Stuck Wire Wheels

Because servicing them is a dirty job, wire wheels are perhaps the most neglected components on a British car. Many times I’ve bought or worked on a car and found it nearly impossible to remove one of the wheels! This is likely due to very hard, dried-up grease which essentially freezes the wheel on.

Before resorting to drastic measures (see below), try using a can of carburetor cleaner to dissolve dried up grease. Jack the car up, remove the knock-offs and spray well up into the cavity between the wheel hub and the splined extension, The carb cleaner will dissolve hardened grease in short order.

Be sure to place a pan or tray under the wheel to catch the dissolved grease and carb cleaner. Let the carb cleaner soak in for a few minutes and repeat the process while wiggling the wheel around to help break up hardened grease. Unless the splines have become jammed together on the extension, this will allow you to remove the wheel easily.

What to do when it’s not so easy

I gave little thought to wire wheels before buying my car; they were a new feature to me. Then I read in the owner’s manual that the splined of wire wheels should be greased periodically to prevent binding at the worst possible time: while away from home, and possibly in foul weather.

Removal of the first three wheels took a matter of minutes. A wire brush applied to the splines, careful wiping, and application of a thin coat of grease proved a simple, almost pleasant job. I was idly imagining having a flat in traffic and replacing it with the spare in next to no time. Then I tried to remove the fourth wheel. What I thought was a ‘a little snug’ turned out to be frozen tight. Pry bars, then wrecking bars proved no match. Penetrating oil applied through tubes to reach behind made no difference. Hammering with increasing intensity produced only a ringing in the ears.

The most amazing aspect of the whole experience was the lack of good advice available. I called numerous mechanics and wheel/tire specialists, only to hear that they had no special tools or equipment to solve this problem. A kind of one-upmanship emerged in the story telling of normally helpful mechanics. I heard about the guy who replaced the whole rear end, the guy who changed the tire right on the car, and the guy who put the car in a broadslide and still couldn’t get the wheel off. Lucky for him it stayed on!

Finally I told my tale of woe to an industrial mechanic. He was more at ease with heavy machinery than light sports cars, but his answer came without hesitation. Handing me a large gear puller, he said, ‘ Heat the wheel’. I told him it would ruin the paint and he assured me that was the least of my problems! ‘You can always get it painted, but if you deform it, you’ve ruined it’, he told me. ‘ It’ll come off hard all the way’, he predicted ‘but let the heat do the work for you. The axle will act as a heat sink, keeping the spline cool as the wheel expands’.

I first confirmed that the penetrating oil I had used was not flammable. Then I carefully positioned the three arms of the gear puller between the spokes. It might be necessary to disassemble the gear puller to avoid bending the spokes; this is a simple matter. Considerable pressure can then be applied very evenly, without distorting the rim, but probably still not enough to loosen the wheel.

It is recommended to clean and grease the splines twice a year.

It is recommended to clean and grease the splines twice a year. If you put on as many miles as Grace, do it more often.

The torch is the charm. Concentrate heat between the outer spokes, while turning the wheel slowly. I did this for what seemed like far too long a time and was about to give up when a sound very much like a twenty-two caliber rifle scared me to death. I jumped, yelled, and nearly dropped the torch. Even then there was no obvious evidence anything had come free. The only noticeable change was that the gear puller was not quite as tight as before. I gave it a turn or two and began heating again. A minute or two later, ‘Pop’, another sixteenth of an inch! That was the way it went all the way off.

To save all this trouble, the owner’s manual warning to remove the wheels and grease the splines regularly should not be taken lightly.

Ed. note: Your gear puller will have to have relatively fine jaws to fit behind the wheel hub. A harness can be made by securing a chain around the hub and attaching the gear puller to the chain.


'Stuck Wire Wheels' have 10 comments

  1. March 5, 2013 @ 10:06 am Sandy Wills

    I’d always had great success with high temp grease, the stuff used for brake systems, keeping the wires on my 1964 Sprite from sticking. It proved so successful that rolling the car with two of the knockoffs removed (long story) allowed both wheels to come completely off the car. And that was after the hubs had last been lubed some 23 years earlier, the last time the car was even started.


  2. March 8, 2013 @ 7:35 am Bart Miller

    During the early ’70’s in upstate NY, the problem with wire wheels was usually a lack of grease on the hub splines. The wheels would rust to the hubs and the only removal method was an acetylene torch. As the wheel and hub were already ruined from rust, their sacrifice allowed the car to survive. At that time, many sports cars were abandoned for lesser problems.


