AR15s are not finicky maintenance queens

Colt SP1

A lot of people on the internet have this idea in their heads that AR15s are these finicky, maintenance queens that need to be constantly cleaned and scraped free of any bit of debris lest they suffer a catastrophic malfunction. There are lot of reasons why people think this, but suffice to say it’s not true. Our buddy John from Ballistic Radio, with the help of Knight’s Armament and Freedom Munitions decided to show you how not true that was, so he shot 15,000 rounds through an AR15 without cleaning it, then dumped an entire bag of sand on it. (some NSFW language, so use your headphones)

KAC SR-15 MOD2 Sand Dump Test AFTER 15,000 rounds without cleaning… from Ballistic Radio on Vimeo.

Now, I know EXACTLY what the smacktards are going to say: “Caleb, he had the dust cover closed! That keeps anything from getting in the action!” Of course he had the dust cover closed, that’s what it is there for. But hey, he filmed another video after that to show you how much stuff the dust cover actually lets get in the gun. Trigger warning for godawful screeching bolt noises.

KAC SR-15 MOD Sand Dump Test Aftermath… from Ballistic Radio on Vimeo.

As you can see, there is a ton of grit and junk in that gun…but it keeps on working. Just going and going and going. John’s made sure to keep the gun lubricated, which is really all you need to do with an AR15. Keep it wet and it’ll keep running.

Of course, there are going to be people who say that this test doesn’t count and he should lock the bolt to the rear and pour sand directly into the action. What exactly field conditions is that going to replicate? Are people using their AR ejection ports as shovels? I don’t think so. The people that are calling for that kind of abuse aren’t interested in a fair test, they’re 1) idiots, and 2) just interested making the rifle fail. Why would they want it to fail? Because they’re mentally invested in the (incorrect) idea that the AR15 is a delicate f***ing flower that needs to be constantly babied and meticulously cleaned. It doesn’t. It’s a tough implement of war that’s served our country for nearly 50 years.

In fact, it’s probably more reliable than an AK47.

19 thoughts on “AR15s are not finicky maintenance queens”

  1. I recently had a T&E S&W Sport AR15 on hand during a carbine class at Defense Midwest. The range there is covered with a mix of sand and concrete millings. During that class I shot the rifle several times after dumping handfuls of crap onto the ejection port. Note that the Sport does not come with a dust cover.

    The AR system is VASTLY more robust than mythology would have people believe.

    http://www.recoilweb.com/sub-1k-ars-the-haggard-on-the-sw-51593.html
    or;
    http://www.thetacticalwire.com/archived/2014-09-23_tactical.html

  2. I agree definitely that the AR is far more reliable than its reputation. I’m a recent AK-to-AR convert and I would say one thing that surprises me isn’t the cleaning to be reliable maintenance, it is the part checking and replacement that has surprised me with ARs. Again this is probably a little overblown like the clean as a whistle myth, but sometimes the things like ring alignment/check, gas key proper staking/check, extractor spring type/check, bolt metal type/shearing lugs, and buffer weights/ejection pattern make my head spin a little.

    1. It’s a myth that you have to stagger the gaps in the gas rings for the rifle to work. When the rings are compressed in the bore of the bolt carrier, the gaps are insignificant and don’t affect the function of the gun. Try lining up all three and go shoot the gun; it won’t notice.

      Gas key staking, extractor spring type, and buffer weight/tuning all have to do with assembling the gun properly the first time. Just like making sure the front sight tower and gas tube are straight on an AK, or that an AK magwell isn’t hogged out so much that the mag wobbles badly, or that the AK gas piston is flexibly attached to the carrier, etc. Once you put the right parts together in the right way, you’re good to go.

      Bolt lugs shearing generally occurs when the bolt wasn’t replaced on schedule. On an AR, the bolt is considered a wear part and is designed to be replaced every 10K rounds or whatever. It’s inexpensive and a drop-in replacement, so once you get up around 10K rounds, change it.

  3. Just had to throw that last line in to tick off more people, didn’t you? Here I’ve been feeling bad for not treating mine like a safe queen. Only problem my AR has is me!

  4. To be fair, a cheap-o DPMS, RR, Black Rain, DoubleStar or whatever likely won’t go as long as the Knights, Colt, BCM, Noveske, etc. But yea, AR’s don’t need 1/10th the cleaning most people think they do.

