How to Tighten Lug Nuts Without a Torque Wrench

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  March 19, 2022
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In its lifetime, a vehicle needs to go through a nearly endless series of maintenance and repairs. One of the more common maintenance tasks for your car is replacing the tire. Flat tires are a nuisance, sure, but thankfully, replacing wheels is not that difficult or costly. If you have a torque wrench in your trunk and a spare set of tires, then this job is even more comfortable. Within minutes you can replace them and get on the road again. But what if you do not have a torque wrench at your disposal? Are you essentially stuck until you get your car to an auto shop?
Well, not necessarily. In this article, we will teach you a quick and easy way to tighten lug nuts without a torque wrench so that you do not feel lost if you get a flat tire.

What is a Torque Wrench?

Before we tell you how you can get by without it, let’s take a moment to see what this tool really is and how a torque wrench works. A torque wrench is a simple piece of equipment that applies a specific level of torque or force to help you fasten a lug nut on your tire. This tool is mostly used in industrial workshops or auto-repair shops. The best thing about this tool is it can prevent a lot of problems with your car, such as brake wear or brake warping. Since it applies the perfect amount of force that is needed to tighten the nut, you will not be doing any damage by overtightening anything.

How to Tighten Lug Nuts Without A Torque Wrench

Although nothing beats the efficiency of a torque wrench, it is still an expensive piece of equipment, and not everyone has one just lying around inside their trunk. Here are a few ways you can tighten lug nuts without a torque wrench. With a Lug Wrench The simplest alternative to a torque wrench is probably a lug wrench. It is also dubbed a tire iron, and the best thing about this tool is you get one for free with your car in most cases. The working principle of this tool is quite similar to that of a torque wrench without the benefit of automatic torque. Although it does not automatically apply the exact amount of torque you require, you can still use it to manually tighten the lug nuts without fearing for your car’s safety. Some people, however, do prefer to use a torque wrench after using a lug wrench to mount the lug nuts. The key thing to note here is that there is a fair bit of guesswork here when you are using a lug wrench instead of a torque wrench. For one thing, you need to guess the amount of force and the tightness of the nuts after you finish mounting them. It does require some experience to handle this tool correctly. Applying too much force on the lug nuts can strip the nuts making it impossible to take them off when you are replacing the wheels again. Inversely, not applying enough tightness will result in loss of control or, in extreme cases, even the tires falling apart when you are driving. Neither of the outcomes is very welcoming. So, before you start whacking away at your lug nuts with a tire iron, it is important to know about the potential problems you may face. If you are still unsure about using this tool to replace the tire yourself, we recommend taking your car to an auto shop to get the tire changed by professionals. But for those who are confident about their abilities, here are the steps to changing lug nuts using a tire iron.
  • Park your car in a safe location away from other individuals.
  • Take the tire iron, car jack, and a spare set of the wheel out of your trunk.
  • Lift the car steadily using the car jack
  • Removing the old tire is quite simple; just insert the tire iron on each nut and rotate the tool counter-clockwise until they come off.
  • Install the new tire and tighten each nut going in a crisscross manner.
  • Tug on the tire once installed to see if there is any wobbling.
  • If it seems properly installed, you can put away your tools in the trunk.
Using Your Hands Before we go further, it is important to note that we do not recommend using your hands to tighten lug nuts permanently in your vehicle. It is quite impossible to tighten the nuts securely using your bare hands. This step offers a temporary fix if you are stuck in the middle of a road so that you can get your vehicle safely to a shop. As soon as you get access to the right tool, such as a tire iron or a torque wrench, you need to tighten each lug’s nut to make sure the tire stays put. Furthermore, if you tightened the nuts using your hands, make sure you are not driving at a speed faster than ten mph. Driving fast with a poorly installed tire can have dire consequences. Here are the steps for tightening the lug nuts with your hands.
  • Park your car in a safe spot.
  • Lift the car using your car jack.
  • To install the nuts, make sure you are using the crisscross method. Do not tighten one nut too much before proceeding to the next.
  • Make sure there is no wiggle on the tire.
  • Drive slowly and get to an auto shop as fast as you can.

Pro Tips

Let’s address the issue of torque. A lot of people ignore torque values, and they just go with whatever feels right for no reason other than they don’t have a torque wrench available. I’m not saying that go out and spend two hundred, four hundred, or eight hundred dollars on a nice torque wrench. No, because you’re only maybe going to use it two or three times a year. It’s really important to use the correct torque on certain components like spark plugs. Whether it be on a boat engine or your vehicle engine, manufacturers design these components to be torqued to a specific value for a reason. You can strip threads out if you over-torque them, or you could result in leaking if you under torque these things. It is not that hard to put yourself together a simple set of tools to accurately determine the amount of torque that you’re putting on a component. All you need is a breaker bar, or even a long ratchet will work, but something that’s at least a foot long if you’re going to be dealing in foot-pounds. A measuring tape is also necessary, and you also need a way to measure the amount of force exerted. It might sound funny, but a fish scale works best for this.

Final Thoughts

In this article, we gave you two simple fixes for replacing your tires or tightening the lug nuts if you do not have a torque wrench at your disposal. However, if you change tires frequently, it is always a good idea to invest in a decent torque wrench as it would make the whole process extremely efficient and easy.

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.