Last Updated on July 31, 2020 by Tim
Lug nuts can be a pain under the best circumstances, but a damaged one feels like an absolute nightmare to remove. The cause of a damaged lug nut is most often an overzealous mechanic who overtightens the nut past factory specs using an impact wrench. As a result, the nut ends up stripped, scratched, and badly rounded.
Once you know how to remove a stripped lug nut, you can perform this task with relative ease. In the event you’re at a garage letting someone else rotate your tires and they damage a lug, these two techniques will also allow you to one-up them. Just make sure they replace the damaged lug so you only have to do it once!
Method #1: Hammer and Socket
A lug nut stripped of its corners is technically smaller, making the original socket size too big for the original lug nut size. Pick out a socket that’s one size smaller (you can also switch between metric and SAE for this). The smaller socket won’t go on easily, so line up the loose socket over the lug instead of attaching it to a wrench or other handle.
Once the socket is centered over the damaged lug nut, move your fingers out of harm’s way and give it a few good whacks with a hammer to drive the socket over the nut. Now that it’s firmly anchored over the lug, you can attach your torque wrench or breaker bar and work the nut loose. It will take a few good knocks to get the nut back out of the socket, but this can also be done, causing minimal damage (on good-quality sockets).
Method #1 Example:
The advantage of using this method is that you can use tools already at your disposal. The socket will have a firm grip and allows you to remove the nut as if it wasn’t damaged. There is also very little extra manual effort, as your hammer takes care of the necessary force.
The downsides to this method are that the nut (and possibly the socket) will need to be replaced. A socket from a good quality set will take little or no damage, but cheap sockets could crack or split during the process due to the lower quality materials. This is especially true of softer or lighter materials, such as cast aluminum.
Method #2: Use an Extractor
Extractors are special tools designed specifically to handle stripped nuts. Available in a variety of forms, an extractor is one of the most reliable stripped lug nut remover methods out there and can also be used on intact nuts when needed. They’re an important addition to any mechanic’s tool kit.
The most common type of bolt extractor is a socket variation, such as the 5-piece BOLT-GRIP extractor expansion set by Irwin Tools. These sockets fit onto your ratchet and outwardly function the same as any other socket. The difference is in their rounded, flower-shaped spiral flutes, which are reverse-threaded for plenty of bite power.
Method #2 Example:
One of the greatest advantages of using socket extractors is that they compliment your toolkit without wasting space. They can pull rusted bolts just as easily as a stripped nut, making them a tool you’ll use more than once. As they’re socket attachments, they’re also more inexpensive than buying a complete tool.
The downside to this method is that you will have to invest in additional tools. It might not be so bad if you purchase them before they become necessary, but things get rough when you need to change a flat tire or rotate your tires hit that one stripped nut.
Which Method is Better?
Both of these methods work really well during an emergency, but it’s always good to keep an extractor set in your tool cabinet, as these tend to be the best option overall.
Using the hammer and socket method is an excellent way to get out of a jam when extractors aren’t available. Just remember that regular sockets can get rounded off themselves or even break when used too often to extract nuts, or when they’re of cheaper quality.
A certain amount of preventative maintenance can reduce the chances of a lug nut getting stripped to the theoretical level at best. There is no need for a complex lug nut removal set if you take certain precautions before they pose a real problem.
A reality simple part of the car should not need a significant degree of time and effort to fix. A small amount of inspection and repair before the car leaves the shop can mean less headache the next time you bring your ride in.
Torque numbers are a good place to start for this, since they form the basis of proper lug maintenance. Knowing how much force your car needs is relatively simple and can help prevent accidents while it’s in the shop.
Although most cars require between 60 to 100 pounds of applied torque, it is well worth rechecking your own and keeping the numbers to give to the mechanic.
Keep lug nuts free of dirt and debris, including water or rust, that could foul the threads.
Clean threads will respond better and prevent stripping the lug nut any further as you attempt to remove it.
If something seems to be sticking as you put the nut on, resist the temptation to force it with an impact wrench or other tools. Whatever is stuck there will likely foul as you attempt to extract the bolt, harming itself and forcing you to ever more cumbersome methods to remove it.
As mentioned, one of the leading causes of lug nut malfunction is rust. Corrosion destroys the threads and changes the exact shape of the nut until it cannot possibly be removed with the original threads.
Drying the lug nuts after driving through rain or puddles makes for an easy way to solve this problem before it happens. The car should be stored in a sheltered spot, preferably heated to the point where water will evaporate quickly and not have the chance to oxidize the hubcaps.
Naturally, there are many who cannot avoid leaving their car exposed to the elements. Either the vehicle is too big for the available shelter, or the drive itself is unavoidable.
In such cases, it is best to apply a protective coating to exposed areas of the car. Several commercially available products meet this need and have developed an admirable reputation for their performance against inclement weather.
Although costly, it can be necessary to simply replace the lug nuts on occasion as opposed to servicing them. Like any part of your car, age and wear will eventually tell on lug nuts, no matter how carefully they are maintained.
A new set of lug nuts will ensure that they are free of both ordinary wear and tear. This way you avoid the more significant damage that can result from trying to force a faulty lug nut off.
One method of prevention that few car owners think of is simply to vet their mechanic before entrusting him or her with their car. A brief check of references and reputation can mean the difference between quality service and a shoddy job that needs another trip to put right.
A proficient mechanic will avoid stripping the lug nuts and keep your car in proper condition. It is well worth the extra effort to find one even if it means incurring an added expense.