How To Remove A Stuck and Rounded Lugnut: A Wrencher’s Worst Nightmare

Lugnut

“Son of a bitch!” I yelled, cursing whichever J-hole had apparently run the lug nuts on my $700 Chevy Tracker’s right front wheel down with an impact. “Just torque it to spec you cretin!” I shouted into the sky, picturing that R-hole holding the trigger of that pneumatic impact, banging the lugnuts down until their threads plastically deformed. For hours I toiled to undo the that Y-hole’s dastardly handiwork, and for hours I failed. But, being the stubborn bastard I am, I didn’t give up. Here’s how I triumphed above one of the worst foes in all of wrenching: the seized lugnut.

If you haven’t experienced a stuck lugnut in your days of wrenching, thank the car gods immediately, for it is a traumatic experience from which you will emerge a different person. A hardened person. A person who, when someone mentions brake work or suspension work or swapping out summer tires for winter tires, just stares blankly out into the distance, quivering ever so slightly before “coming to.” It’s bad; it’s really bad.

The last time I dealt with a stuck wheel nut, I never did manage to get the thing off. It was holding an aluminum five-spoke wheel to, if I recall correctly, a Jeep Cherokee XJ’s Dana 30 front axle; I don’t remember what I did to solve that issue — I think I just removed the whole wheel hub from the knuckle, and recycled the hub/wheel together. I really can’t remember. Anyway, that experience stuck with me, so when I went to yank the right front wheel off my recently-acquired $700 Chevy Tracker, and was met with a lot of resistance, terror shot through my veins.

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This was a corded DeWalt impact I was using to loosen these nuts — it had been undefeated up to that point in lugnut removal bouts, but I was 15 seconds into holding its trigger and nothing was spinning. “Oh hell no,” I thought as I held onto that trigger for a few more seconds. I then liberally sprayed on my favorite penetrating lubricant, “Cleveland’s Finest,” as I like to call it — PB Blaster. I left the nuts to soak for a day, and returned yesterday to finish the job.

Use Penetrating Lubricants

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I threw the 19mm socket onto the lugnut, popped the nose of my DeWalt impact into the square end, and hit the trigger. “Bumbumbumbumbum!” I heard as I felt the socket let go, no longer requiring me to hold tightly to that impact wrench to counter the torque. The socket was now just spinning, bouncing lightly on what was left of the six points of the hex nut. I removed the socket:

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Oh crap. What the hell! A two-piece lugnut?!

I have for years been cursing the two-piece lugnut, a regular open acorn-nut with a cheap sheetmetal beauty cover over its end. That sheetmetal cover can not only break, like it did here, but it also very frequently just slides right off, leaving the bare open acorn nut underneath. That acorn nut, by the way, still does the job, but it lets moisture into the threads and, more importantly, it’s a smaller size since it no longer has a cover, so trying to use your regular socket will just cause you to round the acorn below.

I knew this, of course, so I went down to an 18mm. Shoving that onto the bare acorn nut resulted in, well, more peril. I rounded the acorn. Sonuva bitch!

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From there, I decided to break out the big guns. First, I grabbed a sledgehammer to break the tiles in my kitchen, revealing secret bunker doors. Then I grabbed my bolt cutters to get through a lock, and pulled — gripping with two hands, and leaning back hard — the two doors, which opened about their outboard hinges. “BANG” the cast iron closures went as they landed, breaking even more tiles. I then hopped into my climbing harness, hooked into a carabiner, and slowly lowered myself 200 feet to my secret lair, which was really nothing more than a humongous dirt cave. It was pitch black down there; spiders and rats abounded, and a tiny light flickered 500 yards away in a corner. I deactivated the booby traps, and pushed over the barriers marked “WARNING: DANGER AHEAD. TURN BACK.” I was now just feet away from the tiny light, which stood directly above what looked like a small cylindrical object.

I knew that continuing my approach would knock at least seven years from my life expectancy, as the potent smell that I’d come down here for began triggering my nasal receptors. But I continued on, wiped the grime off the cylinder sitting upon a marble perch, and read a name I hadn’t seen in years: AERO KROIL.

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It’s the most potent penetrating lubricant in all the land. Many, including I, fear it, as one shot of the pink liquid creates a smell so powerful it feels as if it’s penetrating your very soul. I try to avoid it whenever possible, but the Tracker’s lugnuts gave me no choice. Upon gripping the can, I sprinted across the dark, dank floor of my underground lair, hooked my harness back up to the cable, and hoisted myself up to my kitchen, which was now covered in shattered tile.

If You Round Your Nut, Hammer On A Slightly-Too-Small Socket

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I then ran out to the Chevy Tracker in my driveway, slowly removed the can’s lid, and pressed the trigger. A pink stream impacted the lugnuts, I dropped the can, and ran as far as I could, hoping to avoid wafting in The Kroil. I returned six hours later, expecting a 50 foot crater where my Chevy once was, but luckily, the fluid must have focused its energy on the corrosion between the lugnuts and the wheel/wheel studs. Knowing that there was still residual Kroil on my wheel, I tried making quick work of my operation. I grabbed a 17mm socket (a 12-point might have fit on there better; I used a six-point), placed it over the rounded 18mm nut, and hammered the crap out of it with a sledgehammer. The socket cut deep into the nut, forcing the steel to flow and subside like a liquid, creating grooves that the socket could use for grip. I shoved my DeWalt into the socket and hit the trigger.

