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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

That time my wheel fell off and rolled past me on the street | Hagerty Media

My wife has long hypothesized that a good part of my appeal as a writer is that, when it comes to doing the kind of stupid automotive things that most people keep locked away in a toolbox of shame-you know, things like leaving the drain pan full of oil under
https://www.hagerty.com/media/opinion/the-hack-mechanic/that-time-my-wheel-fell-off-and-rolled-past-...
42 REPLIES 42
audiocage
Intermediate Driver

In a pinch, you could have borrowed one lug nut from each of the other wheels. But you would have thought of that, if it had come to it...
Airrecon
Pit Crew

Old joke, guy loses a wheel and finds it but has no lug nuts. Just happens to be near a mental institution and men were watching him thru the fence. One suggested taking a nut off each wheel until he got to his distinction. When finished he told the man it was a great idea and asked him what he was in there for. The man replied, "I'm crazy, not stupid like you"
MoparMan
Detailer

I haven't lost any wheels, but I did nearly break off a stud, trying to loosen a lug nut before I learned that early Mopars had left and right hand threaded nuts, LOL!! 🙂
Guitar74
Technician

I learned the hard way when I first bought my '69 Sport Satellite. I thought,"Man these things are tight!" and then "Snap!".
kyree-williams
Pit Crew

So, that also happened to me, a couple of years ago, in a 2004 Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas. I replaced all four air struts, and noticed the lug nuts on the front left wheel were hard to fit properly. (I also did not use a torque wrench).

I heard something slapping around a couple of days later, but did not connect it to those odd-fitting lug nuts.

That afternoon, I went to make a left turn, and felt the front left corner of the car hit the ground, as I watched my wheel fly past me and land on a grassy hillside, on the opposite side of the road. The studs had very suddenly sheared off, due to the improper lug nuts and torque settings.

I ended up replacing the fender, wheel liner, rotor and hub. All four wheels also got brand-new OEM lug nuts (expensive at $7.50 apiece). Thankfully, it did not damage the air strut. I also learned that the X350 XJ is much more resilient than people gave it credit for, and to use a torque wrench.

 

Coincidentally, I was also 26 at the time.

 

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Flashman
Detailer

Your wife is right.
thehackmechanic
Intermediate Driver

On my Facebook page, I've gotten comments from no less than twenty people saying that this also happened to them (except without the drama of the wheel nearly going through a plate glass window).
Tinkerah
Instructor

Count me as the twenty-first through twenty-fourth. Honest, I can explain them all.
PDMRCAING
New Driver

Stationed at Langley I got lucky & had a late night date. On the ride back to the flightline early the next morning in my1970 SS396 Chevelle 4 speed (500$ in 1977!) I pull up to a 4 way intersection & have a laugh as I see a tire & wheel going down the street. My lite turns green & bang , I realize its mine! That was the last Cragar SS unilug for me. Its been Torque thrusts ever since !

llawrence9
Intermediate Driver

Had a delivery driver return in an Impala wagon. Front end was bouncing up and down.
Loose lug nus had sheared 4 of the five studs and the wheel had cut into the hub of the drum.

"Danny, you been drinking a bit"?

Got an Econoline pickup back from a Md inspection station. . Driving down the road on bad tags the rear end starts a fierce wobble. Both rear wheels ready to come off. Checked all four wheels.
OldFordMan
Intermediate Driver

At 14 yrs old my '41 Ford that I had worked so hard and cussedly vocal on drove so great UNTIL right rear wheel PLUS AXLE came sliding out in a curve and then started a flip end over end while the poor old Ford skidded down on fender and rear bumper! HOLY COW! And more cussing.
Callen
Pit Crew

Must be something about '41 Fords. When I was 19, in 1976, I had a '41 Ford pick-up. Was taking off, hit 2nd and it just revved. Luckily the axle only slid out a bout 4 inches, but made me think about what would have happened if I had made it to the highway and was doing 55
Redenzo
Pit Crew

