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What are Snap-Ring Pliers?

Snap-ring pliers are specialized tools designed to install or remove circlips—metal fasteners that secure components on shafts or within bores. Their unique tips fit into the small holes of snap rings, allowing for precise manipulation. Whether you're a DIY enthusiast or a professional mechanic, understanding their function is key. Curious about how they can simplify your next project? Let's delve deeper.
Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

Snap-ring pliers are a tool designed to install and remove snap rings, which are small metal rings that hold in a bearing or other assembly item by setting into a machined groove. Snap rings are common in car engine parts as well as in motorcycle and bicycle shocks and forks. While the snap-ring pliers are not a tool that will be used often, they are an important addition to a tool box because a snap ring is difficult or impossible to remove or install without them.

The tool itself looks like a regular set of pliers in a lot of ways. Snap-ring pliers have two arms that act as handles, and they are attached at a pivot point near the head of the tool. Snap-ring pliers have two arms at the tip: these small arms are bent at a ninety degree angle and each one features a small, round tip that will fit into the small, round holes on the snap ring. The snap-ring pliers are sometimes spring-loaded to aid in retracting the tool, and most snap-ring pliers feature a reversible head so the pliers can either pull on the snap ring in one position or push it outward in another position.

Snap ring pliers have bent tips to fit into the snap ring for easy attachment and removal.
Snap ring pliers have bent tips to fit into the snap ring for easy attachment and removal.

The snap ring is a circular metal ring that is broken at one point in the circle. At the break, two small circles are bored into the ends. This is where the snap-ring plier heads will grab onto the snap ring. Once the heads of the snap-ring plier are set into the snap ring holes, the user can squeeze the handles of the plier, which will in turn move the heads either inward or outward, depending on the position of the reversible head. To remove snap rings, the plier heads must move inward to make the snap ring diameter smaller. That way, the snap ring can be pulled out of the machined groove and free of the assembly.

To install a snap ring on the outside of an assembly rather than on the inside as described above, the head of the snap-ring plier must be reversed so the heads push the snap ring holes outward. This makes the diameter of the snap ring larger so it can be placed on the outside of an assembly. Once the snap ring is put into place, the handles of the plier can be released and the snap ring itself will relax into a smaller diameter, settling into the groove in which it should sit.

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Discussion Comments


@lonelygod - There should be a number on the snap-rings in your transmission, you can use that to find a perfectly matching tool for the job. If you are not sure, just take a photo of the snap-rings and take it in with you to the shop and someone should be able to set you up with the right tool.

If you are doing snap ring removal just remember that it can be a very delicate process and it can take a lot of time. If you don't have the time available to go slowly I would suggest just taking your car into an automotive shop. You don't want to damage your transmission because that can be incredibly expensive to replace.


Does anyone know which kind of snap-ring pliers are best to keep on hand for general car maintenance?

I have been looking around my local hardware store and there are large snap-ring pliers, high tech snap-ring pliers and heavy duty snap-ring pliers all set up in the same aisle.

I am going to be doing some work on my transmission and there are numerous snap-rings that need to be removed. I would like to reuse the rings that I remove so I really want to make sure I get the right instrument for the job. My car is older and I am worried that it may be a pain to replace the snap-rings if they break.

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    • Snap ring pliers have bent tips to fit into the snap ring for easy attachment and removal.
      By: SelectPhoto
      Snap ring pliers have bent tips to fit into the snap ring for easy attachment and removal.