Piston Slap: The Wheel That Won't Budge

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

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?



*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 Whack the tire tread with a hammer, not a rubber mallet.

Hint No wait, make that a sledge-hammer. The biggest one you can find and safely use, of course.

Hint Lay on your back and kick the tire’s sidewall. A lot. I mean kick the living shit out of that thing, son!

Hint 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 Drive slowly with all lug nuts SLIGHTLY loose and quickly activate the E-brake.

I’m not especially thrilled to do 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.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

More by Sajeev Mehta

Join the conversation
2 of 68 comments
  • Otsegony Otsegony on Sep 23, 2011

    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.

  • Vtbassmatt Vtbassmatt on Sep 23, 2011

    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.

  • Dave M. IMO this was the last of the solidly built MBs. Yes, they had the environmentally friendly disintegrating wiring harness, but besides that the mechanicals are pretty solid. I just bought my "forever" car (last new daily driver that'll ease me into retirement), but a 2015-16 E Class sedan is on my bucket list for future purchase. Beautiful design....
  • Rochester After years of self-driving being in the news, I still don't understand the psychology behind it. Not only don't I want this, but I find the idea absurd.
  • Douglas This timeframe of Mercedes has the self-disintegrating engine wiring harness. Not just the W124, but all of them from the early 90's. Only way to properly fix it is to replace it, which I understand to be difficult to find a new one/do it/pay for. Maybe others have actual experience with doing so and can give better hope. On top of that, it's a NH car with "a little bit of rust", which means to about anyone else in the USA it is probably the rustiest W124 they have ever seen. This is probably a $3000 car on a good day.
  • Formula m How many Hyundai and Kia’s do not have the original engine block it left the factory with 10yrs prior?
  • 1995 SC I will say that year 29 has been a little spendy on my car (Motor Mounts, Injectors and a Supercharger Service since it had to come off for the injectors, ABS Pump and the tool to cycle the valves to bleed the system, Front Calipers, rear pinion seal, transmission service with a new pan that has a drain, a gaggle of capacitors to fix the ride control module and a replacement amplifier for the stereo. Still needs an exhaust manifold gasket. The front end got serviced in year 28. On the plus side blank cassettes are increasingly easy to find so I have a solid collection of 90 minute playlists.