Boy can I relate. Fortunately or unfortunately I have had only three times when I have made the same mistake as Rob- one was on a street car (SUV) with "new" used wheels- and in my enthusiasm to "check it out" I forgot to tighten the two rears- although it was a hub centric design only took about 1/2 a mile for the wobble to begin- stopped and got out the jack and lug wrench and fixed it- thanking my lucky stars- no harm no foul. The other two were more interesting- and butt clenching for sure. First was going into the hairpin at Sebring International driving an old WSC car at speed (approaching the braking zone at 140-150) when with a bit of "vibration" the car suddenly hooked- didn't go off track and scared the crap out of the guy riding in the passenger seat (yes I had put a second seat in the beast), babied around and got into the pits to discover the left rear was moving in and out about 1/2" still on the pin drives but moving around enough to create unwanted "rear steer". Tightened up and double checked all the wheel torques and went back out- disaster averted. Needless to say my passenger (an ex-fighter pilot) begged off any further rides. Second time was a bit more dramatic. At Palm Beach International shaking down another WSC car (don't ask about me and WSC cars- its a fatal attraction), and going between turn 4 and 5 (which is a short straight)- when I get a sudden vibration through the steering wheel-about a second later I catch something moving in my peripheral vision on the left (I'm sitting on the right side in the car) - and in a split second realize that the movement is in fact my left front wheel passing me- at the time I was doing maybe 90 so its accelerating away from me- bounces over the curbing and tags the retaining wall. So now I'm driving on three wheels in a rather expensive race car heading to a cambered turn- turns out a three wheel race car is more stable than one would expect (provided you don't hit the brakes) so I kept light throttle and coasted off into the grass. Upon further inspection we were able to determine that the single nut was not torqued to the required 350 foot pounds- and was able to back off. The wheel that passed me exited the body work with nothing more than a minor scratch on the paint. As is oft said- Its good to be skilled and its good to be lucky but on any given day I will take luck over skill- saved my bacon more than once!
thehackmechanic
Intermediate Driver

Holy crap.
Orict0015668
Pit Crew

Way back in 1977, shortly after my eighteenth birthday, myself and a small group of others piled into my 1971 Ford LTD for a trip to Misqumicut Beach in Rhode Island. It was a Saturday and drove the 50 or so miles north on I-95 for a night of revelry. At the end of the night we piled into the car and headed home. For some reason, I like to believe it was Devine intervention, I initially took U.S. 1 south instead of getting on the connector to I-95. I was in Westerly, R.I on Route 1, when suddenly the right rear wheel fell off and rolled by and into the break down lane and into the adjoining brush and overgrowth along the side of the road. It didn’t take long to navigate to the side of the road, and upon investigating the void where the tire once was, discovered the brake drum had separated along with the wheel. We located the wheel quickly enough, but after a half hour of searching, the drum was nowhere to be found. Upon retrieving the wheel, I had the good fortune of finding all of the lug nuts contained inside of the wheel cover. I reinstalled the wheel, and with the utmost care, nursed the car home, applying the brakes ever so gingerly as to not blow out the wheel cylinder. I successfully navigated home without further incident, though it took twice as long. The next morning, after conducting a thorough inspection, I discovered that the brake cylinder was fine and the only loss was the brake drum, which was a quick fix after a visit to Rocklen’s Auto Parts. I torqued ALL of the lugs nuts on each wheel and was good to go. I could never figure out what really happened as I always torqued the lug nuts when installing the wheels, and had not performed any swaps or changes for at least two months prior. The only thing I could think was somebody at Misquamicut Beach committed a random act of criminal mischief of which I was the victim. At the end of the day we all were all right and survived without any lasting effects, except a memory retold every so often when we do get together.
jaysalserVW
Intermediate Driver

I find that proper cleaning of each lug nut (or bolt as may be the case) is very important to proper torquing. Metal to metal is so important. Also, the fad to powder-coating wheels has led to some loosened lug nuts/bolts because of the "plasticity" of the powder-coating--it "gives" and does not allow for proper torquing.
mrvans
New Driver

