My lug nuts won't come off

Written by lee sallings
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My lug nuts won't come off
You want the lug nuts tight, but not that tight. (wheel image by sasha from

Normally, you don't want the lug nuts to come off. Bad things happen when they do. But sometimes when you need to take the lug nuts off to perform a repair or maintenance project, they just won't budge. Stuck lug nuts come in two varieties, overtightened and cross-threaded, and each type of problem is approached differently. Common causes for this problem include improper use of air tools to tighten the nuts, and damage to the lug studs by cross-threading or debris that builds up in the threads of the studs. One thing is sure: this problem is solved by brute force alone. No finesse is involved.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Wheel chocks
  • 1/2-inch drive breaker bar
  • 1/2-inch drive socket set
  • 3-foot long pipe

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  1. 1

    Stabilise the car by applying the parking brake, and placing wheel chocks behind the tires on the opposite side of the wheel you want to remove. Movement of the vehicle caused by the torque you will be applying to the lug nuts uses up some of the force needed to loosen them.

  2. 2

    Snap the correct size of socket, from the socket set, onto the breaker bar. The most common sizes are 19mm or 3/4-inch, 21mm or 13/16-inch. Some German-made cars like BMW and Mercedes-Benz use a 17mm bolt instead of a lug nut, and some 3/4-ton pickup trucks use a 7/8-inch or 22mm lug nut. Choose the socket that fits snug onto the lug nut without being driven on with a hammer.

  3. 3

    Slide the pipe over the breaker bar. The goal here is to use the extra length of the pipe to gain leverage so that more force can be applied to the lug nut.

  4. 4

    Pull up on the pipe and turn the lug nut in a counterclockwise direction. Pulling up, instead of pushing down, allows the use of your legs for added force and is a more stable position should the lug nut break free suddenly. If the lug nut is not cross-threaded it should break free at this point. Since the wheel is still on the ground and holding the weight of the car, don't remove the lug nut completely. Continue turning the lug nut with the pipe on the breaker bar until the nut loosens enough to turn by hand or the stud breaks

Tips and warnings

  • Use impact-grade sockets for this project. Standard-grade chrome sockets are not strong enough to withstand the force necessary to remove stubborn lug nuts.
  • Wear safety glasses and work gloves to avoid injury from shattering tools if the socket breaks under force.

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