” BANG BANG BANG” went the impact wrench. But no movement. How was this possible?! The Kroil! I’d sacrificed part of my life expectancy to use it, and it had… failed me? I tried again. “BANG BANG BANG!” Still nothing.

Desperate times called for desperate measures, so I reached for my two-foot breaker bar. Then I grabbed my MAPP gas torch. The added leverage along with the heat along with the Kroil, I reasoned, would conquer this situation easily. After removing the 17mm socket, I applied the flame to the rounded nut, hammered the socket back on, and installed the end of the breaker bar. I pushed, but nothing happened. So I pushed more; still nothing. Then I gave it all I head, and finally the bar moved. I looked down at the lugnut and was shocked; The socket was rounding the nut!

How?!

The undefeated DeWalt, the undefeated breaker bar, the undefeated Kroil, the undefeated heat! I had assembled The Avengers of seized fastener removal, and they were being shellacked!

I was now growing deeply concerned. If I couldn’t get this lugnut off, I’d have to drill out the lug and replace the stud. This would be a gigantic pain in my ass, as I’d have to remove the hub, which isn’t exactly trivial on these Trackers. But I was running out of options. I’d now broken the outer lugnut shell, rounded the 18mm nut, rounded the rounded 18mm nut with a 17mm socket, and now the acorn nut looked a lot more like an acorn than it had when it had flat sides.

After carefully replacing that AeroKroil — which, I’m convinced, is basically nitroglycerine — back into the dark cave below my kitchen, I searched my garage for something, anything, that could bring me relief. Luckily, I found my rounded-nut removal tool kit (also called a bolt extractor kit).

Hammer A Bolt Extractor Like One From This Irwin Kit

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Image: Lowes

The biggest one in my collection was a 16mm, and though I’d just rounded the nut with a 17mm, the fact is that I was now about to try to drop three millimeters from the nut’s original size, or two if we discount the sheetmetal shield. I didn’t have a 17mm rounded-nut removal tool, so — after heating up the nut — I placed the 16mm one over it, and whaled on the tool with a sledgehammer until it bit into the nut a few millimeters. I then grabbed my breaker bar, installed a 1/2-inch-to-3/8-inch adapter (since my rounded nut removal tool was a 3/8-drive tool), and shoved that into the tool now locked onto my lugnut. As soon as I started pushing the breaker bar, I could feel plastic deformation; I knew right away what was happening:

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The half-inch-to-3/8-inch adapter tool sheared right off.

Luckily, the rounded nut removal tool has a hex on its outer surface, so a 21mm socket went right over top. Pushing the breaker bar further, I felt it spin, though nothing “broke free.” I was just tearing up the outside of the nut. Ef!

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Use LOTS Of Heat

My rounded nut removal tool had only slid on a few millimeters, since – again — it was a 16mm, which was much smaller than the nut’s original size. I knew I had only one final choice: I had to hammer that tool all the way onto that nut. It wouldn’t want to, because it’s too small, but with enough whaling on that tool with my sledgehammer, that bastard was going to get on there. First, though, I had to heat the nut up far more than I had so far. I had to let that flame just linger.

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I watched as my aluminum wheel’s clearcoat literally caught fire; I had to let it go, because this was the only chance I had. For about a full minute, I held the MAPP gas flame over that nut until it was hotter than magma; then, after really giving it everything I had, I managed to get the rounded nut removal tool to slice through the nut and seat itself all the way to the nut’s base.

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Use A Big-Ass Breaker Bar

I inserted the socket that was at the end of the breaker bar over the tool, laid the breaker bar level, and then jumped on its end. BANG! The 340 lb-ft of torque that I’d created, along with all that heat, along with all those penetrating lubricants, along with a rounded nut removal tool had finally defeated that develish lugnut that some R-hole had installed, possibly to spite some misbehaved customer.

Of course, this was just round one. I had four more lugnuts to go.

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I ended up breaking one more sheetmetal beauty cover, and in one case, I had to install a jack handle over my breaker bar (see above) to give me three feet of leverage instead of just two, but ultimately I managed to get all five lugnuts off thanks to copious — and I mean copious  — amounts of heat from that MAPP torch. That really was the ticket; I had to be okay with destroying my wheel’s clearcoat so that I could really heat those nuts and studs up, then I had to just get enough grip and leverage to break the nuts free.

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The whole ordeal of removing five lugnuts took me a few hours; normally, it’d take me about 30 seconds. So to whichever U-hole is responsible for really ugga-dugga-ing the crap out of those five nuts: I hereby place an very specific automotive curse on you for all of eternity: May all of your vehicles saddle you with peeling clearcoat, squealing serpentine belts, and sagging headliners.

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125 Responses

  1. You should have let the Kroil soak in for a few days. Even a week. I once got 20 year old Honda Brake Bleeder screws out with that method. Well 3, of 4. On the Fourth one, the Cast-Iron Brake-Cylinder actually trans-mutated into the steel of the Bleeder Screw(like something out of the U.S.S. Eldridge/Philadelphia Experiment). Also, are you using the old “Mapp Gas”, or the new “Fake Mapp Gas”?
    -I hope this endeavor was in pursuit of turning those Brake Rotors and maybe some pads.

