By on September 22, 2011

Matt writes:

Hey Sajeev. Looking for your wisdom, or perhaps that of the B&B. I’ve got a 2005 Hyundai Elantra with about 50k miles. Back around 40k, we had new tires put on it at Sears. Now I want to rotate the tires (yes, I know, I should have done this a while ago), but when I got to the very last wheel, I ran into a roadblock. The rear right wheel is fused to the hub! It seems to be rusted on. Poking around a few forums online, I got a couple of ideas:

  • WD-40
  • WD-40 and let it sit a while
  • Solid whack with a rubber mallet on the driving surface of the tire
  • Place some wood over the steel wheel and hit it with a hammer, rotating the wood around the tire so as not to damage the wheel
  • Loosen the lug nuts, drive it back and forth a few feet

None of this worked, and now I’m at a loss for what to do next. I tried those things about a month ago, and haven’t taken any further action. I fear that the good people at Sears may not be equipped to properly address the issue and that said lack may not stop them from trying. I don’t have a mechanic I trust* and don’t have a relationship with the Hyundai dealer. In the meantime, the wheels are back to their original locations so that we don’t get any weird wear or tread issues.

Basically, I’d like some advice: is there another home remedy I can try, should I suck it up and pay the dealer, or give the tire store a shot? If the latter, do I mention it when I drop the vehicle off, or let them “discover” it on their own?

Thanks,
Matt

*I had a mechanic I thought I could trust. But after getting charged $400 to replace “stuck” hood hinges which I was later able to loosen up with some PB Blaster, I’ve moved on.

Sajeev answers:

You’ve done your homework, and done the basics. Which makes my job easier and far more entertaining. So remove most of the lug nuts–not all, that’s very important– on the Elantra and get it safely on jack stands, and let’s brainstorm.

Hint #1: Whack the tire tread with a hammer, not a rubber mallet.
Hint #2: No wait, make that a sledge-hammer. The biggest one you can find and safely use, of course.
Hint #3: Lay on your back and kick the tire’s sidewall. A lot. I mean kick the living shit out of that thing, son!
Hint #4: Let the WD-40 dry and get a heating device (i.e. a heat gun) to expand the metal center of the wheel, preferably from the inside and not against the paint (alloy wheels only). Follow up with liberal use of Hint #2.
Hint #5: Drive slowly with all lug nuts SLIGHTLY loose and quickly activate the E-brake.

I’m not especially thrilled to do #5, but then again, it might be better than kicking a tire on a raised vehicle resting on uneven pavement. No matter, this will be a great story to share with your family and friends! Good luck!

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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68 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Wheel That Won’t Budge...”


  • avatar
    NotFast

    I’ve had to resort to #5 before. But make sure you don’t drive too far from home, especially if you’ve left your floor jack sitting in the garage.

    My VW GTI regularly fused the passenger rear wheel.

    • 0 avatar
      Urlik

      Never had a problem on my VWs but that’s because I always put anti-seize on the wheel to hub contact points as well as on the lug bolts.

      We just had someone this week on PassatWorld’s web site with a similar issue. Here’s what he posted:
      Never had a wheel weld itself so completely to the hub that even ramming it with a 6×8 beam didn’t budge it. Until last night. My fix (which for legal purposes I’ll say I did in a closed parking lot owned by me) was to loosen the bolts a couple turns and drive the car in hard circles. That wasn’t enough side force. In the end after driving around hard for almost an hour I threw the car into a full slide on dry pavement with a Finnish flick at 35 MPH. Finally the long awaited “clunk, shugita shugita” sound of the loose wheel against the lugs. Don’t try this at home. (unless you own a large closed parking lot like me) – Carbunkle

  • avatar

    Loosen Lug nuts a half turn.

    Jack that corner until tire is off ground.

    Quickly release jack, allow vehicle to fall onto tire.

    Call ambulance.

    Return from hospital

    Call tow truck.

