Depending on where you live, you may or may not already know how often tires are stolen off vehicles. Most of the time the thieves are after the rims, which can fetch a pretty penny when sold. To combat this problem, people have turned to wheel lock nuts, or locking lug nuts, and some car manufacturers sell vehicles with locking lug nuts installed. Although the reason they were invented is obvious, many people wonder, “are locking wheel nuts worth it”?
If you live in an area where theft is common, you have invested a lot of money into buying custom rims, or you don’t mind the extra hassle a quality set of wheel lock nuts could be worth it.
If you live in an area where theft is not as common, or you believe you may lose the key, it might not be a great idea to install locking lug nuts on your vehicle. Continue reading to find out more about wheel lock nuts and if they are right for you.
What Are Wheel Lock Nuts?
Wheel lock nuts are, as the name suggests, lug nuts that lock and require a key to remove. They work just like a typical lug nut except that they cannot be removed without a key—in theory. Many newer cars will come with locking nuts pre-installed, while others will add them onto the vehicle to protect aftermarket rims from being stolen. Locks are specific to each vehicle, and you must have the matching key to remove them—in theory.
What Are the Benefits of Locking Lug Nuts?
Locking lug nuts can be a smart investment if you live in an area where rims are often stolen or if you have invested quite a lot of money in aftermarket rims. Let’s look at some of the other benefits of wheel locknuts.
- Security: As we have already mentioned, wheel lock nuts add an extra layer of security. They can help to deter would be thieves who want to cash in on your investment. Although it is possible to crack a locking lug nut without a key, the time and effort it would take is enough to prevent most thieves from bothering.
- Cost: A set of locking lug nuts is going to be much less expensive than replacing a wheel. This is especially true if you’ve invested hundreds of dollars in a nice set of custom rims.
- Safety: While rare, there is a chance that someone may loosen your lug nuts. You can avoid this by installing locking wheel nuts.
What Are the Disadvantages of Locking Lug Nuts?
It’s always a clever idea to look at the disadvantages of something whenever you look at its advantages. Although there are several pros to having wheel nuts that lock, there are a couple of cons as well. We went right to the source and looked at what customers had to say:
- Necessity: If you don’t live in an area where wheels are often stolen, or if your vehicle is usually parked in a safe area, people have said that it may not be worth the hassle to have locking wheel nuts on your tires.
- Keys: We all know how easy it is to lose something, especially when that someone is as small as a lug nut key. However, since they are made to prevent theft, you can’t really call in for a replacement and it can be quite a hassle to get a new key.
- Frustration: Many customers have warned against the frustration of lug nut locks. If you are on a long trip, or are planning to drive through a rural area, the last thing you want to do is find yourself with a flat and a lost key.
- Cost: Many customers have stories of mechanics breaking their locking nuts or even damaging their tires because they were not careful or didn’t notice it locked. Make sure you let your mechanic know if you have locking nuts installed.
- Theft: It doesn’t work as well as it sounds like it would—in theory. You can find kits on Amazon for less than $50 that include everything you need to remove a locking lug nut without a key. Furthermore, with time and elbow grease, it is very possible to break them off with just a couple of simple tools. If a thief has a choice between a vehicle without locking lug nuts and one with, they will probably choose the one without. However, if you have expensive rims on your vehicle, a locking lug nut will not guarantee their safety.
What Is a Wheel Lock Key and How Does It Work?
When you hear the word key, what pops into your mind? Most people think of a long, slender piece of metal that fits nicely into a keyhole. However, this is not what a wheel lock key looks like, nor how it works.
Although there are several designs, most wheel locks are made with smooth edges so that they cannot be removed with a typical tire iron or impact wrench. Instead, they have designs etched into the front of the bolt.
The key looks like a socket, with a cylinder at one end (that has an inverted design, which locks into the design on the lug nut) and a hexagon on the other end. The end with the hexagon is designed to fit wrenches or tire irons. Simply fit the key into the bolt and unscrew it like you would a normal lug nut.
Where Is My Wheel Lock Nut Key Located?
If you bought a set and installed it yourself, then the key is in the last place you put it. Unfortunately, we cannot help you with that one. However, if the vehicle had locking wheel nuts installed when you bought it, and you are trying to find where the manufacturer hid the key, we might be able to help!
Locking wheel nut keys are small and you will typically find them in a small box, or other containers, inside of your vehicle. In some cases, the dealership will tell you where to find the key, but most of the time, it will be overlooked.
Luckily, there are only a handful of places that the original manufacturer would put it, and if it has never been removed from this spot, or the earlier owners opted to keep it in the same location, then you will be able to find it:
- With your spare tire: this should be the very first place you look for your lug nut key. Most vehicles have a spare tire in a compartment in the trunk. However, it may depend on what type of vehicle you have. If you do have a spare, look around the area for a small compartment that holds the key.
- In the trunk: if you cannot find it with the spare, or your vehicle does not have a spare, you may be able to find it in the trunk. Most vehicles have small compartments on the sidewall of the trunk. These typically hold things such as emergency roadside kits. The key may be in a box in one of these compartments.
- In the glove box: there is also a good chance that you might find the key in the glove box of your vehicle along with other spare parts and the vehicle’s user manual.
- In the seat pouches: some vehicles have pockets or pouches found on the side or the back of the seats. You may find the key stored in one of these areas. Furthermore, some seats have small compartments, such as cupholders, built into them. Check to make sure there is not a compartment holding your wheel lock key in the base of the seat by the controls.
- In the doors: this may seem obvious, but your car door may have compartments in it and the manufacturer may have placed the key in one of these compartments so it would be easily visible.
- In the center console: again, it seems obvious, but check the center console if all else fails. Make sure to check that there aren’t any hidden compartments within the console as well. For example, some consoles will have false bottoms that pop up to reveal an even deeper storage area.
- Consult the handbook: if you still cannot find the key, check the user manual. It might be a long shot, but the book could tell you exactly where the key is found, and it may be in an area you would have otherwise never thought to look.
Mechanics Tips For Trouble-free Locknuts
When I worked in the dealership wheel locknuts were always an issue. The problems came mostly in two flavors –
- Missing locknut key
- Stripped locknut head
Missing locknut key was usually pretty easy to solve, the main dealer and a good independent shop will have a master set of keys to hand. The second flavor is a little more work and is likely to cost the customer some extra on the labor bill.
A stripped locknut commonly happens when lock nuts are fitted and removed using an impact gun. And that brings me my tips for trouble-free locknut use.
- Avoid overtightening, use a torque wrench to tighten, never an impact wrench
- Before fitting locknuts, use a sparing amount of anti-seize paste or copper grease on the threads (do not use on all lugnuts, just the locknut)
- Rotate the wheels as per service schedule and re-apply, in addition add small amount of copper paste to wheel hubs
- Ask your mechanic or service adviser to use breaker bar and torque wrench on the locknuts
- Store the locknut key in the glove box where it may be easily checked before and after service or tire shop visits
If you follow these simple tips, you won’t have any trouble with your new locknuts.
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John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. He’s been a mechanic for over twenty-five years and has worked for GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, Land Rover, and Jaguar dealerships.
John uses his know-how and experience to write fluff-free articles that help fellow gearheads with all aspects of vehicle ownership, including maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting.