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How do I loosen car tire lug nuts (so that I can change a tire) when they are really really stuck?

I have tried turning the provided wrench, even standing and jumping on it. This worked for 4 of the lug nuts, but not the bottom-most one.

I have heard of using a rust remover/blaster, but I do not see much rust at all, and the tires are not too old if I recall correctly.

Another recommendation I see is to use a long pipe on the handle of the wrench for more torque. But even with just the wrench I seem to be warping the stock wrench with my efforts!

Some forums recommend using a 4-way lug wrench, but they do not say how to use one, or why they are better than the stock wrench. Can they provide me more torque than jumping on a standard wrench?

Finally, I am hopeful for an answer other than take it to a shop. I know I can do that, but I am trying to avoid the expense of a tow.

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Other things to try, definitely worth a shot to use some rust blaster. Also, sometimes it's enough to use some sort of driver and hit the nut with a hammer. The shocks of a hit can help loosen any gunk. Be mindful not to hit anything that would matter with threads or surfaces for your wrench. –  Rig Oct 27 '11 at 4:19
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You can try with WD-40 (probably you have it at home) and wait for a few minutes (+10). And remember - when changing the tire DON'T over-tighten the nuts. Use torque wrench. –  sabiland Oct 27 '11 at 8:07
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WD-40 is not very helpful for this. Use liquid wrench or a similar product. –  R.. Nov 15 '12 at 20:23
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8 Answers 8

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Remember that lug nuts are exposed to literally every element that could possibly cause corrosion. It sounds like your last nut is stuck due to some rust or oxidation that you can't see. Here's how I generally approach a badly stuck nut:

  1. Check your safety gear: eye protection, jack stands, everything to keep yourself from getting killed when this wheel finally comes loose.

  2. Get out the penetrating oil (AKA rust blaster). Really soak the bolt and nut. Now walk away and let it soak in, possibly for hours.

  3. Affix the correct socket to your breaker bar. This is a totally different beast from the stock tire iron. Its handle is much more durable and is very unlikely to bend under the torque that you're about to apply. Remember, think carefully about what's going to happen when the nut lets go. If you're pulling, it's not hard to end up punching yourself in the face. If you're pushing, don't let your fingers bash into the garage floor or other components. I've hurt myself using both methods when battling bolts (never worse than giving my wife an excuse to eyeroll me, thankfully).

  4. Try getting the nut off.

  5. Didn't work? Take a longish piece of steel pipe, stick it over the end of the breaker bar to increase the moment arm of the lever and try again.

Once I get to this point, I usually cycle between penetrating oil and a super long breaker bar. Things eventually come loose after a sufficiently long period of HULK SMASH time.

NOTE: when working with exhaust nuts and bolts, the bolt will eventually snap under enough torque. This is less likely with the much more robust wheel studs.

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On #3, I'm a puller rather than a pusher. I've never slipped and hit myself in the face when pulling, but I have fallen over and hit my head on the side of the car when pushing and it suddenly let go... –  Brian Knoblauch Oct 27 '11 at 14:29
    
+1 on the breaker bar! It is my new friend for this kind of issues! –  Gabriel Mongeon Oct 27 '11 at 16:09
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@BrianKnoblauch, I'll adjust that point. It's super easy to injure yourself either way. –  Bob Cross Oct 27 '11 at 16:14
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+1 'HULK SMASH' sometimes that's what it takes :) –  Tim May 11 '12 at 18:58
    
When at long last and with the whole neighborhood now well aware of words that shouldn't be spoken (let alone screamed at an inanimate object), take a minute or two to paint a film of Anti-seize on the studs. Be sure to get it down into the valley of the threads. It won't migrate there on its own like penetrating oils will. Now back to my Mazda truck wth 3 of 5 lugs that refuse to budge. Thanks to those of you that offered sound advice. I may win this battle yet! –  Jeff Murphy Apr 13 at 17:59
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There are a number of things you can do to unstick the nut before turning it:

  • a lubricant or rust blaster. Keep things wet and give it time to work.

  • heat cycling. Heat it up (gently) and let it cool. Repeat. If you oil it up and point a propane torch at it, you may start a fire, so be careful. It's not so important to heat just the nut or just the stud - the cycles will do a lot of good.

  • vibrations and shocks. Rap the nut with a wrench. You don't have to hit hard; hitting over and over works. This can break the corrosion as well as help the lube work its way in.

There are several tools designed to make good use of shocks.

A handheld impact driver ($30) is a simple tool for around for just this purpose. You attach a socket, put it on the lug nut, twist, and hit with a hammer. Repeat. You could do this once a minute while the lube works its way in, and apply heat in between.

There are battery-powered impact drivers under $100 that I use for carpentry that can also do this job. If you already have a cordless drill, you can get an impact driver that uses the same battery. Loud!

Finally, you can do what the pros do - use a pneumatic impact wrench. You may be able to rent one for a single use.

Impact tools should be used with special impact-rated sockets. These use tougher steel and no chrome, so they are less likely to shatter. Eye protection is still a good idea.

Whenever I change a tire, I first break each lug nut while the car is still on the ground, with parking brake set, so everything is stable.

