Pull Those Stud Cips!

One of the most common issues we hear about is wheel vibrations after new tires and aftermarket alloy wheels are installed.

More often than not, the vibrations are caused by little washers attached to the brake rotor or brake drum. These locking washers are called stud clips.

These are found mostly on domestic vehicles produced by GM, Ford, Chrysler, Saturn, and even on some imports like Jaguar.

They seem innocent enough but they need to be removed before installing aftermarket wheels.

During vehicle assembly, these little clips are installed to hold the drum or rotor in place against the hub as the vehicle moves down the assembly line in the factory.

They do a great job of keeping the rotor from falling off before the caliper and brake pads are installed but once the car or truck is assembled, they serve no important function. The clamping force of the wheel and lug hardware is what keeps the assembly together after that point.

Here's what they look like on the hub. They are the small, toothed washers placed around the base of  the studs.  Notice they are only on one or two of the studs:

stud clips

They are easy to miss and if they are left on there when you install new alloy wheels, they will cause big problems! Any rust or debris on the surface should also be cleaned off with a wire brush. This rotor surface needs a little bit  of prep work before a wheel can be installed on it.

Although they are pretty thin (approx 2-3mm), they will keep the wheel mounting pad from sitting flat on the brake rotor or brake drum. Typically the factory only uses one or two on each hub so the flat mounting pad of the wheel will only make contact with one side of the hub once the lug nuts are torqued. It will feel like the wheel is mounted securely but once you start driving on it, the forces on the wheel from rotating, turning and braking will cause the wheel to rock back and forth on those stud clips.

Imagine trying to stand and balance on a flat metal disc that's sitting on two golf balls. You would have a difficult time staying balanced as you shifted your weight back and forth across the disc wouldn't you? Now you're getting the picture right?

Since the stud clips are normally made from stainless steel, they are harder than the alloy wheel. As the wheel rocks back and forth, the stud clips will quickly dig into the back of the alloy wheel's mounting pad.

The clips actually wear round indents or recesses in the back of the wheel and the resulting gap also creates a space between the lug nuts and the lug seats on the wheel face. The lug nuts are no longer torqued tight against the wheel!

You will soon notice a vibration while you drive the vehicle, especially when you turn or when you apply the brakes. The forces on the wheels change dramatically as you turn or brake and the wheel will rock back and forth violently on the now loose lug nuts and studs.

If allowed to continue, the vibration and rocking back and forth can damage the wheel and the studs. Here's a severe example. You can see the indents from the stud clips highlighted in red, as well as the damage to the lug openings of the wheel highlighted in green. The lug holes are actually elongated and chewed up from the violent vibrations against the studs. stud clip damage

The imprints of the stud clips can be seen at the 9 o-clock and 3 o-clock positions. If driven on long enough, this could cause severe damage and even failure of the studs! Once the lug seats are damaged, the wheel is ruined. 

It is critical to remove the clips before installing any aftermarket alloy wheel.

It's a simple process to remove them. You just pry them up with a flat bladed screw driver and cut them off with tin snips or twist them off with a pair of pliers.

This important little step can save you a lot of heartache.  It will also save your vehicle and wheels from damage.  Here is a handy link for wheel and tire installation. Check it out before you install your new aftermarket wheels.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010 by Gery

This was a very interesting peice ,but you would't have this problem if you had changed rotors & drums would you ? I am having this problem now and we have tried everything , even changing tires !
Friday, May 10, 2013 by Bob

I read your tech article about the hazards of failing to remove stud-clips prior to mounting new wheels. My question is, "why should this problem be limited to new/replacement wheels, and not considered a problem with original equipment wheels"?


Bob Belisle
Friday, May 10, 2013 by Tire Rack Team

Original Equipment wheels and some aftermarket wheels have a recess machined around the lug holes to clear the clips. Most aftermarket wheels do not have that feature and that's where it becomes a problem.
Wednesday, October 1, 2014 by Mike

This makes sense on a vehicle that has wheel lugs. I have a VW GTI that does not have lugs on the "car side", but has lug bolts to hold the wheel on. And I am getting vibration in the front end of the car with new wheels and tires installed. They have been RoadForce balanced and there is no vibration with the stock wheels and tires. It was recommended to me to replace the CV shafts, as the slight change in suspension geometry between the stock wheels and worn tires and new wheels and new tires. What other recommendations would you have to try.
Many thanks,

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