A Backup Plan For Drain Plugs
Life requires backup plans. What is your contingency plan if three of your employees call in sick on the same day? Do you have several part suppliers in place in case your usual provider doesn’t have the part your customer needs in time? If your car gets a flat on the way to work, do you have a spare?
What happens when a customer brings their car in for an oil change and you notice the threads in their oil pan are stripped? Do you have a backup plan?
It’s a difficult position to be in. After all, you don’t want to be accused of causing the drain pan damage — replacement drain pans are expensive — but you also don’t want to slip the same plug back in. If the replacement plug isn’t secure and the customer leaves, their vehicle could leak oil. Down the road, their vehicle’s engine could even seize.
Of course, being honest with your customer — no matter how hard it may be — is critical. Most customers will understand and appreciate you looking out for them. If they don’t, chalk it up to being part of this business. You’re going to run into the occasional cranky customer. Take your chances and keep your integrity.
Start by telling the customer the truth about their drain pan situation. Next, offer a solution. If the hole is the right size, and it’s installed correctly, a piggyback drain plug is a terrific long-term solution — not to mention, it’s much less expensive than buying a replacement pan.
“In this situation, a lot of technicians would just use an oversize plug because they are easier and faster to install. My opinion is you want to try the piggyback plug as your first option,” said Gary Roy president of GWR Specialty Automotive Products and drain plug manufacturer. “If you use an oversized plug, it continues to cut new threads every time it’s removed and replaced. In the process of cutting, the dimensions of the original threads change. While the plug may adjust to the cut, the next time it’s taken out, you will probably get broken pieces of threads coming with it. This will recreate the same loose situation you started with. The piggyback plug uses the same rethreading principle as the oversized plug except once you install it you don’t have to take it out again.”
Determine if the hole you’re dealing with is the right size for a piggyback plug. Piggyback plugs come in limited sizes, step one, step two and sometimes a step three. But Roy said finding a step three plug is rare.
“Once the hole is bigger than the largest plug offered, you can’t use a piggyback plug. The most popular standard size drain plugs are 12 and 14-millimeter so piggybacks are readily available for most of them. In [standard] sizes like half-inch, there are two oversize piggyback options,” Roy said.
After you determine what size piggyback plug you’ll need, make sure you clean the area thoroughly. To get the best seal possible, you’ll need to make sure there isn’t excess oil around the area or in the threads before you screw the piggyback plug in place.
“Most plugs you can just screw in, but if you’re going to use a piggyback plug, you need to think about cleanliness to get the best mounting possible,” Roy said. “If you’re going to take the time to install one, do it the right way. Carefully, thread the piggyback plug into the hole, a few threads forward and then a few back. Think of it as a tap. It takes several minutes but you need to be sure the threads are clean and sharp. Once the plug bottoms out, remove it slowly and then clean the threads with some brake cleaner to remove oil and loose thread material. Grab a new washer that’s preferably aluminum or copper (not fiber or plastic) and seal the thread with a locking product. Then tighten and torque the main part of the plug into place.”
Using the right materials and tools is important. Make sure you use a new washer made out of the right materials, and always use a torque wrench. Impact or air tools can cause you to over tighten the plug. The higher torque pulls the threads and makes the hole — and the problem — bigger.
The best thing about piggyback plugs is if they’re correctly installed, they don’t ever have to be removed. Once you put one in, that’s probably the last time you’ll have to repair the drain plug hole.
However, the threads are tricky. If the piggyback plug ever goes bad, Roy said it’s usually best to replace the whole pan. This is why it’s so important to install it right the first time.
“There are no major negatives to piggyback plugs I can think of if they’re done correctly, but problems can occur if the large part of the piggyback plug isn’t secure and you unscrew the little plug. The twisting can take the big plug out and ruin the original seal,” Roy said. “What I suggest is to bond the big part of the plug to the new pan threads. Then, put a few turns of Teflon tape around the little plug so it has a better seal.”
Piggyback drain plugs aren’t as widely used as other oversized plugs because they take time and technique to install. They’re not the fastest, most immediate fix, but remember you’re not in this business to do things fast if they don’t fix the problem at hand. Your job is to provide the best possible service you can. Customers rely on you when it comes to their vehicles so make sure you have a backup plan.