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3K miles after tire is replaced - wheel falls off while driving! - Is tire shop to blame?

Details: 1998 Volvo V70 w 268K miles
Tire shop replaces both front tires and does alignment.

Drive fine and no sound or vibration for 30 days and 3K miles, then

Yesterday the car starts a sound (which sounds like its from the engine) then increases to a much louder sound then a vibration then (fortunately at a slow speed of 20 mph or so and a mile from home) -> the driver front wheel and tire flies off and the car stops after a lot of sparks and a bit of damage to the front quarter panel and the rotor (which was acting as the tire!) and perhaps other parts of the suspension?

So I have two questions I need help with:

  1. Is the tire shop at fault (even after 30 days/3K miles)? And should they have to fix it at no cost?

  2. Should I repair this or can other things also be wrecked by this event and need to be checked?

The good news is no one was hurt and nothing else was damaged by this exciting event.

Thanks in advance!

I’m sure this would have made a great on-the-air call to the radio show and I would really appreciate any opinions at this point.

Call the tire shop and ask to speak to the manager. Explain what happened (making sure to point out that THEY replaced the front tires one month ago) and ask that they repair all damage at no cost to you.
Make sure to write down the guy’s name and what time you called. If you do indeed take your car back there, have that information handy. Bring the receipt for the tires and alignment.
As for damage (besides the rim, tire, quarter panel and rotor) . . . the spindle and control arm could be damaged. Another alignment would also be prudent.

Good luck!

On every invoice I’ve ever gotten after tire work, it always says to retorque the wheel bolts after 50 miles. This makes sure that the bolts are tight after driving a few miles. I always go around and check all the lug bolts after anyone has messed with my wheels. You are assuming a fault with the install but it may be a bad wheel, studs, or nuts. I think you are on your own on this one.

I believe the invoices may have that clause to cover the shop’s ass if anything happens.
Legally, the poster may be up the creek, but it’s still worth calling up the shop. There’s nothing to be lost. The damage is already done. IMO, there’s a fair chance that the bolts weren’t sufficiently tightened to begin with. Proving it will be impossible.
I’ve installed quite a few tires (using an air impact AND using a torque wrench), and I’ve NEVER had one just roll off the car because the bolts weren’t retorqued after 50 miles.
Bing, good for you for checking your bolts. At least this won’t happen to you.

I have almost never rechecked my bolts in 30 years. I use an impact wrench now but used to just use a torque wrench for the first 20 years. I do all my suspension repairs but not alignment. Your problem may be that after the first 100k miles on the car, most tire shops are requesting a 50 mile recheck, and say so on the invoice. Be reasonable with them. But don’t act like letting them off the hook. A rotor, realignment, and suspension check maybe close to the limit on free stuff as your car has plenty of miles on the other parts.

The question is, did the wheel fall off because the lug nuts were not tightened, or did something else break, such as the spindle? If the lug nuts fell off, it sounds like the tire store is at fault. If the spindle broke, it sounds like it may just be bad luck.

As mentioned above, after tire work, it’s a good idea to check the lug bolts after 100 miles or so. I expect pretty much all tire stores will do this for free. It’s unusual for loose lug bolts to come off after 3,000 miles though. Me, I wouldn’t blame the tire store for this problem.

BTW, the same thing happened to me, but it wasn’t a tire store to blame, it was entirely my own fault. I forgot to re-tighten the lug nuts after rotating the tires on my Corolla. I was driving in stop and go traffic and the car steering starting wandering wildly, then making funny thumping noises. I pulled off but didn’t see anything wrong, then I remembered I had rotatated the tires the prior weekend, so I retightened the lug bolts there on the side of the freeway, and problem solved.