He overtorqued my nuts!
February 13, 2010 12:23 PM   Subscribe

Lugnuts-filter? Tire changer place torqued my nuts well past 200ft-pounds (spec is 73ft-pounds). 3 lugs are stripped, 4 nuts are cross-threaded beyond use, one lug nut is missing, and one lug sheared off entirely. What will I need to win in small claims court? (photo link within)

I want to bill the place for a flat-bed tow to the service shop, for the total repair costs, and the rental car during the process. Failing that, I'll take them to small claims court (here in CA) for the same.

Does this sound right? What evidence might I be missing? (photos here.)

Here's the first draft of my letter:

After having Rich's Tire Service install tires for my car, upon rotating the wheels myself, every lug nut was immovable by me and registered well past the maximum scale of 150 foot-pounds on my torque wrench.

I returned to Rich's Tire Service on [date]. Upon talking with "Ricky", he unspun all the lug nuts with his impact wrench and retightened all but one, which was too stripped to thread at all. He said that his impact wrench tightens nuts to 80 foot-pounds. But together we both saw my torque wrench measure random nuts on every wheel at at least 140 foot-pounds. The torque specification for the OEM stock wheels on my car is 74 foot-pounds (100 newton meters).

Rotating the wheels today, I've discovered the following:
Left front wheel: 1 stripped lug and nut
Left rear wheel: 1 lug nut unthreadable by hand
Right rear wheel: 1 missing lug nut
Right front wheel:1 stripped lug and nut,
1 cross-threaded nut,
1 lug sheared off while loosening the nut.

With multiple lug nuts missing and the evidence that at least one lug was compromised to the point of failure, I am having the car towed to be serviced. Rich's Tire Service owes me 1)the cost of the tow, 2)the cost of repairs to make the car safe to drive, 3)the cost of a rental car during the process.

If I do not receive a response within two weeks of receipt of this registered letter, I will proceed with filing this matter in small claims court.
posted by lothar to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Wow! A lesson in tab-keeping on auto-mechanics for sure. Props for having the torque-wrench and photographing. Have you spoken to a manager? I'd try to talk my way up the management before sending bills or letters. Have estimates handy.

Were the photos taken on the return trip, i.e. did Ricky see your wrench register the high numbers? Put that boy on the stand (so to speak). The only thing else I would have done was to video the return job, but if it goes to court you should get the calibration records (or whatever can be used to balance their word) for the impacts. Your claim doesn't seem excessive.

I have to imagine that some tire places do this on purpose so that you can't work on your own car.
posted by rhizome at 12:36 PM on February 13, 2010

Response by poster: Ricky saw the torque wrench numbers both before and after he "loosened" them.
Photos were taken at home *after* Ricky "loosened" the nuts, because I couldn't budge them at all beforehand. I even bent a four way lugnut tool trying to remove them beforehand.

I'll get a letter from the dealer after having the car serviced.

I'll present the total bill to Rich's Tire Service before I sue them.
posted by lothar at 12:43 PM on February 13, 2010

Have you given the shop the chance to make it right first? Replacing lugs isn't that hard. I'd do that before having the place towed somewhere else.
posted by 6550 at 1:07 PM on February 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

The most glaring thing that I see missing is the lack of dates. For example, when (if) you go to court, it would be best if your latter to Rich's had said, When you installed tire on such and such date ....when I rotated the tires on such and such date and so on.... Their reasonable response is that they have no control over whether you screwed around with the tires after you left the shop, so the main thrust of your proof is going to be on the observations made when they loosened and re-tightened the lug nuts. Now you are counting upon Ricky's desire to be correct under oath versus his desire to keep his job. Maybe you can record him in conversation about what happened before you approach the Manager. Don't do this over the phone as recording without Ricky's knowledge may be illegal.
posted by Old Geezer at 1:16 PM on February 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding giving them the chance to make it right first. Don't be suit happy.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:38 PM on February 13, 2010

