Archive for August, 2009

For Lack of A Nail…

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

The battle was lost. It’s an old saying. A more mundane paraphrase might go like this: For lack of a nut a wheel was lost. For lack of a wheel the truck was lost, and so on. The lesson is that one thing leads to another. There is such a thing as cause and effect. This is what preventative maintenance is all about, breaking the chain of cause and effect.

I took my ’85 Suburban in to have the tires rotated at Big O Tires. As I waited in the customer lounge, I became concerned hearing an excessive air impact wrench screaming, screaming, and screaming. “Good God,” I thought, “just how tight do they think those lug nuts need to be?” Or, were they taking them off? A few minutes later, my fear was confirmed. The manager came out with two lug nuts in his cupped hands, holding them gently as though it was some small dead animal.

“What do you think is causing this?” He asked. The lug nuts were busted apart. I looked at them in amazement. I’d never seen lug nuts fractured in half. “The good thing is that your lugs and wheels are okay, but when we torque the nuts to spec they seem to be breaking on us. Has this happened to you before?”

Stunned, I simply shook my head, “no.” The manager hinted that it wasn’t the result of anything they’d done, implying that the old lug nuts must be defective or had been subject to abuse. However, a short time later both of us came to the same conclusion, the nuts were the kind that have a threaded sleeve. Mine are 9/16” 18 thread mag lug nuts with a 1” sleeve, and require washers. The sleeve and openings in the mag wheel mate to close tolerances, and if the lug nut is wallowed in, as an air impact wrench is inclined to do, the sleeve binds in the hole and fractures. Then, when it is torqued to spec (120 ft. lbs.), the nut breaks apart. Retail, they are about $3 apiece.mag-lug-nut-1.JPG

At first Big O only wanted to replace the two that were broken, but I wanted the entire set of 32 replaced, free of charge. There was no telling whether the remaining lug nuts had fractures and I didn’t want to find out while towing my 32’ long Airstream down the Interstate. Besides, I had a matched set, now I didn’t. Big O was only a little reluctant to do this. No business wants to eat a mistake, but they did. Except the nuts had to be special ordered. They had none in stock.

The next day, Big O telephoned and told me the nuts were in. So, I returned and they installed the new set, mostly by hand. That took two employees nearly an hour. This was late in the afternoon and I was in a hurry to get back home. As a result, I only gave the wheels a cursory look. Surely, they couldn’t mess it up a second time.

The following morning, I spent preparing for a rally near Pikes Peak. As I was adding air to the front right tire, I discovered that one of the lug nuts was missing. Apparently, it had not been tightened and had come off on the drive home. I telephoned Big O and the manager agreed to give me another, and assured me that they had more in stock. When I went there though, the manager realized they had used up the entire order – on my wheels. He said he’d order another and I could come back for it. By now, I was extremely tired and annoyed with the expense and time spent driving back and forth. So, Big O agreed to deliver a single lug nut to me at home.

Later, that afternoon, their driver arrived, handed me the lug nut and drove off. That’s when I realized I should have also asked for a mag washer. I was now so frustrated with this particular Big O that I’ve decided I will never return. It took me over an hour to locate an appropriate washer. None of the local auto parts stores had them in stock. It is special order. I found an acceptable substitute at an Ace Hardware store. In all, I used five to six hours of my time, spread out over three days just to rotate the tires.

Of course, Big O didn’t come out on top either. They bore the expense of parts, labor, and delivery. To be fair, Big O gets an ‘A’ for effort, they really tried hard to accommodate me and make good on their mistake. However, they are a tire and wheel company, should reasonably know what they are doing and incompetence has a limit. It’s not a very good way to run a business.

A couple of good things have come from this though. I do have a free matching set of brand new chrome mag lug nuts. It also got me to thinking about my spare tire. It doesn’t have a mag style wheel. It has a standard steel wheel. The mag lug nuts won’t work with that. To mount my spare, I need standard open end acorn style nuts. The taper on that kind of nut is needed to center the wheel openings on the lugs. Mag lug nuts are not tapered. That is why they need a washer. So, all the time we’ve owned the Suburban I’ve carried a spare that I couldn’t mount. After an exhaustive search, I now have 8 lug nuts for it, but that’s another story altogether.

About the Author

Hi, my name is Forrest McClure. I've been writing for the magazine since its inception. My wife and I travel with our 1966 20' Globe Trotter or our 1986 32' Excella. So, my primary interest is vintage travel trailers.