Is It Safe to Drive with Wheel Nuts Missing?

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Wheel nuts (also called lug nuts) may not be the first thought before driving a car, but unsurprisingly, they are important features of a wheel that need to be in-tact.

Is it safe to drive with one wheel nut missing? It’s not safe to drive with one wheel nut missing for any pro longed period of time and you should seek to get it replaced as soon as possible. It could cause long term damage to the car and the excess pressure could cause other wheel nuts to come lose. If you have more than one missing then it would be very dangerous to drive.

If the rest of this article, we’ll explain the implications of driving without all of your wheel nuts and give you some useful advice for what to do and look out for.

Is It Safe to Drive with One Wheel Nut Missing?

No, it’s not safe to drive with missing wheel nuts for a prolonged period of time. Although you may not notice a dramatic difference to your car’s driving ability straight after losing one wheel nut, we recommended you get the wheel nut replaced as soon as possible.

In the long term, a vehicle’s driving ability will be negatively impacted by the strain of losing a single wheel nut. Vehicle parts which are most affected by the loss of a wheel nut are:

PartHow it's affected
Wheel bearingsThey may fail as the result of extra pressure added to them, because of a missing wheel nut. If a wheel bearing is damaged, you will hear them grind on metal. If it is left too late, the wheel bearing will become unrepairable and a new wheel bearing will need to be replaced.
RotorsRotors may bend out of shape, because of extra pressure caused by missing a wheel nut. A bent out of shape rotor may become noticeable when there is a new pulsating feeling in car car’s breaking system.
StudsIf the studs breaks, then essentially the wheel could fall off. This occurs because of when a wheel nut is missing, extra pressure will be placed on breaking, accelerating and cornering.

Can you drive with 3 out of 5 lug nuts?

Wheel nuts have a tendency to go missing together so once you lose one wheel nut, the others will have undue strain and could eventually come lose. It is very unsafe to drive with only 3 out of 5 lug nuts. If you are stuck and the car needs to be driven to a place where you can get new lug nuts, then drive with extreme caution and avoid any major roads, but this is only in desperate measures.

What Should I Do if My Wheel Nuts Go Missing?

It is important to replace the wheel nuts as soon as you realise they go missing, as they are vital for keeping a wheel and corresponding parts structured.

Some cars have sensors to warn a car user when a wheel nut starts to feel loose, so if you are lucky enough to own a car which gives this helpful warning, then it will be very beneficial to react to it, before things get potentially worse.

Cost of Replacing Wheel Nuts in the UK

If a car is purchased from a reputable buyer, they” usually include a lock and wheel nut set which is placed in a car’s glove compartment. So, check here first, to see if there are any new lug nuts to use.

Lug nuts can be replaced by the car owner or they can be replaced professionally. The cheapest option is to replace the lug nuts yourself. Using an impact wrench is the best way to loosen and tighten lug nuts with ease, read our guide to the best impact wrenches for more information.

Expect to pay around £35 for a good standard lock and wheel nut set from a retailer in the UK, they will usually be sold as a complete set rather than individual nuts.

It is also important to be aware that you will need a lock and wheel nut key that is unique to your car, you should have been given one when you purchased the vehicle.

For those unable to replace lug nuts yourself, you can ask your local garage. It’s a relatively quick job so you should expect to pay between £5-15 for labour depending upon your vehicle, plus the cost of the parts which will usually be cheaper than the retail cost mentioned earlier. If you’re a regular customer, your garage may not even charge you for labour with such a small job.

Are Wheel Nuts Universal? (Buying Guide)

Wheel nuts are not universal so it’s important to make sure you know the exact type of lug nuts you need before purchasing a set. The best option is to take an existing lug nut with you and find a perfect match or you can ask for professional advice in the store.

Here are a few things to consider:

Tapered vs Radius Seat

There are two types of wheel nut:

  • Tapered (sometimes called conical as it’s shaped like a cone) – most common
  • Radius (sometimes called a ball seat)

You can see the difference between the two here:

You should ensure that the lug nut is right for the seat in which it sits, you will be able to visually tell which one to use based on whether the seat is round or cone shape. If you don’t use the correct shape, the nut won’t sit flush and it could cause vibrations.

Lug Nut Size

You’ll notice that the sizes of lug nuts looks like this: M10 x 1.25. M means metric so you know it’s going to be mm. The first number retains to the length of the nut (10mm in this example) and the second number is the pitch, which is the space between each thread on the nut (1.25mm in this example).

The most common sizes are:

  • M10 x 1.25
  • M12 x 1.25
  • M12 x 1.5
  • M12 x 1.75
  • M14 x 1.25
  • M14 x 1.5
  • M14 x 2.0
  • M16 x 1.5

You should be able to find the information in your car manual.

Where to buy

You should be able to pick up lug nuts from any reliable auto retailer or car parts specialist, we recommend Euro Car Parts or Halfords. You can pick some up from Amazon, but be cautious of the cheap ones and always read the reviews.

It you have limited knowledge on the types of lug nuts you need, or you will like someone to help you with the decision, then your local car dealership will be able to sell you the correct lug nuts for the type of vehicle you own.

Final Thoughts

It is important to ensure you drive with all of your wheel nuts safely in place and it is especially a good idea to check this before setting off for a long journey, as it is better to be safe than sorry.

If you are unsure of whether your wheel nuts need to be tightened or replaced, seek advice from professional car technicians.