  3. March 8, 2013 @ 7:50 am David

    Just for that reason I Stopped using grease on my splines. Now all I use is aluminum or copper anti-seize. And I haven’t had a problem sense.



  4. March 8, 2013 @ 8:12 am Rob

    When I bought my MGA, its wheels were corroded to the splines. Heat and a 25 T hydraulic puller got off the first three: the fourth had to be cut off. I removed the rim by cutting the spokes, then removed the stubs. Using a high speed pnuematic cutter with a thin cutting disk, I made four cuts through the remains of the wheel , from outside through to the inside, nearly all the way through, so as not to damage the hub. I split the sections with a cold chisel and then beat each section off the hub. Surpisingly–the hub was not damaged at all. I cleaned and lubed it, installed a new wheel and have had no trouble since. (The original wheels were in poor condition, so replacement was already part of the restoration plan)


  5. March 8, 2013 @ 9:25 am Kevin T. Williams

    I had this exact problem with my E-Type about 20 years ago. To make a long story short, the wheel was so stuck that the gear puller would not budge it. I then removed the hub carrier and took the carrier with its affixed wheel to a machine shop to have the splined hub pressed off the wheel. The shop put it in, as I recall, a 20 ton press and it would still not budge. The shop recommended cutting the wheel off the hub with a torch. I reluctantly consented, figuring I would, at a minimum, have to rebuild the hub carrier and possibly need to replace the splined hub as well.

    The wheel finally came off in this fashion. The grease boiled out of the hub carrier and the “rain shield” (I think that’s what it’s called) on the hub-carrier end of the splined hub was destroyed; there was a tiny dimple in the chamfered portion of the splined hub but it did not concern me. I assumed that the seals were ruined but took a chance, put the hub carrier back on, refilled it with grease, and drove off into the sunset.

    Twenty years later and it’s still going strong. I periodically check the grease level in the hub carrier and it does not appear to recede any faster than the hub carrier on the other side, nor does grease appear to leak.

    After a period of disuse, I’ve driven my E about 4,500 miles in the last 10 months and, while I have not checked the grease level in a while, all seems to remain fine. I suspect the seals are made out of leather and that’s the reason they survived (I’ve not complained about leather seals for 20 years).

    I solved the sticking problem, BTW, by using anti-sieze compound. This is a grease with what appear to be copper particles — the British call it “Copaslip” if I’m not mistaken.


  6. March 8, 2013 @ 9:28 am jason

    Loosening the nut and a few quick turns in the driveway often loosens the wheel on the hub. In one extreme case, I’ve had to sacrifice the complete wheel when heating doesn’t work. Like a surgeon, I’ve cut the spokes and sliced the hub off the splines. Unfortunately, it was for nothing, the I hub was too far gone. Keep ’em greased is the best defense.


  7. March 8, 2013 @ 4:04 pm Mick

    During many years as a mechanic I’ve seen many wheels destroyed and worse in heavy handed attempts to free up a stuck wheel. Both wire and mag wheels that were hard to replace, but I never forgot the solution that a tire guy of all people showed me and it works every time. When he had a stuck wheel he dowsed it in a quality penetrating oil and left it for his lunch errand vehicle, whereupon he loosend the lug nuts or center knock off a couple of turns and put the wrench in the vehicle and drove it like a maniac, throwing into corners and just hurling it around that scared the cr*p out of you. Then you heard the wheels snap and rattle as all that G-force he subject the stuck wheel to let go, he would then jump out with wrench tighten them back up, retreive his lunch and go about his tire work with freed up wheels. But anti-seize every mating surface is the preventative.


  8. March 8, 2013 @ 6:35 pm Jim

    Heat with a torch and hose with cold water. Soak with “Blaster”. Take the car to an open parking lot and drive around in tight circles with the difficult wheel on the inside of the circle. Check for loosening at intervals. Worked everytime I needed to remove a stuck wheel.


  9. July 28, 2020 @ 8:31 am bobby Ricker

    I found out many years ago that what was causing this was washing the wheels and putting the car up for an extended time. So, to dry them, I drive the car around the block before putting the car in the garage. I don’t drive my wire wheel cars in the rain anymore but If I got caught, I would go drive the cars as soon as the road drys.


  10. August 23, 2020 @ 3:37 pm Michael Johnson

    Have a knockoff dayton wire wheel on my car and been trying to get the center bullet cap unloosen with a bullet tool that you use a hammer on but doest even nudge a little I think it is stripped and still havent got it off how would I go bout getting a knockoff dayton stripped center bullet cap off so I can change my tires


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