What You Need To Know About Removing a Stripped Lug Nut
So it finally happened. You went to change a flat tire, or maybe to rotate your own tires, and your socket or lug wrench just kept spinning on that one lug nut, with no grip in sight. Or maybe it hasn’t happened yet, and you’re just trying to get a head start before it eventually does. I’m here to say, don’t get discouraged, you can get it off. I’ve been in this situation countless times and I’ve always managed to get that rounded off lug nut loose one way or another.
In my line of work, stripped lug nuts have always been a common occurrence, and there are multiple ways it can happen to you. The most common issue I’ve seen has been inexperienced mechanics using their air impact wrench and over-tightening the lug nuts to the point where, when you try to remove it with a standard tire iron or socket, you end up with a rounded off hex bolt and a damaged lug nut.
But don’t be quick to blame the mechanic. A lot of this issue can also be attributed to the manufacturer as well. Many lug nuts that come on various vehicles over the last ten years have chrome covers molded onto them, which are a very soft metal alloy that is wrapped completely over the solid metal portion of the lug nut. These are called two-piece lug nuts, and they have caused headaches for owners and mechanics alike since they were introduced.
These two-piece lug nut covers can warp, bend and flatten the hex pattern over time. A major issue is swelling up over time without proper maintenance. The swelling is caused by water intrusion in between the chrome cover portion and the metal on the inside. This causes corrosion to build between the two pieces, making it very difficult to fit a socket or lug wrench onto the lug nut.
If your vehicle has this style of lug nuts, always take a look at their condition when you do your monthly tire pressure checks. You will usually be able to spot a bad lug nut fairly easily. You’ll see rusting on the outside chrome cover, and sometimes even cracks in the cover as well. This is an indicator of a bad lug nut that might leave you cursing it on the side of the road. Try to take care of it as soon as possible before this guide is needed.
There are quite a few ways to get that stripped lug nut off, but I’m going to cover the easiest ways to do it at home, or on the side of the road, with minimal tools. At a shop, I’ve always had multiple special tools and devices to aid in stripped lug nut removal. Most of the time, rather than fighting a stripped lug nut with sweat and tears, I just use my oxy-acetylene blow torch to melt the lug nut off. But that can be a hard thing to come across in a regular home garage, and especially on the side of the road.
Save Time and Money Doing It Yourself
Learning how to DIY a stripped lug nut can help you, and anyone else you know, save time and money before taking it to a mechanic or tire shop. This process can be done with minimal tools in any driveway or even on the side of the road if you’re prepared for the worst.
Always be sure to take special care not to damage your wheel, wheel stud (unless you’re drilling it out), or any other components on your vehicle during this whole process, or you may end up with a bigger bill on your hands than just the price of a new lug nut.
Supplies You’ll Need For Removing A Stripped Lug Nut
There are a few different ways you can go about removing that stripped lug nut. Don’t be taken back by the long list, as some of the tools are optional, and some you may not need if a previous method worked for you.
- A new lug nut to replace the stripped lug nut
- Breaker Bar or long handle ratchet
- Socket for your size lug nut (Or a socket set)
- Bolt Extractor socket for your lug nut size (Or a lug nut extractor set)
- Drill Bit Set with Center Punch
- Penetrating Oil
- Grinder or Cut Off Wheel
- (Optional) Torque Wrench
How To Remove a Stripped Lug Nut (5-Step Guide)
- Different Sized Socket
- Lug Nut Extractor
- Hammer and Chisel
- Grinder/Cut-Off Wheel
- Drilling Out the Wheel Stud
Before you go hammering on a socket or trying any other methods in this article, make sure your vehicle is sitting on as level ground as possible, your vehicle is in park, and set your parking brake prior to putting any force on your lug nuts.
Step 1: Different Sized Socket
Before we bust out any other special tools, you may just be able to use a standard 6 or 12-point socket to remove that stuck lug nut if it’s not totally rounded off already. Always check your owner’s manual for the size, or a quick google search of your vehicle’s year make and model will provide the answer needed.
I recommend always using impact sockets rather than a standard chrome socket for the high torque and abuse of this application. Chrome sockets aren’t rated or tested for high torque applications like removing lug nuts, and could possibly crack under force, or even break while you’re putting excessive force on a lug nut to remove it. I’m not saying standard chrome sockets won’t work for this application if that’s what you have available, but the safest option is always to use an impact rated socket, usually black in color, rather than a standard chrome socket.
The most common newer vehicle lug nut sizes I see are metric sized 19 or 22 millimeters, with the bigger size of 22 millimeters being found on a lot of trucks and SUV’s. This method of stepping down a size in socket, or using a 12-point socket, may just work if your lug nut isn’t too far gone already. For example, if you have a 19mm sized socket for your lug nuts, and it’s just not doing the trick, you could try to use an 18mm socket. Or with a 22 millimeter, you could try a 21 millimeter.
