Why Wheel Locks are Not Necessary and How to Remove Them Without a Key.
If you’ve had the car for a few years, chances are the mechanic or yourself, changing over the wheels will end up with a stripped key and will have to force the bolt out using expert techniques like hammering and striking.
It wasn’t that long ago when most affordable vehicles came standard with black steelie wheels and crap-tastic plastic hubcaps that seemed to break and fall off whenever driving over a slightly bumpy road.
Today these wheels seem to be relegated to winter duties and bottom of the rung base models that (thankfully) aren’t as common as they used to be.
While they do shave some weight in most cases and don’t turn into that awful shade of rust—alloy wheels or more commonly "rims" do their part by making an unattractive car look like something that you don’t have to be embarrassed about.
It is one of the most common ways in which people can jazz up the appearance of that 3 year old Civic or Corolla without breaking the bank. Sure if you want those forged lightweight BBS rims – savings go out the window, but those are overkill unless you autocross or track every weekend, at which point rims are the last thing you will need.
Regardless of whether your car has factory or aftermarket alloys, many of them(the more expensive ones at least) will be sold with some form of locking wheel bolts or nuts. Basically one of the 4 or 5 bolts on the wheel will have a unique pattern on it that a standard socket will not fit. These bolts come with a matching key that fits into the aforementioned standard socket and allows the owner to remove the locking bolt.
I have had these wheel locks on the last 3 of my cars—and I absolutely hate them.
They are a pain in the butt! More of a headache then they’re worth. Especially if like me, you live in Canada, and have to swap between winter and summer wheels twice a year—every year.
The keys to the locks frustratingly seem to be made of a softer material than the bolt and usually wear out over time. So if you’ve had the car for a few years, chances are, the technician or yourself changing over the wheels will end up with a stripped key and will have to resort to forcing the bolt out using expert techniques like hammering and striking.
Keys can get lost, and it’s difficult to get replacements, resulting in having to take the locks of all the wheels and replace them with new locks.
Taking a car in for what should be a routine wheel swap can end up taking double the time and double the dollars in labour costs. Not something any consumer who has already waited in line to get the wheels swapped would be happy with.
“But those wheels locks will stop a would-be criminal from taking my wheels, so I feel safer knowing they are on there, protecting my investment” you might be thinking.
Well, as is more often the reality, anti-theft devices such as wheel locks and even alarms are nothing more than a deterrent—a minor nuisance for a car thief.
Presuming you live in a city of average size, when was the last time you actively stopped what you were doing to investigate a blaring car alarm? Food for thought.
If a thief really wants your wheels, he or she will get them locks or not. It will just take them an extra 30 seconds.
I had this issue just this past fall when I brought my car into a local shop to get my winter wheels put on. Shop owner calls me. “Sorry sir your key is stripped and we only got one wheel off, do you give me permission to force off the other bolts?”
Not having much of a choice I told them to proceed, and further to this, the shop didn’t carry my specific wheels bolts. “Perfect!” It should be clear why I hate wheel locks and this was only the latest problem I've had with them.
I bought 4 new standard non-locking bolts and life is better without them.
If you find yourself in a situation where you have lost the key to your wheel locks, there is an easy way to remove them, apart from buying a special socket specifically made for this purpose. In a nutshell, you hammer on a standard socket that just fits over the locking bolt or nut and then using a lug wrench slowly twist it off.
Famous You-Tuber Eric the Car Guy dedicates his channel to the art of auto repair and helping the DIY'er do almost everything with basic tools and a little bit of elbow grease. Wondering how to take off the front bumper on your 99 Acura Integra? No sweat, Eric shows you exactly how it's done.
Watch as Eric shows us how to remove locking wheels bolts using just a standard socket set and lug wrench. And as Eric states in the video, please do not use this for any sort of criminal activity, as we definitely do not condone it. This is purely for those emergency situations, where you have lost, misplaced or like me just plain tired of the extra hassle and inconvenience that these tiny locking bolts bring.
Having worked in the automotive industry in many roles for over 15 years and currently the Content Strategist for Wheels.ca - Kunal's obsession with cars goes back to his early childhood. Even now his insatiable thirst to be in the know of anything with wheels and a motor continues, and will likely never fade. His idea of bliss is the open road, good tunes and a manual gearbox. Kunal is a member of AJAC (Automobile Journalists Association of Canada)