Checking & Removing Your Wheel Nuts or Bolts

Saving the top for last
Matt Wright

The lug nuts may be some of the most important pieces of hardware on your vehicle. What are lug nuts? They are the four, five, or six (or 8-12) little nuts that attach your wheel to the car. Why are they so important? If one of them becomes loose or falls off, it's not the end of the world (but should certainly be a cause for concern). If you lose a few of them, your wheel is in severe danger of breaking away from the hub it was attached to. This can be disastrous, causing your vehicle to immediately launch out of control, which often results in a serious crash. In a best-case scenario, your wheel will come off, roll away, and the car will come to a loud but controlled stop, destroying only the brake disc and maybe bending a few suspension components. Yes, that's the best case. In a worst-case scenario, your wheel will come off and your brake disc or hub will dig itself firmly and quickly into the pavement, sending your car or truck flying out of control, or even flipping it over. 

Checking Your Lug Bolts for Tightness

It may seem trivial, but the one out of 1000 times you check and find that you had a loose wheel, you'll thank yourself for the 999 times you checked and found everything tight.

To check them for tightness, you don't need to follow any sort of pattern like you do when you are tightening them for the first time. Just check that they are all nice and snug. What's snug? With the lug wrench on the nut, lean over and put most of your body weight on the lug wrench. When it stops moving, you're snug. Don't stand on the wrench or tighten it with "all you've got." This much effort, which can lead to a dangerous condition called "overtorque," is overdoing it and can strip or damage wheels or bolts. An over-torqued wheel nut can become so stressed that it sheers of cleanly at the base due to weakened metal. We like to start at the top every time so that we know where to stop.

Removing Your Lug Bolts

To get the bolts off of your wheel, you'll first need to "break" them before you jack the car up. You'll see how silly you look trying to unbolt your wheel while it's spinning ridiculously around and around. Use the ground to secure the wheel in place, it does a great job. Chasing your lugs like a nervous cat is never a good look. Once you have them all slightly loosened, jack up the car. Never remove your lug bolts without your car jacked up, and preferably secured by a jack stand! We like to start with the bolt in the three o'clock position and work our way around, leaving the bolt at the top for last. This way the wheel will stay in place until we take the last bolt off.

*If you have removed all of the lug nuts or bolts and the wheel is stuck, try this stuck wheel trick.

When you reinstall the wheel, be sure to tighten your lug nuts in the correct order.