  2. Fun fact: every factory lugnut on 1984 to probably today Chrysler products is a two-piece.

    “How can you know that?”
    Because I know David’s method is wrong for exactly the reason he found (destroying the wheel finish and wheels,) and I am very fucking good at separating ‘acorn hats’ in order to drill studs. It was absolute policy written in stone that as soon as the extractor failed, no matter how shitty the car, no matter how trashed the wheels? You go directly to drilling the stud, period. The only exception was if two mechanics agreed that there was evidence of corrosion binding or cold welding, and only with explicit customer approval of the risk of wheel damage.
    Because ANY lug that has been that overtorqued on ANY car regardless of make or model, has either stretched the stud or damaged the wheel and made it unsafe. And if you didn’t clean up those threads and surfaces and use at minimum an appropriate torque stick (except when seating studs,) pack your box right then. Because that shit cost a LOT of money to fix when the customer inevitably came back.

    Anything that was just stuck to a mating face? Put on your hearing protection. Shit gon’ get loud. Now go get the BIG hammer.

    1. My question is this, ( and it is probably why you seem to want to avoid heat ), what are you doing to the heat treat in the aluminum ( I presume ) rim when you hit it with the rtorch? In a former life, before my life as a programmer, I worked in various Bicycle repair shops ( so, lots of aluminum involved ).

    2. Yeah, agreed…I drilled the studs on my wheels…the dipstick who put my new tires on overtightened a couple lug nuts, and a shop wanted to torch them off, destroying my nice, relatively new wheels. Drilling the stud definitely is the best solution if you want your wheels to keep looking nice.

      When I was much younger, before I had a place to do wrenching, another car had the stuck lug nut…but it was a wheel lock nut. When I had tires put on, apparently they overtightened and broke my wheel lock key, without telling me. I took it to a shop because I had no other option. Their original solution…believe it or not…was to cut off my steering knuckle and do some thousands and thousands of dollars of work. Fortunately, that raised some red flags and another shop actually either drilled it out or found a matching key, can’t remember which. Paid them like $40.

      1. The last place that attached the wheels on my car over-torqued the bolts so much that the normally straight splines on my wheel lock key now have a noticeable twist to them.
        All the wheel bolts are looking a bit crusty so I might just invest in twenty new ones and ditch the ‘locking’ ones.

      2. That’s one of those moments when you realize you’re not dealing with professionals. I have no problem limping my car to another shop when it becomes apparent that I know more than the guy who claims to be a mechanic.

  3. I had similar experience with a front hub mounting bolt which I seized by using a breaker bar in a mirror fashion and tightened instead of loosening. It took close to 20 hours of work to remove. I broke so many sockets. Finally I had to us an angle grinder to grind off about an inch of the hub/bolt before it finally loosed. Also, 2 full bottles of MAPP gas.

    Let’s just say I’m more careful when turning a nut or bolt now.

    1. I feel your pain mate. The when I tried to change the oil on my first car, I did exactly the same with the oil drain plug. I had to replace the entire sump (taking off a sump that’s full of old oil is no fun).

  4. I was living at an apartment with five air-cooled vehicles mostly under car ports.
    I wanted to remove a wheel on the $200 VW Baha bug.
    Being under a carport provided a unique opportunity to apply torque to wrenches.
    I was using a heavy long bar and it wasn’t working.
    I added a four foot long 1/4″ wall pipe to the bar and it wasn’t working.
    Being under the carport allowed me to stand on the long cheater pipe and hang on to the carport for balance.
    Even jumping on the now six-foot long cheater pipe didn’t budge the lug nut.
    I am surprised I didn’t break any of my tools.
    I sold that Baha bug without ever removing that wheel for $900.

  5. You know what’s even worse than a stuck lug nut? A stuck oil pan drain bolt. Not only is it under your car where it’s harder to apply leverage and just generally more of a pain in the ass to work, you also don’t want to take a torch to it for fear of starting a fire. Not only that, but there’s no option to just drill it out and pull the stud, because there is no stud—you’d be looking at installing a Time-Sert or something like that. Not only *that*, but your car is now a ticking time bomb because it needs an oil change and you can’t change the oil. It really sucks!

    Last time I encountered one of those I just took the car to a dealership and let them deal with it, I shit you not. Fucking Jiffy Lube.

    1. Worst comes to worst you can just replace the pan, no? Replacing a pan, even one full of oil isn’t so bad*.

      *As long as you scrape off the gasket crap with a NYLON scraper. Steel scrapers can destroy the surfaces on an aluminum block.

      1. On my Miata, replacing the oil pan gasket involves pulling either the front subframe or the engine. Last time I had to deal with a stuck oil pan drain bolt though it was on my girlfriend’s car, and I wasn’t interested in seeing the look on her face when she came to tell me dinner was ready and saw the underside of her vehicle spread out across the asphalt and me diligently working the mating surface with a plastic putty knife and a mineral-spirit-soaked rag.

    2. I’ll raise you a stuck drain plug with a stuck oil filter!! What do these guys do?? First oil change on my used veloster I had to do the “screwdriver method” to remove.. what a PITA!!

      1. Another story…I was busy, so my wife took the car for an oil change. New car, like, 9000 miles, still under warranty. She brings it home and it’s leaking oil all over the driveway. She takes it back, they tell her they need to do a complete engine rebuild. Dipsticks. The thing is UNDER WARRANTY. So I look at it and sure enough, leaking from the oil filter. Took me all the screwdriver and chisel and channel lock tricks to get it off. Put a new filter on. Now at 150K miles and never had an oil leak since.