    (Dangerous, but it has worked well and safely for me, though I’ve only tried it on hub-centric rims.)

    Follow up care – After you have the wheel off be sure to wire brush all the mating surfaces clean and consider putting some anti-sieze on contacting surfaces to prevent having to look this thread up again in 6 months.

    • 0 avatar
      EyeMWing

      One time, while retrieving a wheel from a car at the junkyard, I had to resort to having a nearby loader operator drop the entire car from a great height. Five times.

      It worked.

  • avatar
    BMWfan

    Forget WD-40 it’s the wrong tool for the job. You need PB blaster, available at your local orange big box store. Spray around the junction of the wheel and the hub every couple of hours, and then let it soak overnight. Loosen the lug nuts SLIGHTLY, and then go forward a few feet and slam the brakes on HARD. I have never seen this method fail, and I have done it at least 20 times myself, and witnessed countless others. Do not bang on the wheel, you will bend or damage it, and you stand a good chance of flat spotting your wheel bearings as well, causing a whole new set of problems down the road

    Edit: I see you already have PB blaster, use it!

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Yep. Blaster’s the ticket, I’ve only ever had one nut I couldn’t budge with it and I’m pretty sure I just needed a longer lever for more mechanical advantage.

    • 0 avatar
      noxioux

      Douse it with PB and let it sit for awhile. You may want to repeat a couple times. Then whack that sucker with a ball-peen hammer. If the wheel/hub are rusted that badly, it may not be a bad idea to replace them anyhow.

      Have had many, many rusty bolt problems, and PB is absolutely the best thing out there. WD isn’t in the same league, IMO.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 for the PB Blaster. Good point, thank you for sharing.

      • 0 avatar
        BMWfan

        Kroil is also equal to, if not better than PB blaster, although it’s not as readily available.

      • 0 avatar
        brettc

        I’ve had success with CRC’s Freeze off. Works well and doesn’t smell as bad as PB Blaster. Pep Boys, Autozone, and Advance Auto parts stock it.

        I had this problem on a Jetta with steel wheels. I took it to a tire place and told them I wanted a tire rotation. I believe they used an air hammer and a block of wood to get it off. After that I’ve faithfully used copper anti-seize between the rim and hub.

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        +1 for Kroil, but it’s expensive and not widely available on the consumer market. Contractor and industrial supply houses are more likely to have it, or you can order it directly from the company’s website.

        According to the results of one test of penetrant oils I have seen on the web, the very best was a 50/50 mixture of ATF and acetone, which you can mix yourself at home. The acetone will limit the types of storage container that you can use, however (as it will melt most plastics).

      • 0 avatar
        highway40

        Another +1 for Kroil. I got a coupon/ad at work for buy one can of Aerokroil get one free and it has saved me countless aggravation working on suspension components here in the rust strewn midwest.
        A couple squirts between the stuck rim and the rotor, wait a few minutes and a good kick on the inside of the tire knocks the wheel right off. Make sure you clean any oil off the rotors and put some anti seize on the mating surfaces.

    • 0 avatar
      doctor olds

      PB Blaster works great!

  • avatar
    vvk

    > Loosen the lug nuts, drive it back and forth a few feet

    While this statement is naive and very funny, you have the right idea here.

    Instead of “driving back and forth a few feet” (LOL), drive in circles around a parking lot with the wheel in question on the outside of the turn. In your case, the rear right wheel must be on the outside, so drive counter clockwise, turning left. Ideally you should have a helper watching you while you do this. You will need to get up to 20-30 mph, sometimes more, before the wheel pops loose. Once it happens, the helper should shout for you to stop the car. You should feel it pop but it is safer with a helper.

    In my experience, if using a BFH does not do the trick, this method is the only thing that will work. The few times I have had to do it, it took quite a big of speed to break the wheel loose.

    Next time you install your wheels, cover the wheel where it contacts the hub with anti-seize or bearing grease. This way it will never happen again.

