We are a team of ASE certified mechanics that have created this guide to
show the proper way to remove and install a wheel (rim and tire) without stripping
or breaking the wheel studs and lug nuts. Some manufacturers have a wheel lock key
which is usually located in the glove box or in a trunk compartment. Flat tire instructions
are featured in the section below.
Vehicle safety and proper drivability depend on the proper removal and
installation of a wheel, not to mention the potential injury and damage that can
occur if the wheel falls off. Incorrect wheel reinstallation may also cause brake
rotors and hub flanges to warp which will create vibrations while driving. Before
you begin you will need to
jack up and raise the vehicle without damaging the undercarriage.
Lets Jump In!
There are typically two types of wheel covers which can hinder the removal
of the lug nuts and wheel. The first is the complete hubcap which needs to be
removed to gain access to the lug nuts. Using the opposite side of the vehicle's
lug wrench or a large flat blade (standard) screwdriver, wedge the tip in-between
the cap and the rim of the tire. Twist the lug wrench or screwdriver back and
forth to start the removal process.
Here is an example of a lug nut cover on an aluminum wheel which has plastic
covers over them which must be removed. These plastic covers can be made to
resemble lug nuts and actually thread onto the metal lug nuts that hold the
rim on. Each of these must be removed before the center cap will come off.
This style of alloy or aluminum wheel has the lug nuts already exposed and
is ready for removal without any additional preparation.
The first step in removing the lug nuts is obtaining a tool capable of doing
so. This could be a lug wrench which is supplied in most cars by the spare tire.
Most mechanics prefer to use a breaker bar which is basically a large socket
wrench that will give you additional leverage over a traditional wrench or socket
and ratchet. This bar is usually not included in a typical tool set and will
need to be purchased separately along with a set of 1/2 drive deep well sockets.
Wheel lugs sizes can range from 17mm, 18mm, 19mm, 21mm or 3/4 inch or 13/16
inch in most cases. Set the jack in place and lift the car slightly, this will
allow the suspension to travel downward from the vehicle but not enough to lift
the tire off of the ground. While the tire is touching the ground, apply downward
pressure to the lug wrench while holding the pivot point of the wrench steady.
One thing you do not want to do is pull upward on the lug wrench, this will
cause uneven pressure to your lower back and can cause pain. To remove the lug
nuts turn them counterclockwise, these nuts will be tight so be ready.
Some lugs can be rusted or over tightened. In this case you may need to
use your full body weight to step on the lug wrench. Make sure the lug wrench
or breaker bar is fully seated to avoid rounding. Be careful doing this because
there is much more pressure being applied. Continue breaking the lugs loose
until all are done, then loosen about one full turn. This will ensure that once
the tire is in the air you will have no problem completely removing the nuts,
do not remove the nuts fully at this time.
Continue lifting the car until the tire is no longer touching the ground,
in this instance we are using a
hydraulic floor jack
which is more stable than a scissor jack that is supplied with most vehicles,
stabilizing by using jack stands for safety.
Continue to remove all of the lug nuts either be hand or using the lug wrench
or breaker bar, a regular socket and ratchet can be used at this time. Some
European models such as Mercedes Benz, BMW and Porsche will use lug bolts which
when removed will allow the tire to fall because there is no wheel stud to hold
the rim in place, be ready to grasp the wheel when removing the lugs. If the
wheel seems stuck this is because rust has accumulated between the hub and
rim, using your foot, give the tire a swift kick, this should break the
wheel loose from the hub.
Check the lug studs and replace
any that are damaged. Also, wipe off the mounting surface on both the wheel,
rotor or drum, clean any dirt, rust or grease before the wheel is reinstalled.
Reinstallation: Grasp the tire and gently reinstall it onto the wheel studs
so as to not damage the threads. Some European cars you will need to hold the
tire in place on the wheel hub and then align the rim with the threaded lug
bolt holes, you may need to jockey the rim around a bit to line up the holes.
Push the wheel on until it rests flush against the rotor or drum flange,
install the lug nuts onto the studs by turning them clockwise. Do not start
the lugs with a socket or impact gun, this can cause cross threading. Continue
installing the lug nuts until all have been started at least two turns. Do not
use grease on the lug nuts, if rust exists on the wheel studs use a wire brush
to remove it before installation.
Start the initial tightening by following a star pattern. This will ensure
the wheel will be tightened evenly which will avoid warping. You can use a normal
ratchet and socket for this while holding the tire by hand. In the next step
the wheel will be tightened completely.
Lower the car just enough for the tire to touch the ground which will hold
it from spinning while it's being tightened.
Use a torque wrench and set it to
manufacturer's specifications which is usually 70 to 90 foot pounds for passenger
cars, and 100 to 120 foot pounds for pickup trucks and large SUVs. Finish tightening
the lugs in a star pattern while listening and feeling for the torque wrench
to click signaling the proper tightness has been achieved. If a torque wrench
is not available, tighten the lugs evenly in a star pattern, go over the lugs
twice to ensure they are all tight. Reinstall the hubcap or lug nut cover and
remove the jack. A hub cap will have a relief for the valve stem, take note
and install it correctly. Be careful not to apply excessive pressure on the
cover to avoid breakage. Once the job is complete listen for any strange noises
while the vehicle is in use. A loose wheel will make a clicking or ticking noise
when rolling at low speeds. Recheck the lug nuts after a day or two of driving
to make sure they are secure. After installation is complete
check the tire air pressure,
this will help the tire perform its best.
Flat Tire Change
There are mainly three types of flat tires which are; very low on air pressure
(almost flat) but it is still able to roll, completely out of air, finally the most
dangerous, a high speed blow out.
High speed blowouts can be hazardous, if you hear and feel a tire blowout controlling
the car will become more difficult. If this happens, let off the throttle while
keeping the steering wheel steady, gently apply the brakes until you have slowed
down. The idea is to get the vehicle to safe and level ground even if you need to
drive for a short distance to do so. Drive slowly and use caution, the vehicle will
act a little funny, (if you are on the freeway head for the nearest off ramp). In
most cases once the tire has been run flat it breaks down the inner layers rendering
it useless, don't get hung up on trying to save the tire, no tire is worth injury.
Avoid changing a flat tire directly on the side of the road, make sure you are a
safe distance from other drivers, Roadside flares are a good idea to warn
approaching motorists to slow down. If you cannot get to a safe place, dial 911
and wait for help from the highway patrol or local police. A flat tire emergency
roadside kit including a set of gloves is recommended.
Park the car on level ground and set the parking brake, also block the tires
(2 blocks of wood). This is to keep the car from rolling when being lifted with
the jack. The jack must be on solid ground, if you are on a soft roadside shoulder
use a large piece of flat wood to set the jack on before lifting. Do not lift
a vehicle on uneven ground, it can cause the jack to buckle and the vehicle
to roll off of the jack.
Located the spare tire (mentioned in your vehicles owner’s manual) and check
its inflation, some vehicles have a space saver spare which requires no air.
In the same vicinity as the spare tire the jack and lug wrench should be available
and held down with a mounting screw which is hand tight.
Remove wheel cover of the flat tire (if quipped) using the tire iron break
the lug nuts loose, 2 turns (counterclockwise). Make sure the lug wrench is
completely on the lug to avoid rounding, push downward with the lug wrench facing
left horizontally. A bouncing motion works best, you can also use a foot on
The jack should have
instructions on how and
where to lift the car, also in the vehicle's owner’s manual there will be
instructions for your particular vehicle. Do not assume where the jack is placed
because you can damage the vehicle lifting it incorrectly. Some vehicles have
an arrow on the lower body pinch molding (bottom) that shows exactly where the
jack should be placed. Position the jack under the lifting area and start to
turn the jack screw clockwise. This will raise the jack into position, continue
winding upward until the wheel clears the ground.
Continue removing lugs nuts, (on German cars the lug nut is combined with
the wheel stud, so the tire will fall off once the lug studs are removed).
Grasp the tire firmly and gently slide it off the wheel studs and place it
under the car for additional safety, do not hit the jack.
Carefully lift the spare tire onto the wheel studs (German cars you will
need to thread a stud lug) and hand thread a lug nut to hold the tire in place,
install the remaineder of the lug nuts and snug.
Lower the jack slightly until the tire just touches the ground which will
hold it from rotating while tightening the lug nuts. Push downward with the
lug wrench facing right, do not pull upward.
Continue to lower the jack and then remove.
Stow the flat tire, lug wrench and jack and you are all set. The spare tire
is a temporary item in most cases, have a new tire installed or the old tire