Car Clinic: I've lost my locking wheel nut key — how can I change a flat tyre?

I've lost my locking wheel nut key — how can I change a flat tyre?

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Q. The key to my locking wheel nut is missing; now I have a flat tyre and cannot change it. Any ideas?
KT, Croydon

Locking nuts are sold with a code, so owners can order a new key from the maker. If you don’t have the code, garages have tools able to remove most nuts. Breakdown organisations such as the AA and RAC can also usually help.

There are locking wheel nut removal tools available from the likes of Halfords, which you hammer over the nut to cut a reverse thread, then use a wrench to unscrew it. They destroy themselves during application, so they’re single use items.

A last-ditch DIY solution — provided you have a simple type of nut, without a spinning outer shroud/collar — is to take an old 12-point socket that is a little too small, hammer it until it bites onto the nut, and then twist it off with a ratchet. Don’t try this with a high-spec locking nut from the likes of McGard, though: you’ll destroy the wheel.

 

What is a locking wheel nut?

locking-wheel-nut

Locking wheel nuts, also known as alloy wheel nuts and lug nuts, require special socket tools with a matching pattern, which is bespoke for the nut — much like a lock and key for a door.

Each car has four nuts (one for each wheel) and one key. The idea is that while thieves may be able to remove the other nuts on a wheel, which have standard hexagonal heads, the locking nut is not so easy to remove. The time it takes to force it off may not be worth it due to the risk of being caught.

Where would I find my locking wheel nut key?

If you haven’t used your locking wheel nut key since purchasing your vehicle, it’s likely to still be where the manufacturer stored it. Try checking the following places first:

  1. The glove compartment
  2. Under or with your spare wheel – it may be in a separate compartment
  3. In and under the boot — check under the carpet and in all the separate compartments and first aid kit
  4. In and under the seats — check the seat pockets and under the seats

If you’ve used it since you bought the car and it’s not in any of the above locations, try checking your cup holders, car door pockets, ash tray and any other compartments.

Still can’t find it? Follow our advice above and order a replacement locking wheel nut key from the manufacturer (you’ll need the locking nut code) or speak to your breakdown organisation who may be able to help.

How to remove locking wheel nuts

Locking wheel nut removal isn’t too dissimilar to the process of removing standard wheel nuts. One end of your locking wheel nut key is likely to have a hole which will fit a standard wheel brace. Slot the other end — the keyed end — onto the locking wheel nut, and turn the wheel brace anti-clockwise until it loosens. Once it’s loose enough, you can remove it with your fingers.

Do all cars have locking wheel nuts?

No, although most new cars will now come fitted with locking wheel nuts as standard.

If you’re unsure whether you have locking wheel nuts, try the following:

1. Inspect your wheel nuts — if one has a pattern then this is a locking wheel nut.
2. Check to see if any of your wheel nuts have a plastic cover (which gives all the wheel nuts a uniform appearance) – if they do then this will be the locking nut.
3. Place a wheel brace or nut spanner on all five nuts to see if they grip — but don’t use any force. If the brace fits on all of the bolts, then you don’t have a locking wheel nut.

Where can you find a locking wheel nut key code?

Lost your locking wheel nut key? Don’t worry, each key comes with a code so that you can order another from the manufacturer.

You can often find this code in the owners handbook, service book, or on the locking wheel nut box or bag, if you have one.

– If you found our guide to locking wheel nuts helpful, you might also like our guide to changing a car battery.
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