Swapping My BMW’s Wheel Bolts for Studs and Lug Nuts Made Life Easier
This cheap mod made for easier wheel swaps, more peace of mind, and improved aesthetics.
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Despite not offering really any kind of performance improvement, some modifications are still worth the time and money. One of these is installing wheel studs on cars that didn't come with them from the factory, such as every BMW basically ever, and many other European cars. Studs make swapping wheels a breeze, as well as offer some peace of mind when the G forces increase. Though, they do also have some drawbacks.
Recently I installed them on my own 2011 BMW 128i, here's how it went, what I learned, and what to keep in mind if you're thinking of doing this modification yourself—be sure to approach at your own risk and do your own research, too.
Wheel Studs Versus Wheel Bolts
To quickly clarify, studs are the things that stick out from the car's hubs that the wheels slide onto, which are then held down with lug nuts. A wheel bolt is a stud and lug nut in one.
The most apparent reason why folks might be inclined to do this modification is because they make swapping wheels easier, including removing and reinstalling wheels for doing brake jobs, which I find myself doing a lot with fairly regular track day attendance. They also help aesthetics and make adding wheel spacers much easier than with bolts.
However, the biggest reason is repeatedly threading in and removing bolts from the hub can wear out the hub's threads, which could lead to catastrophic failure with frequent wheel swapping. Especially under the increased stress of track driving.
Using studs plays it safe by keeping something threaded into the hubs at all times, and leaving the frequent screwing and unscrewing to a part that is designed for it, especially if it has a bullet nose design which all but eliminates cross threading.
If one weren't so keen on going with this non-OEM design, it's a good idea to inspect and replace wheel bolts periodically, as well as do one's best to inspect the hubs' threads. Even the most high-quality bolts out there are generally inexpensive, so it's solid peace of mind. Companies make extended ones for wheel spacers, too.
Installing wheel studs is a breeze, but it still requires some close attention, mindfulness of how thread locker works, and proper precautions.
The way that I went about installing wheel studs that I bought from BimmerWorld was to jack the car up, safely secure it on four jack stands, and pull all four wheels off. BW's instructions called for a red thread locker—I decided to play it extra safe and let it run its entire cure time of 24 hours before reinstalling the wheels and going for a drive.
Some companies say blue thread locker is fine, and it probably is, but I dig the extra-careful approach. Sure, red thread locker will make their eventual removal a massive pain in the ass, but that's OK—more peace of mind, and it's a good excuse for my work-from-home self to sit outside and enjoy a sunny day for once. Which brings up another point: most companies seem to agree that they should be considered a wear item if you regularly track the car, so I'll report back in a year on how that goes.
Once I had the wheels removed, I grabbed some brass pipe cleaners and brake cleaner and gave the hubs' threads a good scrubbing.
Then, I put all the studs in a brake cleaner bath and wiped them off.
Next, I took a single stud and coated its hub-side threads with a light layer of red threadlocker and screwed it into the hub via a 5mm hex head socket. I tightened it down snug, and then followed up with the double-nut method.
This is threading two flange nuts or two old wheel nuts tightly together on the stud. Then, proceed to torque down the outer nut to the desired rating—because they're locked together, the entire stud spins.
BW calls for the studs to be torqued down to 40-50 foot pounds, which is an awful lot compared to other companies'. Some say 18 is fine, while others state 25. When in doubt, just go with what the instructions say. I had a hell of a time even getting mine to reach 40 foot-pounds. It took tightening the two flange nuts to at least 60 foot-pounds, which then made removing them and carrying on to the next stud a bit of a pain.
Once I had all five on each hub buttoned up, I let the car sit on the stands for a little over 24 hours. I was especially cognisant of cure time as I was heading to a track day that weekend and wanted to have all the peace of mind I could muster.
How To Make the Installation Smoother
At first, I thought snugging up all the studs in the hub and then going about torquing them individually was to be the move, but I quickly realized that in light of the thread locker's short window to torque stuff down (it takes 10 minutes to bond), I opted to do one stud at a time.
To keep the hub from spinning during torquing, at first I stuck a screwdriver between the brake caliper and the the brake rotor vents. Once I had a few studs in, though, I found it slightly easier to switch to brace a breaker bar between a few of them against the ground. The screwdriver trick is totally doable with my plain James, stock floating calipers, but it might not be possible with nicer, multi-piston fixed calipers.
Opinions vary as far as how often the studs might need retorquing. Some folks on track forums say every couple track days, some say never. What's most important, however, is to replace all five as soon as possible if one breaks, as they'll quickly fatigue and fail if not. Because of this, I bought five extra studs—and nuts, because they're cheap—to have on hand just in case.
Reinstalling the wheels the next day was a real treat. Lining up the wheel properly is so much less of a pain with studs, and the fact that they're a bullet-nose design makes cross-threading or damaging the studs or nuts nearly impossible. Then, after a few hundred miles and one track day, they haven't backed out at all.
They also look so good with my Apex ARC-8 wheels mounted up, I can't wait to see how they'll look with my street-centric OEM 135i wheels. If the studs poke out a little too far with the factory wheels on there, I've got H&R 10mm spacers to remedy that.
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