4 Tricks to Break a Stuck Lug Nut or Rim Free (And How To Avoid One in the First Place)
You were driving down the road, minding your own business, when you felt your car pull to one side and make a “chunk-chunk-chunk” sound. When you get out, you find you have a flat. Luckily, part of your vehicle maintenance routine is maintaining the PSI of your full-size spare. But when you get out your lug wrench and try to break the flat tire’s nuts loose, you find it stuck tight. Here are four little roadside tricks that might get you rolling again.
1- Buy a length of pipe
Ideally, your tire went flat outside an auto parts store, and you can run in and grab a long breaker bar wrench to get your lug nuts free. But life rarely works out like this. Fortunately, you can also buy a three or four-foot length of pipe from any building supply store and use this instead. Fit the pipe over the handle of your factory lug wrench for some extra leverage.
2- Stand on the wrench
Let’s say your flat tire is in the middle of nowhere, and AAA roadside assistance is unavailable. You might still be able to break your lug nut free by yourself. Fit the lug wrench in your trunk on one of the nuts, making sure the handle is parallel to the ground or angled slightly up. Then grab the roof rack of your car (or roll down a window so you can hold the sill), and step one foot onto the handle of your wrench. You can put more and more weight on it, even lifting your other foot off the ground. But keep that other foot hovering above the ground and your hands on the car–in case your lug nut does break loose. If your wrench handle is long enough, you could even enlist a passenger to (carefully) step onto it with you.
3- Drop a rock on the wrench
Welcome to the “last resort” half of this list. If standing on your lug wrench–or even giving a little hop up and down–doesn’t work, then it’s time to call a tow truck. Your lug nuts are far too tight, or even rusted in place, and a roadside assistance specialist may need to fire up an air gun to break them loose. But if you’re in a true survival situation, stranded beyond cell reception or hiking distance without run-flat tires, you may have another option. Especially if you don’t mind some scratches on your rims. If you can find a big rock nearby, pick it up and drop it on the handle of your lug wrench. Obviously, be careful of your feet and shins in case the rock bounces.
4 – Drive with your lug nuts loose
This final trick is an ingenious hack that you should hope you never need. But if you can remove your lug nuts and find that your rim itself is rusted in place (often stuck to an old drum brake rotor), you can leave all the lug nuts on their studs and pull your vehicle forward a few feet. Easy does it, one tire rotation should do the trick. Hopefully, this will break the rust free and allow you to remove the rim. And next time you have the rim off, simply brush some aluminum “never seize” onto the back before you bolt it back in place.
Why are my lug nuts so tight?
Your wheel lugs should probably be torqued to about 80 ft-lbs–according to the Tire Rack. But many are much tighter. This is because most tire shops use a compressor-powered air impact wrench. This tool saves technicians time, but also makes it very easy to accidentally torque a lug nut much too tight to remove by hand.
If you are proactive enough to read this article, it might be a good idea to check how tight your lug nuts are. You should be able to break them free with whatever lug wrench you carry in your car. Once you do, simply tighten them as tight as possible with that same wrench, held in one hand. If you do so, you will be able to losen them on the road if you suffer a flat. And next time you’re at the tire shop, you can remind them that you might want to remove your lug nuts by hand, so they should double-check the torque.
Next, find out whether you should adjust your tire pressure before a road trip, or see how to change your tire yourself in the video below: