Not being able to get a lug nut off due to rust or someone over-torquing it is frustrating, whether it happens on the side of the road or in your own driveway. While it might be tempting to try and spray some kind of lubricant like WD-40 on to loosen things up, please keep reading before you try doing so.
WD-40 should not be used on lug nuts, whether to try to remove them or to clean off rust. By applying oil, grease, or an anti-seize preparation to the threads, you run the risk of over-torquing them when you tighten up your wheels.
WD-40 tends to be more of a band-aid fix than anything. If you are experiencing issues with your lug nuts sticking, there are several safer solutions that I’ll go over in a moment that can remedy your problem.
While WD-40 might work in a pinch, it can seriously compromise the integrity of your lug nuts and studs, thus potentially putting you into a hazardous driving situation.
Is It Okay to Put WD40 on Lug Nuts?
Most automobile manufacturers recommend against lubricating lug nuts or stud threads. This is because the provided wheel lug specs are for clean and dry threads without lubrication. It’s very easy to over-tighten them when you put them back on after being sprayed with WD-40.
Your lug nuts and studs should be free from dirt, grit, and debris. If they need to be cleaned, simply using a wire brush and a rag will usually do the trick.
When it comes to working on automobiles, there are typically two different ways of doing repairs; the right way or the lazy way. The latter can both potentially endanger you and others on the road as well as cause further mechanical damage that can cost you an arm and a leg in the long run. Always do your repairs and maintenance the right way. You’ll be glad that you did.
Why WD40 Should Not Be Put on Lug Nuts
Lug nuts provide their clamping force by being intentionally stretched. Think of them as being somewhat elastic. Manufacturers provide torque specifications to bring a lug nut well within its limit of elasticity. When they are loosened, the nuts quickly return back to their original state and can be reused safely.
By lubricating the lug nuts and studs with WD-40, you run the risk of over-torquing past the maximum recommended specs. If a lug nut is tightened over 70% of its elastic limit, it could easily come close to its failure point. You probably don’t need to be told this, but that could spell danger for you and your passengers.
That being said, some swear by it. Typically people use WD-40 on their lug nuts to either cut through rust that might be seizing the nuts in place or to coat the threading of the nuts and studs so they won’t seize up in a situation where it would be inconvenient. Nobody wants to be stuck on the side of the road with a flat with no way to get their lug nuts off.
Those that choose to use WD-40 on their lug nuts regardless of contraindications that suggest otherwise typically advise that some degree of caution be heeded. Some attempt to compensate for the WD-40s effects by somewhat under-torquing their lug nuts.
What Do You Do When Your Lug Nuts Won’t Come Off?
A seized lug nut can be a major headache. If you’ve ever been stuck on the side of the road with stubbornly rusted-on lugs, then you know how frustrating of an experience that can be. However, It doesn’t necessarily have to be a nightmare situation if you know what you’re doing.
The first step to loosening up your lug nuts is to inspect them to see if they have any rust or corrosion that might bind the nuts in place. If so, this is the only time you should be considering spraying any WD-40 on your lugs. If you choose to use it to cut through the rust, just remember to clean it off thoroughly when you are done.
It’s also essential that you choose the right socket wrench for the job. If the socket isn’t sufficiently tight, you run the risk of rounding off the edges of the nut – thus creating a bigger problem than the one you started with. Make sure that the socket that you are using is the appropriate size before applying torque.
Pro Tip- You can increase the torque by extending the arm of the driver used to spin your socket. If you don’t have an extra-long breaker bar, you can place a piece of hollow pipe over the handle to extend its length to give you more leverage. If that’s not working, you can also hammer it or gently jump up and down on the bar – ensuring that it’s tightly secured, of course.
You might be tempted to use something like an impact wrench to remove a seized nut, but this is not the best idea. Most of the time, an impact driver will round off the nut instead of breaking it free. Remember to stay patient and take your time. A stuck nut might be a burden, but it isn’t the end of the world.
How to Loosen Lug Nuts the Right Way
To loosen your lug nuts, turn them in a counter-clockwise direction using the right-sized socket wrench. Most vehicles will come with a lug nut wrench, but you should make sure you have one in your vehicle at all times. In case you’re not mechanically inclined, you can always remember the old rule “right tighty, lefty loosey.”