  5. Caleb: I enjoy watching torture tests of various guns as much as anybody, but I have figured out what is really important. Will my gun sitting by the door function when I need it if it was last lubed one month ago; two months ago, etc. I visit my mother at least once every three months, and when I do, I function test her defense guns, then clean and lube them, because I know that she doesn’t do that.

    I just bought the wife a Rock River (our first AR!) and it is being petted, cleaned, and lubed like the special child it is. Sure it’s a tough gun, but we’re good parents and it will always be presentable at home or in public.

  6. The M16A1 I had in basic training and the one I had later at my permanent duty station had frequent issues. I don’t know if they were just old or what.

    Then we were issued brand-spanking-new M16A2s. No problems. Even when I went to a 5-day school where we fired a lot of blanks (MUCH dirtier than shooting live ammo), as long as I put a little Break-Free on the bolt and ran it back and forth a few times every morning, it never had a problem.

  7. Thank you Caleb, for posting this. AR cleaning/maint. hysteria continues to baffle me. My mechanically factory stock M&P Sport just goes and goes with occasional minimal cleaning. I do lube it regularly though. I think a large part of the perceived reliability problems with ARs may be due to “over-modification” of an otherwise good firearm. My experience with other good quality factory stock guns has been that once you start dropping in all types of aftermarket, precision fit, $$$ parts to increase accuracy/speed, reliability often goes down.

    Long time lurker – First post

  8. The crucial disclaimer- this only applies to quality AR15s .

    Cleetus built bargain parts ordered from cheaperthandirt.com and thrown together in an AR-15 shape doesn’t count.

  9. I was that guy who believed ARs were prissy princesses until I joined the military. I was a machine gunner and our squads usually have 5 rifles and 2 guns in a line company. The machine guns always came first in terms of maintenance priorities and often rifles got 1/4 of the attention the guns got. They still functioned and I can only think of one that consistently had problems, The biggest issue with our rifles was the decade old mags that had been kicked, dropped, thrown etc during the last decade of war

  10. As per Ezell’s “The Great Rifle Controversy”, most of the early problems were avoidable. The AR-15/M-16 was designed for DuPont IMR powder. The US Army used Olin Ball powder exclusively. Plus the powder was made from recycled WW 2 artillery powder with excessive calcium carbonate content. This, in a weapon the Army told soldiers required no cleaning was a recipe for disaster as the calcium carbonate built up especially on constant full auto fire as was common on troops with limited training on this weapon. Recruits were still training with M-14’s. On top of this, the Ball powder increased the rate of fire causing parts failures. To make matters worse, Colt was permitted to use IMR ammo for test purposes. As I understand it, Israel has used versions of the M-16 for decades with few problems. Further, Having owned and used both factory and home built AR’s for many years (plus many of friends), I never had a failure of any kind with factory ammo that was not caused by a bad magazine. Though a homebuilt had a bad chamber, which prove fixable. I understand the Marines had fewer problems. They always cleaned their weapons. Part failures plagued them as well however. This was largely corrected with a heavier buffer, reducing the rate of fire.

  11. I actually have yet to clean my cheap PTAC AR-15 that I bought about a year ago…and have yet to have a malfunction in it. I run a boresnake through the barrel sometimes, but haven’t cleaned it yet. Basically I was just interested to see if it really would start working like crap if not cleaned. Still runs like the first mag.

    My AK has also never had a malfunction…for me. It has jammed up 3 times in 1 mag for another guy that was shooting it…I think he was holding it like a pansy and inducing the errors. But still…my AK (which I actually maintain way better than my AR) has had jams. My AR has been flawless with all shooters.

  12. DoubleStar is cheapo now?! Geezus. Maybe my home built Mega/DS is a fluke. Been beating it like it owes me money with zero failures. Dirt cheap steel case ammo, carried in the rain/drug through Missouri mud on a hike, no cover but the trees that night. Made it to my destination and ran 8 mags flawlessly.

  13. My DD has been uber reliable, sittiing on 8500 rounds now, and its my go to gun. However, i know my arsenal would be more reliable in really shitty conditions, but at a trade off. I will take a well bult AR over a well built AK any day, but i wouldnt call MY AR more reliable than MY ak

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