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Even though cars are often our pride and joy, there are few things less annoying than coming across a lug nut that will not loosen. Most of us have been in this situation, so here are our expert tips to help you deal with this dilemma.
Reasons Why a Lug Nut May Be Difficult to Remove
There are three main reasons why you might be struggling to remove your lug nuts or bolts from your car:
Most people don’t realise that car manufacturers specify how tight lug nuts should be for each car in it’s manual. The unit of measurement specifies how much force should be applied, this is known as torque and will usually be stated in newton meters (n.m.) or pound foot (lb-ft).
Unfortunately, a torque wrench is required to know when you’ve reached the desired tightness, but as most people don’t own one, they usually keep going until they are as tight as physically possible. This isn’t always a good thing and can make them hard to get off.
The most common reason why a lug nut can be difficult to remove is because of age and rust. The newer a lug nut is, the easier it should be to remove, so if you own an older car and you have never changed its lug nuts, there is a chance that the lug nuts may be difficult to remove from a wheel.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to prevent lug nuts from rusting over time, but if you keep an eye on your lug nuts and change them when they start to look weary, this will help to save you time and money in the long term, as this is a preventative measure.
Stripped lug nut
A stripped or worn head can happen naturally over time if you change tyres frequently but have never changed the nuts or bolts that hold them in place. However, a worn head is often the result of over tightening and is commonly associated with impact wrenches.
9 Hacks to Remove Stuck Lug Nuts
Here are our top 9 hacks, they are in order from beginner to advanced, this is the same order that we recommend you attempt them. If one doesn’t work, move on to the next hack until the nuts are loosened.
Important: Make sure your car is on the ground before attempting to loosen lug nuts, it will be much harder and more dangerous once the car is jacked up as the wheel will move and the car will be unstable.
1. Use your feet to apply more force
Starting off with a more obvious tip, but important nonetheless. If you’re using a small wrench and trying to turn it by hand, you may have better luck using your feet.
Most nuts will be loosened anti clockwise, so you place the wrench at the 10 o’clock position and step downwards on it to apply extra force.
2. Try a ‘breaker’ or ‘cheater’ bar
Known as a ‘breaker’ or ‘cheater’ bar, this is essentially a longer wrench that gives you much more leverage and makes life a lot easier.
You can make-shift a breaker bar using a standard wrench and a piece of metal pipe or tubing over the top. However, if this is a common problem, you can also pick up a specially designed tool such as this Maxpower Breaker Bar ½-inch which has a 24 Inch Extra Long Chrome Vanadium Steel Handle.
Be careful and make sure you aren’t applying too much pressure, as this could cause more harm than good.
3. Loosen overtight nuts with an impact wrench
If the previous steps fail, use an electric impact wrench to safely and efficiently remove the rusted lug nut. This is especially effective against overly tight lug nuts but wouldn’t be recommended for worn nuts as it could wear them down further.
Using an impact wench will save time and potential damage from trying to physically pull the lug nut off. They are not to be confused with impact drivers, as a driver is designed for driving screws into tough surfaces.
Each impact wrench will have a maximum amount of torque it can apply, so some cheaper models may not have the power to loosen overly tight lug nuts. Typically, a cabled or air powered impact wrench will deliver more torque than a cordless device.
4. Apply WD-40
There doesn’t seem to be a shed or garage in the UK that doesn’t have some WD-40 lying around. Just one of the multi-purpose formula’s uses is as a lubricant, it will get deep in to the threads of the bolt and provide extra lubrication. Leave it for a few minutes one you have sprayed it around the area and you should be able to loosen the stuck bolt with ease.
5. Use a penetrating oil
If you don’t have WD-40 lying around, we’d suggest looking towards a specialist penetrating oil, these are low viscosity and are designed especially for use by engineers and mechanics for this purpose.
As well as providing deep lubrication, these are great for removing rusted nuts as they work to remove the rust bonds that lie within the thread and help the bolt or nut come loose. Once you’ve applied a penetrating oil, head back to some of the earlier hacks such as a breaker bar to work at the nut.
6. Apply heat with an acetylene torch
To take the process up to the next level, try a removal method that involves the use of heat. This is a suitable method to remove over tight or rusted lug nuts.
As metal expands and contracts with changing temperature, the use of heat can help unseize the bolt and get it moving. The heat will also aid in the removal of any rust by the same process.
Important: Be sure to wipe away any penetrating oil or WD-40 before applying excessive heat as the combination of the two can result in a fire.
A high quality acetylene torch is the best method to gently apply heat to the nut and these can be picked up at a very reasonable price.
Do you have lug bolts instead of lug nuts?
Using heat is great for removing cumbersome nuts as the heat helps the bolt expand away from the threads. If you have bolts, you can do the opposite and use a freeze spray to contract the bolts away from the thread.
CRC Freeze-off is the best in the business for this and highly recommended, but there are also a number of cheaper freeze sprays available.
7. Alternatively, try candle wax and a lighter
If you do not own an acetylene torch and don’t fancy investing in one, an alternative method is to use a cigarette lighter and a candle.
You might think that this method involves using a candle to heat the nut, but that’s just one part of it. By placing the lighter underneath the nut and the candle on the top, the wax will seep down in to the threads to aid with removal.
This video gives a great tutorial on this hack:
8. Use a twist socket set for stripped nuts
Most of the above techniques have been aimed at removing over tight or rusted lug nuts, but these next two are aimed at stripped or worn nuts.
There are special twist sockets designed for removing stripped nuts, if you have a large socket set, look carefully in here as there may be some included. Alternatively, this grip-n-twist socket set is perfectly sized for removing wheel nuts.
These sockets work due to a spiral design which presses itself into the worn head and enables removal. It’s actually a lot simpler than you’d imagine.
9. Hammer and socket method
The ‘hammer and socket’ method is the best DIY method to remove of a stripped lug nut that doesn’t require any special tools.
Once a lug nut has been stripped of its corners, it makes the nut smaller than it once was. To get it off, we recommend using a socket that’s a size smaller than the original size of the lug nut.
Once the socket has been centred over the stripped lug nut, make sure your fingers out of stay out the way and then use a hammer to firmly tap the socket onto the nut. Once you are confident that it is securely anchored over the lug, you can attach a breaker bar and loosen the nut.
This method may take time to perfect, but it has been proven to get the job done efficiently.
All you can do is try your best! As long as you take your safety into consideration and don’t damage your vehicle in the process, you will be fine. If you feel that you are unable to safely remove the lug nuts yourself, it is a good idea to seek professional assistance.
Featured image credit: Ulrike Mai from Pixabay