Transmission systems, drive axles, and transfer cases of cars and trucks utilize all manner of circlips to retain gears and bearings on shafts. From regular snap rings with grip holes to wire locks.
As you may have learned from my article on snap rings, not all circlips have grip holes. Some circlips have grooved ends, others have grip holes, and others are simply steel rings with blunt ends. Some people call them blind snap rings.
To effectively deal with the different types of snap rings, you need specific types of circlip pliers. But in some cases, needle nose pliers will do the job.
Common types of snap rings for transmission systems and transfer cases
Although there are several types of snap rings, you are more likely to encounter these three types when rebuilding a tranny or a transfer case.
Type 1. Snap ring with grip holes
Snap rings with holes are the most common types of retaining rings. They are used in most of the applications that require a circlip. You will find them in bores and on shafts.
Snap rings with grip holes are easy to remove and install with regular snap ring pliers. You only need to make sure the tips of the pliers are strong and the right size to fit into the grip holes.
If the tips are too small, the circlip might slip off and come flying at you when you apply pressure. If they are too big, they will not fit into the grip holes.
Type 2. Snap ring with groove ends
Some circlips have grooved or hooked ends. These are also easy to remove and often don’t require a special tool. You can remove or install them with needles nose pliers.
But the tips of the needle nose pliers must be narrow enough to get into the hooked ends. These snap rings with hooked ends are mostly used as internal snap rings. So you will mostly find them in circular bores.
Type 3. Snap rings without holes or hooks
A snap ring without holes is a type of C-shaped retaining ring with blunt or pointed ends. They are common in heavy-duty trannies and transfer cases where they are used to retain gears and bearings onto shafts.
Circlips without holes are made either from stamped sheets or tempered steel rings. Other common names for them are wire locks, lock rings, or blind circlips.
It is a fairly easy job to remove and install snap rings with holes or hooks but it is a different story handling snap ring without holes.
Circlips that don’t have holes are not very common and are the hardest to remove.
Without the right tool, you can hardly get them out of the shaft.
I came across the first snap ring without holes when I was working on the NP231 transfer case for my Jeep.
The circlip was holding the gear assembly to the output shaft.
I tried different tools to get it out but nothing worked. That’s when I learned about the special circlip pliers with knurled external tips.
The external serrations on the tips of these special snap ring pliers provide the grip needed to hold the lock ring and prevent it from sliding off and flying away when spread apart.
To learn more about snap rings, read this article on what are snap rings and how to use them.
Internal circlip without holes
You might think that circlips are for shafts only. No! There are also internal circlips without grip holes. You will encounter them in some engine piston assemblies where they are used to secure the floating wrist pin.
But unlike external circlips, an internal circlip without grip holes is quite easy to remove and install. You don’t even need special circlip removal tool. Instead, a flat screwdriver and your thumb are all you need to do the job effectively.
Typically, a bore housing that uses this type of retaining ring has a recess on the side where you can slide a screwdriver to pry out the wire lock.
For instance, wrist pin bores that use this type of snap ring have a small recess in the wire lock groove. The dent lets you slide a flat screwdriver and push out the retaining clip. Installing these retaining rings in the piston bore is also quite easy. You do it by systematically applying inward pressure on the ring with your thumbs as you push it into the groove.
I do this nearly every time when assembling aftermarket pistons and conrods in a full floating piston configuration.
Best Circlip Pliers for Removing Circlip Without Holes
Now, let’s go back to external snap rings without holes a.k.a horseshoe lock rings. As I mentioned, these circlips are very difficult to remove or install without the right type of circlip pliers.
And because the special types of circlip pliers for horseshoe lock rings are difficult to find, here are some of the best choices that I know work quite well.
Stanley Proto J250G Horseshoe Snap Ring Pliers – Best Overall
- 9 inches long
- Plastic non-slip handle grips
- Made in USA
The 9-inch Stanley Proto J250 lock ring pliers are my favorite set of pliers for removing horseshoe snap rings. They are well-machined and feel heavy-duty in the hands. You can tell they are designed to take out stubborn types of snap rings that don’t have holes from axles and output shafts in transmission systems and transfer cases.
The most outstanding feature of these Proto circlip pliers is the knurling finish on the outside of the jaws along with the small dimples that keep lock rings from slipping. They help a lot when you have to move the C-clip along the spline shaft.
The tips are made from hardened steel and the cross-hatching does not wear out easily. This makes these pliers suitable for working with heavy duty wire locks.
What is even more satisfying is that these Proto J250 snap ring pliers are made in the USA. And even though they are expensive, they are worth every penny. They are a must-have if you rebuild trannies and transfer cases of cars and trucks for a living. These pliers are sturdy and strong enough to take away drudgery in removing those heavy-duty tab-less snap rings from shafts.
