I received Official notification this past Thursday that I had been selected as the new curator of the Michelin Museum of Motorized Metal Collecting. Unfortunately, this particular museum was located in the general vicinity of my very, very, very flat right rear tire. After a brief acceptance speech (which I dare not print here) and an (utterly futile) attempt to re-inflate the tire, I grabbed the jack from the trunk and proceeded to replace the flat tire with the tiny rubber toy which passes for a spare tire in 21st century America. While changing a tire in the busy parking lot of a popular gas station may sound like a hassle to some folks, it was in actuality incredibly convenient because I was able to place the flat tire in the back seat, directly on top of a flat tire from my second car… for you see, I was already on my way to my local National Tire & Battery (NTB) to replace a tire on that secondary car when I discovered that my primary car had pulled up lame. With this brand new flat my day just became twice as expensive! Little did I know that the ensuing trip to NTB would cost me even more money!!
Flashback to the 50s
My Great Uncle Biffo liked having his car serviced by his local neighborhood garage. He’d been using them for years and trusted them explicitly. One day, after having his oil changed, he pulled his car out into the road and headed toward Atlanta… but he didn’t make it that far. The car’s engine seized up and the poor old thing rolled to a stop in the middle of the road, dead as a jaybird. A path of oil led back around the corner to that neighborhood garage where his favorite mechanic had failed to replace the drain plug in the car’s oil pan; every last drop of the new oil had run straight through the engine block and out onto the pavement.
Another auto adventure from the 1950s found my Dad driving through Atlanta in a Plymouth which was sporting a freshly rebuilt engine when he suddenly started hearing scraping and dragging noises coming from beneath his car. He pulled over as quickly as he could and looked under the car where he discovered that the mechanic had failed to bolt the car’s starter back into place before handing the keys back. It’s the details that count.
Back to The Present
I was standing outside a theater this afternoon talking to some friends about a movie we’d all just seen when I looked down and noticed a nickel-sized area of chipped paint on the bumper behind my right rear tire. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it… how did THIS happen???!! As I stood there, stooped over in shock, looking at the fresh boo-boo, one of my friends absentmindedly poked at my new tire with his toe. As my gaze shifted from the newly chipped paint to the brand new tire I realized with shock that the special anti-theft lug nut was missing from the new tire! There were only four lug nuts and a bare bolt!!
In a split second my brain immediately replayed the “footage” of the tire technician bolting the new tire onto my car just two days before. He’d bolted the four normal lugs on with his air ratchet and then fitted the special key so that he could bolt on the special lock-lug (I remember asking him if the air ratchet he was using was like the ones that they use on racecars). Before allowing me to leave he went and got a torque wrench so that he could snug up the normal bolts a bit more… but he didn’t torque the lock-lug, explaining that such force might damage the parts which key together.
I certainly wish that I had reached down to twist at that lock-lug because it’s obvious now that it never even snugged up to the wheel. In the perfect clarity of absolute hindsight I recall that I’d found it extremely tricky to get the keyed pattern of the special socket to snug into place on the lock-lug when removing the tire by hand, so it’s highly doubtful that the key was “catching” the lock lug when he ran his high-speed air ratchet over it at a jillion RPMs. And that same clarity made me realize that it’s highly likely that when the loose lock-lug finally flew off the bolt that its centripetal motion flung it backwards, into the side of my car, chipping the paint in the process.
Like my Great Uncle Biffo I may have finally learned the importance of a phrase made popular by President Ronald Reagan: “Trust but Verify“.
Over the last decade the guys at NTB have provided me with good friendly service and I don’t intend this post as a bash against the company or the technician who put the tire back on my car, but I realize now that the people we pay to repair our vehicles are human; they can become complacent, get distracted, or overlook a step. Double-check the stuff that you’re personally able to inspect and do it immediately after any auto service. Get the garage to walk you through the repairs. Make them show you what they’re doing or what they’ve done. Don’t be a pill or an annoyance to your mechanic, just be a smart customer. If it’s a legitimate business you’ve hired to do the work they’ll honor your concerns and be happy to discuss their work. At the very least make sure that the car isn’t upside down or backwards when they hand the keys back to you.
I’m going to get in touch with the guys at the NTB on Monday to find out if they have any sort of policy regarding replacement of missing lugnuts, but I doubt there’s anything they can do about this. Either way, it will be my personal policy from this point forward to check all the lugs on my tires before leaving the parking lot of any service company.
In fact, I’m asking Santa for some new locking lugs and a nice 4-way lug wrench… and I’m pretty sure that I’m going to have to rely on Santa to get those for me because all of my money went toward buying new tires.