      2. I was doing an oil change on a friend’s Silverado and the screwdriver method just sliced the filter apart. and Chevy in their infinite wisdom molded the oil pan around the filter so I was trying to not damage that while hammering in the screwdriver too. Eventually I got it loose alternating between 2 Channel locks that gripped at slightly different angles.

      3. This can easily be a problem for Miata owners. The oil filter is awkwardly located deep in the guts of the engine bay, and there aren’t a whole lot of hand positions that work for reaching in there and grabbing it. All of the options are kinda marginal and don’t allow you to apply your full strength, which is fine, except that the best hold for spinning it on is a stronger one than the best hold for spinning it off. It’s easy to put it on there and think, “Yeah, that seems like a good amount of tight,” only to come back later after the filter has heat cycled dozens of times and the filter has gotten greasy from the engine bay, and not have the grip strength to turn it back the other way. Super annoying.

        It’s also sideways and over a control arm, so when you take it off you pretty much always get oil all over your car’s mechanicals and then it drips everywhere other than where the catch pan is, while meanwhile you attempt to wrestle a greasy, filthy canister out of the crowded environs your car’s intestines without dropping it or spilling more oil than necessary.

        It’s common to put an adapter on there and re-route the filter location to somewhere more sensible.

        1. Worst oil filter issue I ever had was the factory filter on an NC Miata. I ended up using a filter tool that fits a 3/8 socket, and compresses teeth into the filter as it’s turned. Using a breaker bar, I twisted the filter can about 30 degrees from the point the teeth grabbed and the other end before it let go. I never had a problem after that, so I guess the factory was a bit aggressive with that one.

          1. I must have accumulated 5 or 8 different oil filter wrenches over the decades: a couple of the ‘big pliers’ types, several different strap/banding ones, and my favorite-like Ruizing described-one that, when turned with either a 7/8 wrench or 3/8 ratchet, pulls 2 toothed uprights from each side to grip the filter. The best part about it is that it can be used to get & hold the exact torque on a cam sprocket when installing a Subaru timing belt (I protected the sprocket from the teeth with-of all things-Steinway piano felt).

            1. Love. It. Especially the bit about repurposing it for your Subie’s timing belt change, and the felt. A++ wrenching. I very much doubt I could get that thing down to where my Miata’s filter is, though.

              My favorite way to change the timing belt on an NA Miata involves putting a 14mm wrench on the exhaust cam bolt, then using a bar clamp between the wrench and the throttle body intake. (Your plastic intake tube is already off, that’s Step 1 in 99% of Miata-related engine bay procedures.) By fiddling with the amount of pressure exerted by the clamp, you can micro-adjust the exhaust cam to exactly where you need it to be, and hold it there. Slip your timing belt on a little loose, then use the clamp to take up the slack and transfer it to the segment of the belt where the tensioner will go. Works beautifully.

              Use a clamp with padded jaws, obviously.

    3. the vacuum extractor is your friend. I discovered them a couple of years ago and have not removed a drain plug, or had to replace the crush washer since. At least on cars. Vacs don’t work on bikes.

      1. I’m told that the efficacy of such extractors depends greatly on the shape of your sump, though. If you can’t get right down to the very bottom, you’re gonna leave some of the shittiest, sludgiest oil behind when you do your change. Don’t think it hasn’t tempted me, though.

    4. I once had a rental with a flat. The agency directed me to the nearest repair centre they had a contract with. For me it was actually a relatively painless exercise that wasted maybe an hour of my time and I even got a bit of a rental credit out of it. Watching the dipshit tire centre cousins not give the slightest shit about using the correct jack point on the car was both alarming and amusing. I guess unibody cars were not so common in rural south west Ontario yet.

    5. I had one of those quick change places round off my drain plug on my work truck, unbeknownst to me. The next place I took it too they came back up from their little cave under the floor to ask me ‘exactly what the fuck’ the last guy did to it.

      1. And it was probably even one of their own guys too, right? Because where I work, we use our fleet gas cards to get our oil changed at whatever Valvoline we happen to be near, which is generally the one closest to the shop. So if the bolt got rounded off last time, it was probably by a guy at the same shop as I’m at this time.

        1. Oh for an edit feature. I just wanted to say that you wouldn’t think it would be possible to fuck up an oil change that bad, especially when that is *literally all you do all day long* but those drive-through oil change places seem to manage it on the regular. Where do they find their employees, are they recruiting clown college dropouts or something?

  6. Maybe getting the right size nut removal socket would have made this somewhat easier? As it is, that 16mm is probably destroyed now. I had a different automotive job that should have taken 30 minutes tops last a 2.5 hours the other day because I waited too long to just go to the store and buy the right socket ($8) for the job instead of “making do” with adapters and such.

      1. Send it to me. I’ll get that bitch out (and return the remover to you). If only so we can tell said nut to fuck off without hurting the feelings of that wonderful remover.

