What Order Do I Tighten My Lug Nuts?

Detailed view of lug nuts
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Tightening your lug nuts or wheel bolts in the right order is actually kind of important to get them all tight, and keep them that way. Tightening lug nuts may not seem like a complex job, but as you know, a technician can make even the simplest job complicated. In all seriousness, there's truth to the nerdy side of tightening your lugs.

Patterns to Tighten Your Lug Nuts

Tighten your lugs in this order.

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Here's the nerdy part. When you tighten a single lug, it's getting tighter and tighter in that corner of the wheel's mounting face, the part of the wheel that touches the hub behind it. This is what you're tightening against. If you get one corner (one lug) nice and snug, you naturally go to the next one. If you just go around the wheel in a circle (clockwise or counter), the wheel can actually flex in a way that leaves the first lug you tightened a little loose. Things can shift underneath even the tightest lug nut or bolt. Tightening them in a cross pattern reduces the likelihood of things shifting and flexing, which means that your lugs will stay tight after you torque them. 

Using the above diagram, tighten your lug nuts in the correct order that corresponds with the number of lug bolts your wheel has. You should do the sequence once and then do it again to double check and retighten.

In the Air or on the Ground?

You should never perform a final tightening of your lug nuts while your car is in the air, hopefully, supported safely by jack stands. If you've just installed new brake pads, tighten the wheel bolts (aka lugs) snugly before you lower the vehicle back to the ground, but always be sure to perform a proper lug tightening when the car is sitting firmly on the ground, all four wheels. You'll get a much firmer platform to perform your tightening when the car is on the ground, but it's a lot safer to be pushing on a big wrench if the car is not on jack stands.

I Don't Have a Torque Wrench

If you're a car or truck owner that doesn't do (and don't plan to do) any serious repair work on the vehicle, you probably don't have a real torque wrench in the toolbox. We completely get this. A good torque wrench is one of your tool box's larger investments, so few people will splurge on this tool just so they can nerd out on torque specs when they do their seasonal lug nut check. It's actually not a bad idea, but not an investment everyone can or wants to make. To tighten your lug nuts without a torque wrench, you just need to pay attention and say "oomph" a few times. These directions vary according to how strong and heavy you are. If you're an ironworker that has no trouble moving sheets of heavy gauge steel around the shop, go a little easier. If you're an accountant that grunts as you try to pull that empty in cartridge out of the printer, give it all you got. Using your regular lug wrench, grip the end with your right hand, and use your left hand to place the wrench over the lug nut. Now lean down on your right hand and push down very hard until the wrench won't budge any further. Following the correct tightening pattern, do this on all of your wheel nuts or bolts. Now do it again! Also, remember to check them again in 50 miles or so. If they're going to loosen up, they'll do it right away, and you can stop that in its tracks. 

Note: You may be tempted to stand on your lug wrench to tighten the nuts, but this is not a good idea! Standing puts a different kind of strain on the nuts and the wheel stud, not to mention the danger of the wrench slipping, sending you flying to the ground off balance. 

You may also be concerned about over tightening. This is certainly possible, but almost all of the cases I've seen of overtightened lug nuts have been the result of an air powered impact wrench that was turned up to high, over tightening and straining the wheel studs to the point that some will break off when loosened and tightened a few more times. The benefit of using your arms makes it nearly impossible to over tighten them to that degree!