Monday, May 20, 2024 Detailed Auto Topics
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When folks see a problem, seeking a solution is natural. Often the remedy is as bad as the malady. Wheel locks may slow a thief, but they also create a new set of responsibilities.

What are wheel locks?

A determined thief will get the wheels, with or without locks

Appealing wheels make a vehicle more attractive to buyers. Car makers install wheels that enhance the appearance of vehicles they build. Unfortunately, they also attract those who would rather steal than work to buy their own. Stolen wheels are also easy to trade for money. To help prevent wheel theft, many manufacturers install locking devices. Thieves respond with tools to defeat the locks. No locking device will stop a determined thug, but they may slow them a bit.

How do wheel-locks work?

Locks work by making it difficult to remove them, without a key. Wheel locks come in many varieties. Normally they replace one of the standard lug nuts with a lock, requiring a special tool to remove. For instance a popular lock does not have hex sides for a wrench to grip. Instead, they machine a groove into the face of the lug. A tool with a matching pattern fits the groove and allows a wrench to remove the lock. One on each wheel means a standard lug wrench will not remove the wheel without the key.

As with any security device, methods exist to get around the key. Thieves are very good at removing locks. Criminals remove a set of wheels with locks almost as fast as without.

Problems with wheel locks

Wheel locks are more likely to cause rather than prevent a problem

The good news is, locks make wheels more difficult to remove. The bad news is the same. Many people are unaware the vehicle has locking lugs, until they need to remove the wheel. This presents quite a problem. Without the key or a tool made to remove the lock, we cannot remove the wheel. In a parking lot, with a flat tire, is no place to learn the vehicle has locking lugs.

Because people other than the owner also need to remove a vehicle’s wheels, the problem gets far worse. People who are aware that they have wheel-locks, keep the key in a place where they can find it. This is sometimes the glove box, console, a seat pocket or even in the trunk. When we have a vehicle serviced, they may remove the key. Returning it to a place other than where it originally was can prevent the owner from finding it. Worse, a careless facility may forget to replace the key. This goes undiscovered until we need to remove the wheel.

Safe guarding a wheel-lock key

Always get the wheel lock key back, when the vehicle is serviced

If a vehicle has wheel locks, a wise policy is always to hand the key to the service writer when having a vehicle worked on. When picking up the vehicle, ask for the key, the same as with the ignition key. Handing the key to the service writer prevents the technician from having to search for the key.  Getting it back after the work is done makes certain the owner knows where it is.

When the key is returned, inspect it for damage

Inspect the wheel-lock key immediately, when they return it. Wheel locks are meant for use with hand tools and not air wrenches. An impact wrench may break or distort the key so that it no longer works. A damaged key is no better than a lost key. Immediately report any damage to the service writer. Damage discovered months later is almost impossible to prove.

Alternatives to wheel lock problems

If we use wheel locks, ordering a spare key and keeping it in a secure place is a wise precaution. Even with care, keys sometimes break or wear out. Having a spare key available can also save the day, when someone misplaces the original. It can take a few days to get a replacement, so the time to order is before a problem occurs.

When a wheel-lock key is lost, most shops have tools to remove the locks. Should a flat tire occur and the key cannot be found, sometimes we may inflate it temporarily, and drive to the shop. If not, towing the vehicle may be necessary.

For some folks, wheel locks may be more trouble than they are worth.  In low crime areas, the hassle is of keeping up with the key is more than the benefit provided. Purchasing four standard lug nuts, and omitting the locks, will prevent many potential problems. Keep the locks and key in the glove box, so if the next owner wants them, they are available.

We can also temporarily install wheel locks, if traveling to a risky area, as when on vacation. All security comes with added responsibility. Wheel locks are no exception. A few simple precautions help prevent a major inconvenience.

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