  7. My father was a moldmaker back in the day and always had a seemingly infinite supply of Kroil. I can still smell it… love the smell of Kroil!! Between bikes, boats, and Blazers I can’t begin to estimate how much we used…

    1. Severely Hydrotreated Petroleum Distillates 30-50%, Light Petroleum Distillates 30-50%, Aliphatic Alcohols, Glycol Ether 1-5%, and some C02. ,

      If you were wondering what this is, well mainly, naphthalene. Stuff that is not good for you,

      Acute (short term)exposure of humans to naphthalene by inhalation, ingestion, and dermal contact is associated with
      hemolytic anemia, damage to the liver, and neurological damage. Cataracts have also been reported in
      workers acutely exposed to naphthalene by inhalation and ingestion. Chronic (long-term) exposure of
      workers and rodents to naphthalene has been reported to cause cataracts and damage to the retina.

      Sniff the good stuff!

  8. Your methods work better than mine. I would have taken the sledge hammer and started pounding on everything within a five foot radius. I never heard of Aero Kroil. The oil that creeps? Is that a promise or a threat?

  9. I don’t know if you were a victim of over-torquing or galvanic corrosion. Steel lugs and nuts on an alloy wheel are a recipe for disaster in certain climates. I’ve also seen alloy wheels corroded on to hub faces and brake drums. Alloy wheels on an off-roader are dumb anyhow. Would you rather crack an alloy wheel on the trail or bend a steelie? I seem to recall that base Tracker/Vitara had steel wheels. Find some.

    1. Wheels corroded to hub faces are at least easier than lug nuts that don’t want to be free. If you can back the lugs off, you can donkey-kick the tire or drive a slow figure-8 to free the irksome wheel. Nuts, though… I’m thankful I’ve never had trouble with those, and I wouldn’t’ve had David’s patience in this case.

  10. I have similar experience.

    Trying to undo the front sprocket nut on a Kawaski ZX6R years ago.

    IIRC it was a 17mm nut, with a 1/2″ socket on it, and wrapped over the breaker bar: a 6-foot length of scaffold pole: “give me a long enough lever, and I will move the world.”

    We turned the pole through (I swear) 90 degrees (from vertical to horizontal), with 2 people holding the bike steady and me (14 stone of ape) literally hanging off the end of the pole before the nut broke loose and I fell flat on my back!

  11. I did the small size socket on my Dakota, on the GS1150 I had a seized, rounded bolt on the fork, I went with a bolt extractor and breaker bar. After about 5 min of dread a quick youtube search led me to the bolt extractor.

  12. Experienced something similar in my first real foray into wrenching… baby steps… but the brakes on my boat trailer seized and I needed to remove/replace the calipers and pads, which obviously means removing the wheels. Unfortunately the boat was still on the trailer and was the only thing keeping me from launching for the season Panic ensued, followed by a 30 second internet search and voila, this is easy. Until… one G-D lug nut didn’t turn… eventually sheering off the thin aluminum casing leaving the “acorn”, which I now know is a real thing. After a broken 3/8 – 1/4 extension, half a can of penetrating oil, and half-a-dozen PB-Blaster filled open wounds, I hammered on a sacrificial socket that was a size too small and, without a breaker bar that fit over my socket handle, rigged up a pry bar and stomped on it like I was putting out a fire (all the while anticipating a massive shin injury which thankfully never happened). Long story short, F salt water, and F lug nut casings. The silver lining, aside from launching on time, was the satisfaction of actually solving this problem… and thus my love for wrenching has been born. Thank you Autopian!

  13. I was previously and blissfully unaware of the two-piece lugnut. WTF?

    The worst issue I’ve had with a lugnut was at a NASA time trial event at Mid-Ohio. I kept multiple sets of tires in rotation, and I often swapped them in between sessions. I tended to use the impact to spin the nuts on and off, and a torque wrench to tighten them down evenly. Easy-peasy.

    On this day, I was spinning a lug nut off when it seized halfway up the stud. I have never seen such a thing. Working the nut back and forth with a breaker, I was able to make a little progress. That is, until the rocking action worked the stud out of the hub. So then I was stuck with a freely-spinning stud with a nut seized on it.

    Luckily friends leapt to my rescue. We drilled out the stud enough so that we could break it off, then we filed off the head of the stud enough to fit it in through the back without having to pull the hub.

  14. In all my years of wrenching on stuck and rusty bolts and other car parts, not one single time has any sort of penetrating oil done jack squat. I don’t know why I even bother keeping a bottle of that stuff around.
    On the other hand, a nice hot torch works nearly every single time. Sometimes just a propane torch will do, sometimes I gotta go full-on MAPP. But it works and it works fast.

    1. That was my main takeaway from the Project Farm video about penetrating oil. None of them were particularly miraculous, but heat made a drastic difference.

      That said, even if it doesn’t help that much with seized parts, it is sometimes useful to soften up the rust on threads before you back a nut off. I’ve also used it to clean rusty threaded holes. And it works nicely to lubricate things like the pivots on a snowblower. You can spray penetrating oil into places you might otherwise have trouble reaching.

    1. How dare you speak like that to David Tracy!? This is the man who dyed his clothes with used oil, the man who cleaned engine parts in his dishwasher, the man who lists a salvage yard as a secondary residence. Asking him to use tools not from Harbor Freight would be akin to asking the Pope to perform a bris…

  15. I’m a little disappointed in your automotive curse David. Sagging headliner? Squealing belt? That’s amateur hour. Try this:
    “I curse you to a 9 hour road trip; in a minivan, with five 14 year old girls. Three of whom do not get along, and one of whom gets car sick. And they are in charge of the radio.”
    Go big, or go home.

