Lug nut blues



As Maine comedian Bob Marley would say, “Looky, looky, lissy, lissy.” If you are an old guy, like me, who likes to drive his pickup on the logging roads in October looking for a bird to shoot, check your lug nuts before you strike out.

Let’s say that you are somewhere on the newly graded Blanchette Road north of Musquacook Lake as the autumn sun sinks in the West. You’ve got a couple of birds for the pot. Country music on the radio. It’s been a good day. Up ’til now.

Suddenly, flump. flump, flump. The right front tire is flat as a Krusteaz pancake. No need to hit panic mode about whether you will be able to find the jack, or figure out how to lower that mud-encrusted spare that General Motors ingeniously suspended under your truck frame. No sir, you’ll never get to that point in the backwoods tire-changing regimen. Why? Because, unless you are Charles Atlas, you will never be able to loosen the lug nuts!

If your truck is a modern pickup, it is probably equipped with these shiny, smart-looking chrome lug nuts. If they have been there a few years, the moisture has likely gotten between the hard metal base and the chrome cover so that they expand into a bastard size that defies both the China-made toy lug wrench or your best metric socket set. If you are lucky enough to get the lug wrench onto the enlarged lug nut, you will never be lucky enough to separate the lug nut from the wrench — if, indeed, you are blessed with enough muscle to actually turn the lug nut. Standing on the lug wrench handle and even jumping up and down will be an act in futility.

There is a way, however. If you don’t own a battery-operated impact driver with appropriate sockets, do as I did. Include in your emergency tool kit a hefty plumber’s pipe wrench and a 6-foot length of sturdy pipe with enough diameter to fit over the handle of the pipe wrench.

Don’t worry about looking foolish. In a back woods breakdown, appearances don’t matter. Function is everything. (Somebody tell Detroit). You’ll also need a socket with some length to it, so there is room to tighten the pipe wrench to it. Once the pipe wrench is tight on the socket, insert the length of pipe over the handle of the pipe wrench and grip the upper end of the long pipe. Now apply pressure and presto! Let the law of physics teach that rascally high-fashion lug nut that there is more than one way to undo the handiwork of that sadistic kid at the local garage where you had your tires rotated. You know the one. The skinny lad with the smirk who is armed with the heavy duty air-powered impact wrench.

You think I’m the only guy with the lug nut blues? Here is E.B. in Boyertown, Pa.:

“I’ve had two flat tires in the last three years, one on each of my cars. Both times, I found it impossible to remove the lug nuts, even with a large star wrench I keep in each car. Both times I had to call AAA and the young guys that came out almost injured themselves loosening the nuts. Finally I bought telescoping lug wrenches and, with the extended leverage, the nuts can be budged. I mentioned this to the tire dealer and my regular mechanic. They both said that they had to tighten the nuts to specifications.”

What’s with this? It didn’t used to be difficult to change a flat tire.

Happy trails.

V. Paul Reynolds

Columnist at Ellsworth American
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

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