CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Lost a Wheel

I recently had my car repaired after hitting a deer. When I got the car back from the shop there was a strange sound coming from the area of the left front tire. It sounded like something was rubbing slightly but the car was driving fine so I didn’t get it checked out. A few weeks later the car started to shake when I got above 30 mph and it was definitely coming from the area of the left front tire. At that point I figured it was time to get it checked out but the day before I planned to take it to the shop the left front wheel fell off while I was driving. I had actually just slowed down to make a turn so I wasn’t hurt.

Now, here comes the question. I had it taken back to the shop that originally repaired the animal collision damage. It seemed to me that the reason a car wheel falls off is because the lug nuts are loose, and the way the lug nuts get loose is because they haven’t been tightened properly to begin with. After they had had a chance to look at the car, though, the mechanic told me the reason the lug nuts loosened is because the break caliper was broken and the vibration from that caused the lug nuts to work themselves loose.

What I want to know is, is that possible?

Yes, it’s 99.9% likely that the shop that repaired the car did not tighten the lugs suffuciently. If you buy tires at Costco, for instance, they make you come back after 5 days to retorqe the studs to make sure they are properly tightened.

I would go back with the bill for the fix or have them reoair any damage done.

Thanks! That’s what I thought but not being a car repair person I just wanted to get some other opinions on it.

One issue you’re going to have is the obligation to limit consequential damage. Since you noticed a problem but chose not to take it back for evaluation, you contributed to the extent of the resulting damage. Hopefully, they will take the approach to consider themselves lucky there wasn’t a more serious accident from this situation and fix whatever got damaged without further excuses. But the fact they are using some ridiculous (IMHO) scenario to explain how it could happen, might indicate they are positioning themselves for a fight. Therefore, it’s something you should be aware of and prepared to defend yourself against should the situation deteriorate into a finger pointing match. In short, keep any mention of the fact you noticed the problem for X days prior on the down low unless asked.

At a minimum, this should serve as a wake up call to not ignore strange noises or continue driving even one day after you notice something as significant as it shaking above 30mph. We could have been reading about you in the paper rather than posting here!

It is not possible unless the lug nuts were already too loose. Vibrations making lug nuts unscrew? Why would caliper vibrations do that, but vibrations from bumps in the road, potholes, railroad tracks, etc, not?

Stupid excuse from a disreputable idiot. They owe you the cost of the repair.

Yeah, it sounds like the wheel wasn’t put on correctly at the shop but you should have stopped to figure out what was wrong ASAP. I once went to pick up one of my parent’s cars from having some basic work performed, one of which was a tire rotation.

I started driving the car home and heard some strange clunking noises. I pulled over after about 1/2 mile because it sounded like a wheel was about to fall off. When I got out, one wheel was quite loose and about to fall off. The ticket with the shop’s number was in the car with me so I gave them a call and they sent someone out to jack it up and tighten the lugs properly. I know I could have done this myself but figured the shop should see that they made a mistake.

I went on home and my parents later got a call to bring it in for a free inspection in case there was damage. They gave them a free inspection of the wheel, hub, and studs and found no damage. They also gave them a coupon for a free tire rotation and oil change in the future.

I would say that both the shop and the operator of the vehicle are liable for the damage in this one. If you hear something wrong after having your car at the shop, don’t wait to take it back in or at least give it a basic look over yourself. A loose wheel should be very obvious.

Point taken! I won’t delay again on something that important. Thanks!

I think the common recommendation now is that anytime a wheel is taken off a car, when it is put back on the lugs nuts should be re-torqued again after about 100 miles. I don’t think many people bother, but it is a good idea and should be done.

I re-torque my lug nuts after winter to summer tire changeover and I find they do snug up a bit even using a torque wrench. Most tires shops in my area put a statement to re-torque the lug nuts on their sales invoices, like just to cover themselves legally.