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How to Remove a Stuck or Stripped Lug Nut

Updated on March 28, 2016

A Tire Shop Couldn't Get the Lug Nut Off

A rather bad experience at a nationally known automotive tire shop inspired me to write this article. I took my 2007 Chrysler Pacifica into the shop for a tire rotation. Normally I do this maintenance myself, but I had a coupon for a free tire rotation so I thought I could save some time and take it to the shop.

The front wheels came off without a problem. The rear passenger side wheel had a stuck lug nut. The mechanic was unable to remove this it with his standard 6-point sockets and impact wrench. After he struggled for several minutes he called me over and showed me a chewed-up looking lug nut. He then proceeded to tell me that there was no way he could get it off and that I would have to take it elsewhere to get it removed. I was quite surprised. This was an auto shop dedicated to servicing tires. One would think that this problem would be encountered and dealt with regularly.

These results were completely unacceptable. I've dealt with this situation before, and there are very systematic ways of dealing with it.

  • First off, I'll share which tools are needed to get the rounded lug nut off.
  • Second, I'll review the mechanics of torque and force, so we can better understand the problem at hand.
  • Third, I'll go through a step-by-step guide that outlines the twist socket method.
  • Lastly, I'll go over some preventative maintenance guidelines and make sure you understand what the proper torque is for your car so you can avoid the issue of over-tightening.

Required Tools

3 lb. hammer, 1/2" drive breaker bar, 1/2" drive with hex head nut extractor sockets, 1"x36" iron pipe, and new lug nut.
3 lb. hammer, 1/2" drive breaker bar, 1/2" drive with hex head nut extractor sockets, 1"x36" iron pipe, and new lug nut.
  • ½” drive breaker bar $15-20
  • 1” diameter iron pipe, 36” length $10-15
  • Nut/bolt extractor twist socket set $20-100
  • 3 lb. hammer $5-10
  • WD-40 or alternative penetrating oil $5
  • Replacement lug nut $3
  • Total cost: $58-153 (if you have to purchase everything)

Along with your other emergency supplies that are stored in your car, I highly recommend keeping these items in the car as well, in case you need to repair your own tires while away from home.

The Mechanical Advantage of Leverage

The physics of leverage can be summed up as torque. In the context of removing a lug nut from a wheel, we can think of it as a simple statics problem.

  • Torque = r x F
  • Torque = rotational force at the lug nut
  • X = Cross product
  • r = length of the breaker bar / leverage pipe
  • F = Force applied

I'd like to show how much torque you can generate with your body weight and compare it to the torque produced by an pneumatic impact wrench.

Impact wrenches used in auto shops range from 0-1000+(ft-lbs). Typically, between 0-400 ft-lb is more common.

Using a 24" breaker bar and a 36" iron pipe I'll show you how much force your body weight alone can produce. Assuming you weigh 180lb here is the calculation of torque:

  • Torque = r X ΣF [EQ 1]
  • Torque = [(24in*(1ft/12in))+(36in*(1ft/12in))] X (180lb @ 90° vertical)
  • Torque = 900ft-lb with 36" iron pipe and 24" breaker bar;
  • Torque = 360ft-lb with 24" breaker bar only

Of course, additional force can be generated by jumping on the end of the pipe attached to the breaker bar. I'll show the calculation I used to find how much torque is created from a 6" vertical jump on the end of the pipe. To keep this calculation as simple as possible, I'll consider a stopping distance equal to the thickness of the sole of a sneaker combined with the estimated deflection in the lever (3"), and no energy losses to the environment.

During this jumping action we can say that at the peak height of your jump the initial potential energy combined with the initial kinetic energy is equal to the sum of the kinetic energy and potential energy when you are about to land on the end of the pipe.

  • PE1 + KE1 = PE2 + KE2 [EQ 2]
  • PE = m*g*h [EQ 3]
  • KE = 1/2*m*v2 [EQ 4]
  • PE1 = Potential energy at peak of the jump
  • KE1 = Kinetic energy at the peak of the jump = 0; no motion at peak of the jump
  • PE2 = Potential energy right before landing = 0; the pipe height = 0, that you are about to land on
  • KE2 = Kinetic energy at the end of the jump.