In most cases, the smaller socket won’t just slide on, as your lug nut will still be a touch too big for the socket, even if it is partially rounded off. You will have to use your hammer and tap the undersized socket onto the lug nut. As with any further use of a hammer in the guide, be very careful with your swings. The last thing you want is a big dent in your wheel, or even worse, a big dent in your finger.
Take the undersized lug nut and tap it on to the lug nut. You may have to use some force to get it on there, but if it goes relatively easily, you just may have found your solution. If you feel it has secured to the lug nut, and you feel confident in giving it a turn, gran your breaker bar and give it some force. Remember, it’s always easier to push downward with a breaker bar, using your bod weight with gravity on your side.
You can also try to use a 12-point socket in the same size as your stripped lug nut, the same way your tired using an undersized socket. Using a 12-point socket may work, because the ridges inside of the socket are usually smaller, allowing for more grip on a partially rounded off lug nut.
If you find yourself trying this method over and over and the socket just won’t go on, then you may want to move to the next method. This doesn’t always work, as it depends on how much the lug nut is rounded off, as well as the style and shape of the lug nut
Step 2: Lug Nut Extractor
Using a lug nut extractor, or a bolt extractor, is probably the most common, and the easiest way, to remove a stripped lug nut. A lug nut extractor socket is a special removal tool, designed to resolve that headache of a rounded lug nut. Rather than a standard 6 or 12 point sockets, the extractor socket has a spiral design on the inside with sharp edges, allowing it to bite into the metal of the lug nut as you’re hammering it on. Using the lug nut extractor socket method is pretty foolproof if done correctly, and is my go to way for removing car or SUV sized stripped lug nuts.
You can find a lug nut extractor, or a whole extractor set, also known as twist socket sets, at your local auto parts store or most hardware stores as well. If you’re not in a big hurry, you could also order everything on Amazon as well, usually for next day delivery. Some auto parts stores even allow you to rent lug nut extractors, along with a breaker bar, if you’re on a budget and don’t plan on having to do it again. I recommend buying the extractor socket you need, or a set that includes the size you need, just in case you or someone you know has a rounded off lug nut in the future.
They also come in handy for removing any other rounded off bolts on your car or around the house if you’re an avid DIY’er. It’s always a good idea to have some of these special sockets in the garage. They are the kind of tool you don’t want to ever have to use, but you’ll be thankful you bought them the next time you’re fighting a rounded off nut.
First, make sure you’re using the right-sized extractor socket. You don’t want to be trying to hammer on a socket that wasn’t going to fit in the first place. Take your properly sized lug nut or bolt extractor socket, and line it up straight on with your rounded off lug nut. Turn the socket a few times by hand around while holding it against the lug nut to find where it will hammer on the easiest. While holding the extractor socket around the outside, take your hammer and start to hammer it on. Pay attention to the direction of your swings, as you want to hammer the extractor socket on as straight as possible.
Extractor sockets can take a lot of force to get a good bite on the lug nut, so don’t be concerned if you find yourself really swinging that hammer for it to only slide on the lug nut a little bit at a time. Take your time, be cautious of your swings, and you’ll have it set on there in no time. You want to make sure you’ve gotten the extractor socket onto the lug nut as far as possible, without causing damage to rim or the wheel stud. If you go too far and eat into the wheel stud, you may end up needing to have a new wheel hub installed if your studs aren’t serviceable.
Now that the extractor socket has hopefully made its way on to that stripped lug nut, take a clean towel and wipe the sweat away from your brow, because the hard part is over. Now you can take your breaker bar and put it on the extractor socket, and slowly apply pressure to the breaker bar handle loosen the lug nut. Don’t apply all the force at once, as you could make the socket slip off of the lug nut, and you’ll be having to start all over again. I also don’t recommend using an impact wrench when using a lug nut extractor socket. They can apply too much force at once, causing the socket to slip over the cuts it made into the lug nut.
If the correct sized extractor socket decided to just round off the hex of your lug nut even further, you can continue to try this method with the next size down extractor socket in your set. Repeat the method again with the undersized socket as you would with the appropriate size.
If all went as planned, you’ll now be loosening up that stripped out lug nut you were cursing ten minutes ago. If this method worked for you, awesome! Get out your new lug nut, and if you have one at your disposal or rented one from the auto parts store, you can use your torque wrench to properly tighten your new nug nut to the correct specification, which can be found in your vehicles owners manual, or by a Google search.
If it didn’t work out, and that special socket isn’t doing it’s job, then we have a few other methods we can try before take your vehicle to the shop.
Step 3: Hammer and Chisel
Using a hammer and chisel is the method I would recommend the least, but it usually will work if done correctly. I’ve had to use this method before when on the side of the road and found that these are the only tools at my disposal to get off a stripped lug nut.
If your extractor socket didn’t work and can’t get enough bite on the socket to spin it off, you can give this method a try. Just be very cautious, as this method is very risky, and a small mistake can cause damage to your wheel or wheel stud.
