voice was equal parts frustration and amusement.
“I’ve got swollen
lug nuts,” the retired Detroit firefighter said in his voicemail.
“Seriously. I don’t know what to do.”
I shushed my inner
10-year-old and listened. When he didn’t ask if my refrigerator
was running or I had Prince Albert in a can, I took a chance that
this wasn’t a prank call. I’m a trained reporter. I’ve seen
enough episodes of “South Park” to be cautious. I did some
“We see get four or
five cars a day with swollen lug nuts,” said Chris Lynch, owner of
Wetmore’s Tire and Auto in Ferndale, Mich. “It’s a real
problem, particularly if you get a flat on the side of the road and
can’t get your wheels off. That’s a safety issue.”
The tires on
Majchrzak’s SUV needed rotating, but his dealer couldn’t remove
them. The lug nuts that hold the wheels on were stuck. I’d say
they were frozen, but the dealer wanted $8 apiece to replace them,
and that’s no laughing matter.
Majchrzak was not
This swelling is a
new problem on some fancy wheels with decorative lug nuts. Many of
the nuts have shiny chrome caps on top of simple steel nuts. The cap
is welded or crimped to the nuts that secure the wheel to the
vehicle, said Bob Gilley, General Motors wheel attachment engineer.
The power tools that
service shops use to put wheels on and off can generate more force
than the nuts are designed for. That can create gaps that let water
and dirt in between the cap and nut. When the water freezes, the nut
gets bent out of shape. Standard tools don’t fit the nut, leaving
the wheel stuck on the car.
The problem has
become common enough that Wetmore’s has special socket tools 0.5
millimeters bigger than standard nuts to remove the swollen ones.
shelves of replacement nuts, and a drawer of misshapen and corroded
ones. Lynch says his workers use power tools to remove the wheel
nuts, but hand-tighten them to match the manufacturer’s
You can eliminate the
possibility of swollen lug nuts by paying a little extra for
chrome-plated or stainless steel nuts. Those shiny finishes replace
the caps that are attached to most nuts, but they cost more.
Each automaker has
its own specifications for cosmetic covers and the nuts below them.
Ford, which built
Majchrzak’s Escape and replaced the troublesome nuts, said owners
should contact their dealers if an issue arises.