Robert Lamoureux | What to do when a car is stuck in your toilet 

Robert Lamoureux

Question: Hi Robert. I’m not sure if this is a new one or not, but I need an answer pretty quickly, please. We have a 2-year-old son, who just flushed a toy car down the toilet. It was one of those situations where we saw it as it was happening, but it was all in slow motion and we didn’t react fast enough. We now have a toy truck stuck in the toilet. It was just big enough to not be able to go all the way through, but it also is not coming back up with a plunger.  

I am learning to do home projects myself but have never worked on a toilet before. I’m willing to attempt this because we’re not in a financial position to call a plumber. Can you walk me through the steps, if this is even possible? Do we need a new toilet? I’m lost on this but luckily we’re able to just put this bathroom out of commission and use our other. Please help, if you can. 

Thanks so much. 

— Jason G. 

Answer: Jason, welcome to parenthood! This is a classic. It happens more often than you know. You’re definitely not alone. Luckily, one day you’ll laugh about this. Not a problem — you can do this. It’s one of the easier tasks even though it’s a bit messy. 

First things first, turn the water valve to the off position. This is the water line that is behind the toilet — it feeds water to it. Be sure this is in the off position so you don’t end up with a big water cleanup.  

Given that you have a known item stuck, I’d use a shop vac (wet cleanup setup) and clear out the remainder of the water. There’s a slight chance that this could pull the toy truck up, although the likelihood is slim. Open the lid to the tank and do the same. You need all of the water out of there as well. You’ll be pulling this toilet up.  

Once all of the water seems to be out, the next step is to undo the bolts that hold the toilet to the floor. Remove the caps if they are present, and undo the nut on the bolts. You are going to need space to work on this toilet so the next steps will depend on how much room you have.  

You will need a tarp and cleaning cloths/rags of any kind. There will be residual water that comes out of the toilet, most likely, and you’ll be happy to have these handy. The toilet will be heavy, so be ready. Best practice for back safety is to straddle the toilet while facing the rear of it, and lift from the underside of the bowl.  

Move the toilet to the tarp, and lay it on its side. Use a large towel or rag that will not drop down into the sewer line, and stuff the opening so that the gases do not fill your home. This is very important — do not forget this step. The gases that come up from the sewer are poisonous.  

There is a wax ring underneath the toilet — it is the seal so that water does not leak out. This needs to be completely cleaned off so that when you reinstall with the new wax ring, there is a proper seal. The wax is just that, wax, so use disposable gloves (you may want to change these a couple of times, especially as a beginner – you don’t want this wax anywhere else) and a scraper to get most of it off. Wipe off any residual wax and do this same thing at the floor junction where the wax ring was.  

Both surfaces should be nice and clean. Inspect the bolts, making sure they are not worn or rusted. If they are, reach back out and I’ll walk you through that part — it’s a bit more detailed. These don’t need to be changed as often — they generally hold up well if there have been no leaks.  

Now is the time you’ll attempt to push that truck back up the way it entered. It’s more likely that you’ll get it this way vs. from the bottom, but now that the toilet is off you can try from both angles. I’d try a wire coat hanger with a hook put into the end of it, but when going from the top be very careful to not scratch the porcelain surface, as you’ll never get it looking good again. If getting it from the top fails, try the same from the bottom.  

If this doesn’t work then you’re looking at a new toilet. The big box stores often have average models on sale — it’s not the worst purchase when it comes to home repairs. Do pay attention to the height of the toilet, bowl shape and volume of water for flushing. Also, check to be sure that the toilet you purchase comes with a wax ring. Nothing worse than getting home and realizing you just need to head back to the store.  

If you’re able to remove the toy truck, then at this time you’ll need to evaluate if a like-for-like replacement of the wax ring is sufficient. If there were no leaks and everything looks good, you can simply go to a big box store and get a like-for-like replacement wax ring.  

When you’re ready to reinstall, wearing disposable gloves, simply place that wax ring onto the floor portion of the sewer, ensuring that it is centered over the opening. It should fit perfectly. Now is where you may want help, extra eyes helping align the openings over the bolts. Set the toilet down onto the wax ring and best practice is to put your weight onto the toilet so that it smashes that wax ring into position. The wax will spread and seal the connection between the toilet and the sewer flange, and create the watertight seal.  

Now, attach the bolts to just tight — do not attempt to overtighten, they could break and then you’re back to square one. Now, the water valve gets turned back on so the tank can fill. Perform several test flushes, watching the floor around the toilet carefully, looking for leaks.  

At this point you should be leak-free and ready for cleanup. Best of luck to you. 

Robert Lamoureux has more than 40 years of experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contracting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Email questions to Robert at [email protected].          

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