We can say that PE1 = KE2 from the conservation on energy principle. We will neglect the energy losses due to friction, and drag. Using this information we can manipulate the equation to find how fast you are falling right before you land on the pipe (v2).

  • (m*g*h)1 = (1/2*m*v2)2
  • v2 = (2*g*h)1/2 [EQ 5]
  • m = mass
  • g = gravity
  • h = height of jump (veritcal)
  • v = velocity (vertical direction)

Considering the stopping distance (d) of 3", which is the thickness of your shoe and estimated deflection of the pipe. We can generate another equation from a work-energy principle. The change in kinetic energy across the distance of the thickness of your shoe during the impact is defined as work.

  • W = ΔKE(impact) where KE at the end of the jump is 0
  • W = 1/2*m*(v2)2 [EQ 6]

Of course we know that Work is simply force applied over a (impact) distance:

  • W = F2*d [EQ 7]

Putting [EQ 6] and [EQ 7] together we can find F2 which is the (average) force of impact.

  • F2 = 1/2*m*(v2)2*1/d [EQ 8]

Combining this impact force from the jump with the force of your weight in the torque equation [EQ 1], we have the following:

  • Torque = r X [Force of impact]
  • Torque = r X [([2*g*h]1/2)2*1/2*m*1/d))
  • Torque = [24in*1ft/12in+36in*1ft/12in] X [[2*32.17ft/s2*0.5ft]*1/2*(180lb*1slug/32.17lb)*(1/0.25ft)]..................<slug is just lb*s2/ft>
  • Torque = 2160ft-lbs when you jump on the end of the breaker bar and pipe extension

And a quick recap of what we looked at:

  • Torque = 900ft-lb with 36" iron pipe and 24" breaker bar
  • Torque = 760ft-lbs if you jump on the 24" breaker bar only
  • Torque = 360ft-lb with 24" breaker bar only
  • Impact wrench = 0 - 1000ft-lbs

We see that an iron pipe with a breaker bar will be plenty enough force to overcome over tightening.

Step 1: Breaking up the Rust

  • Apply targeted, liberal amounts of WD-40 to the base of the lug to allow this penetrating oil to be drawn into the bolt threads through capillary action. If it is badly rusted, then give it a few smacks with a hammer to break some of the rust free before applying the penetrating oil. Give the penetrating oil time to work, up to a day if you have the time.

Socket Selection

Socket needs to be hammered down very tight otherwise it will slip off.
Socket needs to be hammered down very tight otherwise it will slip off.

Step 2: Selecting the Correct Nut Extractor Socket

The nut extractor socket needs to be a tight fit onto the lug nut. So tight that you must hammer it down tight with a 3 lb. hammer. These specialty twist sockets are really great; once seated properly, you can turn the socket and it will grip the nut tighter.

Breaker bar and iron pipe total of 5' length will give me around 900 ft-lbs of torque
Breaker bar and iron pipe total of 5' length will give me around 900 ft-lbs of torque

Step 3: Getting the Lug Nut Off

Attach the ½” drive breaker bar to the nut extractor socket. If you need to, slide the 36” iron pipe over the breaker bar handle to gain an additional mechanical advantage. If the correct extractor socket was used (no slippage), then this force will free the lug nut. Definitely throw it out and replace with a new one.


Lug nut is off with the socket.
Lug nut is off with the socket.

Getting the Bad Lug Out of the Socket

Either punch it out in a vice or hammer the crowbar as shown.
Either punch it out in a vice or hammer the crowbar as shown.

Bad Lug Aftermath

Close up view of what the lug nut looks like afterwards. Note the grooves made by the twist socket.
Close up view of what the lug nut looks like afterwards. Note the grooves made by the twist socket.

Alternative Strategies

While this method usually works, there are problems that can be encountered that will require different strategies.

