By Bruce Murray
Sometimes it pays to follow instructions. A couple of weeks ago while visiting in north central Alberta, I had some tires replaced on our fifth-wheel trailer.
I watched the technician mount the tires and use an impact wrench to tighten the lug nuts. He then used a torque wrench to tighten the lug nuts to the manufacturer’s specifications. This was all as it should be.
When signing for the job and paying the bill I was reminded by the service manager the lug nuts should be re-torqued at 100 kilometres. The invoice actually contained the following statement in bold capital letters: “PLEASE REMEMBER TO HAVE YOUR TIRES RE-TORQUED AT 100 KILOMETRES — IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.”
Yeah OK. Fine I thought, and then I immediately forgot about the instructions. The next day I headed south using secondary roads to avoid heavy traffic. I stopped a couple of times in the first two hours to ensure all was well with the tires, lights, etc.
After the second stop I was feeling pretty good as all was well. Soon thereafter it began to rain. Not really heavy but traffic was throwing up a pretty good spray, as they passed. This made it hard to see behind me but traffic was light and I was going 100 kilometres per hour, so I was not holding anyone up.
I noticed a cattle liner come up behind me, ready to pass, and then suddenly slow down. I thought they were getting ready to turn off. However, they soon accelerated and got close behind again. They then flashed their headlights at me. I immediately looked for a place to pull off and see what they wanted, perhaps I had a flat tire.
I found a wide spot on the road and pulled over. The cattle liner passed and then also pulled over and stopped. I got out and walked around the back of the trailer to see what could be the problem. To my shock and dismay I found the passenger side rear wheel was gone.
The driver of the cattle liner came up and told me about three miles back he had seen the wheel come off and that’s why he had slowed down. He also told me my wheel had gone down into the ditch, bounced high in the air over the fence and out into a grass field. It was lost for sure.
We looked at the brake drum and it was obvious what had happened. All six lug nuts had sheared off. We then discussed my options to resolve the problem and felt the best solution was to chain the axle up and try to drive very slowly to the next town about 50 kilometres away. The truck driver left and I did my best to secure the axle using a tow strap I had in my tool box.
I was not convinced the remaining wheel could take the weight, so I called my brother, who is a mechanic. He strongly recommended not to attempt to drive with one wheel missing. He explained if that tire were to blow the trailer could potentially tip over.
He then told me to wait while he called his son-in-law who owns a heavy vehicle repair business and would know whether it would be safe to continue on. I soon had a phone call from my nephew who confirmed my brother’s opinion it would be unwise to drive with one wheel missing. He then offered to drive the two hours from Calgary and repair the problem so I could safely return home. To this very kind offer I readily agreed.
Using his instructions I measured the drum and sent him a picture, so he could get the correct parts. I’m sure glad I own a Smartphone.
When my nephew arrived in his service truck he confirmed it would have been very risky to continue on given the weight on the remaining tire. While working we discussed what might have caused the lug nut to break off. He explained the most common cause was one or more of the lug nuts would loosen and the resulting vibration would cause others to loosen and finally they would break the bolts holding the wheel on.
I confessed I had recently had the tires replaced. He then asked the real important question. Did you have your lug nuts torqued again after you had driven a while? I had to confess I had not.
Failure to re-tighten wheel nuts after a change is the most common cause of this type of breakage, he said.
Well I have learned my lesson. I am now the proud owner of a torque wrench and I have carefully checked the lug nuts on the trailer and truck.
You can be sure in the future when the instruction is given to re-check the lug nuts after 100 kilometres, I will do it.
May I suggest you do the same?