When a stud is in really bad shape, even after you break things lose, you may have to fight the rest of the way off the stud. It's a lot like cutting new threads. In that case, back off after every 1/4 turn or so, and keep adding lots of lube.

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If you're trying to use the stock wrench, go out and buy a proper one! I've never seen a stock one that is any use, and some of them are so bad they may as well be made of chocolate...

A 4-way wrench is simply a cross-shaped bar with 4 different sizes of socket on the ends. You use the appropriate size one for your nuts, and then have effectively a t-bar, which means you can use both hands to get more leverage.

My preference, however, is for a telescopic bar wrench. These typically extend from around a foot to 2', and come with a selection of sockets for different sized nuts. Again, they simply allow you to get more leverage than the stock wrench, but are easier to store than a 4-way one, and by using the shorter length to re-tighten the nuts, avoids over-tightening (although as the comment above suggests, you should really use a torque wrench to tighten them correctly).

Another tip is to make sure your tyre supplier uses a torque wrench when they fit your tyres - many will use an air-gun which results in the nuts being done up excessivley tight (most likely the cause of your current problem).

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If you get a 4 way, make sure it's a big one. A small one won't give you any better leverage than the factory tool. Even properly torqued, wheel nuts can get horribly stuck into place. For that occasion I have a selection of breaker bars available that I put impact sockets onto. An impact gun works fine too (and small ones are not super expensive anymore), but they're noisy, I prefer to avoid the noise of power tools whenever I can. –  Brian Knoblauch Oct 27 '11 at 12:02
    
@BrianKnoblauch, good call on the impact sockets. My regular sockets are pretty strong but I'm accumulating an impact set to go with my new wrench. –  Bob Cross Oct 27 '11 at 16:20
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As Bob Cross mentioned, use the breaker bar. I've had to use them to remove brake calipers in the past. In the past, I have not seen such a thing as a breaker bar readily for sale at the hardware stores where I live.

I have improvised a breaker bar using one of those metal pipes that are used for running electrical wires. Simply take your ratchet to the hardware store with you and find a suitably sized pipe that fits nicely around the ratchet handle.

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For really stubborn nuts, it's definitely best to hunt down a true breaker bar, with a 1/2" connector if possible -- the sturdier, the better. Too much force can damage the ratchet gear itself. –  Josh Caswell Apr 13 at 19:16
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Learn from my mistake!! I attempted to use four different chisels to 'counter rotate' the stuck nut. NEVER do this. What happens is that the chisel force drives the annular ring of the lower portion of the nut into the well where the curved face normally sits. You get the rest of the nut finaly chisseled off and you are STUCK with the measley shxxty annular ring driven and wedged into the small well. Then you have to drill and drill with, like a 5/32 drill, a whole bunch of holes and finally drive out pieces. You can drive it around the block with all nuts very loose and this shxxty annular ring is wedged way in there. Try all the other methods, heat it up, smaller socket driven on and turned, welded 2nd nut to bad nut and removing them together, whatever, BUT don't get out your chissels!!!!! You will blow nearly a day using the chisel method and have to buy a new stud and perhaps a rim as well !!!

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All of the answers work.

But what works best for me (esp. on the side of the road!) is a 4 way tire wrench in conjunction with the screw type jack found on all cars.

Place the correct size socket on the wheel lug (nut). Position it as close to horizontal as possible. At the other end of the 4 way tire wrench, place your screw type jack and raise the height so that it supports the 4 way tire wrench in a horizontal position.

You now have a stable platform. The two free arms of the 4 way tire wrench are available for work.

Place your foot on the free arm that will turn the lug/wrench counter clockwise. With one hand on the car for balance, stand on the free arm, as close to the end as possible, with all your weight, and "kick" down if needed.

I like this method b/c you don't have to worry about stripping the edges of the lug/nut, and ruining it.

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Just for clarity, you're only using the jack to balance the wrench, right? It's not carrying any weight? –  Bob Cross Dec 30 '13 at 22:25
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Last resort... Heat the nut, and it will expand. This might help loosen it, but try this only after you have sprayed it to deaf with corrosion removing stuff. If you can see the other side, cool the lug and it will help the process. Again, last resort.

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Heat the lug nut? Isn't the part you use a wrench on the bolt that goes inside the wheel hub? It seems like heating that to expand it would be counter-productive. Should one heat a different part? –  Steven Oct 28 '11 at 22:52
    
If you've got a VW, it's most likely a bolt, but on pretty much everything else, it's just a nut that is tightened onto a stud... –  Brian Knoblauch Oct 31 '11 at 13:36
    
Apologize, my brains was scrambled and didn't fully read lug nuts. Didn't think Europeans. Most Europeans use lug nuts... Disregard heating any lug nuts, as it would likely keep it in place. –  FossilizedCarlos Nov 2 '11 at 22:32
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I put a pipe on the handle of the standard wrench and jumped on it. I thought I was turning the nut, but I snapped the wrench (1/2 inch diam handle). Then I tried better wrenches, without success. I put the other nuts back on gently and drove about 4 miles. That did it. But if you have a flat tire its not a solution! Maybe if you drove 30 feet on the flat that would loosen the nut without harming the tire.

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