  1. If the stud is stripped The lug spins freely but won't come off the stud. Drill through the lug and/or stud. Select a carbide drill bit that matches the size of your stud. Apply heavy pressure while drilling at low speed to drill down the center of the lug until it is not longer attached to the stud. There are some specialty drill bits available on the market that I haven't tried. The videos look promising, so if you feel like taking a risk, and spending extra money I've included a link to one of these products. Note: Drilling through the stud will require you to replace it, which can be rather tricky for some vehicles.
  2. Can't grip the lug nut with twist sockets If you have access to welding equipment, then tack weld a nut to the damaged one so you can have a clean grip again. Or, split the lug with a chisel. Use a heavy 2-4 lb. hammer for this and make sure you have a sharpened chisel. Split the lug nut down the side. Careful not to damage the rim. Inspect stud for damage, it may need to be replaced.

Preventing the Problem

Careless mechanics can easily overtighten the lug nuts with their impact wrenches. Consider speaking with your mechanic to make sure the correct torque will be applied before they start working on your car. Bear in mind that different cars have different requirements for torquing lugs. Cars typically require 60-100ft-lbs of torque. Larger vehicles can require upwards of 300ft-lbs of torque. Consult your owner's manual for correct torque requirements.

Keep lugs clean and free of water. Dirt, water, and rust on the threads and mounting bolts must be removed before attempting to put your wheel back on.

If they are worn out and don’t seem to fit very well, there is nothing wrong with getting a new set.


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    • Linda Robinson60 profile image

      Linda Robinson 20 months ago from Cicero, New York

      Good Morning Matthew I really enjoyed your very detailed interesting informational hub on how to remove a stuck lug nut, being a woman yes, maybe you think that is odd but more women are getting into being informed, terrific writing. Look forward to reading all your hubs. Maybe you can take a peek at mind too when you have a few extra minutes. Thanks. And happy hubbing. You are a very intriguing author.

    • profile image

      Peter Morrow 8 months ago

      Anyone can break off a lug nut using excessive force with a breaker bar and an extension pipe. If the nuts are rounded or stripped it is because someone is using the wrong size socket.

      The problem is to loosen all 20 lug nuts without having one or more jam up or bind. Chrysler products are known for this problem.

      Replacing the broken stud(s) is not discussed here. That is the real issue - broken studs. And over-tightening is probably not the cause of this problem.

      A lengthy discussion of the science behind torque (perhaps copied from elsewhere) might be interesting to a few, but it is completely irrelevant here.

      So - let me give you a tip or two - liquid wrench applied for a day or so may help. STOP if the nut won't turn after it is "broken" or first loosened. Heating the nut with a torch may also help. Nuts should loosen immediately when they are first turned. If they don't, continuing from there will probably snap off the stud. And that can be quite expensive to repair. And, so you know, lubricating studs or lug nuts is not recommended by most manufacturers.

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      Mark 7 months ago

      Who cares about the damn science behind you idiot!

    • profile image

      Rob - Ohio 5 months ago

      Greetings. Science is the quintessential essence of averting costly ignorance. Now that the first principles are posted, I can execute a repair with confidence to transport my family safely. Also, the tidbit about the studs was important. The ignorant comment had no value to anyone. I'm off to smoke some meat and then repair the Chrysler. Many Thanks for the input.

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      Kody 4 months ago

      I tried everything to get this lug nut of is strip completely down to the end any suggestions on getting it out the striped sockets just messed it up more then anything

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      Ken 3 months ago

      Used WD40 to easily remove the remaining nuts off after breaking a lug bolt. How do I get WD40 residue off the nuts and bolts as it is my impression it is dangerous to have lubricant defeat the "grip " of the nut on the bolt? I presume some solvent would work but which one? Thanks for any advice.

    • profile image

      3 months ago

      Ken, WD-40 is a solvent.

    • profile image

      Amanda 3 months ago

      well what do you do when someone (not me lol) took a chisel and didn't split the side of the nut but pound it flat into the stud and and the back of hole in the rim?

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