Thanks for the story. It reminded me of a summer night from my high school days in the 70’s. A friend worked on and regularly drove Model A’s. This particular night we were in his Tudor on a country road driving back into town. On a long downhill run, we could just make out the left rear wheel pass us in the dim headlights. Totally unfazed, my friend broke into his best Kenny Roger’s impression and sang “you picked a fine time to leave me loose wheel”.
Fortunately the car had a forwarded weight bias and we coasted to a stop on three wheels. The old Model A had an readily available spare and we returned to the scene in the daylight of the following day to locate the errant wheel in a roadside ditch. No harm, no fowl and a story well remembered nearly fifty years later.
SS396
New Driver

As a 16 year old kid, soon to get my license, my Dad started teaching me the fine art of caring for the family car. Living in Maine in the 60's, fall was the time to install the snow tires on his new '68 Olds. I got the job......and I'd seen this done many times. In my haste to complete my first solo job I couldn't wait to pop on the wheel covers! On the first trip, we had traveled about 20 miles when a vibration was noticed. While he was looking for a safe place to pull over, a loud rattling racket started coming from the rear end. He knew the sound, it was the lug nuts rattling around inside the hub cap, and the swearing began! This was the first indication that what ever was occurring had to be my fault! He told me to remove the wheel cover and to my surprise, there were 4 lug nuts floating around in the hub cap. After reinstalling the lugs we got back in the car to continue the journey and he ranted and raved all the way home. The only damage was to my tender teenaged ego. After a week of him telling me and anyone else within ear shot about my screw up he forgot about it. Needless to say, I never forgot that teachable moment!
Ric_Rabbit
Pit Crew

This happened to me years ago on a family vacation with a camping trailer. The trailer had a flat tire near South of the Border at the NC/SC state line so I pulled in at about 6.00 am to change it. The trip was turning out to be a disaster - just a half hour or so before my van needed to be jump started - and I was in a less than good mood. I got distracted from my usual routine of wheel changing, the final step being tighten the bolts when the tires is on the ground, and headed north on I-95. For about 300 yards. Ka-thwump! I pulled over on the shoulder, found the wheel, but the four lug nuts were long gone so I used two from the other side. We continued north on 95, stopping every five miles or so to check the lugs, until we got to Fayetteville, NC to buy new nuts and a battery. I sold the trailer when we got home two weeks later.
77GL
Intermediate Driver

Try traveling on the interstate on a motorcycle and meeting a semi's wheel going faster than the semi across the median and seemingly headed straight for you no matter if you speed up or slow down.
rmc5m
New Driver

Mine happened in 1977 with a 1974 Monte Carlo. I had just stopped at a friends garage to have the brakes checked and tires rotated. I asked him to be careful with the impact as the wheels were brand new Cragar SSs. I left the shop and started down the road. After about a mile I saw a wheel and tire roll past me - that's weird. Next thing I knew, thump, the left rear drum was digging into the asphalt. The tire roll a few hundred feet and rested against the guardrail. I went to retrieve the tire and on the way back I spotted my friend coming down the road in his tow truck. I thought that was a strange coincidence. As it turns out he must have been shaken by me asking him to be careful with the impact and forgot to tighten the nuts on that wheel. As soon as he realized what he had done he set out after me with the tow truck. Needless to say, I didn't pay for the tow back to the shop. He replaced the studs and lug nuts for free - of course. Miraculously the wheel suffered no damage.
Richard
Pit Crew

I had a friend who acquired a Triumph GT6+ It came with the spindles and spinners and a set of tires that had not been installed. He wanted to use the knock-offs, so he had the spindles mounted by a local tire shop who had no idea what nearside/offside meant. They got the wheels on the wrong sides.
My friend took out his GT6+ out for a drive and was doing about 90 mph when the rear wheel passed him. He was unhappy to say the least. It didn't do any damage to the car and he found the spinner and had everything remounted.
MR
Pit Crew

After detailing the under carriage and fender wells of my Karmann Ghia I reinstalled the tires. The lugs were all hand tightened before lowering to the ground. I started torqueing everything to the prescribed 103 ft. lbs. Somewhere during the process I got interrupted.
A couple of days later I took a little drive. Fortunately I took the back way to the interstate. The front left wheel collapsed into the wheel well while doing a turn at about 10mph. Has I taken the short straight trip to the on-ramp that wheel/tire probably would have been ejected at speed and maybe killing someone. I was very lucky no damage was done except to my ego. It could have been so much worse!
-Nate
Intermediate Driver

VW's used 65# torque spec....

