How to Remove Rusted Screws From a License Plate

Rust is a common reaction between iron and oxygen in the presence of moisture. After being exposed to the elements for years, metal screws and bolts holding your license plate can become subject to rust. Most car owners find this out the hard way when trying to replace their car plates.

So, let’s see how to remove rusted screws from a license plate so that this trivial project doesn’t turn into a major complication.

Rusted screws on license plate.

Things to Know Before You Start

  • You can undo any screw. Although it might not seem like it, even the most stubborn screws can be removed. It’s important to keep you cool and be patient.
  • Work with proper tools. More often than not, you’ll use a gripping tool to extract the rusted screw. However, the tool you need will depend on the type of screw you are dealing with. Most license plates use hex heads, but yours might be different. The best tool is the one that fits precisely onto the head.
  • Go for the 6-point end first. Unless your bolt is a 12-point, use a 6-point tool on your fastener. The 12-point tool is likely to slip and strip the head of the screw unless it fits perfectly.
  • Use an impact wrench. Not everyone owns one, but if you do, it’ll make the whole process a lot easier. You’ll be able to apply a lot more torque than when using a socket wrench and your hands.
  • Always start with the gentlest approach. If it doesn’t work, switch to more forceful methods.

How to Easily Remove Rusted Screws From a License Plate

Let’s explore some simple tricks you can use to remove rusted bolts from your plates. You’ll be needing some common tools and possibly some lubrication.

A Hammer Tap and a Wrench

Sometimes, all you need to do to loosen the rust is to give the screw head a swift tap with a hammer. The blow should crack the rust and might even be enough to break the bond with the plate. Don’t apply too much force, though, as both the rusted screw and the plate can break.

Once you’re done with the hammer, try using a 6-point wrench or socket to further loosen the screw. Try loosening and tightening it repeatedly. That should be enough to remove the bolts.

Penetrating Solvents

If the swift tap is not enough to unscrew the screws, it’s time to move on to the next step. Take a wire brush to clean and remove any loose rust before applying some penetrating oil.

Penetrating oil is meant to eat through the rust and provide lubrication for easier screw removal. There are different brands available on the market, the most popular being WD-40 and PB Blaster. Both of them come in spray bottles with nozzles for a precise application.

Make sure to saturate the rusted screw with the oil and try to reach the back of the plate if possible. With the nozzle, it shouldn’t be too difficult to completely cover the screw without making a huge mess. You can let it sit like that for up to an hour and then try to remove it.

For best results, feel free to repeat the previous step and give the bolt head a nice tap. This time, the blow should make it easier for the solvent to reach deeper into the rust and may even knock the screw loose.

DIY Rust Penetrants

Instead of commercial solvents, you can use various items commonly found around your house to make your own rust penetrant.

White vinegar is a multipurpose ingredient that removes rust like magic. Simply saturate the rusted screws with white vinegar and cover the most affected spots with a cloth soaked in the liquid. Allow it 15 minutes to work and then use a wire scrub to remove the rust.

Lemon juice also works wonders, and so does Coca-Cola. You can use both of these the same way you’d use vinegar or any commercial chemicals.

Another powerful rust penetrant you can make at home is a 50/50 solution of acetone and automatic transmission fluid. Most car owners have a bottle of transmission fluid sitting somewhere in the garage, so why not put it to good use? This DIY solvent is easy to make, effective, and inexpensive.

How to Use Heat to Remove Rusted Screws From a License Plate

If the screws don’t want to budge, it’s time to up your game. Heat will break the rust seal off the screw and expand the surrounding metal, making it easier to remove the screw. You’ll need a gas torch to achieve that, however, or a small propane torch.

Before heating the screw, you’ll have to prepare well. After all, heat can ignite the flammable oil penetrant, cause damage to the plates, and melt the bolts.

Water-Based Degreaser

When applying heat, make sure to use a water-based grease-cutting liquid to loosen the screws. This is super-important to keep in mind since oil easily catches fire. If you’ve applied an oil solvent earlier, make sure to remove all traces of it.

The degreaser will help loosen up the screws and make removal smoother.

Torch the Screws

With a small gas torch, heat the screw until it starts to smoke. A propane torch is the safest way to go, as it’s not likely to cause major damage. These torches are efficient, easy to handle, and affordable.

Start the torch and keep the flame close to the screw, but don’t overheat it. As soon as the head turns red, take away the flame. Immediately cool the screw with cold water or a soaked rag.

You need to cool it quickly and repeat the heating process. The idea behind this is to expand and contract the screw fast enough so that it loosens up.

After several repetitions, you shouldn’t have a problem extracting the bolt with only a screwdriver.

In Conclusion

Something as simple as replacing license plates can turn into a lengthy ordeal due to stubborn rusty screws. With the proper equipment and a bit of patience, though, this common task doesn’t have to be a total nightmare. It’s important to prepare well, take the necessary safety precautions, and keep calm.

Any screw can be undone, so feel free to try out these tricks one at a time or combine them for the best results.




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