How to Play With Your Nuts

Wheel nuts are perennially problematic: If you have a flat tyre at the roadside, you might not be able to change to the spare if they're over-torqued, or under-lubricated. And, if you do them up wrong, you can warp the brake disc, which will then wear out unevenly and cost you thousands.

Watch the video below and learn how to cure both these potential problems in the driveway at home.



We’re gunna talk about your nuts. Even if you’re a chick.

Having a problem with your nuts in public is undignified. But it really is OK to get ‘hands on’ somewhere a little more secluded. It’s even a damn fine idea.

Two words: Homicidal vendetta: that’s how you’re gunna feel when you’re stopped at the roadside, and you can’t change a flat tyre because the bozo who serviced your car over-torqued, or under-lubricated those wheel nuts.

Especially since the standard automotive tool kit’s a joke.

If those wheel nuts aren’t done up not too loose, not too tight, I’m thinking ‘Goldilocks' that can warp the brake disc, and over time you’ll cop a repair bill you can’t jump over.

Your nuts probably feel fine right now, and they probably look OK too. But you just won’t know for sure how those bad boys are going unless you get down on your hands and knees in the driveway and feel them up.

There’s no shame, doing this. We’re all grown ups. It’s for your own good. You might even enjoy it.

You’ll need: a proper socket (the right size), an extension, a breaker bar, and some wheel bearing grease.

Bearing grease has excellent temperature resistance – that’s important because those nuts sit on studs, which sit on the brakes, which get hot.

You’ll also need a torque wrench, and the owner’s manual.

You don’t even really need to get out the jack … provided you do it exactly this way.

Undo and replace each nut one at a time. When you’ve got each one off, smear a little bit of bearing grease into the threaded hole, just a smidge, and don’t forget to grease the front face of the nut, where it touches the wheel. Suitably lubricated, screw that nut back on, snug but not tight. Lube and replace each one, until you’ve got them all greased, and snug but not tight.

Good safety tip: One nut at a time; not all off at once. If they’re all off, coincidentally in space-time, the wheel can fall off, because gravity sucks. I blame Isaac Newton.

A lot of people get hung up over the grease. Like: Is it a smart idea? Will the nuts work themselves loose? In a nutshell, don’t stress about it. Lubrication is essential.

Your nuts will actually be tighter (and therefore more secure) if they’re lubricated. They’re also gunna be easier to undo.

When they’re all back on, and all snug but not tight, grab a torque wrench. Adjust it to the torque in the manual – in this case 140 Newton-metres.

Some people say the torque wrench is unnecessary. This is what happens when toxic waste leaches into the drinking water. Like Yoda, these people think can channel the Force, and get the tension just right – using only the power of their minds. Wrong, they are.

So, 140 Newton-metres. That’s smack-bang in the middle of the manufacturer’s specified torque range. You start with the torque wrench wound right off, and you wind up. The vernier scale is logical enough, but a bit of a brain bender if you’re a politician … impossible if you’re a Federal minister, which I guess is why they give you a Commonwealth car with a driver. Lock the wrench off using the knob at the bottom to stop it straying from the right setting while you’re using it.

On a five-stud wheel you tighten in this order: one, three, five, two four – a star-shaped pattern.

And in a six-stud wheel it’s one, four, two, five, three, six – just do the opposing diagonals.

It’s essential you get the tightening sequence right – if you don’t you can warp the brake disc. And if that happens it wears unevenly, causing ‘disc thickness variation’ where the disc vibrates when you brake, and the brake pedal pulsates.

If that happens, the discs are throwaways, and the replacements will cost you thousands. That’s bad.

Go around the tightening sequence twice with the torque wrench, apply the load smoothly and wait for the de-coupling click when you get to the Goldilocks torque.

The second go-round is merely a failsafe – to make sure you didn’t goof off and miss one.

Right. That’s this wheel done; three more corners to go.

Doing this in the driveway takes about half an hour … if you stop for a manicure and a wagyu beef burger at half time. And afterwards you know the brake discs aren’t about to warp themselves into a premature grave.

If you get a flat ‘out there’ in a couple of weeks, you’ll be able to fit the spare, even with the plasticene tool kit that came with the car.