These Eyeball-Hazard Fasteners Are the Worst Part of Wrenching

Circlips can pop right off straight into the dumpster.

Wrenching, for the most part, is pretty fun. You get to learn how things work. You’re assembling or disassembling physical objects where you can see your progress. It’s very, very satisfying. 

That is, until you run into something that requires a circlip. Circlips belong in the deepest pit of hell. 

In case you’ve been fortunate enough to avoid these garbage nightmare fasteners, they’re C-shaped clips that snap onto things. They often have two little loops where you can bend them apart with a set of special pliers in order to slide them into place. 

The loops can be inside or outside of the C-shape, but either way, they suck!, Seeger

Circlips have a number of different names, including “snap ring,” “C-clip” and “Seeger ring.” However, the most fitting name of all is one of several that even Wikipedia felt was appropriate to include: “Jesus clip.” Circlips are so prone to popping across the room and so easy to lose that they do, in fact, cause people to take the Lord’s name in vain, if not utter a few words that you really shouldn’t repeat around small children or your mother. 

My friends and I had to install several of these contemptible clips when I replaced the Volkswagen Type 4 engine’s pistons and cylinders. There are still probably several circlips lost in that garage. 

The exact circlip pliers I ended up with, which I don’t recommend., AutoZone

Even the pliers designed to put circlips on are hot garbage. The only ones we could find at the AutoZone closest to the Volkswagen had removable ends to fit different sizes of circlip holes. That sounds great until you realize that these end attachments don’t lock in very securely and also like to snap off of the pliers at really inconvenient times. That often results in the circlip itself popping off into an interdimensional wormhole, never to be seen again. 

There are single-size circlip pliers out there, and that’s a really tempting purchase for whenever I inevitably do a full rebuild of my terrible VW’s engine. I will hate my life the second I have to deal with those circlips, though. This is my free time! I thought this was supposed to be fun! Why can’t I have nice things?

Regardless of which pliers you use, the curved little points that poke into the holes of the circlip tend to slide off of said clip before you actually get the stupid thing on. Maybe the circlip starts tilting at a perilous angle. Maybe you didn’t slide the ends of the pliers far in enough. 

No. 7: The offending pliers with tiny angled ends to fit into a circlip., Screencap via Porsche 914 Factory Service Manual

That’s when circlips often snap off the pliers directly towards your eyeballs. I understand that this is why safety glasses exist, but that doesn’t make it any less startling when you have a small metal projectile flying straight at your eye. It’s as if they have a built-in homing beacon to aim right for the most vulnerable parts of your face. 

There’s a less offensive version of the circlip called an E-clip, named such for the extra material inside the C that that make it look more like an E than a C. These don’t require the use of special circlip pliers to install or take off, but no! E-clips suck, too. I am convinced that the “E” stands for “evil.”

An E-clip., Grainger

My Porsche 944’s shift lever is attached to the rod that goes back to the transaxle with one such E-clip, and I have lost track of the number of times that this particular circlip variant has popped off mid-drive, forcing the unlucky person behind the wheel to hold the stupid rod onto the shifter until they can bring it in and we can find another E-clip. That circlip sucks so much that attempts to make a better, more durable shift lever have ditched the circlip entirely in favor of a normal friggin’ bolt

From my perspective as a person who does this stuff for fun, there are zero redeeming qualities to these garbage fasteners beyond their ability to pop into tight spaces. According to Seeger, whose name still is synonymous with these awful things, their circlips were patented in 1927 as a cylinder locking device. 1927! 

How the hell have we not found a less frustrating fastener in 93 years? 

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