Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Broken wheel lug - who is responsible?

During a maintenance visit to our local Monro service center, a mechanic broke a wheel lug on our car. Monro says they aren’t responsible and will fix for approximately $400. My thought is that they broke the lug and should be responsible. What is your experience with such incidents? Thanks,

How old is your car? Is there any rust or corrosion on the lug nuts or bolts?

These chain places often overtorque lug nuts, sometimes badly. This is probably their fault, but you’ll have trouble proving it.

Year, make, model, mileage, type of wheels?

It is a 2001 subaru forester, zero rust, always garaged, 40,000 miles, a real cream puff, looks almost new. but my concern is responsibility. They’re the ‘experts’ and the tire rotation was ‘free’… I didn’t request it. To me, breaking something would be responsibility of person breaking it, not the customer. I would think that a mechanic who felt the car was too old would either recommend not rotating the tires or would use a lighter torque. thanks.

You can’t use a “lighter” torque. The specification is the specification to insure the wheels don’t fall off. The trouble you’re faced with is proving they are the ones who did the damage. More than likely, the lugs were over-torqued on prior occasions and the studs were already stretched when they got to them. They just provided the final tightening where they broke. You have to prove otherwise. Unless this shop is the only one that has ever removed and replaced a wheel on your car, you’ll be hard pressed to prove it was pristine prior to their involvement.

This is a typical example of where you’re on the hook unless they feel compelled to offer some goodwill and fix it for less/nothing to keep you as a customer. A lot depends on how you reacted and interacted with them after the failure and prior business history with that shop…

The lug broke off and it will be hard to show that the shop made any mistakes on this one, as TwinTurbo said how can you prove that it was not a preexisting condition? That being said I had the same experience a few years ago and the shop did the repair for $50 (give or take) so if the vehicle is drivable I would do a price comparison.

Do they shoot the lugnuts on with an airgun like a lot of places do? Then it’s their fault. End of story. Just because the pit crews on NASCAR do it doesn’t mean it should be done to normal street cars.

I have never broken a wheel stud with an impact wrench, and I’m not even a pro mechanic. I am very careful with the air tool so as not to cause damage. I have had one break after some bumblehead at a tire shop cross-threaded one with an impact wrench, and I think this is what may have happened. It could have been the guy who worked on it before the one who broke it.

That said, $400 to replace a stud is ridiculous. Take it somewhere else.

$400? The stud must be made of super-high-strength forged unobtanium.

Yeah, they’re responsible. Nobody should ever break a stud, but many of the marginally trained (but well intended) kids doing the free rotations do. Some trained mechanics that should no better do too.

They should accept responsibility but they won’t. If it were me I’d just take it elsewhere and get the new stud pressed in.

“I have never broken a wheel stud with an impact wrench”

Neither have I, because I don’t use one. If you put the nut in the wrench socket and thread it on with the wrench, you risk cross-threading it. If you finish tightening it with the wrench, you overtorque it. Even if you use a torque stick. So the only thing you can do safely with the air wrench is spin it between having manually threaded it, and finger-tight. It takes more time to grab the air wrench and put it on the nut and pull the trigger and remove the air wrench from the nut and put it down than it does to just whirl the nut to just-tight with your fingers, so there isn’t much point to using one unless you REALLY need to go fast, and you thread it with the gun. The only time you ever need to go that fast is when you’re changing tires on a race car.

In defense of the mechanic, something I would prefer not to do, if the lug nut was already cross threaded from a previous tire removal the lug might break off trying to remove the tire this time. One a different note, I actually had a lug nut break off inside the hub cap once while I was driving highway speeds on straight smooth road.

All that being said, air gun or not it might not be the mechanic’s fault.

I agree Agator - it’s possible the lug was damaged previously. However, the mechanic can’t prove that, and if he used an air gun the OP can prove that the mechanic used a procedure which is known to break lugs.

It’s the same concept as someone who tries to fix a stereo by using a blowtorch. Sure, the circuit board might have already been burned before he got hold of it, but absent evidence of that, and with evidence that the repair man used an inappropriate tool for which there is a known risk of burning things, he’s going to be found at fault for the stereo being burned.