Make sure you loosen your lugs before lifting your wheel off the ground. If you attempt to remove them while your vehicle is jacked up, the wheel will rotate with your wrench making it very difficult to loosen the nut.
If you are struggling to remove the lug nut, don’t fret. It’s not uncommon for lug nuts to rust and seize up. Although it might be a bit of a curveball, a stuck nut certainly isn’t the end of the world. Here is a quick video that addresses the issue:
Some People Use Wd-40 as a Last Resort (I Don’t)
There really is only one good time to use WD-40 on your lug nuts. That being said, you should only commit to using it as a last resort when nothing else seems to be working. If one of your lugs is seized because of corrosion, it can cause the nut to be cemented in its place. By soaking the corroded lug nut in a product like WD-40, PB Blaster, or some other variety of oil-based lubricant. It can cut through the rust allowing you to loosen it.
Typically, it’s best to leave the lubricant on for several hours. Personally, I would recommend letting the lube do its thing overnight if you have the time. Once you’ve removed the stuck lug nut, make sure to thoroughly clean the WD-40 or comparable lubricants off of the lug nut and stud.
Important Warning: I am in no way advocating using WD-40 ever on lug nuts. Doing so is not advisable as it could potentially put you in a dangerous situation if you don’t know precisely what you are doing. The lubrication on the lug nuts can cause them to loosen over time. You don’t want your wheel flying off on the interstate, do you?
Removing Rust on Lug Nuts
Cleaning your lug nuts can help prevent them from seizing up on you in the future. First, you want to wash your lug nuts in warm, soapy water. Scrub them with a metal brush to remove all dirt and debris. After giving them a quick scrub, wipe them down with a cleaning rag. At this point, you should be able to clearly see the extent of your rust problem.
Use coarse sandpaper to remove as much rust as you are able to. Once you’ve hit metal, stop sanding. Scrub off the rest of the rust with a wire brush and soapy, warm water. For any particularly tough rust stains, use a paste of 1:1 vinegar to baking soda. Let the mixture sit on the rusty bits for 20 to 30 minutes before scrubbing with the wire brush and warm water.
After you have finished removing the rust on your lug nuts, dry them thoroughly with a clean rag. Make sure they are completely dry to prevent future rusting.
How Tight Should Lug Nuts Be?
The torque specs for your lug nuts are going to depend on your vehicle. Smaller cars require a torque of 75 to 95 ft/lbs. Larger vehicles like trucks or recreational vehicles might need a torque of 140 to 150 ft/lbs. Make sure you consult your vehicle’s service manual before applying torque.
If you are changing a tire on the side of the road, it might be challenging to measure the torque accurately. A good rule is to tighten your lug nuts no more than 1/4 or once the nut has made contact with the wheel. A little too much torque is actually better than a little too little. Chances are, unless you’re using an air gun, you won’t over-torque your lug nuts to the point of failure by hand.
I remember back when I was 20 years old. I was going a bit too fast and had a major blowout right on the side of the hill. My car was a piece of junk, to say the least, and nothing ever seemed to go right with it. Well, as you might expect, I couldn’t get the lug-nuts off to save my life.
Long story short, I was forced to park on a hill (a big no-no, I know), and I torqued the think so hard trying to get one of the lug nuts off that I caused the jack to displace, and the car fell over. It’s a good thing I didn’t have any WD-40 with me because this was before the days of smartphones. I am sure I would have tried using the stuff.
Luckily, you took the time to do some research before you “squeezed” the trigger on trying the spray. Good on you, and good luck!
Thanks for reading.
For more, check out 6 Handy Alternatives to WD40.
Hey, I’m Jim, and I’m the author of this website. I have been teaching people a wide variety of survivalism topics for over five years and have a lifetime of experience fishing, camping, general survivalism, and anything in nature. In fact, while growing up, I spent more time on the water than on land! I am also a best-selling author and have a degree in History, Anthropology, and Music. I hope you find value in the articles on this website. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or input!