Best answer: Mistakes happen. You should give them a chance to fix it first.
I've made some pretty big blunders in my past and I've been grateful for the chance to make it right.
If they refuse to repair your lugs, which should be pretty cheap and easy, then you should proceed. But not before then.
posted by Jon-o at 2:16 PM on February 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Wheel studs are designed to be replaceable. As upsetting (and potentially dangerous) as this is, this is not the same as over-torquing your head bolts. I would first ask the shop that did the work to replace the studs, and to ask them to hand tighten the lug nuts when they are replaced. And yeah, it would be reasonable to ask them to either give you a loaner or cover the cost of a rental for a day. When you go to pick up the car, I would also pick a few lug nuts at random and ask them to remove/reinstall by hand in your presence, just to make sure they did it right.
posted by mosk at 2:28 PM on February 13, 2010

Best answer: There are specific tools to use when using an impact to run lug nuts on. They look like an extension - one end fits the square of the impact, the other has a hex for the lugnut. The middle of the tools is necked down to about 3/8" (10mm). The tool is made of a springy steel, so that the thin part acts as a torsion spring and doesn't allow for overtightening. Seems like they weren't using this. Shame on them.

But yeah, go to the shop first, see if they'll make you whole. The studs and new lugs will be about 10 or 12 per, so 4 wheels times 4 lugs/wheel=$200.
posted by notsnot at 2:42 PM on February 13, 2010

Oh, and as part of the work to replace the studs, they will also need to repack or replace your wheel bearings on all four wheels. They should include that as part of the stud replacement.
posted by mosk at 2:46 PM on February 13, 2010

Oh, and as part of the work to replace the studs, they will also need to repack or replace your wheel bearings on all four wheels.

That not a certainty. Many studs can be driven out and reinstalled without removing the hub from the bearing. There's a little finagling involved, but more often than not, it's doable. I would't count on, or insist on, a bearing service in this instance.

posted by Jon-o at 3:14 PM on February 13, 2010

Best answer: While I agree with talking to a manager or owner first, I also believe that the info you've given here speaks for itself. (I'd be effin' pissed.)

DON'T forget to have your rims checked. They look pretty good in your close ups, but with that kind of torque I wouldn't be surprised at all if you find a crack or two.
posted by snsranch at 3:39 PM on February 13, 2010

I'll n'th the make it right crowd, but I'd also try to find out whether Ricky has learned a lesson and isn't continuing to put hundreds/thousands of cars on the road in unsafe condition.
posted by fairmettle at 3:41 PM on February 13, 2010

The rental car charge is fairly tenuous, since it shouldn't take all that long to replace even all the lug nuts and studs. Most towns will have a parts supplier that should have your parts in stock. And yes, you should give the shop an opportunity to resolve the problem. In small claims court, you generally have a responsibility to mitigate your damages** and I would think that this would be the first step in doing so.

** I am definitely not a lawyer, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
posted by jeffrygardner at 5:58 PM on February 13, 2010

Best answer: Wheel studs are designed to be replaceable. As upsetting (and potentially dangerous) as this is, this is not the same as over-torquing your head bolts.

Why not? I'd say it is worse, personally - in one case you have a warped head on the engine. Expensive and it'll likely brake down. Not that much of a deal beyond money, really. In this case, you have wheels potentially coming off - they tend to do so at the point of maximum loading - ie cornering. You are unlikely to die from breaking down, you are much more likely to die from a wheel coming off as you exit the highway and flip into a tree.

Oh, and as part of the work to replace the studs, they will also need to repack or replace your wheel bearings on all four wheels.

Agree with jon-o that this is not at all definite. It depends on the car.

I also agree that asking for a rental car is tenuous, but they should sure as hell be paying for the repair. I'd be quietly indignant, take all documents with me and date/time everything and go straight to the manager/area manager with it. If the location manager isn't immediately open to fixing the issue, I'd not argue but go straight up the chain. No messing.

They may insist on fixing it themselves - as this reduces their liability - and this should be acceptable as long as the company takes full responsibility for the issue and addresses it. It would seem reasonable, and so it could damage your subsequent claim if they offer to fix it (to your satisfaction, with new wheel studs and nuts) and you refuse and present a dealer bill.