-Nate
ed
Intermediate Driver

Similar thing happened to a buddy many years ago. He was driving his '67 Firebird 400 from Atlanta to Daytona. Right rear drops and starts dragging. He see his RR wheel/tire go past him, with the axle still attached. Ruined an otherwise perfectly good trip to Daytona.

I am guilty of replacing brake pads on a '71 Celica and hearing the washboard banging as I left for work the next day. Forgot to tighten on both sides.

Punk
Intermediate Driver

This is one of my worst nightmares that - thankfully - has not - yet - come to pass. I have cars mostly with wire wheels, meaning knockoffs. Many years ago I had an MGB and thought I had hit the knockoff with the hammer the right number of times. I headed off down the road and heard an odd grinding noise. Fortunately I was about to get on the freeway and not on the freeway. I walked back and found the tire was rubbing against the inside of the fender. I thought the knockoffs automatically tightened as you drove? I guess that only works if you have them on the correct side! D'oh!
SSyzdek
New Driver

I was a Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper in the 1980s and I have two "Loose Tire" tales to tell. The first one was west of Reno on I80. I was dispatched to a single vehicle accident involving a 1968 Chevy. Upon arrival i observed that the Chevy had been struck head on dead center in the grille by a wheel and tire. It caved in the front about 2 feet. The driver said he saw the tire just feet before he hit it. I looked around and about a half mile away in the other side of I80 there was an AMC Javelin on the side of the road sitting lopsided with a missing left rear tire. I drove over there to talk with the driver of the Javelin. He had just driven from a tire shop in Truckee, California. He saw the tire pass him and go down into the median and bounce up and land right in the path of the oncoming car. He was able to pull the car over without much damage. The Chevy just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Chevy was severely damaged. The driver was lucky that the tire didn't come through the windshield.
The next incident was in the Las Vegas area on US 95. I came across a BMW 3 series on the side of the highway with a rear tire loose in the wheel well. He had just come from a tire shop about a mile away. He had just pulled on the highway when the wheel came loose. I gave him a ride back to the tire shop where the shop was going to drive him back to his car with a floor jack. I drove back to his car and on the way, I found 3 or 4 of the missing lug nuts in the roadway. I waited at the car for the driver and stayed there until the shop got the tire back on without incident.
red-on-red
Intermediate Driver

Rob ... You forgot to mention the part where your wheel bounced off the rear quarter of that parked blue Mustang. Oh well, pretty sure the statute of limitations covers that one by now, ... Good story.
awfink55
Pit Crew

All great stories: All I can add is.............." I PLEAD THE FIFTH"
psg
New Driver

Been there and kinda dun that. I have a wonderful memory (age 16 in the late '60's) of my AHealey 1954 100-4 left rear wheel passing by me as the car dropped to the brake backing plate. The road filed off about a half inch of the previously round plate. Off course I hit the brake which immediately went to the floor, as I lost the whole assembly, wire wheel with knock-off intact, brake drum and mounting assembly. I never knew why it happened but the wheel ended up in the ditch as I serenely steered it into the grade school parking lot on a summer afternoon. I found myself wondering how to explain why my wheel was in the ditch and my car was in the parking lot, missing a wheel. It still was a delightful afternoon. A couple of tools to reattach the bolts which were in the road and a 2 block drive to the house. Never happened again and no I didn't use a torque wrench on the four bolts.
Hymie60
Intermediate Driver

