Recent events have created a new round of panic buying of AR-15 rifles and parts kits. As companies race to meet demand, a lot of substandard parts end up in the hands of consumers. End users are often left frustrated when their new parts kit does not snap together like Legos or that factory gun they got a screaming deal on fails to feed or extract. But not to worry…! This article will cover the four most common issues I have personally seen with “panic AR-15’s” and how to correct them. I will also discuss basic maintenance schedules for the AR-15, maintenance tests, and offer insight about selecting an AR-15 for purchase.
Common problems and how to correct them!
Issue #1 Pistol grip is not attaching to the Lower Receiver
The most common problem I see with stripped Lower Receivers is that the grip screw hole is not threaded properly. Either the threading is crooked, the threads are crossed, or the actual hole is not threaded in its entirety. The fact that companies release defective stripped Lower Receivers is appalling, but can easily be fixed with a tap. The first thing to do when building an AR-15 Lower Receiver is secure it in a receiver block and see if the grip screw can be successfully screwed on. If the screw gets hung up, you can use a 1/4×28 tap to re-thread the receiver. You may not get a perfect thread, but in my experience, you don’t need a lot to hold the grip in place. After you have re-threaded, install the grip and make sure that it is secure and there is no wobble. Make sure to use a dab of Loctite or Rocksett on the screw. If the threads are an absolute mess, you can re-drill and re-tap to either M7 x 1.0 or 5/16 x 24.
Issue #2 Rifle is not feeding/extracting: Bad Extractor
When it comes to keeping an Ar-15 running, I would argue that the Bolt Carrier Group is the most critical component. I will get into basic maintenance schedules later in the article, but for now, let’s look at why new AR-15s fail to feed and extract. The most common cause I have seen is a bad Extractor.
Below is a picture of the Extractor from a rifle that was failing to extract. On the right, you can see a new Extractor pulled from a Bravo Company Bolt. It is perfect. On the left, you can see the defective Extractor and the lack of lip, that grabs the rim of the case. The Fix? Buy an Extractor from a reputable company and rebuild your bolt.
Issue #3 Rifle is not feeding/extracting: Bad Ejector
Another part of the bolt that can cause malfunctions is the Ejector. The first thing I do after I have disassembled a Bolt Carrier Group for the first time is check the Ejector. I grab the firing pin and slowly push the Ejector until it bottoms out. What I am feeling for is small burrs in the Ejector recess that can hang up on the Ejector. I am also checking for spring tension. A bad Ejector is not as common as a bad Extractor, but I have seen it. The Fix? Remove the Ejector and Ejector Spring and re-drill the ejector hole with a 7/64 drill bit. If there is very little spring tension, or if the bolt will not fling an empty 5.56 case 5 or 6 feet away, replace the Ejector Spring.
Issue #4 Receiver Extension, aka “buffer tube” is loose.
There is absolutely no excuse for a loose Receiver Extension coming out of the factory. A loose Receiver Extension is caused by a Receiver End Plate that was not staked into the Receiver Extension Nut/Castle Nut. Worst case scenario, the Receiver End Plate displaces enough to where the Detent, Detent Spring, and Rear Take Down pin are lost. The Fix? Tighten the Receiver Extension Nut and stake the Receiver End Plate.
Simple stake job. Note the multiple stakings on the Receiver End Plate. The rifle pictured has been re-built several times and is on its 3rd barrel.
Basic maintenance tips
- Keep track of your firing schedule. Around the 2,500 to 3,000 round mark, it is time to start replacing parts. At 2,500 rounds I replace the Extractor, Extractor Spring, Ejector, Ejector Spring, and Gas rings.
- Every time I clean my Bolt Carrier Group I check for cracks. Cracks form around the Cam Pin and the lugs on the Bolt. If you are missing a lug on your Bolt, it is time to replace the Bolt.
- I expect a Bolt/Bolt Carrier Group to last around 10,000 rounds. If your life depends on your AR-15, replace your Bolt Carrier Group every 10,000 rounds. For hobby AR-15’s, just shoot it until the Bolt/Bolt Carrier Group breaks, then replace it.
- A lot of shooters will carry a spare Bolt on their rifle and swap it with their “duty” Bolt when training. If you cannot afford a training rifle, this is not a bad idea.
- A great way to check Gas rings is to extend the bolt to its maximum, then stand it upright with the weight balanced on the bolt. If the Bolt Carrier collapses on the Bolt, replace the gas rings. This method only works on a “Mil-Spec” bolt carrier group.
Observations and Construction notes
- You will notice that I did not mention magazines when it comes to feeding issues. Better magazines and followers have mitigated magazine related feed problems.
- Whether you like it or not, every “direct impingement” AR-15 currently in existence is either a good or bad copy of the real thing, which is a Colt M4/M16. Colt did all of the research and development that brought us the slew of AR-15’s currently on the market.
- Material composition may slightly vary, but there are certain “must-haves” when it comes to selecting a reliable AR-15. The Bolt needs to be made of 158 Carpenter or 9310 steel. The Bolt Carrier is usually made of 8620 steel, which is fine, but a Bolt made of 8620 steel will quickly fail. M4 feed ramps are a must, and the receivers should be made out of 7075 aluminum.
- I avoid purchasing parts from companies that do not list detailed specifications. Unless you are running some hot-rod AR-15 for three-gun, nothing is really proprietary anymore, and there are no secrets on how to build a quality AR-15. Companies that don’t list specs are typically sourcing substandard parts.
- I would never trust my life to a Gas block that was not pinned. Factory guns that don’t have a staked Castle Nut/Receiver Extension Nut have problems and are typically made by apathetic companies.
Should you buy an Ar-15 right now?
Absolutely! If you don’t want to worry about quality control issues, buy a rifle from an established company. My personal recommendations would be Colt, Bravo Company Manufacturing, Daniel Defense, Springfield Armory, FN, and Specialized Armament Warehouse. If you want a custom “boutique rifle,” Seekins Precision, Billet Rifle Systems, Black Briar and Noveske are hard to beat.
Can you trust your life to a “kit rifle”? Yes. Source good parts, take your time with the build, and when in doubt, have a certified armorer assist you.
Questions? Don’t hesitate to ask in the comments section below. I will diligently watch comments in the coming weeks.