  • avatar
    sean362880

    Yeah, I’ve had this problem too. I ended up using a 6-foot length of 1.5″ pipe. Duct tape some towels on to all of the metal surfaces, and pry! Compared to a sledgehammer, this reduces the risk of denting anything, and it won’t hurt the tire.

    Chemical solutions exist as well, besides WD-40.

  • avatar

    Rent a big gear puller. One whose jaws can get bigger than the wheel. Let the air out of the tire and break the bead so you can get the gear puller’s jaws on the wheel.

    • 0 avatar
      geggamoya

      I’ve had to use these with brake discs. Also needed WD40 and a sledgehammer. Cursing and cigarettes might also have been involved.

      Once you remove the wheel “With Violence, God’s help and Vaseline*” as my friend used to say, put some damn copper grease on the hub to keep it from sticking the next time.

      Also has image embedding been enabled recently or is this some kind of IE9 witchcraft at work?

      *anything is possible

  • avatar
    Polishdon

    This happed often to my brother’s pickup truck and my parent’s mercurys. What I had the best luck with would be Hint # 6:

    1) Loosen all lugnuts about 1/2 way. IMPORTANT ! Don’t loosen them too much or take them off !
    2) Put car back on the ground (if not already there)
    3) “Body slam” the fender above the tire with sufficient force to make the car wiggle sideways.

    Usually, after a few hits, the rim will break free.

    To prevent the from happening again, I use to put a thin coating of grease on the hub where the rim in in contact with it. (i.e. center area of the disk brake hub where the studs are.) This prevents it from sticking again.

    • 0 avatar
      friedclams

      Hey, that seems like a pretty good and low-impact solution, using the weight of the car as a lever to pop the wheel off. I’ll try that next time!

    • 0 avatar
      Beerboy12

      I like this one, good prevention advise to. I am guessing salt on the roads in winter. It might help to let a bit of air out the tyres to get the car moving more. That and most penetrating oils should work.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Option #6:

    Go to Discount Tire and make it there problem. Watch carefully from the outside of the bay to make sure they don’t screw up your car.

    Certainly will save you a lot of time.

  • avatar
    friedclams

    I’ve used #2 (the sledgehammer) technique numerous times to no ill effect, and it’s really satisfying. Put a piece of plywood or 2×4 over the wheel to protect it and give it one sharp hit. YMMV.

    I’d be scared to do #5 for fear of damaging the braking components.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    I typically use the 5 ft handle from the floor jack to pry it loose. Banging on the directly on rim won’t work. Wedge the handle behind the wheel and pull. Doesn’t take much effort.

  • avatar
    cwallace

    Hit the tire tread with a sledgehammer? If the wheel doesn’t pop off, you can drive yourself to the hospital.

  • avatar
    ktm_525

    I use a 6′ length of 4X4″ (fence post). Jack up offending wheel and take off lug nuts. Next swing post and hit the inside of the tire on the offending wheel. Pop, off she comes. The post length keeps the user in a safe postion and gives plenty of heft. To prevent in the future coat the hub in some thread lube.

  • avatar
    dvp cars

    ….to coin an old adage…….get a bigger hammer!

  • avatar
    cammark

    #3 is my go-to, always. with one or two lug nuts on but near the end of the stud.

    I am usually successful with a quick pop from an open palm on the outer most part of the tire. when that doesn’t work, a quick pop with the foot again on the outer part of the tire (most mechanical leverage there). the worst i’ve ever had needed to be kicked from underneth the vehicle. that was on a lift though and I don’t recommend trying it with only jack stands.

    doesn’t hurt to reiterate that a sturdy support system of jack stands is critical for safety for yourself and your vehicle.

  • avatar
    Jimmy7

    I haven’t done this, but…how about a scissor jack on its side against the opposite wheel and a 4×4 of the right length? Jack up the offending wheel and remove the lug nuts, put the 4×4 between the jack and the wheel to remove, and crank until it pops off?

