One of the scariest and most dangerous things that can happen to any driver is a wheel-off accident. Such accidents usually happen in two instances: installation mistakes (poorly torqued fasteners, faulty equipment), and wear due to bad maintenance.
The best way to avoid issues with wheel detachment is to get a better grasp on how wheels work and what helps them to stay in place. Lug nuts and studs are often overlooked, unfortunately. Not many car owners know the risks associated with changing or even retorquing them. And this ignorance contributes to car accidents.
So, if you were waiting for a sign to study your vehicle a little better, this is it. There is much to learn about things we take for granted, like lug nuts. Among the most important things to look up are type, thread size of wheel lug nuts and, of course, torque. These measurements are specific for each car model and year, keep that in mind.
How to spot and fix loose lug nuts?
Torque is the most probable culprit behind problems with lug nuts. Practically any driver can instantly recall the right tire size for their car, but only a few people know that tightening the lug nuts must be precise and careful. You can easily find this specification in the manual or use an online chart. Ignoring it will cause irreversible damage to the tread and hub if you use too much torque or leave them loose if the torque is insufficient.
Loose lug nuts can get you in serious trouble, it is dangerous to drive like that. Fortunately, there are a few tell-tale signs that will warn you of the danger. If you have recently replaced wheels or done something to lug nuts, studs or bolts (depending on the vehicle), pay attention to your senses. Loosely fit wheels will shake, making the car less responsive and creating unpleasant vibrations. Stop whenever you notice these signs and use a torque wrench to check how tightly the lug nuts are affixed. It is impossible to do without a torque wrench and the exact torque specifications recommended for your car.
You can retorque the lug nuts yourself if you have a torque wrench, a lug wrench and a sturdy jack that can safely lift your car. This solution is quick. However, it is not final. By the time you have noticed the issue, the damage has already been done. Even though the lug nuts and studs are made of a durable alloy or metal, they still have vulnerable parts like the thread. Vibration and friction can severely damage it, opening the way for corrosion and metal fatigue.
If this happens, you can retorque the nuts carefully and drive to the nearest service shop to get them checked by a professional.
How to avoid damaging the thread?
Usually, encouraging people to look up things on the Internet to supervise professionals doing their work is bad, but not this time. Knowing the danger of badly installed wheels is basic common sense. Some shops can be tempted to use equipment that is great for fastening nuts but not wheel lug nuts.
They must be carefully placed to match the thread and then torqued according to the recommended specifications. “Mainly if your vehicle uses flat seated lug nuts,” warns Oliver Brown, the Data Coordinator at Wheelssize.com. “They are notorious for troublesome centering.” This makes impact guns and other great equipment actually harmful.
Applying too much torque to the lug nuts can result in the fasteners’ failure. The most common outcome of using more force than needed is stripped thread. Lug nuts have tiny grooves that help them secure the wheel in place. If they are stripped away, the lug nut’s grip on the stud loosens and the weight of the entire wheel will distribute unevenly, causing more damage to properly torqued lugs.
In other cases, extra torque “for good measure” or using impact guns can pull on the studs so hard they get stretched. The metal can only sustain this much strain before it begins to crack, compromising your wheel.
The cure for this ailment is the same. Using proper equipment and applying only the necessary amount of force.
When should you retorque lug nuts?
Temperature fluctuations and constant vibrations can eventually loosen the lug nuts a little. This doesn’t happen too often, so whenever you schedule a check-up, pay attention to the lug nuts as well to make sure everything is secure.
However, there is one instance when you need to make an extra effort. After you change your tires for summer or winter, set yourself a reminder to check the torque after about 100 km. It generally takes about two days to get this far, so you can just set a notification on your smartphone.
How to prevent issues with swollen lug nuts?
The lug nuts come with a special coating that protects them from oxidation. But even so, scratches and wear leave gaps in this coating, and moisture still can find its way to the vulnerable metal underneath. Loose lug nuts are usually in greater danger since water and dirt can get on the thread itself.
When you change wheels or retorque lug nuts, pay attention to the hub too. If you see any signs of rust or dirt on the metal, resolve that issue first and then install new parts. Even the slightest hint of oxidation can quickly bloom into a big issue. This is the best way to ensure your lug nuts don’t swell with oxidation.
Swollen lug nuts are extremely tough to deal with. And an inexperienced person can wreak havoc on the wheels trying to remove them. And that is why using grease or anti-seize products may seem like the right decision. Only it is not. Applying greasy products influences both traction and torque. With a more slippery thread, you will be able to pull on the studs without even realizing it, as lug nuts will show less resistance.