Tips for Proper Wheel Installation and Inspection

Learn the important basics of tire maintenance and installation.

Congratulations on your new ride! Now that you have your vehicle, it’s time to learn the ins and outs of maintaining your car. Perhaps one of the most important things of owning, leasing, and even renting a vehicle is knowing how to install wheels on your auto. Having this skill in your back pocket will save you a lot of hassle and grief if you get a flat tire in an area where help is not readily available. But, with a spare tire stowed conveniently in your trunk, you can install the wheel on your own and be on your way in no time. 

So if you’ve never installed a wheel on a car or need a refresher, this article is for you.

The need for proper wheel installation

First, some basics. It’s important that the wheels of your vehicle are properly installed not only to ensure proper vehicle operation, but for the safety of you (the driver), your passengers, and other vehicles on the road. A poor tire installation might lead to a wheel-off accident—an incident when a car wheel is loose or not connected to the vehicle and literally comes off while driving. Some of the most common causes of wheel-offs usually pertain to improperly installed or loose bearings and fasteners. Wheel fasteners become loose over time, particularly if they are not installed correctly, and bearings have been known to fail because of improper installation, lack of lubricant, or under or overtightening. Since they keep your tires in place (and deal with a lot of force in the process), it's important to keep vehicle fasteners clean and in good working order.

Important steps of wheel installation and inspection

While knowing how to properly install a tire is important, wheel inspection is critical for accurately mounting a tire and rim and preventing the potential for wheel-offs. Below are some important steps of wheel installation and inspection:

  • Removal of debris

    The wheel’s surface should be inspected thoroughly for any rust or debris, which can hamper the clamping force during wheel installation, on the mating surfaces. It’s also important to examine mounting surfaces, the surface inside the wheel hub, and the mating plate on the wheel back. Use a stiff wire brush to remove debris or dust and dirt. For wheels on older vehicles, pay attention to any excess powder coating while mounting the wheel and check for cracks and rust.
  • Inspection of the surfaces

    After ensuring that mounting surfaces are clean, it’s time to check for damage like flange wear and corrosion, or irregularities and bending in the bead seat. You should also check the disc wheel and look for cracks between bolt holes. Stud holes should be perfectly round, so if they are elongated, that means the stud is stretched out and not safe to use. Experts recommend inspecting your tires daily, and always before mounting a wheel to make sure the hub is clean.
  • Snugging lug nuts by hand

    Before applying torque, it’s important to snug the lug nuts by hand in the proper pattern. Make sure to prevent cross-threading of lug nuts (or the accidental creation of new bolt threads, creating an improper fit) to ensure fasteners and wheels are properly centered and to prevent any damage to threads. Both threads and studs should be in good condition and adhere to size requirements for the lug nuts and wheels being used.
  • Torque according to spec

    In this final step, using the proper tools to apply appropriate torque is crucial for any wheel installation. It’s OK to use a power tool to tighten the lug nuts, but do not use an impact wrench for the final torque. Instead, use a properly calibrated tool, like a torque wrench, designed for this kind of task.

Proper wheel installation, inspection, and maintenance is crucial to the safety of any operating vehicle. If you want to take the guesswork out of wheel installation, consult a certified technician by requesting an appointment any AAA Owned Auto Repair Centers near you. Or, find a AAA Approved Auto Repair Facility in your neighborhood. AAA Members save 10% on labor costs, up to $75, and receive a 24-month/24,000-mile warranty on parts and labor.