Abstract Comparable fatigue tests were carried out on aluminium alloy 7475-T7351 double butt joints with untreated and with cold expanded holes. Surprisingly, the behaviour of the specimens having cold expanded holes was worse than that of specimens with untreated holes. This result was attributed to the surface upset which was present in cold expanded holes. Several hypotheses were formulated and experimentally verified to overcome this problem, such as deeper hole deburring, rivet diameter, joint design and grip material, steel instead of aluminium alloy. Additional tests demonstrated that the problem was not present in sealed joint as the surface upset was hidden in the sealant thickness. Sealants have detrimental effects in the fatigue resistance of riveted joints, as they increase the load transferred by rivet bearing. The hole expansion is beneficial in this condition, while in un-sealed joints its effect must be accurately evaluated. Other authors too highlighted possible problems due to surface upset, up to suggest to eliminate it. Only in a very few cases, a reduction of fatigue life as a consequence of hole expansion was observed.