How To Remove a Locking Lug Nut Without the Key

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Lug nuts hold your wheel to your car, so you’ll need to take them off to change a tire or work on your suspension. That’s easy unless one of your lug nuts is a special “locking type.” Oh, yours is? And you lost the key? Don’t sweat it, we’ll show you how to get that sucker off anyway.

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The demo you’re seeing here is with a “Gorilla”-type locking lug nut on my battle-worn Toyota Tundra with aftermarket wheels. We had it easy because the nut was easily accessible and surprisingly compliant, but this process should essentially work no matter what your setup looks like.

The best part is all the tools needed should be things in any garage anyway, but here’s what you will need for the job.

Tools Needed

  • 12-Point Socket (your size my vary)

  • Breaker Bar

  • Hammer

  • Torque wrench

  • A new lug nut

Time Required

Three to five minutes per wheel, or about one beer for a whole car’s worth.

Step 1: Look for the Damn Key

Don’t give up so easily! Did you check that old tool box you never use? All your car’s little storage cubbies? Text the guy who sold you the car? It’s all worth a shot. Make sure you really don’t have the key before you start attacking your car with a hammer.

Step 2: Figure Out What Size Socket Is “Close” and Make Sure It’s a 12-Point

If you really can’t find the key, it’s time to commit to hammering this sucker into submission. You’re going to simply smash a regular socket onto your locking nut and move it with brute force.

Photo:  Jalopnik
Photo: Jalopnik

Your lug nuts, even those super-strong lockers we’re dealing with, are most likely made of softer metal than a good socket. At least, you’re sure hoping so right about now.

Try a few socket sizes on your nut until you find one that makes you think, “Yeah, I could probably ram that thing on with a hammer.” Then, ram that thing on with a hammer.

You want a 12-point (as opposed to a six-point) because it will be better at biting. You’re dealing with an unusual shape, remember? The extra “teeth” will give you a better chance of getting traction on the lug nut.

Step 3: Smash That Socket Onto the Locking Lug Nut With a Hammer

Photo:  Jalopnik
Photo: Jalopnik

I mention this again because it’s the fun part. A regular hardware-store-clearance-rack hammer should do the job just fine.

Go as straight as possible and slam that thing until it’s on very securely.

Step 4: Apply leverage

If you haven’t experienced a breaker bar yet, you’re in for a treat. This is a tool you can go cheap on because it’s literally just a metal rod that clips into sockets, but once you’ve got one you’ll be amazed you’ve ever lived without it.

Now what makes a breaker bar great is basic physics. Your little ratchet is probably six to eight inches long, which can apply a little bit of force. The massive length of the breaker bar lets you leverage your strength significantly more, effectively turning even a scrawny jamoke like myself into Iron Man for a fleeting moment.

Photo:  Jalopnik
Photo: Jalopnik

But with great power comes– you know the rest. Apply your newfound force too quickly and you might just grind your locking lug nut into oblivion. Pour it on slow; you’ll be surprised how little you actually have to move the nut to break it free.

Step 5: Revel in Your Success! Also, Inspect the Stud for Damage

Alright, it worked! I hope. Check out the threads on your wheel stud (the thing your lug nut just came off of.) If they’re damaged you’ll have to replace it, which is another slightly harder job. If they’re okay, get yourself a new (non-locking) lug nut and torque it down as per your vehicle’s instruction manual!

Don’t forget to stop and torque it down again to the same spec after you’ve driven ten miles or so.

Step 6: Get the Locking Lug Nut Out of Your Socket

Wedged in there pretty good, huh?

There are a few ways to get that dead locking nut out so you can use the socket again:

  • Try sticking a screwdriver, chisel or a “straight-punch” style tool into the top of the socket and hammering it toward the locking lug nut. (Ineffective.)

  • Whip the fused lug nut/socket combination at the ground. (Dangerous.)

  • Lightly reattach the fused lug nut/socket combination onto the wheel stud and tap the side with a hammer. Or just wriggle the heck out of it with your breaker bar. (Probably the best.) Be careful not to hit it too hard as you may damage your threads.

Bonus Tips

Photo:  Jalopnik
Photo: Jalopnik

Try to figure out the brand/serial number of the locking nut

So you lost the key, but did you save the little slip that came with it? The box and/or receipt that your locking lug nuts came with might have the information you need to get a new key made. If you can find that, call the manufacturer and they might be able to send you a new key. Unfortunately that’s going to cost more than you want to spend.

Don’t use a torque wrench as a breaker bar

A torque wrench does work as a breaker bar, because like a breaker bar it’s much longer than a typical ratchet and provides more leverage.

But it’s a precision instrument; using it for blunt force can throw off the calibration and render it inaccurate. The whole point of a torque wrench is that it can let you know exactly when you’ve put enough force on a nut. With that feature out of sync, it’s just a very expensive heavy ratchet.

Penetrating oil

Spray a little penetrating oil like “PB Blaster” or similar right where the lug nut meets the wheel if you think it’s going to be fused on there hard. This stuff will help break down any rust that might have formed, but it might also play hell on your wheel’s paint so watch yourself.

Yes, “locking nut removal tools” and kits exist

You can get a socket specifically designed for this task that will probably make it easier, but as you can see in the video we had no trouble at all with a standard 18mm 12-point socket. That’s going to be cheaper and more versatile than a specialized tool.

Don’t freak out if you strip the stud

Replacing a wheel stud isn’t that hard, or it shouldn’t be terribly expensive to get replaced at a local shop.

Do take care of locking lug nuts before your big trip

Regardless of what happens, it’s going to be a lot less stressful dealing with this in your driveway than on the side of the highway or under the hot Baja sun on an off-road track somewhere.

Locking lug nuts really are useless, huh?

As you’ve now seen, a locking lug nut is nothing more than a slight inconvenience to a thief who wants your wheels. Don’t waste your time with these dumb things.

Good luck!

And relax. Working on cars is fun!

Updated with video:

Images via Tavarish, the author

This story originally ran on February 15, 2015.

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