    1. “I curse you to a 9 hour road trip; in a minivan, with five 14 year old girls. Three of whom do not get along, and one of whom gets car sick. And they are in charge of the radio.”

      Based on my own childhood experiences the solution is to tell them the A/C is busted and the radio only works on AM. An hour into the trip they’ll all have passed out from the drone of talk radio and heat exhaustion. Then turn the A/C on (all vents pointing to you, obviously) and quietly listen to whatever you want.

  16. David – those studs are probably toast. I hope you decided to bite the bullet and mount new ones all around on that hub. heck, you probably toasted the entire hub and should replace that.

    i thought i had it bad when i did rear pads on the cadenza a few weeks back – the lugs all came off just fine, but the wheel was rust-welded to the hub. fortunately for me, the ol’ “hold an 18″ 2×4 against the rim and and bash the wood with a sledge” trick worked. IIRC there was one or two lugs that required some liquid encouragement (PB blaster for them, single malt for me although, it’s possible i needed a shot of encouragement for each lug, even if they were loose). seems like many problems in life are solved by two fingers of scotch, and in some cases (like yours) lotsa fire.

  17. I can’t believe no one is talking about the massive revelation in this article: Tracy’s “Secret Lair”!

    Raise your hand if you already suspected that he had one (if not here, then at least back in Germany under the army base).

    The unfinished quality of The Lair feels authentic (dirt floors and no electric lights), but I’m questioning whether there’s really a marble plinth at the back.

    More of this, please.

  18. Never underestimate taper tension, like the connection a tie rod end has to a steering arm or on a ball joint. Case in point. Was removing a front wheel off my Elise to replace the brake disc when I snapped off the small, splined end of the adapter tool provided. The Elise uses wheel bolts, not wheel nuts, and there is a good amount of taper or cone shape where it mates to the wheel surface. The wheels were off regularly enough, so it wasn’t corrosion, and I (or the dealer where I took it for inspection) always torqued the bolts to spec. So, I quickly made a roughly correct shaped tool out of a large allen wrench or hex shaped piece of bar stock, and then got ready to apply some force with a breaker bar extended with a jack handle. This time, however, as I was leaning on the jack handle, a friend gave the head of the breaker bar a couple of really good whacks with a hammer, essentially applying small shocks that for a fraction of a millisecond deformed the wheel surface and the bolt came free. Just like the trick of hitting both sides of a steering arm with hammers at the same time to cause the hole to deform and free the taper of a tie rod end.

  19. Machinist’s Workshop Magazine tested various penetrants to find which worked the best based on torque needed to break seized bolts free. The results showed a 50:50 mix of ATF and acetone worked better than anything else tested including Kroil:

    No penetrant 516 ft-lb
    WD-40 238 ft-lbs
    PB Blaster 214ft-lbs
    Liquid Wrench 127 ft-lbs
    Kano kroil 106 ft-lbs
    ATF/acetone 53 ft-lbs

    It costs practically nothing to try so why not give it a shot?

  20. David,

    Hopefully your plan is to flip this car for cash. Maybe ping Kevin Williams if you need help/advice, he seems to have flipping shitboxes down.

    Although I have not used the most modern electric impact drivers, my experiences are the pneumatic impact drivers tend to be much better at this type of problem – they do not need a big compressor, I use a small Rolair unit that plugs into a 15A, 110VAC outlet and is quiet enough to leave on a shelf. Also, please invest in an induction heater for bolt removal – based on your previous experiences, you should avoid open flames – especially when using organic solvents.

    Glad you got the lug nuts off – these 2-piece nuts are a scourge – my guess is corrosion is what did you in more than over-tightening. I have taken to putting just the thinnest film of anti-seize on the studs whenever I take off the nuts/bolts.

  21. In my military career, overtightened fasteners were everyday. The hands-down best method of removal is a sliding t-bar, an impact socket, and two cheater pipes. Tank drive sprockets came with creosote on the threads and the manual said chase it out, use removable threadlocker and torque to spec. Fuck that, they’d fall off.
    We took to leaving the creosote on, slathering the bolts with permanent threadlocker, and rattling them to the max with a 3/4 drive air impact. When we changed them, we put two 3-foot cheater pipes on a 3/4 drive sliding t-bar and they’d come out. For 1/2 drive, get two 2-foot pieces of black iron plumbing pipe.

  22. I guess this is one way to get people to sign up for your site because I just joined to say you got the title WRONG. This article should be titled “How NOT to remove a stuck lugnut”.

    First of all the impact should have been left in the garage, you do not use them on capped lug nuts, that is what destroys them.

    Once the cap failed and the hammer on a smaller socket and try with the cheater on your breaker bar. If it acts like it is going to round off STOP before you round it off.

    The next step is to go inside, but not for some magic fluid, but for the internet, to see a replacement stud is readily available. If the part number exists, but isn’t in stock then you click on the buyer’s guide to find the other applications.

    Now you go and get your drill bit set, some cutting oil and start drilling. Start with something like a 1/8″ or 3/16″ and work your way up a couple of steps at a time. Once you’ve taken out about 2/3 or 3/4 of the stud and you didn’t round off the nut, hammering that socket back on and giving it a twist with the breaker bar should cause the stud to collapse and break off.

    If it is in stock locally then pick one or more up. If not that is where the buyer’s guide will help you find a suitable replacement in the wrecking yard.

  23. Yup… this is why I usually decline “free” tire rotations.

    When something is ‘free’. you can bet the person doing the work will do it as quickly as possible and cut corners. And THAT means using the goddamn airgun (sometimes set to a way-too-high torque setting) to screw on and torque down the wheel lug nuts.

    And the same thing applies to oil changes. I’ve seen and heard of too many instances of idiots at various businesses doing idiotic things when it comes to installing oil filters or oil pan drain plugs.

    When I bought my current car, it came with a “free” oil change. After the oil change, I checked the oil… and it looked okay.

    Then I checked the oil filter… and I discovered they put on the wrong one.

    Immediately did another oil change with the correct oil and filter because if the dipshits that did the “free” oil change couldn’t use the correct filter, I bet they also used the crappiest oil… possibly in the wrong grade.

    I don’t do oil changes and tire rotations myself for the money savings.

    I do it myself because then I know it will get done properly.

  24. Jesus Christ, after all that you didnt just cut a notch in the lug nut and break it off with a chisel? Done it hundreds of times.

    Also, people who think “3 ugga duggas” is a unit in measurement, there’s a special section of hell for you.

    Sincerely, a guy who uses hand tools to change wheels…..and torques them to spec.

  25. I bought an induction bolt heater and that would have worked great in this case. You can get the nut/bolt *red* hot in a few seconds. Way faster than a torch without burning surrounding material.

    I’ve never had any kind of bolt extractor work for me ever under any circumstances. I bought a Ridgid 35585 after seeing a machine shop channel recommend it and, while it is better than easy outs, I still have yet to see it actually extract a bolt successfully.

    The stuff about the smell of Kroil is funny too. The guy on Rebuild Rescue discovered it through comments on his videos, and seems to like the smell. I wouldn’t go that far, but it definitely smells better than PB. I *haaaaaaaaaaate* the smell of PB.

  26. Aero Kroil is the s&!t. Works great on big threads like control arm and strut bolts.
    Order of usefulness-
    1.Aero Kroil
    2.old bubble gum
    3.My dog’s slobber
    4.Some blood
    5.PBR
    6.WD-40

    1. I will never understand why people think WD40 works as a penetrant. It doesn’t.

      And by PBR did you mean PB Blaster or Pabst Blue Ribbon? One of them will eat through rusted nuts. The other is available at auto parts stores.

    2. There’s also Penetrol available at HVAC supply houses. I’m amazed at some of the things I’ve broken loose with that stuff.
      Of course, I’m not 17 anymore: when I go after something that looks like it might dispute my mastery, I always just squinch it a bit in the wrong direction first. Also, I give a few taps to the socket on the fastener first just to appease the automotive gods.

      WD-40 is GREAT for keeping wasps from building nests: pre-treat area a month before they really start buzzing around, and hit it every 2-3 moths after that. I haven’t been stung anywhere I treated in the 20+ years since I learned this. Also takes bumperstickers off. I have no other use for it.

  27. Had to deal with this on FIL’s 1966 Chrysler 300 about a month ago. It’s been sitting in his garage under a load of crap for 40 years; I emptied all the junk into a dumpster and got the workspace cleared out. All four Sears tires were flat; it took a breaker bar, two weeks of PBBlaster application, a propane torch, and a lot of curse words to get the wheels off. (I did come prepared with knowledge: driver’s side wheel nuts spin backwards). At least the nuts were solid steel.

    She’s sitting on four new tires now. I just rebuilt and replaced the carb, swapped out the points, condenser, coil, plugs and wires, and got her started for the first time two weeks ago. The smile on FIL’s face was priceless.

  28. To hell with those two-piece lug nuts. My Mustang had them too, the first time I actually noticed they were two-piece was when they started to split the beauty cover.. I went and bought better ones right then and there.

    1. There was even apparently a class-action suit over Ford’s craptastic 2-piece nuts.

      It was thrown out, but at the time, its very existence made me feel better about my situation, which led me to replacing my Focus’ so-pretty nuts with base model 1-piece ones that while not matchy, worked exactly as they’re supposed to.

  29. I too have experienced the evil j-hole that slammed the lug nuts on my Camry with the gun turn up to Hulk plus Thor and had three of the 5 break clean off.
    On each wheel. Buy ’em by the box!

      1. BE CAREFUL with angle grinders and long-sleved shirts!
        I was using a grinder with a wire wheel to brush rust from a boat trailer. The grinder had a broken on/off switch bypassed(!) and I was working alone.
        The wheel caught my left sleeve (admittedly too loose) and walked quickly up my arm, initially shredding cloth as it went, but fortunately clogging on too much shirt. I was able to hold it away from the skin, but in the end I had a humming, straining wire brush inches from my neck as I carefully walked over and kicked loose the extension cord!
        My nearest-ever escape while wrenching.

  30. The last car I bought, was 3 months new and I went to put on my winter tires. Unless the wheels had come off for PDI, I was the first to take them off from the factory. The bolts seemed to be torqued all over the place. I just use arm power, not an impact wrench as I only really do this twice a year, so it’s not worth holding on to one more tool. I got to one of the anti-theft sockets and put in the adapter. I increasingly added body weight to loosen until the adapter shattered.

