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What is a Wheel Wrench?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated Jan 28, 2024
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A wheel wrench is a tool designed to remove the lug nuts from a vehicle's wheel. Often referred to as a jack handle or a lug wrench, the wheel wrench is a basic automotive tool. There are several types of wheel wrenches to choose from. The most basic type resembles the letter "L" and often has a screwdriver-like end used to pry a hubcap loose. The four-way wheel wrench resembles a cross and has four different size sockets to accommodate a variety of lug nut sizes.

Prior to the age of plastic and rubber bumpers, the jack handle served to operate the bumper jack as well as to remove the lug nuts. With the disappearance of steel bumpers, the need to operate the bumper jack no longer applies. The wheel wrench is a stand-alone tool in most instances. With the need to jack the vehicle gone, many wheel wrenches have been downsized. The shorter wrench means less leverage to break sticky lug nuts loose.

There are Society of Automotive Engineers sizes available, as well as metric sizes in a wheel wrench. When purchasing a tool, research the vehicle to ascertain the type of wrench required to fit the lug nuts. When a vehicle is equipped with custom wheels, often a standard wheel wrench will not reach the lug nuts. The lug nuts may be deeper within the wheel requiring a deep socket or the lug nuts may be a different size than stock requiring a different size wrench.

In many cases, the wheel wrench may be a two-part design. The lug nut socket may be a lightweight steel stamping with a provision to place the jack handle through it to turn the lug nuts loose. With this type of wrench, a change in lug nut size or style will nearly always require the purchase of a new wrench. The original wrench must be retained to operate the vehicle's jack.

Many companies offer combination wheel wrenches that fold up and store easily in the vehicle. This type of wrench is useful when storage space is at a premium or when the vehicle participates in car shows. Custom wheel wrenches are available in milled aluminum and anodized in a myriad of colors to off set the vehicle from the others. The wheel wrench is a basic tool that is often overlooked until the need to use it arises. It is a good practice to know where it is located prior to needing to use it.

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