Totally agree with not driving the car anywhere until you have all new wheel nuts and studs.
posted by Brockles at 6:21 PM on February 13, 2010

I second getting the rims getting checked. There was some serious torque on them there nuts.
posted by woodjockey at 11:09 PM on February 13, 2010

DON'T forget to have your rims checked. They look pretty good in your close ups, but with that kind of torque I wouldn't be surprised at all if you find a crack or two.
I second getting the rims getting checked.

in terms of wheel stud threads, the torques mentioned here are extremely bad. In terms of the rims themselves, it's really nothing big. You're not going to put enough force into a wheel to crack it with a puny air gun. Just not going to happen.

It's extraordinarily unlikely you will have damaged a rim from this issue.
posted by Brockles at 2:49 AM on February 14, 2010

@brockles ... don't be too sure about the rims ... depends on the rim design. For example, old VW beetles had a mildly sprung rim by design ... over-torquing by a rattle gun would "unspring" the rim ... removing a basic part of the function of the rim (it being designed to act a little like a split washer) ... making it less safe and less grippy. Probably doesn't apply to the OP ... but ...
posted by jannw at 4:29 AM on February 14, 2010

It is a cast aluminium alloy rim. It is unlikely to the point of almost impossible that it would be damaged by over-torquing in this manner (the threads will always fail before this were likely), nor could it be 'sprung' in the manner you describe (but that I can't find any evidence to support, incidentally).

A pressed steel rim (like I suspect you are referring to in the Beetle example) is a completely different matter and is not relevant to this issue. The tapered seat for the nut/bolt on that kind of wheel could be damaged by over-torque by deforming and reducing the contact area for the wheel nut in that instance, which would make the wheel prone to loosening of the wheel nuts, but I have never heard of a wheel where a non-replaceable part of the wheel itself was used as a spring washer. In all the cases I have come across, manufacturers just use a tapered spring washer on the nut itself.

Can you cite a source?
posted by Brockles at 4:49 AM on February 14, 2010

I don't suppose there's any chance you have AAA and the shop is a AAA Approved Repair facility? If both are yes, AAA can deal with the shop on your behalf and they usually are more likely to side with the member.
posted by speeb at 5:55 AM on February 14, 2010

Best answer: Since Ricky didn't use the aforementioned Torque Bars, the shop should replace ALL lug bolts and lug nuts free of charge. If the manager has a problem with this, take them to court. And also report them the the BBB. FWIW, I am a mechanic and Ricky put your life at risk. Even if some of the lugs appear undamaged, putting that kind of torque on them has stressed the metal and quite likely weakened them.

As far as your rims go, they should be okay, but visually inspect them. If there is ANY visible damage in the holes where the lugs go, the shop owes you a new set of rims, as well. Rims are designed to prevent structural damage from over-tightening lug nuts, but being alloy, they may be cosmetically damaged, despite the fact that damage is in the hole. It doesn't matter, if Ricky damaged them in anyway, the shop owes you a new set of rims. Not likely, but indeed possible.

Deal with the service manager/owner from here on out. If they give you any problem what-so-ever in resolving this issue, have the car repaired somewhere else (make sure that they give you the old/damaged parts) and take them to court. (If it is a chain, I would try contacting the corporate office and see if they are willing to reimburse you).
posted by peewinkle at 6:47 AM on February 14, 2010

Response by poster: Many thanks for the useful answers, folks. I'm "best answer[ing]" a number of posts here.

When "Ricky" retorqued the nuts, he handed me one that he couldn't get back on and said, "It's okay to drive with four [nuts on the wheel] for a while." The nut was hot enough to burn my hand, btw.

That, plus the cross-threaded and obviously not tightened nut tell me he didn't want to or couldn't make it right. There's no way I want to trust this place to do any more work. I'll send them the bill before I sue, though.

If it's resolved before this thread goes stale, I'll post here.
posted by lothar at 8:19 AM on February 14, 2010

You keep saying "Ricky" - do you suspect that is not his name? Was he the manager?

Seconding the let them make it right, or at least attempt to. Small claims court sounds like a bunch of my time and effort getting used for the same solution, versus going in there and freaking the f out in front of a bunch of other customers. Way more damaging to their bottom line too.
posted by Big_B at 8:11 PM on February 14, 2010

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