How to Remove a Stuck Lug Nut

How to Remove a Stuck Lug Nut

Many of the parts on an automobile are made of metals that can rust or easily become corroded. When these parts do experience a buildup or become stripped, they can be hard to manage. Lug nuts fall into this category. These small wheel components can really be a pain to remove once they get stuck or seized. Nonetheless, when you want to remove the tire, the lug nuts must come off. Not to worry, there are ways to remove those stubborn lug nuts even when it seems they are stuck forever. If you have a lug nut that won’t come off, read on to see how you can get relief from this frustrating experience.

What are Lug Nuts?

Although lug nuts (view on Amazon), or wheel nuts, are generally well known parts, some people may not know what they are or how to care for them. However, car owners should know what lug nuts are as they are a very necessary part of the wheel system. Lug nuts are a type of fastener usually designed with one rounded end and one tapered end. The lug nut fastens the wheel hub to the wheel studs on the axle, securing the wheel in a centered position on the axle.

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Most commonly, the lug nut is made of a chrome-plated steel, titanium, or anodized aluminum, depending on the weight of the vehicle. The model and size of lug nut also depends on the vehicle make and model and the type axle used in the design. The most common lug nut is the conical, tapered nut. Other types that are often used are flat seats and ball/radius nuts. Some newer model vehicles have lug nuts with a lock that must be unlocked with a special tool. Many people opt for these to prevent them from being stolen. If the tool is lost, another scenario where the lug nuts are difficult to remove is created.

The lug nut is twisted onto the wheel stud (view on Amazon) where the seat of the nut is in contact with the wheel hub. When the nuts are removed, it must be done carefully to avoid stripping the inner thread that allows the nut to be tightened. Installing the lug nut where it is too tight also causes a problem. The proper torque must be applied when installing the nuts to avoid causing damage.

How to Remove a Stuck Lug Nut

Everyone has to change a tire every now and then. Yet, trying to remove a stuck lug nut can be a very frustrating experience. This is especially true if you have to replace the tire. There are a few ways to loosen the nuts; however, it should be done without causing any further damage to the wheel. If you need to remove stuck lug nuts, try one of these solutions:

Use the correct socket – if the socket wrench that is being used does not get a firm grip, it won’t be able to remove the lug nut. If the socket is too loose, it will spin around the lug nut, rounding the edges which creates an even bigger problem. Make sure the socket is the right size for the job.

Add a mechanical advantage – Use this method if you see a lot of rust buildup around the nuts. Increase the mechanical advantage when using the socket wrench by adding length to the driver arm and adding torque. Try fitting a hollow pipe over the wrench handle to increase the arm length and extend the arc. By adding two or three times the torque you can give some added pressure needed to loosen the nut. Be careful not to use too much torque or you may break something.

Soak the lug nuts – If the socket was not the problem, try soaking the lug nuts next. This method is the least labor-intensive as it takes advantage of time. Try soaking the lug nuts with an oil-based lubricant and then try to remove them. Many have used WD-40 or PB Blaster to loosen the bond. You can spray it around the base of the lug nuts and then, just wait for a while. Leave the lug nuts soaking overnight for better results. After soaking overnight, try loosening the lug nuts again.

Use anti-seize lubricant and rust penetrant – Anti-seize lubricants and a rust penetrant is an ideal solution to loosen the lug nuts if you have steel or aluminum alloy wheels. That is because the rate of corrosion on steel or aluminum alloy occurs at a much faster rate. Some have even tried dry lubricants, oils, and synthetic grease. However, the rust penetrant will soften the bond. To use a rust penetrant, follow these steps:

  1. You will need the following materials: a clean cloth, a rust penetrant, a socket wrench, Liquid Wrench, or PB Blaster , and replacement lugs.
  2. Park your car in a safe, level, and dry place.
  3. Turn the engine off and put on the parking brake.
  4. Remove the wheel covers and spray the Liquid Wrench on the wheel studs.
  5. Spray the solution on the area where the wheel and the center hub intersect.
  6. Wait for about 20 minutes for the lubricant to sink in.
  7. Rotate the wheel until it start to loosen.
  8. If the nuts don’t turn at all, spray the lubricant on the back of the lug nuts and wait for it to penetrate. Try loosening the lug nuts again with the socket wrench. If the lug nuts still will not loosen, add some more of the lubricate and give it more time.
  9. Once the lug nuts begin to loosen, remove them and wipe away any excess lubricant before reassembling.

