The AR 15 is a fantastic rifle, and easily one of the most versatile weapons on the planet. It’s also the most popular centerfire firearm in the United States. It’s made to last, but there are a few tips and tricks out there to make it last even longer. If you want your AR 15 to last long enough be passed down to your heirs, we have you covered.
Typically, a gun doesn't just explode and break. Small things build up and cause wear and tear all over the gun until it no longer runs reliably or shoots straight.
How do we prevent this from happening?
1. Keep A Regular Maintenance Schedule
Cleaning your weapon is one of the most straightforward steps you can take to preserving it and getting the most out of your AR 15. Cleaning your AR 15 doesn’t just ensure the rifle will run without malfunctions, but will ultimately increase the weapon’s life span. Cleaning, including lubrication, will keep your gun alive by:
- When correctly lubed the gun will experience less friction and wear
- Cleaning the bore with a copper removing cleaner will keep the weapon accurate
- Preventing internal, gun eating, corrosion
- Cleans the gunk out which interrupts the weapon’s operation.
It’s hard to talk about cleaning in the firearms world. There seems to be a substantial divisive line in regards to cleaning a firearm. Some are religious about cleaning their guns after every range trip, and others won't clean until the gun fails. Luckily, in the middle, we have the answer.
I am not going to clean my rifle if I go out to confirm the zero, or sight in an optic or any other short range trip. Instead, I keep a rough estimate of rounds fired and once I hit that 500 round mark I give it a good clean.
I also clean my weapon if it gets wet, dusty, or muddy for any reason. This external cleaning is essential to resist corrosion.
Oh, and you can clean your weapon too much. Yep, you can overclean your gun. In my time in the Marines, I saw it all the time. Military firearms cleaning methods are terrible. The main issue is the insane scrubbing done to remove every small bit of carbon and dirt. Hitting it with a bronze brush, or metal brush of any kind will get the carbon up, and your finish with it.
Once you start digging into the finish, you are going to encourage rust inside and out of your gun. I’d rather leave some carbon in there than have to bust rust all day.
2. Inspect Small Parts
Since we have stripped the AR down to clean let’s talk about inspecting and replacing small parts. If you can catch small issues early and replace or repair them, you can prevent more significant, more damaging, and more expensive breakages. Here are a few parts you should inspect periodically.
- The Extractor - One of the most common breakages that chips away slowly.
- Gas Rings - These rings on the BCG last a long time, but wear and can bind up the BCG.
- Firing Pin Retaining Pin - User error often bends this pin and can fracture under high pressure.
- Firing Pin - It takes a lot of rounds to beat back the firing pin of a AR 15, but it may happen sooner with hard primers. However, once it becomes rounded it needs to be replaced.
Keeping an eye on these small parts and periodically inspecting your weapon will help you fix minor problems early. Fixing small problems will often prevent big problems. If you avoid them or ignore them the issue could eventually destroy your weapon. Parts replacement can be done on a per need basis, and trying to predict when a part will break is a fool’s errand. Simply sneak a peek here and there to make sure everything is in good shape. It shouldn’t be bent, cracked, or worn.
3. Avoid Lots of Magdumps
One of the best times on the range is when you let loose and do a mag dump. A mag dump being just firing as fast as you pull the trigger and letting the lead fly. It’s good fun, and the occasional mag dump isn’t an issue. What can be an issue is mag dump after mag dump after mag dump. When it comes to shooting the rate at which you shoot can determine the wear on your gun.
One thousand rounds fired over two days of shooting will cause less wear than one thousand rounds fired in a couple of hours. Shooting that many rounds will start to overheat your weapon and metal that has been heated is more prone to wear and damage. On top of that, it's unlikely you are dumping lube into the gun when firing that much.
Now we have a combination of high heat and friction which can and will wear a gun very quickly. The barrel is an area that is mainly affected by magazine dumps. The AR is designed to fire a lot of rounds safely, but the wear and tear caused by not allowing the weapon to cool or ensuring proper lubrication can be dangerous.
You’ll likely cause peening to your BCG, and the thin-walled portion of your barrel where the gas block sits will likely cause catastrophic failure. Modern guns and furniture can help a bit. A free float handguard can allow for better cooling, a thicker barrel will last longer, and metals like titanium handle heat better too.
To be clear, letting loose with a few magazines on the range isn’t an issue. Letting loose a few dozen is.
4. Upgrade your Internals
The vast majority of rifles in the AR 15 world are hideously over gassed. What I mean is the gas port allows for way too much gas to enter the weapon. The idea is that more gas will equal a more reliable gun when the gun is filthy dirty.
Over gassing may keep the gun running, but how many people let their weapon get that filthy? Even professional soldiers can do maintenance in the field on their downtime.
The result of over gassing is more heat and more pressure. This gives us more wear and tear on your gun. To solve this, you can start by buying an adjustable gas block and possibly a lighter carbine buffer.
An adjustable gas block allows you to tune the gun to use only the necessary amount of gas needed to cycle the action. Less gas means less wear and less heat. Less wear means your AR will have a longer life span.
You can get fancy with it if you want. You can get a lighter BCG and even lighter buffer to minimize gas usage even more. Not only will it result in less wear, but less recoil too.
5. Watch Your Ammo Choices
If you are what you eat, then so is your AR. The ammo you feed the gun will cause more damage and in more ways than you think. Let’s talk about some common issues with ammo that increase wear and decrease your AR 15’s life span.
- Steel ammunition tends to be rougher on extractors
- Tracer ammunition burns significantly hotter, so avoid mag dumps with traces
- Overpowered loads are another great way to increase wear on a gun. Stick to SAAMI specs.
- Military rounds like the m855A1 have been rumored to damage feed ramps.
What you put through your gun means a lot. Your common brass cased 223 or M193/M855 5.56 is typically the best ammo if you need something to plink with. Steel ammo isn’t that bad either. Extractors are cheap and easy to replace, and you have to shoot a lot of steel to see an effect.
Just because the AR 15 is a gun made to be run hard doesn’t mean it should. Taking care of your rifle means it will take care of you. So do your rifle a favor and treat it right. The five tips above are how I keep my guns running, and I hope to keep learning and sharing more.
What tips do you use to increase the lifespan of your firearms? Let me know in the comments below!