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When the Wheels Come Off

From time to time we see vehicles at the side of the road resting on the steering and suspension with a wheel missing. It looks terrible, but in most cases it is not as bad as it looks. Wheels can come off for a number of reasons, but the most common is that the lug nuts holding the wheel in place are not properly tightened. Those lug nuts have a specified tightness, called a torque specification, to which they are to be tightened. Most of us use a special wrench (torque wrench) which measures how tight the nut has been placed to hold the wheel. Some people use what is known as a torque stick that fits on the end of a wrench and accomplishes the same thing. Either way, it is important that whenever a wheel is removed for any reason, it should be torqued down rather than being just randomly having the lug nuts wrenched on.

There are a number of reasons a car or truck should have the lug nuts torqued. Most important, is safety. If the nuts are not tight enough, they can come unscrewed and the wheel can fall off. Another reason to torque is to be sure that all of the nuts are tightened to the same level of torque. When some repairs are done without torquing to equal amounts, the unequal pressure on the brake rotor can result in the rotor warping. This warping is then noticed as a pedal and steering wheel pulsation when braking the car of truck. We have experienced some pretty dramatic pulsation and even front end shaking in vehicles that have not had the wheels installed with even torque. Once the rotors are warped, they often must be replaced rather than resurfaced. This is due to the manufacturer specification for minimum thickness of the rotor to which it can reach. Too thin a rotor can crack and even shatter and result in a wheel locking up or braking in a dangerous manner. Often, warped rotors will also cause an uneven surface to form on the brake pads and this then necessitates the replacement of the pads as well as the rotors.

Therefore, WHENEVER wheels are replaced, rotated or for any reason removed from your car or truck, be certain that they are torqued to specification when reinstalled. Let’s not let the wheels come off that great wagon of ours.