What is torque, and why should we care? Torque is a set fastener tightening value commonly called “torque value.” And we care about torque because engineers have rigorously tested our vehicle’s fasteners breaking points, which allows them to set the optimum value for all the fasteners on our vehicle.
Fasteners such as wheel bolts/nuts are particularly important to torque correctly. Overtightening or under-tightening wheel fasteners are common. All makes, and model vehicles will have their own optimum torque value, and it’s listed in a driver’s handbook.
A specialized tool known as a torque wrench is used to set a fastener’s torque. The torque wrench is adjustable and may be set to any one of a range of torque values to suit the job at hand.
The short video below outlines the process of setting a torque wrench and the actual tightening of the wheel. But you’ll find additional insider tips, hacks, and good-to-know stuff on this page, including:
- Setting a torque wrench
- Tightening a wheel
- Recommended torque wrench
What’s The Torque Setting For My Vehicle
You’ll find your vehicle’s torque setting in your driver’s manual under the wheel changing section. But if you google your model, you’ll likely find it just as quickly. As a guide, you’ll find most cars’ wheel fasteners are in the 81 ft-lbs. to 100 ft-lbs. range (110 to 130 Nm), and trucks are not surprisingly set higher, typically in the 100 ft-lbs. to 150 ft-lbs. range (135 – 200 Nm).
With the correct torque value to hand, you are ready to set the wrench, and that’s what we’ll do next.
Setting a Torque Wrench
Setting a torque wrench is critical to nailing wheel tightening successfully. It’s not a complicated process, but there are set procedures to follow. And so here goes.
Setting a torque wrench is a simple process:
1 – Unlock the wrench by turning the twist-lock counterclockwise.
2 – Adjust the wrench to the closest value on the main shaft scale.
This wrench set to 105 Nm.
3 – Use the twist handle scale to adjust to the exact value. Each mark on the twist handle represents 1 Nm (lbs on the other side) increments.
This wrench now set to 105 (shaft) + 5 Nm (on twist handle) = 110 Nm total.
4 – When you reach your desired value, lock the wrench using the handle lock (turn clockwise)
Your wrench is now set to work.
Tightening a Wheel Like A Pro!
When using the wrench, hold the handle with one hand and use the knarled area of the handle only. Torque your fasteners using steady, even pressure; avoid jerking the wrench.
Wheel fasteners like to be tightened in a star sequence. Tightening adjacent wheel fasteners may cause the wheel rim to seat incorrectly, resulting in an irritating vibration felt in the steering wheel or through the car seat. See the picture below.
The audible click signals success, and you may move to the next fastener.
Before tightening the wheel, check the following:
- Snug all wheel fasteners down but don’t tighten yet
- Lower vehicle off the jack
- Vehicle transmission in “Park”
- Parking brake “On”
- To tighten turn clockwise
- The audible click signals success, you can move to the opposing fastener
- Tighten in star formation sequence
- Return your torque wrench to its Min setting after use, it helps prolong wrench life
The picture shows the star sequence. But you’ll notice I’m not using a torque wrench. What’s up?
Ok, so what happens if I don’t have a torque wrench?
Not everybody has or wants a torque wrench, so what happens if I tighten the bolts down to where I think they’re right?
In most cases, tightening them down using guesswork is fine for emergencies. But as you know, doing so risks over or under-tightening the fasteners. Both outcomes are bad. The best practice here is to tighten the wheel fasteners to where you are sure they are tight (too tight being better than too loose) and stop at the first tire shop you meet. A good shop will happily back the fasteners off and torque the wheel to specification.
Overtightening wheel fasteners can cause the wheel to sit incorrectly on the hub, causing an imbalance which, as said, causes a vibration in the wheel or felt through the seat. Overtightening may also damage the fastener threads, which can be costly to repair.
Under-tightening wheel fasteners, on the other hand, is a safety hazard. While Hollywood movies may have us believe a wheel falling off may surprise us, the reality is you’ll get lots of warnings. A loose wheel will cause the vehicle to steer horribly, causing vibration and noise, and then there’s the explosion and, of course, a superb backing track………I’m joking, of course; no backing track.
Here are a few tools that make wheel changing a ton easier, either by the side of the highway or in the comfort of your garage.
This Teng wrench is perfect for wheel fasteners. The range covers 20 – 200 Nm, it’s a 1/2 inch drive and doesn’t come with sockets, but regular 1/2 sockets will fit. So this one is fine for cars, but if you have a truck that requires 200 Nm, then you’ll need to move up a size with your wrench.
Although this wrench will hit the 200 Nm mark, avoiding using a tool at either its Min or Max range is best. They are just less accurate there.
I use the Teng torque wrench and have done for years, and it serves me well. I like that it’s an all-metal affair, no plastic, and the measurements are stamped into the body – it makes for a durable, reliable tool. I honestly have no complaints, and I included a link to the model I use.
DeWalt Max XR cordless 20v Impact wrench makes any job a pleasure. It has the power to bust open rusty fasteners and is an excellent tool for the truck of your car. DeWalt makes excellent products, this is the latest in brushless tech, and they go on and on.
Pro-Lift 3-ton ratcheted axle stands. Robust, easy to use, you’ll never need to buy another.
Anti-vibration gloves are essential. Using impact guns for prolonged periods can damage nerves in the hands and arms. It’s a condition known as hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS), and there’s no cure. If you intend to use an impact wrench for a living, please wear anti-vibration gloves.
I can’t work without good light. If I don’t have good light, I find the job goes downhill quickly. I’ve had several of these lamps, not because they break but because I lose them.
About the Author
John Cunningham is a Red Seal Qualified automotive technician with over twenty-five years of experience in the field. When he’s not writing about car repair, you’ll find him in his happy place – restoring classic cars.
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To see the full list of recommended trunk tools, check out the Trunk essentials page.
- About the Author
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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.