I like the not registering the car, no insurance and swapping the license plates on a car that didn't even look like the legal car. Very clever and extremely funny. Keep up the good work Mr. Siegel!
Your wife must be a very, very patient woman. And very brave driving any family vehicle you've worked on, I look forward to your next "OOPS".
CitationMan
Detailer

The scariest thing I have ever seen on an Interstate was a truck losing two rear wheels off the same corner of its flat bed trailer. One wheel bounced off the highway into a residential area where, thank God, the homes were set far back. The other wheel fell on its side and slid like an air hockey puck, bouncing off the Jersey walls multiple times across all four lanes. The trucker did a masterful job of controlling the swinging trailer and preventing a jackknife.
JSievers
Intermediate Driver

I had a 58 Rambler with a "Knee Action" trunion front suspension. I knew from the noise it was badly worn, but what could go wrong, right? One night I drove over two sets of railroad tracks and suddenly heard the tire rubbing the bodywork. I pulled off the road ASAP and stopped. After a quick inspection that revealed nothing particularly suspicious, I put the car in reverse thinking I might be able to make it home. The car moved about one foot and the right front tire folded out like the car was auditioning to be a Lotus Esprit in a James Bond film! After a tow home and a call to the parts store the next day I discovered there was a repair kit available with modified parts that would prevent such a failure in the future. Thankfully the problem didn't occur on the freeway. God looks after the young and dumb!
-Nate
Intermediate Driver

Good to know I'm not alone here....

My 1959 Metropolitan Nash 1500 F.H.C. was my daily and road rally car for decades, in one year I ripped the center out of six wheels before I gave up and began driving that car slower .

-Nate
eltonfan
New Driver

It happened to me, through no apparent fault of mine. My wife and I were celebrating our 40th anniversary at the Beau Rivage hotel in Biloxi. She suggested we use the Chevelle for the short trio there since it was winter, but good weather forecast. I readily agreed eager to get the car out for some fresh air.
The car drive fine with no problems all the way there. On our return trip home I heard what sounded like bearings scraping, pulled over on I-10 to take a look. My visual inspection and kicking of the tires showed nothing out of the ordinary. I got back in and creeped along the emergency lane with the noise still going (duh, I’d done nothing to rectify it). I take the first exit I can in hopes of having a repair shop there waiting for me, but no. There is a gas station on the right, so I turn the steering wheel to head in and the left front wheel came off and rolled straight on the road I was on, the car immediately came to a grinding stop.
I suspect someone was either attempting to steal a wheel from me in the parking garage, or worse yet purposely loosened the lug nuts.
At any rate, this led to me making one of the best improvements I’ve made to my car. My son and I completely renovated the suspension. We put QA1 control arms and coil over adjustable shocks on all four corners, added/ replaced sway bars with UMI, and upgraded to all 4 power disk brake system.
I hate the reason I did this modification, but have loved my car all the more since doing it.
I now do not park the car in public places, and Keep it in my sight whenever we stop somewhere.
02-orignal-ownr
Intermediate Driver

That happened to me very early in my automotive ownership career. I was driving my recently acquired Renault 4CV--my first car--down the street in Ft Lauderdale when I noticed a wheel rolling along beside me, finally pulling a little ahead. My first thought was "That's odd." My next thought was, "Hey that wheel has only three lug nut holes, just like my Renault's." The third, almost instantaneous thought was, "That is my wheel."

Unlike Rob's adventure, the car didn't drop down on its right front brake drum, bur remained balanced on its three remaining wheels. 4CVs have a 30-70 rearward weight bias, and with the driver counterbalancing on the left side, there wasn't enough weight on the right front to cause the car to drop onto its brake drum. I was able to safely pull to the roadside and retrieve the wheel.