Go to a tire shop – If you still have not been able to loosen the stuck lug nuts, take your car to a tire shop or garage. They will have more tools and methods to loosen the nuts. You don’t want to strip the lug nuts or break a part of the frame trying to remove them yourself. The repair shop will should be able to remove the lug nuts without causing further damage to the wheel assembly. The service should not cost very much compared to the costs if a stud is bent or broken or if the frame is damaged.

Causes of Stuck Lug Nut

Lug nuts must be installed properly with the proper torque. Different makes and models require different sized lug nuts and different amounts of torque. Passenger cars typically require about 60 to 100 ft/lbs of torque while larger vehicles may require 300 ft/lbs of torque.

When the bolts or lug nuts are seized, stuck, frozen, rusted, or just resistant, the wheel cannot be removed. In some cases, the nuts are stuck while in other cases, the center hole of the tire is stuck to the center of the wheel hub. In other cases, the lug nut is tightened excessively with an impact wrench. If the lug nut is seized, here are the most common reasons why:

Time – Sometimes the cause of the stuck lug nut is just a matter of too much time. The tire and hub areas must be kept clean and the wheels must be rotated from time to time. When a wheel is left on a car for a long time and especially if the owner has not driven the car for a long time, the metal parts will become corroded, frozen, or rusted due to the environment. If you have not had your tires rotated periodically, rest assured that some type of debris, rust or corrosion is setting in. It could be one tire that has the problem, or all of them may be corroded.

Harsh environmental conditions – When the vehicle is driven or stored in areas with lots of rain, snow and road salt, there is a good chance that there will be trouble if the tires are not rotated regularly. Large amounts of snow and road salt eventually penetrates into the steel and aluminum alloy rims and they start to corrode. The corrosion process will eventually glue the wheel to the hub. Water is also a problem as it serves as a natural lubricant and then dries, strengthening existing bonds.

Debris, rust, corrosion – The primary reason the lug nut gets stuck on the wheel is some type of buildup of rust and some other type of corrosion. While driving, all types of debris fly through the air and lodge under the vehicle. The greatest culprit that causes stuck lug nuts is rust because rust forms when oxygen and iron can contact each other for long periods of time. This process is called oxidation and it occurs when water or water vapor, oxygen, and metal all collide together. Iron and magnesium can also cause buildup that hardens between the nut and the stud and is difficult to remove. The buildup happens over time as the vehicle is driven in harsh environments and then just let the tires sit up. If enough time elapses, the accumulation of rust between the wheel, lug nuts, and the hub will create bond that seems impossible to break. This condition is also referred to as fusion to the drum.

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Lug nut stripped – If the lug nut spins freely around the stud but it won’t come off, then it is stripped. This sometimes happens when the lug has been installed and removed frequently or too harshly and the threads inside the nut are worn down. If this is the case, you may have to use a drill with applied pressure to loosen the nut. Use a carbide that is the same size as the lug nut. The lugs nuts hold the wheels onto the axle. The nuts are supposed to be torqued down on the wheel hub in order to keep the wheel intact. When the lug nut is stripped and not tight, it can cause the vehicle to shake or problems that are even more dangerous. The tire may wobble and make it feel as if the entire vehicle is shaking. If the lug nuts are loose on the wheel, check to make sure they are the correct size.

Prevent Future Problems

Stuck lug nuts can drive some people insane. If they won’t come off, you can’t remove the tire. So, once those demon lug nuts are removed, no one wants to go through that again. Use preventive maintenance. Have your tires rotated regularly and take the car through the car wash to remove any debris that may be building up. That way, you can be sure that when it is time to remove that tire, you will be able to do it with ease. Get those stuck lug nuts off and drive safe.

Job Guthiri is a freelance writer with 3 years of experience writing for Motorsrun and other established automobile outlets. His focus and key interests are Tacomas and maintenance. Read our Editorial Guidlines and Fact Checking process.