How to Remove a Wheel Lock When You've Lost the Key

Tools, techniques, and tips for removing a locked wheel when the key is missing.

Wheel locks removed with tool in handAustin Lott | Capital One

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Wheel locks can be an effective way to stop thieves from snagging your rims and tires, but if you happen to lose your wheel lock key, you'll be out of luck yourself the next time you need brake work or a fresh set of tires. Fortunately, there are a few ways to get out of this jam, and depending how urgently you need to get your wheels off and how comfortable you are getting your hands dirty, you might be able to do it yourself.

Order a Replacement Key

If you know who made your wheel locks, your best bet is to contact the manufacturer and order a replacement key. Some wheel lock sets come with a code that identifies them for the manufacturer so they can verify that you’re the owner. This allows them to provide you with the exact key for your locks.

Although this is probably the most simple solution, it's not always the most practical. First, of course, you have to have time to wait for a new key to come in the mail. Plus, it only works if you keep records for your locks. And if the locks were on the car when you bought it — especially if it’s used — this information might be lost.

You can also try contacting a dealership since the vehicle manufacturer could have installed the locks.

Hammer on a Socket

If ordering a replacement isn’t an option, you might be able to get your wheel locks off with a bit of force and a set of 12-point sockets. By hammering on a socket that just barely fits over the lock, you can get the 12-point steel inside the socket to dig into the metal of the lock, forming a grip that could be enough to let you twist it off.

It's important to keep in mind that this method won't work for all types of locks. Some are designed so that the exterior spins when a socket is fit over them, relying on internal contact with the key to form a connection.

Try a Wheel Lock Removal Tool

If you're nervous about hammer-smashing a standard socket over a wheel lock, you can pick up a wheel lock removal kit that offers a slightly more elegant way to release your wheel. Featuring a spiral groove that provides more bite than a standard 12-point, these sockets are also useful for removing worn and rounded lug nuts, making them a dual-purpose purchase that you might get more mileage from down the road.

Visit Your Mechanic or a Tire Shop

If you can't order a new key and aren't comfortable trying to brute-force the locks off of your wheels, you may want to visit your mechanic or a tire shop. In their line of work, missing wheel lock keys are a regular occurrence, and they will likely either have a key that fits your lock, or be able to use a removal tool to safely and quickly spin off the locks.

But be prepared to replace your locks if they’re removed this way. They may be damaged and, if they are, probably won’t be usable for protecting your wheels.

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Benjamin Hunting
Benjamin Hunting is a writer and podcast host who contributes to a number of newspapers, automotive magazines, and online publications. More than a decade into his career, he enjoys keeping the shiny side up during track days and always has one too many classic vehicle projects partially disassembled in his garage at any given time. Remember, if it's not leaking, it's probably empty.