As a person who loves to work on cars, nothing sucks more than when something as simple as removing a lug nut becomes the hardest part of the job.

I’ve been there a couple of times actually. Trying to change a flat or switch out a set of winter wheels, everything is going great until you get to the last lug nut (it’s always the last one right?). The thing just won’t budge.

So you keep cranking on it and cranking on it until you think it’s finally turning but, nope. You just stripped the lug nut. Immediately you shout a bunch of expletives (at least I do) because you know this is going to take way longer than you expected.

So how to remove a stripped lug nut? Is it totally screwed?

I thought this my very first time attempting a stripped lug removal too, but fear not, there is hope. Depending on your situation a few different methods are available to try. Some are a bit more makeshift than others but it’s helpful to know just in case one doesn’t work.

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Table of Contents

What Cause’s A Lug Nut To Strip

When we refer to a strip lug nut we mean that the head (or points) has been rounded off. There are 6 points on the socket head that are meant to grab the corresponding 6 points on the lug nut in order for it to screw off the bolt.

A lug, wheel, or any thread-able piece with a head on it can be stripped in one of two ways.

  • Improper seating of socket over the head
  • Mismatch of material hardness- one material is harder, causing the softer material to deform or break

A stripped lug nut or stripped head is just a symptom though. It’s just a result of what happens when you have to apply excessive force.

When things work as normal you should ideally be able to remove lug nuts with force generated by the average person. Think about it, how many cars throughout the years came with spare tires and jacks.

They couldn’t expect people to reasonably change their tire if you needed hulk strength right?

The Root Cause Of Stripping Lugs

The Root causes for these problems actually come from over-tightening and that mystery metallic adhesion is known as rust.

Mechanics, quick tire change places, dealerships, heck maybe even you, use impact torque wrenches to bolt down wheels. Impact wrenches almost always apply too much torque, sometimes double or more than what the factory requires.

It’s even possible to over-tighten by hand. You would be surprised how low the torque requirements are on some vehicles that’s why it’s so important to know what your manufacturer specifies.

Over tightening warps, compresses, and exposes metal at the microlevel. This in combination with exposure to the elements leads to rust.

Rust is every mechanics’ worst nightmare, it’s metal cancer. The most common kind is the one I recently did battle with on my Ford Escapes Rocker panels which you can read all about here.

There are however different types of rust.

Standard rust affects one metal and corrodes it. What we see on lug nuts in particular is the corrosion of two or more dissimilar metals. That’s because wheel parts have a combination of steel and aluminum throughout.

Galvanic corrosion according to twi-global.com, is the electrochemical reaction that takes place when one metal corrodes in preference to another metal.

In lay-mans terms, what we see in most stripped lug nuts is galvanic corrosion caused by over-tightening. The exposed metal forms what is sometimes called a “rust-weld”.

So it goes like this.

  1. Wheels are over-tightened
  2. Metals are exposed between lug nuts, wheel, wheel stud(threads)
  3. Exposure to elements causes galvanic corrosion “rust-welding” to occur
  4. Lug nuts require excessive force resulting in deforming of metal
  5. Lug nut is stripped

Stripped Lug Nut Preparation

Before you choose a method to remove your stripped lug nut, there’s some prep work we need to do. That mainly involves thoroughly spraying penetrating oil into the area where the lug nut touches the wheel.

Now a good quality penetrating oil is key here. It can mean the difference between spending minutes and hours toiling on removing the stripped lug nut.

No knock on WD-40 but it won’t do the trick here. You need a product like AeroKroil that’s designed specifically to “unfreeze” rusted nuts, bolts, and hardware.

You will want to let it soak in for as long as you can, overnight would be best. The more time the penetrating oil has to work, the less you have to.

Hammer Socket Method

The first method is a little crude but the great part is it doesn’t require much more than what you’ve got on hand, however you might want to purchase a breaker bar if you don’t have one. A pipe over a socket wrench could work too in a pinch.

The Hammer Socket Method is exactly what it sounds like; hammering a socket onto the lug nut. The socket should be one size smaller than what your lug is.

This method works better the more rounded the nut is, fewer points make it easier to get the socket on.

Most lug nuts are size 17mm-21mm so pick what size works accordingly. You also want to pick a heavy hammer and not a claw hammer because those generally are too light.

Heavy hammers work better because you can apply more leverage in one swing. Repeated blows can damage the opposite end of the socket making it hard to attach the breaker bar or even completely destroying it if you go too far.

Once you see the socket is about halfway on, you want to stop and try to break the nut loose. You don’t want to hammer the socket completely on because it will make it very hard to remove later.

If you succeed with this method, you’ll want to remove the lug nut by using a screwdriver through the socket itself and hammering it out. It’s the method that works the best for me.

Now the one downside to this method is that you will end up damaging your socket, so if its your only one in a set it’s pretty much un-useable for anything precise anymore.

Chisel And Hammer

This method requires, as the name suggests, a chisel and a hammer to break the lug nut free. Ideally, you want to have a set of chisels on hand so you can see which fits your wheel depth and lug nut size.

Once you have a pair that works, pick a point on top to the lug nut to rest your chisel.

You’re trying to break the lug free by striking it with the hammer hoping it spins just a little. The chisel is just a conduit to channel that force from the hammer into the lug nut.

We’re trying to get one good strike just to get it started so we can unscrew it normally with a socket. We aren’t trying to break the nut in half with the chisel and hammer, although that is a possibility.

Weld A New Nut

This method requires some technical skills. First off you need to own a welder and be familiar with the process.

If you have access to a welder and are comfortable joining metal then this process is pretty straightforward. Simply weld on top of your existing lug nut.

You then will be able to use that with the breaker bar, hopefully removing both old and new lug nuts at the same time.

If the barrels of your wheels are deep and not open in the surroundings, I wouldn’t recommend this method. There’s potential to damage your wheels with metal splatter and that’s another mess.

In general, this isn’t my preferred method unless you really don’t care about damaging the wheels in the process. Nonetheless, it is a solid way to remove a stripped lug nut.

Bolt Extractor

An extractor socket is made specifically to remove stripped and damaged nuts and bolts. It has special helical veins that grab on like teeth to the lug nut and make it easy to extract.

Something like Eastwoods 9 piece bolt extractor set is made specifically to remove all kinds of damaged fasteners including lug nuts. The sizes range from 1/4″ to 3/4 working on both metric and imperial.

It’s a must-have for any DIYer who wrenches because sooner or later we all deal with a stripped bolt.

So using an extractor socket is simple.

  • Place the socket over the damaged lug nut
  • As you start torque on the lug nut you will feel it bite and catch hold
  • The nut should break free and be able to unscrew as normal
  • Use pliers or steel punch to remove lug nut from extractor

In Sum

So there are a few methods to try if you end up with a stripped lug nut. The key is good prep with penetrating oil to make any of them work properly.

Keeping good maintenance and preventing rust will go a long way to preventing these things from happening.

Rotate your tires to prevent long periods where your lug nuts have a chance to develop rust and make sure you tell your mechanic or anyone that touches your wheels not to use an impact wrench.

Tightening by hand will ensure you don’t over-torque your lug nuts and cause any future stripping.

Good luck and practice safety with any Diy projects.

As an Amazon Associate We earn from qualifying purchases. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc, or its affiliates.

We might receive commissions if you click on our links and sign up/make purchases. However, please know this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try to keep things fair and balanced to help you make the best choice for your needs. Thanks.

 
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