A wheel nut can go missing due to wheels being mounted at different temperatures, not tightened down enough, or tightened too much. Over time, the loosened wheel nut may fall off of the wheel, but you may not notice it right away. As soon as you do notice it, the missing wheel nut should be replaced because these are part of the system that holds on the wheels to your vehicle.
Here are some of the concerns that involve missing wheel nuts:
Wheel nuts help to balance the pressure between the tires. If one wheel nut goes missing, that extra pressure is distributed between the remaining wheel nuts. If other wheel nuts are loose, chances are this extra pressure will cause them to fall off as well. It is common to lose more than one wheel nut at a time. Therefore, as soon as you notice a wheel nut missing, contact a mechanic right away to have it replaced so the pressure can be evenly distributed.
Since more pressure is being exerted on the tire, all parts of the tire feel this pressure, including the wheel bearings. More pressure can cause the wheel bearings to fail prematurely, causing an extensive repair. If you hear metal grinding on metal, you waited too long to replace your wheel nut and your wheel bearing needs to be replaced.
Another hazard with a missing wheel nut is broken rotors. Since there is more pressure on one side of the rotor than the other, there is potential for the rotor to get bent out of shape. A warped rotor can be noticed by a pulsating feeling in your brakes, or the rotor failing the next time you are driving.
Another danger of a missing wheel nut is that extra pressure will be placed on the studs. This means cornering, braking, and accelerating will put extra strain on the studs, which can cause fractures. These fractures can break, causing the wheel to fall off.
It is not a good idea to drive with a wheel nut missing. While it may not be noticeable right away, it will be noticeable over time. Pay attention to how your vehicle handles, check your tires on a regular basis, and inspect your wheel nuts. This will help you find any potential hazards before they become large problems. As soon as you notice a wheel nut missing, contact a mechanic to have it replaced right away.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as Is it Safe to Drive With a Wheel Nut Missing? and was authored by Valerie Johnston.