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Say I'm changing a flat tire on the side of the road and I lose the lugnuts to a wild bear. (Okay, it doesn't have to be a bear. Just say they fall into the storm sewer.)

Short 4 lugnuts, how do I get home?

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You definitely don't want to hack a replacement for lugnuts, since it's a major safety issue. What you really need is more lugnuts.

Luckily, you have some! Take some off the other wheels, and evenly distribute them between all four wheels. Since most consumer vehicles have 4-6 nuts on each (heavier vehicles tend to have more), you should be missing two at most from any wheel. Any you're missing two from, make sure the missing nuts aren't adjacent around the wheel.

This should be fine as long as you aren't at maximum capacity for your vehicle (weight, not number of passengers). I wouldn't do this while towing or hauling anything, for example, and I'd probably try to stay below highway speed.

To be honest, unless you have another vehicle at home, I'd recommend first driving to the store to get some more lugnuts. Either way, take it nice and easy, and get some more nuts to replace them as soon as possible.

Note: If you have a very old vehicle (40+ years or so), the lugnuts on the left side wheels may be threaded differently from the ones on the right. If that's the case, you might just want to call someone for a ride, since you'd only have half the normal number of nuts on each wheel on the affected side.

Note: You should probably also do something about the bear before removing the other lugnuts. You don't want to lose them, too. And pick up some bear mace or something after you get it fixed.

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  • Aren't there 5 lug nuts per wheel? At least where I'm from, I'm fairly certain (95%) that there are 5 lug nuts per wheel. – Justin Apr 24 '15 at 17:56
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    @Quincunx Most consumer vehicles have four or five per wheel (I think five is probably more common). The OP said he lost his lugnuts and said he was short four, so that's what I went with. For a five-nut wheel, I'd do the same, but on the wheel with only three, make sure the missing ones aren't adjacent. And go straight to the store. – TIO Begs Apr 24 '15 at 18:06
  • Six per wheel is not unusual, especially on larger vehicles - SUVs, pickups, &c. – jamesqf Apr 24 '15 at 19:21
  • @jamesqf Yea, that's true. In any case, you want to redistribute the nuts you have over the wheels as evenly as possible. If in doubt, just call someone for a ride instead. – TIO Begs Apr 24 '15 at 19:35
  • Is there any difference between front and rear wheels? Presumably the front wheels would have more horizontal pressure from steering than the rear ones? – jcsanyi Apr 24 '15 at 21:30

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