If you work on cars, you know that it can be difficult to remove electrical connectors and fuel line adapter fittings for the fuel tank. Granted, automotive connectors are quick to connect but some of them are too difficult to remove without a tool. Others accumulate dust and gunk and get stuck. As a result, they become too tight to break loose by hand.
And when you use a tool, you better use the correct one. Otherwise, you can easily break the connector tabs and render the connectors useless if you use the wrong tool. And you know, the only way to fix a connector with a broken tab is to replace the whole connector. You cannot repair it.
I believe the last thing you want is to damage the tab of any connector on a vehicle. Because not only will it break your heart but also your wallet. Imagine you have to get a new connector, remove pins from the old one, and repin the new one. The process can take a whole day but you can avoid all this mess by using the right tool.
The best way to remove connectors quickly without damaging them is to use connector pliers a.k.a disconnect pliers. In this post, I share more on these special pliers and why you should have them in your automotive pliers set.
What are connector pliers?
Connector pliers are a specialty tool for disconnecting electrical connectors, block-mounted sensors, and fuel line adapter fittings. They allow you to easily pinch a connector and pull it off in seconds.
Typically, connector pliers have bent narrow tips that squeeze on the connector tabs to release them. At the same time, the hooks offer a solid bite onto the tabs that enables you to easily pull out even the more stubborn connectors.
From my experience, disconnect pliers pinch and pull off connectors more easily than any other tool and with less effort.
When you don’t have connector pliers at hand, you can use a range of other tools to disconnect plastic automotive connectors that won’t come off by hand. These alternative tools are however not as effective but they can save the day.
The two most alternative tools you can use to remove the plastic connectors and fittings from a car are a slotted screwdriver or a pair of regular pliers.
Regular/ordinary pliers are arguably the most versatile tool for gripping and manipulating small objects. You can use them to squeeze the connector tabs and simultaneously pull out the connectors.
Specifically, needle nose pliers work well for this purpose. They have deep narrow jaws that can access connectors in tight spaces. Some long nose pliers have bent jaws which offer great versatility and leverage in tighter spaces. You can use them to work on connectors and adapter fittings with single or double locking tabs.
The disadvantage of using regular pliers to remove connectors is that they do not provide the perfect grip on the connector tabs. As you pull, they tend to slip and could mangle the tabs. Also, sometimes the squeezing pressure on the jaws might be too much and could crush the connector tabs.
The other tool you can use is a flat screwdriver. It works well for electrical connectors with a single tab. You use it to press the tab inside while levering out the connector. The lip on the locking tab enables the screwdriver to push out the connector without slipping.
The biggest challenge with using a screwdriver to pull out automotive connectors is the increased risk of snapping brittle tabs on the connectors of older vehicles.
Best connector pliers
I have come across many types of connector removal pliers but these two are my favorite, and presumably the best you will find. All the other disconnect pliers take the form of either of these two.
Lisle 37160 Disconnect Pliers – Best for Auto mechanics
The Lisle connector pliers are my personal favorite for removing electrical connectors, fuel line connectors, and any other small plastic fitting with lock tabs.
These pliers have deep jaws and angled tips. The tips are bent at 90 degrees to allow for easy pressing of connector tabs even in tight and awkward spaces. These pliers open as wide as 2-3/16″ and can open further to 2-13/16″ but you may need two hands on the handles to operate them.
If you work on big commercial rigs, you may find these Lisle pliers useful for taking off DEF lines for EGR systems. My friend who services big commercial drilling rigs uses them to take off diesel exhaust fluid line connector fittings and he says they work like a charm.
Although you might not care much about the place of manufacture, these pliers are made in the USA. This should tell you they are a good quality build. The typical Lisle quality, not thin cheap metal like some imports. They are also coated to prevent rust. Lastly, the handles are spring-loaded to facilitate one-hand operation. They also have cushion grips for comfortable use.
Hilitchi Disconnect Pliers Kit – Best for DIY
This disconnect pliers pack from Hilitchi is what I would recommend for any DIY mechanic or enthusiast. It contains three pairs of pliers that are very important to any auto technician.
One of the tools is of course the fuel line disconnect pliers. These 9-inch long pliers are made of carbon steel and have solid bent tips to provide a good working angle. They have a spring mechanism to keep the jaws open and the handles have comfortable grips for your hand.
Unlike the Lisle, these disconnect pliers have wider round tips that may not provide the best grip on tabs when pulling. However, they do work well on fuel hoses with plastic snap connectors. They are great for disconnecting the fuel pump from the line on many vehicles.
This Hilitchi package comes with another pair of disconnect pliers with narrower tips that are coated in black oxide to prevent rust. You can use them interchangeably with the main pair. These are better for electrical connectors.
Lastly, the third pair of pliers in the package is push pin pliers. These are special pliers for removing push pin fasteners used to attach trim pieces, fenders, and car bumpers. I have shared about them extensively in this article: What are push pin pliers?
Hilitchi pliers are made in China and this pack comes with a zippable bag that helps with storage and transportation.
Irrespective of the set of pliers you choose, you cannot discount the importance of connector pliers in a mechanic’s life. They make work easy of removing plastic electrical connectors and fuel line disconnects.
Disconnect pliers help reduce the number of broken connectors tabs. And if you are older and have arthritis in your hands, these pliers eliminate the horror of disconnecting electrical plugs.
With connector pliers, you will no longer struggle to depress the connector tabs with a screwdriver while at the same time trying to pull off the connector. These pliers are a nice addition to your toolbox if you work on electrical or fuel line systems of cars regularly.