And since Renaults of that era had bolted-on hubcaps, I found all three lug nuts safely imprisoned under the hubcap. I barely had to jack the car up to reinstall the wheel, and went on my way. But I've never forgotten to tighten a lug nut since--once while on the jack, then the second time on the ground, this time with a torque wrench.
kchastain84
New Driver

Same thing happened to me while driving down the interstate in early 70's VW bug. The wheel passed us and my buddies were howling with laughter. At least until the axle touched the ground and sent sparks flying. It was the rear passenger wheel so everyone was leaning to the left to keep the car level and off the ground. Once we retrieved the wheel from the tall grass along I75 my three buddies picked up the rear of the car and we tightened the lugs and went on down the road. I've never been a fan of the VW center hub cap but that night it so graciously caught every lug nut and just added to the laughter this story gets every time its retold - especially from my wife who was waiting patiently in a group we were meeting up with for what became out first date.
Ozarksgent
New Driver

Had a similar experience...twice! Mid-1970's, in my '67 Corvette coupe. Scored a set of "real" spinner knock-off wheels (the earlier Sting Ray wheels; the ones for '67 had been "Naderized" with no spinners), had them installed at a "big box" auto service center. Drove about 2 miles and the right rear wheel and tire go flying by me off the street and into someone's yard. Luckily the connection points for the rear transverse leaf spring had long connecting shafts which dropped about 2" below the brakes, so no damage, just lots of sparks and noise. Pulled off the street, retrieved my wheel and tire, jacked up the car, put the wheel back on and beat the knock off back on with the lead hammer (yes, the real one supplied when you got knock offs). Drove down the road about 3 more miles and there it goes off into another yard again! It was then I realized that the "big box" center had installed the adapters on the WRONG sides of the car (they were directional right and left, so installed correctly they would constantly TIGHTEN the wheel). Gingerly I got my wheel back on and VERY SLOWLY drove back the the auto center, explained the problem, and they put them on right this time. No harm done, but was pretty scary at the time!
Guitar74
Technician

I didn't have a wheel come off. But when we took my wife's Fiesta to IL to visit Dad after getting new tires put on it, all but one of the plastic factory "wheel covers" were mysteriously gone. I can imagine the people around us in say, downtown Atlanta or Nashville, watching a wheel cover fly off at highway speeds in those areas. She got a nice set of aluminum wheels for her birthday out of that one.

 

I didn't even notice if they were there or gone at the one fuel stop I have to make. I would say it all happened somewhere between North TN and IL. 

cwcmaser_3500
Pit Crew

I took delivery in the early 1980's of a used 1961 Maserati 3500 GT Vignale Spyder at the Concorso Italiano in Monterey, CA. After the event I proceeded to drive it home north up I5 to Vancouver B.C arriving in an early evening hour two days later. As I was driving along a downhill grade on Granville Street prior to crossing the 8 lane Granville Bridge into downtown I thought I heard some sort of a distance clunk but car was running fine so kept on. Within downtown Vancouver I was proceeding around 30 mph toward a red light about a block away and as I braked for the light I noticed a rather nice Borrani wire wheel driving alongside and then ahead of my car. YIKES - that is from MY car. I gently braked to a stop and watched the wheel cross the intersection bounce up the curb and come to rest against a street lamp post. Needless to say I got the car flat bed towed to the shop from that point. Went back the next day to try and find the Borrani three eared spinner with no luck at all !
Regards, Colin
brb
Detailer

Great story! Back in the day I had a '77 IHC Scout on which I had just replaced the rear bearings. Had my mother in the truck for an outing when the right rear wheel and axle(!) departed the vehicle and centered itself on the road like a flag pole. That's when I learned you change the race with the bearings.
JHaydon
Pit Crew

My dad's Porsche 911, which he let me use for autocrosses. I had just finished bleeding the brakes with my brother and was setting my trusty torque wrench when he asked "why are you doing that? Dad always just stomped on a breaker bar." I explained the difference between aluminum Porsche wheels and the steel wheels on a VW Beetle, but I must have found the explanation much more interesting than he did. Instead of actually USING the torque wrench, I absent-mindedly re-set it to zero and put it away, running my stupid mouth the whole stupid time. Lucky doesn't begin to describe the fact that I was only going about 25mph when I heard the whump-whump-whump. I got it pulled over just in time. And my brother was following me in his car, so he ran home and got the torque wrench while I sat in the car, trying desperately to stop shaking.