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Car Wheel Blew Off Two Weeks After a Repair

I’m trying to figure out what happened to my car and why the wheel blew off. Thankfully, even though my car is shot, I’m fine. Here is what happened:

Two weeks after getting some repairs done on my car (the wheels were removed in the process), I was driving down the highway at about 60 mph and my tire blew off. I had felt a slight bit of bumpiness beforehand, but I live at 7000 feet at this sometimes happens. A person driving behind me said she saw the lug nuts fly off with immense pressure and the passenger side rear wheel popped off “like a champagne cork” right afterwards. According to witnesses, and what I’ve deduced from the damage on the car, the car bounced off the passenger side and rolled to the driver side. We did almost a full roll. We slid down the road for a bit on the passenger’s side and then came to a halt.

I inspected the wheel and the tire. The tire, which we found about 100 yards from the accident looked normal. Three of the five bolts (where the lug nuts attach) look completely normal with no signs of pressure or wear. We were able to screw lug nuts back onto these three without any resistance. The other two appear to have been broken off when the wheel came off and the car dropped to the ground.

Does anyone have any idea why this could have occurred? It seems like the car shop might have forgotten to screw the lug nuts on tightly enough, but I’m unsure. Any ideas will be greatly appreciated.


Does anyone have any idea why this could have occurred? It seems like the car shop might have forgotten to screw the lug nuts on tightly enough, but I'm unsure.

Either the shop didn’t tighten the lug nuts…OR someone loosed them. No other way for that to happen.

+1 to what Mike said.

Was there an accident investigation by the authorities?
Di8d the person behind you offer to be a witness in the investigation?

An investigator, usually provided by teh insurance company, could look at the studs and lug nots for evidence, and with that and the witness statement might be able to determine the likelihood that the shop left the lugs nots loos. Liability could then be assessed.

Work with your insurance company.

The trouble that I see in assigning definite blame to the tire shop is that you had the work done 2 weeks ago. That’s 2 weeks that a random vandal has had to loosen your lugnuts.

At any rate, you’ve learned a valuable lesson - never trust the tire shop. Either personally watch them put the wheels back on (you’d be amazed how many idiots I’ve caught failing to torque properly just by doing this) or bring your own wrench and re-torque the wheels in the parking lot before you drive off.

BTW, I’m a little confused about why living at 7,000 feet would cause your car to bounce around. Gravity does not appreciably reduce, even at that altitude. :wink:

What 99% likely happened is the shop failed to tighten the lug nuts and the wheel fell off (not ‘blew off’, that implys the tire blew out, which didn’t happen). You’ll need to get your insurance involved, let them deal with the shop.

I go along with the posters who concluded the shop did not tighten the lugs sufficiently. Usually they tighten them too much, but in this case the guy was probably in the process of tightening them and the phone rang and his girlfriend got him distracted with her heavy breathing. After the call he put the wheel disks on and drove the car out of the shop. It probably took two weeks for them to loosen enough for the wheel to “blow off”.

A similar thing happened to me with a camper trailer after I had a tire replaced. It also happened in the mountains and the trailer swerved wildly until we stopped.

Conclusion: always check the lugs with a torque wrench (not expensive) after you get your car back.

Sounds like the lug nuts were not tightened properly. This can happen, like if the guy who is doing the job gets a phone call, then forgets where he left off when he comes back. Usually as the lug nuts loosen, it produces a very noticeable wobbling sensation before the wheel actually falls off, often accompanies by loud and weird noises coming from the wheel area. But it sounds like your wheel just popped right off without any symptoms before. That’s possible too, esp if the studs suddenly break. Glad to hear no one was hurt. That can be dangerous.

Here’s a little story which will be of no help, but someone out there might find amusing: I was driving my trusyt Corolla in Reno, Nevada one time, in the industrial area there. And I came around a corner on a two lane 25 mph road, half paved, and half gravel, and I look up ahead, and what do I see but this huge wheel coming down the road, right toward me! Just a wheel. Rolling along by itself. And I’m talking huge! Not a regular wheel, a huge wheel! Rolling down the street straight toward me and my poor Corolla. I was a little panic-ed, to say the least, as there were guard rails on each side of the road, no where to go. Thankfully, the wheel started wobbling, suddenly, violently veered off at a 45 degree angle to the side, and hit a guard rail, where it popped way up into the air, and crashedv-- splash – into a pond full of rushes and ducks. The ducks looked surprised. As I went down the road further, there was one of those big trucks like you expect to see at a “Big Truck” show at the Cow Palace, there on the side of the road, one wheel missing, with the driver looking like “what just happened?”.

I’m in agreement that the most likely cause is the shop failing to properly tighten the lugs and this might make one want to take a look at the lugs on the other wheels.

There’s also the possibility that the lugs were damaged to some degree by someone else prior to this and the last shop is simply the closest one to point the finger at.
The fact that lugs screw on to the threads easily does not mean that the threads on the studs or lugs are not damaged. A close inspection might show they’re pulled, not stripped, and that can lead to lugs working loose.

Just curious, but were there no symptoms prior to the wheel coming off? Generally speaking, when lugs start working loose there may be a subtle vibration or noise involved.
You’re very lucky to be able to even post this tale.

Yes, OK. The OP is very lucky to be posting the tale. If it had been a front wheel…

In Minneapolis a couple years ago a guy was killed when a truck tire bounced on his pick-up truck. The other guy was SB and he was NB and the tire came off, bounced over the median, and smacked his truck in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Usually after wheels work they tell you to re-torque the wheels after 50 miles. I’m having tires put on tomorrow so I’ll be sure to check them again when I get home.

Thanks for all of your helpful comments. I am assuming that the place did not properly tighten the lug nuts. I have a special investigator coming to check things out. We’ll see how this goes!