  • avatar
    TR4

    I’d try the sledge hammer first, whacking the sidewall of the inflated tire because it’s quick and easy. Failing that, if there are holes in the rim try this: get about 2 feet of chain (or even heavy rope), pass it through the hole and make a loop around the tire. Now get a long lever (2 X 4 lumber, 2″ pipe or whatever), thread it through the loop and over on to the other side of the tire. Now you can lever the tire/rim off. Archimedes said give me a big enough lever and a fulcrum and I’ll move the world!

  • avatar

    Times like these, my Dad would turn to me an say, “Son? Go fetch Excalibur.” -which is what we called the lead sledge-hammer he’d picked up sometime in the 60s.

    You will have great success with PB Blaster or Moove it or similar, but also with a short piece of 2×4 and a reasonable-sized hammer. Jack up the back end, lay the wood flat on the inside steel edge of the rim, whack it hard with a hammer, turn the wheel and repeat. It’ll come off faster hitting outwards rather than inwards.

    The shock of the impact is usually what loosens stuff like this – think about it, you don’t push a nail in with a hammer – and the wood should stop you from bending your rim.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    Really? Really?

    I run into this all the time, with wheels and tires much much larger. Not quite sure how I break them free when I think about it, I just usually do. I think a large tire bar get used, with a tire dolly, and perhaps a huge hammer against the rim. I the hammer usually gets it done. I don’t know, I just do it.

    But really, this?

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Sufficient levels of violence get results.
    Heat the wheel with a propane torch, spend at least 10 minutes on this. Let the air down on the tire so it doesn’t overinflate on the wheel.

    Apply medieval levels of impact to the wheel but try not to damage it. Wood blocks between the hammer and foe would be a good idea.

  • avatar
    Truckducken

    Use the adjuster.

  • avatar
    jjster6

    I had a 1997 Jeep Wrangler TJ (first one in the area) that constantly had that problem. The dealer would solved it for me using the plywood and sledgehammer solution. Worked every time.

    I was just real scared about what would happen if I ever had a flat tire while off-roading. Never happened though.

  • avatar

    A good combo of #2 and #3 always work for me. Unfortunaly each of those steps should have the addition of “liberally cussing like fucking sailor” added to them.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I had a terrible experience when servicing the pads and rotors on my 01 Elantra last year – the rotors were galvanically welded to the wheel hubs.

    No amount of heat, PB Blaster, or sledgehammering would break them free. They are not bolted to the hubs.

    I ended up removing these items as a whole, along with the steering knuckles, and on one side, the lower control arm. It was $$$ and painful, requiring new wheel bearings, knuckles, etc, as well as the rotors and pads I originally needed.

    • 0 avatar
      TR4

      A machine shop with a 50 ton press might have helped you avoid buying a few parts. Of course you still would have needed to remove the stuff and take it to them…

    • 0 avatar
      Dave W

      As there was never enough metal left to turn the discs on my 02 Elantra I took to cutting slots in them with my angle grinder just short of the hub. A few quick wacks with a cold chisel then broke them right off, usually in 3 pieces. After the first couple I could do it in about 10 minutes.

  • avatar
    Stevo

    WD in WD-40 stands for “water displacement”. Not designed for stuck parts no matter what the label says. Breaker solution from an old boater newsletter: 50/50 mix of acetone and transmission fluid. Beat all commerical solutions and cheap to make. Apply, wait, repeat. Back tap the nut (tap on opposite sides of the nut at the same time with a ball peen hammer) to draw the lube mixture in. Wrench off as normal.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Yeah I was on a make/model specific blog today and they were using a light coating of WD-40 to keep specific parts of the engine a little cleaner after doing an engine degreasing. The WD-40 kept the block cleaner afterward because it allowed much of the grime to bead up and run off.

  • avatar
    sadicnd

    Call Jeremy Clarkson.

