Reader Question: Loose Lugs?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Fran asks: The other day, I noticed that two (out of five) of the lug nuts on my car had fallen off.  One of the remaining three was loose. Luckily, I found this before the other lugs fell off – and presumably, the wheel.

What could have caused this?

My reply: This happens more often than you might think, because it’s common for tire shops and oil change joints to use an air gun to tighten lugs rather than by hand. In the hurry-up environment of today’s service business, it can and does happen that lug nuts aren’t tightened properly; they can be left loose or over-tightened. I’ve seen them sheared off, too.

This is why I think it’s sound policy to thread/tighten by hand. Then you know the lugs are seated and tightened correctly.

I also advise people to check the tightness – and looseness –  of their car’s lug nuts themselves; ideally, as soon as possible after any work done that involved removing the wheels.

Never trust. Always verify!

. . .

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  1. If an air impact is used correctly it’s a great tool. In the hands of a (grease) monkey it can be a lethal weapon. I’ve seen them (and the results of them) running the lugs in one at a time in no particular pattern on max torque. Often the lugs get overstressed and can snap without warning. Or the wheel will be on crooked and actually not tight at all.
    The right way:
    To loosen- set the impact to maximum (there is usually a dial or multi position rotary switch, even on my Harbor Freight junk). Then to tighten, first wire brush and blow off the inner rim face and hub face. Apply some antisieze compound on the threads and cones. Set your wrench to lowest torque, run the wheel onto the centering lugs and snug the rim to the hub. Follow a cross pattern- (5 bolt skip a hole and tighten the next until you’re done, 4, 6, 8, or 10 bolt go across and then adjacent for the 3rd). Then turn the wrench torque up a turn at a time, making a cross pattern tightening pass. Stop just before the highest setting (I tighten on 1, 2, and 3, never using 4). If you’re a fanatic like me, then hit them with a torque wrench- just to make sure they are consistently tight- most take about 105 Lb Ft. Better yet, drive a few miles, then use the torque wrench.
    It takes a couple minutes extra per wheel to do it right, wrecking a lug/stud can cost you hours and hundreds.

  2. I too had this happen. I did not notice until a week later since this was a secondary vehicle. Shop denied all responsibility, said someone loosened them after I left. This ruined 2 tires and I ended up buying another set.

  3. And use a torque wrench to insure you torque to manufacturers spec. I also use some anti-sieze on the threads and cone area of the nuts/bolts (yes, some manufaturers use bolts with threaded holes in the wheel flange) to keep corrosion from making removal a right royal fight. Cross-tighten for the final torque, then go around in a circle to make sure you didn’t miss a fastener.

    • Crusty, some supposedly knowledgeable sources say to not use an anti-seize on the studs. I don’t agree and always use some. I replace lug nuts with cap nuts. Yes, they cost a few bucks but they’re worth it ensuring no bs ever comes in contact with the threads of the lug bolt.

      Funny about so many people having wheels nuts fall off. Every place I’ve bought tires in the last 30 years used torque wrenches. Truck stops always use a torque wrench requiring two people to torque the lugs on a big truck.

      I couldn’t tell you how many people installing wheels I’ve schooled about the proper torque sequence. Yes Dorothy, there is a torque sequence for everything. You’ll do well to use it. I’ve had to show workers in a truck shop how to remove and replace the old Erie style hub and rims. You can beat on one side and the other all day long and they’ll still be where they were when you got the bolts off. My uncle taught me as a kid how to use a squirt oil can tube to see how evenly they were going on when you give it a spin every now and then tightening the bolts. I mostly used a block of wood, same difference except when you stumbled over it, you didn’t hurt anything. Once they were tight and the wheel rotated evenly, it was time for the big cheater tube.

      • My father showed us boys how to torque the lugs on a Dodge Dart long, long ago…lubricate, cross-tighten, use a torque wrench, go around one last time to check. Oh, and remember, one side is left hand threaded…d’oh!

        Never had one loosen up doing that.

        I’ve heard that “no lube” stuff, every time I followed that advice, I had a very rough time loosening the nut/bolt. So, a little dab will do ‘ya on the antisieze for me!