Several case-hardened and zinc-plated carbon-manganese steel wheel studs fractured in a brittle manner after very limited service life. The fracture surfaces of both front and rear studs showed no sign of fatigue beach marks or deformation in the form of shear lips that would indicate either a fatigue mechanism or ductile overload failure. SEM analysis revealed that the mode of fracture was intergranular decohesion, which indicates an environmental influence in the fracture mechanism. The primary fracture initiated at a thread root and propagated by environmentally-assisted slow crack growth until final fracture. The natural stress concentration at the thread root, when tightened to the required clamp load concomitant with the presence of cracks in the carburized case, was sufficient to exceed the critical stress intensity for hydrogen-assisted stress cracking (HASC). The zinc plating exacerbated the situation by providing a strong local corrosion cell in the form of a sacrificial anode region adjacent to the cracked thread. The enhanced generation of hydrogen in a corrosive environment subsequently lead to HASC of the wheel studs.
Roy G. Baggerly, Hydrogen-Assisted Stress Cracking of Carburized and Zinc Plated SAE Grade 8 Wheel Studs, Handbook of Case Histories in Failure Analysis, Vol 2, Edited By Khlefa A. Esaklul, ASM International, 1993, p 396–400, https://doi.org/10.31399/asm.fach.v02.c9001383
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