damaged in an aluminum part, it is generally not possible to properly restore these type of damaged threads without the use of a Heli-Coil insert, but the good news is that installing a Heli-Coil insert is easily accomplished and results in a stronger hole than was original. Be sure to see the article on Installing a Heli-Coil Insert for more on this.
How to Install a Heli-Coil Insert
If it's determined that a Heli-Coil insert is in order, the first step will be to determine if the affected hole is the type which is closed at the end, or if the hole goes through to the inner parts of the engine and an example of this would be the oil level check bolt which is standard on a lot of dirt bikes as this is the type of situation where the right cover would need removed before any drilling or insertion of a Heli-Coil insert. If the hole has a bottom to it as can be seen by looking into the hole with a flashlight and visibly seeing the end of the hole and the hole is not the type which has a long bolt in it, then the Heli-Coil can usually be inserted without any problems and without any further disassembly of the bike, although if the affected hole is the type that goes through to the inner parts of the engine than the affected part will need to be removed and / or disassembled to access the affected threads. (Yes, this could mean complete engine disassembly)
Once the affected hole has been determined to be safe to drill in (meaning it is a closed end hole) or if the affected part has been removed or disassembled, it's now going to be necessary to drill the hole to an adequate depth to allow insertion of the Heli-Coil insert and at the appropriate size as indicated on the packaging of the Heli-Coil kit that was purchased for this repair.
Note: When drilling the hole to prepare for installation of a Heli-Coil, it is critical that the hole is drilled straight and this is generally best done on a drill press although if the part is still on the bike, this can be accomplished using a hand held drill if extreme care is used as well as it being critical that the hole is not drilled too deep whereas the part can be further damaged as would happen if the hole were to be drilled to a depth that was deeper than the hole was originally.
How to Fix a Stripped Oil Drain
If the Oil Drain hole is what the threads are damaged in, I understand that most people would rather not completely disassemble the engine and split the cases to repair this so here's how to repair this in the bike using a Heli-Coil Insert.
- First it's going to be necessary to drill into the oil drain hole but when drilling the hole, make absolutely certain that you take your time and keep the drill bit straight with the hole, otherwise you'll likely end up with problems you would have never wished were possible. Also, when drilling, coat the drill bit with grease such as the tacky Bel-Ray waterproof grease as this will catch any cuttings and drill slowly. It's also important to stop frequently to check the depth of your cut and clean the drill bit of cuttings and grease, followed by applying more grease to the drill bit each time and continuing the cut until the hole is of an adequate depth to allow for insertion of the Heli-Coil insert but remember, the insert needs to be .5-1mm below the sealing surface after installation.
- Once the hole is drilled an adequate depth for the insert and cleared of any cuttings, it will now be necessary to tap the hole with the tap supplied with the Heli-Coil but before doing so, be sure to coat the tap with the same Bel-Ray grease that was used during drilling as this will again catch any cuttings as the tap cuts the threads necessary for the Heli-Coil
- Once the hole is drilled and tapped to prepare for an insert, be sure that the hole is now clean of any cuttings by using a rag twisted into a Q-Tip shape and then getting a rinse with brake clean followed by gentle use of some compressed air.
- Once the hole is clean, install a new insert to the tool which was supplied with the kit and install the Heli-Coil into the hole while using care to not place the insert too deep as this could cause problems such as shifting issues. Just remember it is important to install the insert at a depth to where the insert is below the sealing surface of the oil drain plug by approximately .5-1mm.
- Once the Heli-Coil insert is installed in the engine, it will now be necessary to remove the tang which is at the end of the insert but this will need to be done carefully so as to not loose the tang inside the engine.
- In a normal situation, this tang can be broken off with a hammer and punch but doing so would likely result in loss of the tang within the engine and this could become a very bad situation as the Heli-Coil material is a very hard stainless steel, and this piece left inside an engine could prove disastrous so this needs to be done carefully so as to not lose this piece within the engine.
- The methods that generally work best for this are to use a pick to reach into the hole and hook the tang from the top and then carefully, yet forcefully pull downward on the tang so as to break it off and allow the piece to fall out the bottom.
Once the oil drain hole has been repaired, if the original drain plug was in place, a magnetic oil drain plug should be used to replace the original and inserted, torqued to the manufacturers recommended torque, the bike filled to the proper level with oil, the oil filter changed if this is a 4 stroke and the bike put back on the track for some continued flogging.
How to Save the Threads on an External Part
If there was any force required during removal of a bolt or shaft as is often necessary when maintenance on parts such as swingarm and linkage bearings are neglected and then the part is beat through with blows from a hammer without something such as a brass punch being used as the contact point, the bolt or shaft generally ends up with a mushroomed end and in this case the part is generally best replaced but if it needs to be used temporarily the mushrooming will need to be addressed by grinding the end of the shaft or bolt to remove the mushrooming and this can be done on a bench grinder by carefully grinding the bolt or shaft at a 45 degree type of angle using care to only remove the material that causes the mushroom effect but before you begin grinding it is imperative that eye protection is used.