Vehicle Wheel Nut Torque: Why Precision Matters

by Max Johnston - Gearhead

Wheel nuts visible in BMW rim
Via Pexels.

Having a wheel come loose on your vehicle can be catastrophic—and while it sounds like the kind of thing you only see in cartoons, it’s more common than you might believe. In 2021, over 100 wheel separation accidents occurred in Ontario alone. Losing a wheel while driving can critically damage your vehicle, its payload, and even its passengers, so it’s the kind of thing you want to take every possible step to avoid. That’s just one of the many reasons why using the right wheel nut torque specifications is so important.

Vehicle wheel nut torque plays a vital role in your safety, but it can also impact your vehicle’s performance and longevity. To find out how, just keep reading—our guide to wheel nut torque will tell you exactly why it matters and where you can find the right specs for your car or truck.

Mechanic with torque wrench working on vehicle
Via Pexels.

How to Tighten Vehicle Wheel Nuts

The process for tightening your vehicle’s wheel nuts isn’t that complicated, but the more specific and methodical about it you are, the fewer mistakes you’re likely to make. Here’s a quick overview:

  • Put your vehicle into first gear (or neutral, if it has an automatic transmission).
  • Apply the emergency brake.
  • Set your torque wrench to the correct value for your vehicle’s wheel nuts.
  • Turn the torque wrench clockwise to tighten each nut.
  • Turn the bolts one after the next in a criss-cross pattern. Doing so can help make sure the wheel is seated properly.
  • When loosening the torque wrench, be sure not to let the spring go slack (which can cause the wrench to disengage before the nut reaches the value you’ve set).

Mechanic using impact gun on wheel nut
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Using a Torque Wrench vs. An Impact Gun

While a torque wrench is a hand tool (similar to a socket wrench but with additional components that allow it to tighten screws and bolts to pre-set measurements), an impact gun uses compressed air or electricity to deliver high torque output by pulling a trigger. It’s not uncommon for vehicle owners (or careless service station attendants) to use an impact gun when tightening wheel nuts, but this practice is incorrect and can have dangerous consequences.

Yes, impact guns require less manual effort to use than torque wrenches—but the high levels of power they deliver makes it easy for the user to overtighten a nut. Using an impact gun in conjunction with a torque stick (a long-shaft socket built specifically to place limits on the amount of torque applied) can prevent this from occurring, but it’s often simpler and more consistent to just use a torque wrench for the job instead.

To watch a torque wrench in action, check out the video below:

When Should I Adjust My Vehicle Wheel Nut Torque?

You’ll need to remove and replace the wheel nuts on your vehicle whenever you remove the hub assembly—for example, if you’re replacing the bearings in your wheels. Here’s a video of how to remove a hub assembly for most vehicles:

Additionally, it’s a good idea to check and adjust the torque for your vehicle’s wheel nuts whenever you have your tires changed, or before you take your vehicle on a long trip. Doing so will ensure that you’re not driving with wheel nuts that are too loose or too tight.

What Happens If I Use the Wrong Vehicle Wheel Nut Torque Specifications?

Wheel nut torque specifications aren’t listed as minimum or maximum values—they’re precise figures that must be adhered to exactly. Getting too casual with the wrench when replacing your wheel nuts can cause numerous problems, depending on whether you over- or under-shoot the proper amount of torque.

Wheel Nut Torque Too Loose

If you have not tightened your vehicle’s wheel nuts to the correct specifications, you may notice any of the following while driving:

  • Holes gouged in the wheel from rubbing against the loose nut
  • Excessive vibration, since the nuts are not holding the wheel to the hub tightly enough
  • Loud knocking sounds as the loose wheel bangs against the hub
  • Possible separation of the wheel from the rest of your vehicle

Here’s what wheel nuts sound like when they’re too loose:

Wheel Nut Torque Too Tight

On the other hand, overtightening the wheel nuts on your vehicle can lead to a range of other problems. These include:

  • Stripping the threads on the nuts
  • Causing wear-and-tear on brake rotors
  • Possible destruction of the lug stud

The symptoms of wheel nuts that are too tight are generally less obvious, since your vehicle may not vibrate or make odd noises until significant and irreparable damage has already occurred. You may not know your wheel nuts are too tight until you experience problems braking or notice that a wheel nut has been sheared apart entirely.

This is another good reason to make sure you can control the amount of torque precisely when tightening wheel nuts—i.e., use a torque wrench instead of an impact gun whenever possible.

Where to Find Wheel Nut Torque Specifications for Your Vehicle

The precise wheel nut specifications for your car or truck should be listed in your owner’s manual. You’ll usually find this in a section called “Technical Data” or something similar.

For example, take a look at this 2015 Chevy Silverado 1500 owner’s manual. You’ll see that section 12-2 in the table of contents is called “Vehicle Data”, and that the wheel nut torque specs are listed there at 190 N•m or 140 lb-ft.

Most owner’s manuals for common trucks and cars can be found online with a quick google search if you don’t have the physical copy handy. You’ll want to make sure you have this data close at hand before replacing your wheel bearings or adjusting the wheel nut torque for any other reason.

Looking for new wheel bearings for your vehicle? Use our handy tool to search up compatible parts for your specific make and model. And be sure to check out our other articles to learn more about proper vehicle wheel maintenance.