Shiny Lug Nuts: Overtightening Thereof?

Ever notice how, when you take your car in for inspection, it always comes back with the wheel lug nuts tightened beyond the ability of mere mortals? I think it’s because they have their pneumatic impact wrenches turned up to 11, just to make sure the nuts never, ever come loose and expose them to liability.

Broken wheel lug with attached SocketLug
Broken wheel lug with attached SocketLug

Found this yesterday while walking back from the store with two gallons of milk. The shiny bit in the background is labeled SocketLug, which is evidently a trademark associated with Gorilla (but with no Web presence), and sports patent number 5797659. The stud in the front evidently snapped out of somebody’s wheel, probably flush with the surface. Gonna be trouble getting that out!

The lug is a threaded 9/16-inch steel stud, with a root area of maybe 0.18 square inches. Let’s suppose the yield strength is 100 kpsi, so breaking that thing required 18 k pounds. The thread looks to be 18 TPI for a 1.8 degree helix angle; call it 3%. If they lubed the threads and lug (ha!), letting us assume 20% friction, then the wrench was applying 700 pounds at a 9/32″ moment arm: call it 2.5 k lb-in or 30 k lb-ft of torque. Pretty impressive, given that typical pneumatic wrenches weigh in at around 500 lb-ft of torque.

Which says it really wasn’t the wrench doing the breaking, which should also be obvious because it was lying at the side of the road rather than on the shop floor. Even a 1000 lb-ft wrench would create only 5% of that yield load in the stud, so something else was wrong.

That orange patch in the upper left looks like rust in a crack, with the gray area in the lower right revealing the final fault. Maybe the shop monkey (or owner?) managed to whack it while installing the tire, create a small crack that let in the usual NYS road salt, and after a season or two the stud failed after being cranked tight once again.

There’s likely another four on that wheel: safety in numbers! Unlike those old Citroens with but a single nut securing each wheel…