  • avatar
    Terry

    You dont need to do ANY of that(driving with wheel loose, hitting with a hammer,) etc.
    Get a “Ladyfoot Prybar”, and position the foot inside the wheel through the spokes against the brake caliper or drum. Hit the end downward a few times, it’ll pop right off. I do this every day at work.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    Hammer and chisel on the nut. Or power tools (angle grinder/drill).To get the wheel off the hub if it’s stuck, hit the rubber , not the rim, with a sledgehammer from the inside of the wheel. Steel wheels can usually take a lot of force, but not to the outer rim, it can be dented.
    I had to drill a bolt out of an alloy on a Renault I owned. Wouldn’t nudge with a 6 foot pole. The bolts that came off ‘easy’ on that car I still needed a 3 foot pole to get off.

  • avatar
    jtk

    On a somewhat related issue, is it acceptable to use anti seize on the lug nut studs? I recently had one that wouldn’t come loose with my cordless impact wrench (usually can do it) or breaker bar, and I ended up breaking the stud with the breaker bar + a 12-inch pipe (“the family pipe”),

    I’ve always thought you weren’t supposed to use anything on lug nuts, but I don’t know where I heard that.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      Using a lubricant changes the torque requirements, making it easier to (over)tighten the fastener. With that said, I have used a very light coating of either grease or anti-sieze on the studs of all of my own cars for the past 25 years and have never had any problems. Usually I apply it once and it seems to remain on there for several years.

      I also religiously use a torque wrench and torque in two or three step increments (3-step for the 9/16″ studs on my 1 ton pickup). Having had a wheel almost come off and breaking two out of five studs can do that to a person!

      • 0 avatar
        jtk

        Thanks, that makes sense. I have a torque wrench, but I no longer have easy access to a garage so I had the tires rotated by a tire place last time. Obviously they just used an air impact wrench because they were on there very tight! If I had a flat, I never would have been able to budge the lug nuts with the GM wrench that’s in the trunk.

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    I just use good ole light weight oil. Grab that half empty 10W-40 bottle and fill up your squirt oil can.

    Loosen the lugs back half way. Squirt against the drum or rotor. If you can, squirt the hub. Now squirt from behind the wheel so it runs along the face of the drum or rotor. The oils will start to wick between the wheel and the drum/rotor. You may want a pan under the tire to prevent oil on your driveway.

    Jack the car up and secure with jack stands. Now find a way to lever the inside of the wheel near the drum/rotor with a long bar. Then pull on the lever in a few strong motions. Shoot more oil in the same locations. Rotate the tire and lever a new point. Keep repeating and rotating and it should come loose.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    Drive the car to Detroit, park it in front of Cobo Hall, and the wheels will be off in no time. Of course, if you want to KEEP the wheels and tires, this may not work…

  • avatar
    Exfordtech

    Soak the hub with penetrating oil. Drive to an empty parking lot, bring a lug wrench with you. Loosen each lug nut a couple of turns. Drive in a series of figure eights as fast as you can safely do so. Check to see if the wheel has come loose. If not, continue with the figure eights until the wheel is free. Tiger the lug nuts before driving home. Apply anti-seize to the hub surface to prevent recurrence.

  • avatar
    RogueInLA

    1. Chain car to immovable object (IMPORTANT, DO NOT USE PART OF THE HOUSE OR CARPORT, THEY *WILL* MOVE) Trees work well.

    2. Wrap (heavy) chain multiple times around tire you need to remove, use figure 8, or X pattern (Having several friends offering suggestions is helpful at this point). Attach chain to comealong.