Knipex 45 10 170 Circlip Pliers – Best for Cars
6.69 inches long
Textured handles for non-slip grip
Made in Germany
When it comes to providing quality pliers and innovative pliers designs, Knipex is always on the front line. The company has not been left behind in providing the right tool for removing circlips without holes. It offers the Knipex 45 10 170 circlip pliers.
These pliers are well made just like other Knipex pliers. They are strong and sturdy and have a high quality feel. They can put up with accidental abuse in the garage.
You can use these Knipex 45 10 170 to fit horseshoe retaining rings and circlips without grip holes on shafts. The minimum split gap on a clip must be at least 9/64″.
These pliers use a crosshatched outer surface on the jaw tips to grip the retaining rings and prevent them from sliding off.
Unfortunately, the knurled grips do not have recessed grooves to stop the rings from coming off when the knurling starts to wear off. This prevents the tool from lasting a lifetime because the checkered surface inevitably starts to wear out after several uses. So it is best not to use these pliers on heavy duty snap rings. I would recommend using them on transmission systems only and small cars.
Another downside of these Knipex pliers for horseshoe circlips is the lack of rubber grips on the handles. Bare handles are hard to hold especially for a tool like this one that requires a significant amount of force to spread the circlips. Even PVC handles would make the grip more comfortable.
Lastly, the pliers are quite small in size and might not work well with tough snap rings. The lack of cushion on the thin handles makes it quite difficult to easily grip the tool with much force.
Nonetheless, the Knipex 45 10 170 snap ring pliers are a nice addition to your toolbox for assembling or pulling apart the transmission systems of small cars. You can also use them to attach or detach aluminum protection rings around parts on machines such as lathes.
These pliers are a little expensive but they will get you through several projects before they wear off and need a replacement.
Speedwox Lock Ring Pliers – Best for DIY Mechanics
- 9 inches long
- Pastidipped handles
- Spring loaded
- Made in China
The Speedwox lock ring pliers are not the most reliable but they are inexpensive and can get you through a transmission or transfer case rebuild project. They are the ideal circlip pliers for a DIYer or weekend warrior who only works on a tranny or gearbox of a car once in a while.
The minimum split gap on a circlip that these pliers can get into is 3.4mm (0.13″). You can use them to extend the C-clip up to 30mm. But if you need to open a circlip farther, you may consider the 11″ version which opens an extra 8mm apart.
The Speedwox circlip pliers have knurled gripping surfaces with no dimples. The handles have nonslip PVC material that makes the grip quite comfortable. Also, there is a spring between the handles to keep the jaws always closed. This helps to minimize hand fatigue.
Although these lock ring pliers from Speedwox are made from chrome vanadium steel, they are quite soft. They get marred by heavy-duty circlips pretty easily. And this makes them unsuitable for working on heavy-duty snap rings. Unless you don’t want to use them for a couple of projects.
The second downside of these pliers is the poor quality hinge that easily gets rusty and gritty. You have to keep it drenched in oil to prevent rust and keep the jaw movement smooth. But only the hinge gets rusty. The rest of the jaw has a black oxide finish that works well to prevent corrosion.
Overall, Speedwox horseshoe circlip pliers are a nice addition to your toolbox for expanding external snap rings without grip holes or hooks. Although they might not be as sturdy as the Proto or Knipex, these pliers are a good value for the price and thus a perfect option for DIY car enthusiasts and shade tree mechanics.
There are several sizes to choose from including 8″, 9″, and 11″. You also have an option that has holes on the jaws to keep the lock ring from snapping off as you draw it from the shaft.
Overall, if you ever work on a transmission system, drive axle, transfer case, or gearbox, you are more than likely to encounter snap rings without holes or grip hooks. And the best way to avoid the frustration that comes with removing or installing these types of retaining rings is to keep any of these three pairs of circlip pliers in your toolbox.
They are not the most used pliers (even for professional mechanics) but they will save you many hours of struggling to spread apart those pesky lock rings that don’t have grip holes or hooks.
If you are a professional mechanic and rebuilding trannies and gearboxes is what pays the bills, I would recommend Stanley Proto horseshoe circlip pliers. They are nicely machined and have all the bells and whistles that good circlip pliers for snap rings without holes must have.
But if you want an inexpensive tool to get you through a single project or two, you may consider Speedwox. It will do the job but might get a serious beating to be useful in the next big project.
Otherwise, Knipex 45 10 170 is a good alternative to the Stanley Proto, especially if you deal with small cars and trucks.
So, that is how you deal with those snap rings without grip holes or grooves. If there is a different way you deal with them, please share in the comment section.