A lug nut is also called a wheel nut, and is used to hold the wheel securely onto the vehicle. Depending on the type of vehicle you have, you may have four, five, or six lug nuts. Some vehicles are equipped with loose wheel nut indicators, so you can catch the lug nut before it falls off. Other vehicles do not have this sensor so it is a good idea to inspect lug nuts on a regular basis to check for loose ones. If you notice a loose lug nut, you should make sure to have the lug nut tightened as soon as possible.
If it is too late, and a lug nut is already missing, here are some things to know about the dangers of driving with a missing lug nut:
Lug nuts are designed to hold a certain amount of pressure, which is why larger vehicles have more lug nuts. After you lose one lug nut, that pressure has to be distributed to the other lug nuts. Over time, this can wear down the other lug nuts on the wheel.
If you are missing a lug nut on just one wheel, there will be uneven pressure on the wheel hub. This can have an effect on the wheel bearings. The wheel bearings will have to hold more pressure than the others sides, which can cause them to wear prematurely. Repairing wheel bearings is more extensive than replacing a lug nut, so if you notice one missing, replace the missing lug nut as soon as possible.
One of the dangers of a missing lug nut is that it can cause the vehicle to wobble. Since the pressure of the vehicle is unevenly distributed, the vehicle will shake. Pressure will also be placed on the vehicle as it turns corners, brakes, or accelerates to high speeds. All of these combined can cause other lug nuts to come off, or the studs to snap. The studs are what the lug nuts attach too, and hold the wheel on. So if the stud snaps, the wheel could fall off. Normally the studs have fractures before they snap, but once the fractures get too large they will snap. This can be dangerous to you and the vehicles around you.
If you are missing a lug nut, it is important to have it replaced as soon as possible. It is potentially dangerous to drive around with a missing lug nut because of the extra pressure exerted on the wheel. This pressure can damage the wheel bearings, studs, and cause other lug nuts to fall off. These problems can lead to a wheel falling off.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as Is it Safe to Drive With a Missing Lug Nut? and was authored by Valerie Johnston.