Tip: Screwing your Wheel Nuts Properly

Wheel-less in a Sucat sidewalk

Tightening your wheel nuts may not be such a big deal to some. I’d like to douse them with the pail of cold water that is common sense, because nothing much else on a car is more dangerous than an improperly fastened wheel. Too loose is obvious. The wheel can comically come off in an inopportune time, causing mayhem in a manner that is the most diametrically opposed from hilarity you can ever imagine. That happened to us when I was riding with a friend in their Nissan once, and trust me, I wasn’t laughing.

But what about tightening them too tight? I found that out the hard way. When you overtighten your wheel nuts, you may strip the threads of either the nut or the lug, making you unable to remove the wheel. If you have a pipe to extend your tire wrench with, you can force it open, but then you will break the lugs, and if you break enough lugs you may not be able to install your wheels at all. An inconvenience when you are having Rota JMAG’s installed in your pokey little Getz, and a very bad thing when you are stuck in the middle of nowhere with a flat and there are vampires and werewolves fighting in the darkness and your name isn’t Bella Swan.

Three studs in total were broken when this picture was taken. I was not pleased.

So how do you properly tighten your wheel nuts? The best way is to use a torque wrench and tighten to the correct torque specifications your vehicle’s service manual specifies. In the absence of either (I don’t even know how to use my torque wrench!), make sure to hand-tighten only using the tire wrench supplied as part of the vehicle’s tool kit or a cross-wrench. Tighten as much as you normally can, then use a bit of your weight to tighten further about an eighth- to a quarter-turn further. DO NOT USE YOUR FEET OR PRESS ON WITH YOUR ENTIRE BODY WEIGHT TO TIGHTEN, AND DO NOT USE EXTRA LEVERAGE (like utilizing a pipe with the tire wrench). The order of tightening bolts is also important. Follow a criss-cross pattern when tightening, that is, tighten next the nut opposite the one you are working on. See the illustration below for a better guide.

Order in which wheel nuts must be tightened. From left to right: 4-lug, 5-lug, 6-lug, and 8-lug. Source: http://www.procarcare.com

That reminds me, always make sure you have a jack, a tire wrench, wheel chocks (or a nice piece of wood) and an Early Warning Device (the reflective triangle thingys) in your car. You never know when you have to fix a flat. And learn how to change your tires.

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