Thanks for all the feedback. Sounds like I need to go elsewhere. This Monro shop has maintained the car 100% for past 9 years-oil changes, radiator flush, serpentine belt, all factory-spec’d maintenance. No other shop has touched the car. I’ve spent $1,000’s there for our family cars in past decade so I’m definitely a routine customer. The $400 estimate was because they say they must completely disassemble the rear end to do this. They did acknowledge that they use an air impact wrench and that is the only tool they use for this. I still feel that if they think older cars are at risk they shouldn’t have done it… and it was a free service. Anyway, your feedback indicates that shops don’t routinely accept any responsibility - yet I’m sure they probably have insurance for such instances. Breaking a part on a car that you’ve serviced for several years and not offering any compensation or adjustment is really poor customer relations. Thanks again for your input. This has been helpful to me.

In 35 years of driving and working on my own cars I’ve had one lug bolt break. The reason it broke was because it seized while removing it and the only way to get the wheel off was to continue to try to remove it and it eventually broke. I replaced the bolt myself in just a few minutes by driving the old bolt out with a hammer and driving a new one in. Unless there’s something uncommon about your car you should be able to replace it yourself in just a few minutes by driving it out, buying a new bolt for a couple dollars and driving the new bolt in. I do start my lug nuts by hand to be sure I don’t have them cross threaded, but then use my electric impact for the final tightening. You can drive the car with one lug nut missing for a short distance to take it somewhere else to have the work done if you don’t want to or feel comfortable doing the work yourself, but it shouldn’t cost anywhere near $400. to replace it.

I’ll also add that sometimes in order to get problems such as this resolved you may have to take it to a higher power than just a mechanic or even the store manager. Several years ago a tire shop damaged one of my wheels while changing a tire, I contacted the district manager and they paid for a wheel replacement. If you don’t get justification from the district manager ask for the phone number and/or address of his supervisor and continue up the ladder until you have reached their corporate office if necessary.

I start the nuts on with my fingers so I don’t cross-thread them. Once I get all 4 or 5 of them started, I can get them down real fast with the impact wrench. I just take my finger off the trigger as soon as it starts to hammer. It gets them to about 30-40 lb. ft., then I finish them with a torque wrench. The impact wrench I have is quite strong, too! It is an I-R 231 C.

Broken lugs happen, pay for it and move on. If you do not like the price, get a second estimate. I broke one, flat tire, rusted nuts, called AAA, they broke 2 more, AAA tow to a shop, it was not an expensive repair, $8 each for parts and $75 out the door.

If it broke coming off then I would not blame the mechanic. If it broke going on then I might. Determining which one can be iffy though.

In the mid 1970s I bought a set of tires from Sears. They broke several lugs reinstalling a wheel. After three hours I became concerned and asked about my car, they hemmed and hawed ad finally admitted what happened. When I asked how long it would take to press out the broken lugs and press in new, they red-facedly told me they smashed the drum trying to pound out the lugs. Since we were 200 miles from family, and 15 miles from where we lived and with a 2yr and 6yr old, I needed the car fixed. Long story short, after a nuclear attack on the store manager, Sears got us a cab ride home and 2 days worth of cab rides fro me to and from work util I could get the car back. They never did actually admit it was their fault. I worked in a garage for 6 years in High school and collage, we were taught to carefully look over all lugs and nuts BEFORE loosening and again BEFORE tightening the nuts. The owner’s position was if you broke a lug or stripped a nut, it was always your fault. I can’t remember any broken lugs or stripped nuts at the shop (and we used the early versions of air wrenches, didn’t have precise controls and the wrench could spin your hand around like wiley coyoty)

$400 to replace a broken lug?!?!?!!?!

Boooooooooogus!!! These people are thieves. Take the car elsewhere, even if you have to tow it there, and NEVER use these clowns again. Let them know that loudly in the waiting room for everyone to hear!

I agree with ok4450 about determining responsibility. If it broke coming off, it’s not their fault; if it broke going on, it is their fault. I do think $400 to replace a wheel stud is crazy. If they charge $80 per hour labor, they are saying it will take half the day to replace it. I haven’t worked on a Forester in a long time, but I’m pretty sure you don’t have to “completely disassemble the rear end” to replace it. Mostly because the car has independent rear suspension. On most Subarus, from what I recall, the brake drum or rotor has to come off, then you should be able to remove the old stud and install the new one. Even the most difficult to replace wheel studs normally take only an hour or so to replace.