Lugs not put back on car after tire rotation and balance

I’m a nervous wreck. I got my car serviced, oil change, tire rotation and balance at a Honda Dealership on 8/14/14 (I’d prefer not to say the exact one, hoping to speak to Service Manager Monday). Yesterday, my husband was staring at the car tire and his face was puzzled. He saw a bit of green and wasn’t sure why a metal piece was green. He looked even closer and noticed only 1 DARN LUG WAS ON. The wheel lock was the only lug keeping this tire attached to my car. I have been driving for 6 weeks in this dangerous condition. I feel sick to my stomach. We have an infant son, who is on the side of the affected tire. My husband uses public transportation, so he rarely drives. Yesterday, he decided to drive the car. He noticed a slight ticking sound that went away when we went on smooth asphault, and said he’d check the tires for a loose pebble. It reminded me that I’d heard a ticking sound that went away, on Monday, and I checked the tires for a nail, never noticing the missing lugs. Because of my wheel locks, I had 4 spare lugs in my glove compartment. I called AAA and had them attach the spares and check all the lugs on the other tires. AAA guy was absolutely appalled, said it was shameful, and that if it’d happened to his car, he would’ve been arrested for his reaction, and he showed me a picture of his child. He jacked the car up, and just barely loosened the wheel lock lug to remove the tire. With just a slight turn, the tire was completely wobbling, he inspected the rim, and said it doesn’t look damaged, but it should be rechecked since it was dark outside, also, he noticed 2 metal things attached to the wheel rim, next to the tire, and said it was a lazy balance job… What does that even mean?

My concern is that the wheel lock lug may have been stripped if it was getting loose over time, which is what the AAA person said may have been happening. Other concerns are about the rim, and any other damage that something like this can cause.
I don’t think I’m highly unobservant, and sadly, I even checked the tires before leaving the dealership, to make sure they were actually rotated, I just didn’t notice missing lugs. I do the usual walk around the car to check for scratches, or anything different after car maintenance.

So, now I need to get my 3 lugs back, but what else do I ask for that may have been damaged? Do I request new wheel locks? Has this ever happened to you? And, what is a lazy car balance job?

Please help. I’m don’t speak car and I was emotionally overwhelmed after talking to the AAA person, since he really stressed how dangerous the condition of my tire was with only 1 lug on.

IMHO they should pay for replacement of the studs as well as the lugs, and the wheel should be inspected and spun, and if there’s a problem they should replace the wheel at their cost.

Write a nasty letter, deliver it to them with the photos, and point out in the letter that had anything happened the financial liability to them would be very, very serious. Had the worst happened, this would easily have been a multi million dollar settlement.

DO NOT drive the car with only one lug nut. They need to send their tow truck to get it. You were very, very lucky so far. Don’t press your luck.

First, you should not have called AAA, you should have called the dealer first. If they could not or would not respond immediately, then call AAA. I hope you got the name of the AAA guy who came out.

Next, if your rims are factory rims and not aftermarket rims, then any damage would be minimized. Genuine Honda factory rims will have the hub diameter matched to the Honda hub. After market rims have a large hub diameter and use adapter rings to match to the hub, or sometimes just use the lug nuts to center the rim. If that were the case, then the missing lug nuts would be very bad news, but I don’t think that you would have gotten 6 weeks if that were the case, you probably wouldn’t get 6 minutes.

Contrary to popular belief, wheels are not cantilevered. In theory, one lug nut can hold the wheel in place as long as the hub diameter and the hub ring on the wheel match. That one lug would be under a lot of stress though and could break off.

Your wheel lock is not damaged, but the lug stud it was on could have gotten stretched a little under the stress and is weaker. Since you have the other three lug nuts back on, you do not have to worry about the wheel coming off. That lug stud is now under a lot less stress and even if it broke off now, the other three would easily hold the wheel in place.

The Honda dealer should replace that one lug stud that the locking lug nut was on. It’s pretty easy to do and pretty cheap as well. They would be stupid not to do that and I would expect that they would offer you some free services in the future as well, just to make up for what they did.

Last though though, it may not be the dealers fault. It is possible that someone was out to steal your wheels for their vehicle, or to take to a recycler for the value of the aluminum. The got the three lug nuts off but could not get the locking nut off so abandoned the effort. Just possible, maybe not likely but possible.

Hi Keith, I did call the dealer first. They closed at 3pm on Saturday, and they are closed today Sunday. I was transferred to the call center, where a person took my information and said the Service Manager would call on Monday, but there was nothing he could do today. I called AAA next, who came within 30 minutes. I took a picture of the AAA guy and his truck, picture of the inner tire after it was removed, and I got the card, with the information of the AAA person.
The car was purchased new from a different dealer, February 2012, so I don’t think it’d have aftermarket rims, but that’s good information to know about after market rims.
I understand the possibility of someone trying to steal a tire, but I would find it very unlikely in my area, and a car thief, at least someone who knows what they’re doing, would’ve probably seen the wheel locks and not even bothered, unless they had the device to take it off. It’s still not impossible, but I am more inclined to believe it was forgotten at the dealer.
Thank you for your input, regarding getting the lug stud replaced for where the wheel lock lug connects.

The easy person to point the finger at is of course the dealer as they worked on it last. Since triple A was called it may be hard to get a response to the problem, that and the time frame involved. Six weeks seems a fairly long span for the lug nuts to have been loose. I have a shop and a while back four cars from the same street had lug nuts come off and the wheel come off. They were all regular customers of mine and they all had it happen on different days. After some checking it was found a few troublemakers were loosening lug nuts for fun on random cars. You may talk to a few neighbors and see if anyone else has had anything similar happen.

I’d demand replacement of all of the studs, particularly if the studs show any distress AT ALL at the surface where the stud projects beyond the hub.

The safety of you and your family demands nothing less.

You did all the right things then. You got it documented and that is very important. From your picture, you do have the factory wheels, they have the Honda emblem on them.

While only the one stud actually should be replaced, the dealer may opt to replace the whole hub assembly and wheel bearing. They are not good at replacing individual parts anymore, they go for the whole assembly, at least they would on your dime.

The most serious damage that the stud might have will not be visible. The stress will occur right at the base of the stud and it will be microscopic. It wont be visible to the naked eye until the stud actually breaks, but it is most likely to break when the when the lug nut is being tightened and not under normal driving if all the other lug nuts are secure. That one stud should be replaced IMO.

I only mentioned the theft possibility because if this goes to court for any reason, that may be a defense that the dealer will use. You can bet your bippy that the dealer is hoping that you don’t lawyer up on this.

@HelenMK, I’m a lot older than you. I’ve dodged a few bullets that weren’t my fault, and I’ve dodged a few bullets that were. The emotional shock will abate in a few weeks. The important thing is to learn from this experience. After anyone else touches my wheels, I check the lug nuts. Just put your lug wrench on each one and lean on it. It shouldn’t move. Never again will you have worry about this.


I’ll go a little off topic . . .

“you do have the factory wheels, they have the Honda emblem on them.”

The existence of that genuine Honda cap in the middle doesn’t actually mean much

When I worked at the Benz dealer, I encountered countless aftermarket rims that were constructed in such a way, so that the little Benz cap with the logo would pop right in. And some of the rims were quite tasteful, such that an unsuspecting person might think they were the real thing

However, in this case, I have no reason to doubt OP, because they bought the car new from the Honda dealer, and would remember if they had bought aftermarket rims at some point in time

I can’t add any facts to this discussion, but I can say that @HelenMK did a great job of doing everything right, and I hope that tomorrow the dealer falls all over themselves to make things right for her. If they don’t then a written complaint to Honda of America (the letter she posted here is perfect) and a contact with the State agency that licenses mechanics and repair shops is in order. What the shop did is inexcusable, and any attempt by them to duck responsibility should be resisted.

I agree with the others but whenever my tires are serviced, the invoice always says to retorque the wheel lugs after 50 miles. The first thing I do when I get home is re-torque the wheel nuts. Then at least I know they are tight and all there. Same thing for checking the oil and filter for proper level and leaks. I always double check other people’s work. I think they probably owe you the new studs and inspection, but after two weeks driving its hard to say how loose the wheels were when they came out of the shop.

A little clarification here, I said that the damage would not be visible to the naked eye, but it could be if a dye penetrant test was done. If they have all the materials on hand to do the test, then they might, but to buy a can of dye and a can of the developer would run about $10 where a new stud is about $2 and 10 min to replace.

I avoid dealers for tire service and use my favorite independent tire store that has been in business for almost 40 years. Some dealers in my area have gone into the tire business, but it isn’t their main line in the service department.

I think the talk about being appalled, shameful, being arrested, and showing pictures of children is both premature and entirely uncalled for. Unless you can somehow come to the conclusion and then prove that this was malicious and/or criminally negligent, accept it for what it is–a simple mistake. I don’t car who you are or what you do, at some point in your career in the course of doing your job you’re going to make a mistake. I’ve made several. To expect otherwise is just unrealistic.

I imagine that your dealer will replace your lugnuts and studs and inspect the wheel for damage. I also imagine the dealer will say that it’s unlikely that the wheel would have stayed on the car for 6 weeks with only one lug holding it on. I would have thought it would have broken off sooner.

Auto shops, from the corner garage to the top line dealer, are ultimately just people doing their jobs. The true measure of professionalism is not whether or not a mistake ever happens, it’s how they deal with them when they do happen.

I thought I made a mistake once, but I was wrong…

dye/penetrant test would only show fractures, the stud could still be stretched if it passes a dye test

"I thought I made a mistake once, but I was wrong… "

That’s my line!


“at some point in your career in the course of doing your job you’re going to make a mistake. I’ve made several. To expect otherwise is just unrealistic.”

I agree 100%

I’ve also made several mistakes, some of them big ones

I learned from those experiences, and I didn’t repeat those same mistakes

Any mechanic that claims to have never made mistakes is either lying, or it’s literally the first day of his career

Calling the dealer is OK but I would immediately make contact with the manufacturer and their area representative. You need an alli on your side when you do battle with the dealer. It is important that Honda USA or what ever they call their home office be informed of what happend. With out doing this you will not have the added pressure of the manufacturer on your side and may not get your just deserves. I would also get a signed written statement from the AAA technician who worked on your car ASAP and forward it (a copy) to the home office of Honda. After all this is done, then get into contact with the dealer.

I would be emphatic that you liked the car but may never buy one again if their dealerships can be trusted or backed.

It sure sounds like it’s going to be a major headache

If I was the AAA guy, I wouldn’t want to be signing my name on any document. I’ve seen too many situations where things get all twisted out of context, and the guy that was trying to help you is the one getting screwed in the end.

Yeah, the AAA guy shouldn’t be expected to be part of any he said, she said situation.

Going to the dealer with a copy of the AAA roadside call, and a copy of the previous visit to the dealer should be more than sufficient.

Do you want new studs and lugs, or are do you want to launch an all out war?