The face of the broken bolt won’t be circular, it will be offset, since the threads are pitched at an angle


It may be hard to get a good eyeball on the center of the broken bolt, since the center of the face isn’t the true center of the bolt.

The objective is to drill out the broken bolt, then re-tap the hole with the original size tap. This is done by drilling a small hole in the center of the bolt, then opening it up by using incrementally larger drill bits. In order to succeed, it is absolutely critical that the hole that you drill is perfectly centered in the broken bolt. There are two issues that will arise: first, getting the center punch dead-center into the broken bolt, and second, keeping the hole centered as you’re drilling it. Getting the center punch dead center requires being aware that the center of the bolt and the center of the broken face are not the same - adjust accordingly.

If the hole begins off-center, open it up around the sides, towards the center of the bolt, creating a larger, centered hole.

Even if you get a good dimple punched dead-center, there are times your drill bit will wander from the center, and this must be corrected. If this happens, the hole will not be centered in the bolt, so if you continue to enlarge the hole you’ll wind up off-center. My trick is to use a Dremel bit in the drill to recenter the hole. Put a small diameter, straight-sided carbide Dremel bit in the drill, and gently open the edges of the hole out around 3/4 of the perimeter until you’ve got a new, slightly larger, centered hole. Then resume drilling out the hole. Another trick is to not drill too deep into the face of the broken bolt face until you’re sure the hole you’re drilling is centered. If the hole is shallow, say 1/4” max, then it’s much easier to use the Dremel bit to correct the centering. Finally, don’t use a Dremel or a die grinder for the Dremel bit, use a drill. The die grinder is way too aggressive; you need a soft touch here to get the hole aligned. The drill turns much more slowly, allowing you to remove material slowly and accurately.

To put these suggestions in context, here’s how I drilled out two broken exhaust manifold bolts from the head in my Range Rover without pulling the head. I was fortunate that there was enough room in the engine compartment to access both bolts with an angle-head air drill. The two bolts were 3/8”-16, corroded in place and broken off flush with the head. I center-punched a dimple, then drilled a shallow hole with a 1/8” drill. It was off center, so I re-aligned the hole using the carbide Dremel bit in the drill. I then drilled a shallow 3/16” hole which was still off-center, but not too far off. I used the Dremel bit again to re-align the hole, then drilled a shallow 1/4” hole. At this point I knew I had a good, centered hole. I then drilled all the way through the bolt with the 1/4” drill, being careful when it was about all the way through the back side of the bolt not to drill into the head. Also, I was very careful to make sure the 1/4” hole was not only concentric with the bolt, but running aligned with the axis. That’s very important. I then drilled out the hole with larger and larger drill bits until I was one size lower than the 3/8-16 tap required. I stopped at one size lower because the hole was a little sloppy, and I wanted to have enough meat left for the tap. I then carefully tapped the hole. When tapping the hole, be gentle. You’ll be removing bits of aluminum as you cut the threads in the head, but also bits of steel left over from the old bolt. Use tapping fluid, clean the hole out w/ compressed air if possible, and be very careful not to break off your tap in the hole!