What Are Wheel Locks On A Car And How Do They Work?


Spend enough time researching aftermarket car parts like wheels and tires and you’re bound to come across wheel locks. “What are wheel locks on a car?” you might ask. These specialized lug nuts can help you prevent thieves from stealing your wheels and can also give your ride an upgraded look.

Did you know that lug nuts do more than just prevent theft? They can also potentially earn you an insurance discount as well as give your ride a unique look. Who wouldn’t want to customize their wheels to let everyone know you’re the one behind the wheel?

Keep reading to learn more about wheel locks. Once you’re done reading this article, you’ll know whether or not wheel locks are the perfect addition to your favorite set of wheels.

What are wheel locks?

Wheel locks are lug nuts specifically designed for a unique tool keyed to that particular set. Like regular lug nuts already installed on your vehicle, these custom lug nuts keep your wheel properly aligned on the vehicle as you drive down the road.

The catch with wheel locks is that you need to ensure you have the key with you if you ever want to change the tires or wheels. That means you’ll need to hand over your wheel lock at every tire shop visit.

How do wheel locks work?

Wheel locks work like any other lug nut, except for the fact that you need a special key to remove them. Most wheel locks will come with the key you need to remove them. You can easily store this key in your vehicle’s glove box or set it inside your tool chest in an easily accessible spot.

Many other vehicle accessories use specialized tools for installation. For example, you might need a specific Allen key to install roof rack bars on your vehicle. Special tools come in handy for various other automotive parts, including both stock and aftermarket products.

Why do you need wheel locks?

There are many reasons why you might need wheel locks. Let’s take a closer look at each to learn more about the benefits of installing wheel locks on your vehicle.

Theft Prevention

Most car owners install wheel locks to prevent theft. Whether it’s the lug nuts themselves, the wheels, or even the tires, wheel locks can help keep your car intact if you’re worried about thieves.

In some cases, a thief can have a similar enough wheel lock key that can remove your wheels and tires successfully. However, the idea is that with a specialized set of wheel locks, you can at least slow the thief down enough to call the authorities or scare them away before they make a successful pinch.


Believe it or not, wheel locks can actually help protect your wheels. Factory lug nuts are not often the most well-made component on the vehicle, and can actually damage your aftermarket wheels if you’re not careful.

With wheel locks that have the proper contact shape, you can easily protect your wheels in more ways than one.

Insurance Discount

Wheel locks may not necessarily be at the top of the list for insurance companies when it comes to anti-theft devices. However, wheel locks do act as a type of anti-theft device if you consider that the specialized key you need to remove them is no different than the key you need to unlock the door and drive away.

If you cover your aftermarket wheels and tires with your insurance policy, wheel locks can help protect your investment. Plus, even if it’s a few dollars off your policy premiums each month, it’s well worth the time and effort to install wheel locks on your car.


The durability of the wheel locks you choose will depend on several things, including the material, finish, and quality.

Most wheel locks are an alloy of some kind, though the more expensive variants could be made from a single metal. While alloys lack some strength, many wheels are made from alloy metals and they hold up fine under the weight of your vehicle.

The quality of the wheel locks you purchase will have probably the biggest impact on how durable they are.

Higher quality wheel locks may fetch a higher price, but they should last you for at least five to ten years. Unless you’re taking your wheels on and off every week, you can often get by with a single set of wheel locks.

Easy to use

Aside from the fact that you need a special wheel lock key to remove wheel locks from your vehicle, wheel locks are no more than fancy lug nuts. They’re often just as easy to use as a regular lug nut set, whether you’re taking the wheel off or putting it back on.

Most wheel lock keys come in standard sizes that allow you to attach them to a breaker bar. Once you break the lug nuts loose, you can use the wheel lock key alone to spin them off the rest of the way. The same goes for mounting wheels.

Factors to consider when buying wheel locks

When purchasing wheel locks, you’ll want to ensure they fit with your vehicle, are made from quality materials, offer reliable security, and are at a price you can afford. You may also want to weigh brand reputation and ease of use before purchasing wheel locks for your vehicle.


To be as safe as possible when driving down the road, you’ll need to make sure your wheel locks fit securely against the surface of your wheel once they’re tightened down. You may need to purchase a specific seat type to achieve this union.

Common wheel lock seat types include flat, mag, conical, spherical, and extended. If you’re not sure which seat type fits with your vehicle, you can look this up in your owner’s manual or ask your local dealership or tire shop.


Car manufacturers refrain from reinventing the wheel when it comes to lug nut sizes. You can easily look up which lug nut size fits your vehicle, either on the internet or in your owner’s manual.

If you’re feeling extra creative, you can take an extra lug nut to the hardware store and find a piece of all-thread that it threads onto.

When you measure your lug nut size, you’ll actually be measuring the stud it sits on. These studs are most often SAE sizes, including 7/16, 1/2, 9/16, and 5/8. Jot this size down as you’ll need it when you order your new wheel locks.


Most wheel locks are made from high-grade aluminum or solid steel. They are durable like most lug nuts, built to withstand the impressive forces that turn your car’s wheel and keep it attached to your vehicle.

In addition to a metal body, many aftermarket wheel locks will include a nylon insert that ensures a tighter fit. You can find wheel locks with various kinds of exterior treatments, from anodizing to chrome.


Wheel locks can provide an element of security, especially if you have expensive wheels and tires installed on your vehicle. As long as someone knows how to change a tire, they can potentially steal your car’s wheels out from under it.

That statement isn’t true if you have a set of wheel locks on your vehicle, unless, of course, the thief owns a wheel lock key identical to your own.


Most wheel locks come as a set, with the number of lug nuts necessary to fit your car’s bolt pattern as well as the key. You can spend as little or as much as you want on a set of wheel locks, depending on quality, color, performance, and customizability.

For example, most basic wheel lock kits cost around $30-$50. However, you can easily spend over $100 or more if you want to up the ante. Custom colors and configurations will only increase how much you spend on wheel locks.

Ease of use

Standard lug nuts require a specific size socket, breaker bar, and some elbow grease to remove. However, sometimes finding the right socket size can be a pain, especially if you have to walk back and forth from your wheel to your toolbox.

Wheel locks offer ease of use because you know exactly which socket to use to remove them. Having this tool handy and ready to go can help you save time if you need to remove and replace your wheel locks.

Brand Reputation

If you’re looking for the best wheel locks on the market, McGard is often a popular brand that has a stellar reputation. This company is actually often referenced as the first to produce wheel locks as we know them today.

McGard wheel locks are often customizable and well-made. You can purchase them in several finishes of various colors. While McGard wheel locks are one of the more expensive variants on the market, they do carry a reputation unmatched by many other inferior brands.