For this method, you’ll want to have a chisel like the one shown in the picture above. These are called cold chisels. They are made out of solid steel, and are made to be hammered on with significant force. You don’t want to use any other style of chisel for this method, such as a wood chisel, or any other chisel with a wooden or plastic handle that’s not designed for direct impact force. You can find this type of chisel at any hardware store and most auto parts stores, as well as Amazon.
The idea for using the chisel method, is to apply heavy impactful force at an angle to the lug nut so that it will break loose, and you can spin it off.
For this removal method, you will just need your hammer and chisel. Take the chisel, and put it at a 45-degree angle on the lug nut with the sharp end facing downward, and the chisel sitting just above one of the edges of the 6-point hex of your lug nut. Hold the chisel in place firmly, and start to swing the hammer directly on the top of the chisel. The sharp end of the chisel will begin to make its own indentation into the lug nut, and with enough impactful force, and with any luck and your DIY skill, it will break free.
Be very careful while hammering the chisel onto the lug nut. If it’s not moving at all, you may want to move on to the next step. Any further damage to the lug nut, or if you hammer through the nut and into the wheel stud, isn’t good.
Step 4: Grinder/Cut-Off Wheel
Depending on the design of your wheel and what tools you have at your disposal, you could try to cut off the lug nut itself. If you’ve made it this far and no other method has worked for you yet, it might be time to take it to a mechanic or local tire shop. But if you’re a hardcore DIY’er looking to get that lug nut off yourself, then this method could work. If you’re holding your grinder, that usually means your options are starting to slim before you need to take your vehicle in to someone with a proper environment for these kinds of jobs. However, if you have the right style wheel and tools at hand, we can give this method a shot.
This method really all depends on the style of your wheel and your skill level. If it is anything like the styled pictured above where the lug nuts are offset into the inside of the rim, please do not attempt this method. This way will only work if you have a wheel design where the lug nuts are not covered up in any way by your vehicle’s wheels, such as some pickup truck wheels or a spare tire wheel. If you’re not used to using power tools other than a drill, then this method is not for you either. Inexperienced individuals using power tools usually doesn’t end well. Please be cautious.
Using a grinder to zap the lug nut off is a method I’ve used before many times. It’s quick but can make a bit of a mess. When using any power tools, always remember to wear proper personal protective equipment, especially eye protection, especially a metal grinder or a cut-off wheel.
First, make sure your grinder or cut-off wheels’ disc is in good condition. If you’re using an angle grinder, take the disc to the top of the lug nut, with your angle grinder parallel to the vehicle, and start to cut the metal downwards, paying very close attention to not damaging the wheel or other components near or around the vehicles wheel.
You only want to cut into the lug nut, and not the wheel stud or anywhere else on the wheel hub. If you cut into the hub, you’ll have a bigger mess on your hands then when you first started.
Keep cutting until you’re able to make a nice cut nearly through the lug nut. Then you can either continue to make cuts to cut it all the way off, or, get a chisel and hammer, and use the gap you’ve made in the lug nut as a point where you can insert the chisel into the cut and hammer it off.
Once you’ve gotten the lug nut loose, pay attention to the threads on your wheel stud to make sure there is no metal debris from the cut lug nut that will inhibit it from spinning off.
Step 5: Drilling Out The Wheel Stud
If you’ve made it this far, trust me, I know how you feel. I’ve fought some real rusty and busted lug nuts over my career, but I’ve only had to resort to actually drilling out the stud a few times. Though it seems daunting, it’s actually not that bad of a job if you have a decent set of drill bits, some penetrating oil, and a drill.
This step will involve needing to get a new wheel stud installed on your vehicle, or a whole wheel hub, depending on your vehicle. Again, these last few steps are for the more mechanically inclined DIY’er, so if you’re hesitant with power tools, it may be time to take it to the shop.
For this final method, you’ll want to take your center punch and hammer first, and hammer the center punch right in the center of the wheel stud of the lug nut you’re trying to get off. This will allow the drill bit to have a nice centered starting point so you don’t start drilling sideways.
Now that you have a good starting point, you can load up a small sized drill bit in to your drill. You want to start with a pretty small size and work your way up in size, to where your drill bit is nearly the size of the inner diameter of the lug nut. Make sure during this whole process, you’re spraying the wheel stud and your drill bits with some penetrating oil, or even cutting oil, to make sure your drill bit doesn’t get hot and worn out right away.
Now that your drill is loaded with a smaller bit, start drilling at that center punch mark and drill as deep as the back of the lug nut is on the wheel stud. Now you’re able to start stepping up in drill bit sizes and drilling the stud out, until you’ve reached the inner diameter of the lug nut. At this point, the lug nut and whatever is left of the stud will either come off with your drill bit if you’ve often through all of the wheel stud, or you can just take your hammer and tap it off at the lug nut, taking care not to damage your wheel in the process.
Other Valuable Resources on X
Overall, getting a rounded off lug nut off your vehicle isn’t a bad task as long as you have the right tools, most of which are readily available. Here are some additional resources I’ve found that might help you even further: