NuBrakes Blog Wheel locks (and what you need to remove them) Image

Wheel locks (and what you need to remove them)

What is a wheel lock?

Wheel locks, also sometimes called tire locks, rim locks, or anti-theft lug nuts, are designed to deter thieves from stealing your eye-catching alloy wheels. Unlike regular lug nuts, which share a typical hexagonal shape, wheel locks are manufactured with a unique pattern on the head that requires a special socket, or “key,” to remove. (In actuality, there are a limited number of patterns used by manufacturers, so chances are, your wheel lock and key aren’t totally unique to your vehicle.) 

A set of wheel locks includes four nuts, one for each wheel, and a single matching socket key. The idea is that even if a would-be tire thief manages to remove all of the other lug nuts from your wheel, the locking nut won’t budge. Rather than taking the time to force it off, and risk getting caught in the process, a smart thief will simply move on to another vehicle--or better yet, find a new vocation.

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Do all cars come with wheel locks?

Many newer vehicles now come with wheel locks as a standard feature. However, some car owners also choose to buy them after market when purchasing a new set of wheels or installing custom rims. You can usually spot an anti-theft lug nut by its singular appearance compared to the rest of the nuts (or bolts) holding your tire on. In some instances, though, a wheel lock will be masked by a removable plastic cover to give it a uniform appearance. 

How to remove a wheel lock

Because most wheel lock keys are designed to fit the socket end of a standard tire iron (the L- or X-shaped socket wrench used to loosen and tighten lug nuts on a wheel), removing a wheel lock is pretty much the same as removing a standard lug nut. Tire irons, also called lug wrenches, come with a socketed end (or ends, in the case of a cross-shaped tire iron) designed to grip the head of a fastener as you rotate to loosen the nut. To remove the anti-theft lug nut from each tire, a mechanic will simply change out the usual socket head for the patterned one that corresponds with your set of wheel locks.  

It’s worth noting that anti-theft lug nuts are intentionally designed to be difficult to remove without the corresponding key. While many mechanics can work around a lost wheel lock key using a standard socket and hammering it in against the wheel lock, the nut can still be difficult to budge without damaging the socket or the wheel itself. Therefore, be sure to have your key on hand for any car maintenance - including brake pad replacement and tire rotations - that requires a technician to remove the wheel. Otherwise, they might recommend delaying the work until you can order a replacement key.

>>Tip:Have your wheel lock key handy whenever engaging the help of a technician for repairs and maintenance requiring wheel removal. Otherwise, you might need to delay repairs until you can order a replacement key (or risk damaging the wheel if you try to force it off with an ill-fitting socket).  

Where would I find my wheel lock key?

If you’ve never used your wheel lock key, it’s likely to be hanging out where the manufacturer originally stored it. Try checking the following common places:

  • In the glove compartment
  • Under the spare tire, possibly in a separate compartment
  • In the trunk, possibly under the carpet or in one of the separate compartments
  • Under the driver’s seat

If you have used your lock key since purchasing your vehicle, try checking in the usual places, such as cup holders, door compartments, center arm rest, seat-back pockets, etc. 

What to do if you lose your wheel lock key

Still can’t find your wheel lock key? You may need to order a new one from the dealer or manufacturer. To do this, you will need the code that corresponds with your particular key. Generally, you can expect to pay between $20 and $120 per set.

If your wheel locks came with the vehicle, you can usually find the key code in the owner’s manual. You may also be able to bring your car to the dealer and have them remove the locks with a master key set.

If you purchased your wheel locks separately, you should be able to find the key code in the box or bag your set came in. If you know the brand, make, or model of your wheel lock, you’ll likely be able to find and order a replacement key online. Otherwise, you may need to have your wheel lock removed by a trusted mechanic. Just be sure to call ahead to see if they are able to help you out!

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