    3. Attach comealong to another immovable object (See IMPORTANT note in #1)

    4. Use comealong to apply pressure to remove wheel. (IMPORTANT – WHEN BOTH IMMOVABLE OBJECTS START TO MOVE, QUIT)

    5. Buy large amount of alcohol, get friends drunk, sell friend car, offer advice on how to get wheel off.

  • avatar
    namstrap

    In my experience, WD40 has no lubricating properties. Using it inside an engine will almost surely lead to seizure.
    The best penetrating oil I’ve found so far is Moovit. The second best is GM’s own Delco version. I don’t recall ever having this problem before, but it seems that now the manufacturers are eliminating balancing problems by reducing the clearance between the wheel centres and the hubs.
    I just got a TSB from GM a few weeks ago on a lubricant they are recommending to use in that area when removing and replacing wheels, so I guess it’s not an uncommon problem.
    More on WD40: A mobile lock guy I knew loved WD40 for the work it gave him. It screwed up all the cylinders it was supposed to fix.
    I do believe it has some important uses though.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      Well, when I worked at a major Class 8 truck manufacturer, we ran trucks 24/7 on our durability test track which included a salt bath. They tested everything including lubricants, and found that actually, WD-40 is the best thing that you could use to keep the door lock cylinders working properly. The graphite-based lubricants tended to gum up the lock cylinders with too much graphite.

      • 0 avatar
        I_Like_Pie

        Yep. WD40 is also a superb lubricant/anti galling agent for aluminum. It is because of the kerosene (main ingredient in wd40).

        Spray some on a aluminum stepladder. It may not be a great steel lube, but it does a number on aluminum.

        All the folks who blurb out the same spiel about WD standing for Water Displacement and not being a lubricant sound like pull-string dolls. Heck – spit, water, or cola can be considered a lubricant depending on the application.

  • avatar
    econobiker

    Have a 2001 Elantra that this type of thing has been a problem with the front right wheel. In my case this is most likely due to one stud being replaced with an aftermarket version and different nut (thanks to PEP Boys of Rivergate in Madison, TN) so that the lug nut doesn’t have the plastic collar like the OEM version that helps hold the (fabulous shedding grey coating) OEM plastic wheel cover on. I think the plastic collars on the OEM lug nuts help keep water out of the wheel to brake caliper joint or that could be wrong.

    I have had to kick the snot out of the tire to get it to get the wheel to break free. Of course the car was supported on my “white trash” jack stands – not concrete blocks- but built up wood jack stand blocks made out of scrap 2″x4″ lumber and tossed nails salvaged from housing development dumpsters, which now have served about 22 years at this point.

    I did put some anti-seize on the rim of the hub hole of the wheel I rotated into that position – but NO anti-seize on the lugs per torque issues detailed above.

  • avatar
    9lives

    Pull off one wheel/tire. Grab it by the top, swing it with a good amount of force at the stuck wheel, alternating sides. Wheel should come right off. I think the large mass of the wheel helps pop things loose better than small “sharp” forces like hammers and sledges. Worked on a number of wheels for me.

  • avatar
    otsegony

    After 31 years of driving in the snow and rust country of Vermont and upstate NY I can tell you that the only thing that sledgehammers and screaming around parking lots with the lug nuts loosened is good for is a trip to the ER or NAPA. Don’t do it! Remember physics can be your friend or your enemy! My preferred method is treating the lugnuts with anti-seize lubricant the first time I rotate the tires and using the “blue wrench” if the wheel gets stuck to the hub. If the wheel and the hub are frozen as the OP described I get out my MAPP gas torch (MAPP is in the yellow cylinders) and heat the wheel near the hub to get it to expand. It usually takes a minute or two of heating, but it has always worked and I’ve never busted myself or the car.

  • avatar
    vtbassmatt

    I am the OP. Wow, you guys have given me a ton of options to consider – thanks! I think I’ll try the PB Blaster next (couldn’t find any at the time I wrote this question to Sajeev; my buddy has a can kicking around though). After that, some low-speed figure-8s in a nearby parking lot.

    A few commentors seemed off-track: it’s not the lugs/lug nuts that are stuck — it’s the entire wheel. I can remove all 4 lug nuts easily, but the wheel just stays put.


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