    Fine, fuck you, I went to the dealer and told them to get the damn thing off. They stripped an adapter, not shattered, which I would have preferred they experienced (I can be malicious). Once they destroyed the damn bolt to get it off, they tried to sell me a replacement. I just switched to regular bolts and use factory torque now. If this experience taught me anything, there’s no way my wheels will be stolen at factory torque.

  31. Once the thin cover has peeled away from the lug nut, pound on whichever of your fine Pittsburgh sockets (inch or metric) fits on the tightest and mig weld the socket and nut for as far around as you can get to. Removal should then work, use a cutoff wheel to separate the two, repeat on next nut w/ same socket. Buy a replacement cheapo socket later.

  32. Not quite stuck lug nuts but I can confirm heat is a wonderful tool to have. When doing drums on my B2300, they had gotten rust welded to the axle shaft. So even with the full might of a pulley puller bending the drum like a 3D metal bow, it refused to let go even after a fair few whacks from a sledge. So out came the torch, after some liberal heating and a light tap of the sledge the drum shot off the hub with a bang as all that spring tension released in the drum. Heat is truly a good tool to have on hand for stubborn parts.

  33. Deathwheel either vertical or horizontal which ever way you have better clearance.

    or an Oxy-Acetylene heat it up red hot and hit it with a 3 lb sledge if you have clearance or 3lb Sledge and chisel.

    Or just go straight in with the Oxygen and take out the stud the entire way.

    Can’t be stuck if its a liquid

    Jason needs to get David and Oxy-Acetylene and a good set of safety equipment and fire extinguishers

  34. I ran in to that on my wife’s former 2002 Nissan Sentra. The guys that did the tire swap were a good shop, but one lug would NOT yield to my electric impact. So I then broke my breaker bar. Finally I went to the super long pipe on the lifetime-guaranteed 1/2 inch ratchet. That got’er done.

    I stopped by the shop later that day to let them know what had happened, and the owner was adamant that they torque to spec. I told him that I know, which is why it was odd, but I wanted to give him a heads up.

    Also, once again, Liquid Wrench is vastly superior to PB Blaster — every time I used PB, I got nowhere until I got mad and busted out the Wrench. Hit the offending fastener with Liquid Wrench, whack it with a hammer, and leave it for a couple of hours. Then come back and do it again, but leave it overnight. I’d bet it comes off the next day pretty easily. I know we don’t always have that kind of time, but when you do, this seems to work well. It has for me.

    Just be careful, I have seen the Wrench eat into an asphalt driveway. The Wrench don’t fuck around.

  35. Have you tried “Busty” (yes, that’s really what it is called.) I would like to attach a photo, but that’s not possible. I would google for a photo to link, but …..

    It is made by Herdor’s Inc in Mokena, IL.

  36. There’s a very good reason why for my tire changing toolset everything is half inch drive at the minimum, even the speeder and the sliding T handle. David Tracy Demonstrated that.

    I’m built like a toothpick so when it comes to loosening and tightening stuff I use as much mechanical advantage as I can get, and with that I need something that can handle a ton of torque.

  37. You can buy an “emergency nut remover” that works pretty well when used with a lubricant or heat and a breaker bar.

    It’s got reverse screw threads on the inside, so you tighten it onto the nut, and when you turn to remove, it digs into the nut.

    You have to pound the nut out later, but it works.

    Bought one after my Focus’ oh-so-pretty 2-pieces crapped out twice (first time, I thought it was my having stripped the nut. Second time it happened, I was suspicious…)

    1. Most definitely! My guess is they toast, even if the threads would accept a new lug nut. They all needed to come out after all that heat and torque. One good pothole and that wheel would be driving off on it’s own.

  38. Very entertainingly written David.

    Next time i get a seriously stuck nut i’ll find a way to mount the drill press on it’s side.Try arguing with THAT you miserable piece of sh!t nut! *evil laugh*

  39. Several decades ago we needed to remove a front wheel from a bus. Luckily this was at a workshop and not on the side of the road as one of those nuts was definitely not playing the game. Ended up after some time of having no luck with a bar and socket, two of us jumped up and down on a six foot length of steel pipe, that had been slid over the bar, while the third guy used an oxy to heat the nut up, eventually it gave up and came loose. It was scary thinking of getting a flat tyre out in the middle of no where and having to deal with this.

    1. No kidding. When I went to rotate the tires on my new old car two of the wheels were seized to the hubs, one so badly that I had to drop the car repeatedly with the lug nuts loose in order to break it free. That would have been a problem if I’d been using a crappy scissor jack on the side of the road instead of my nice floor jack.

      Before they went back on, each hub face got a good application of grease to hopefully keep it from happening again.

  40. They have 17.5mm sockets for this exact reason. There are cheaper options, but I’m lazy, so here’s one of the first search results:

    https://palmac.net/koken-18317m-17-5-1-sq-drive-rear-wheel-nut-sockets/

    And I’ll raise you a CV axle galvanically corroded into the wheel bearing which was galvanically corroded into to knuckle.

    They had to melt the axle stub and bearing to get it out. They would have torched the knuckle off, but it was unobtanium at the time.

    What was a $300 dollar quote to replace a CV axle ended up being $1200 + 2 extra days waiting on the bearing.

    A big FU to the Mitsubishi engineers who couldn’t be bothered to google “galvanic compatibility chart”.

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