What's wrong with my car?
August 14, 2008 6:33 PM   Subscribe

What is wrong with my car?

As you can hopefully see from this photo, there is something large and metal that I believe is a part of the rear axle pressing hard into my rear passenger side tire and making it bulge out rather dramatically. There are more photos here. It's clearly not driveable, and I'm having it towed to a garage in the morning. But I hate looking like a dumb broad when I describe what's going on with my car to a mechanic, and I also fear that, to someone less than scrupulous, I have a big target on my head that says, "I'm a sucker and you can charge me anything!" Unfortunately, I don't yet have a trusted mechanic in my town (although I'm asking around tonight among local friends for recommendations). Therefore, I'm hoping to get at least an idea from you fine folks as to what could have happened. I don't recall going over any large potholes, and I didn't have an accident. The car just began making a loud noise, faster or slower depending upon how quickly the tires were rotating, as I drove home from work today. The noise obviously came from the metal pressing against the rotating tire, but I can't pinpoint anything that might have caused the axle, or whatever is pressing into the tire, to come... undone. Any thoughts from the more mechanically inclined? I'll be checking in and happy to provide any additional information. Oh, and it's a 2006 Saturn Ion, automatic tranmission.
posted by amro to Travel & Transportation (31 answers total)
Response by poster: I guess what I'm really looking for is a more educated way to explain over the phone to a mechanic what's going on.
posted by amro at 6:35 PM on August 14, 2008

My husband said he can't tell for sure from the angles of your pictures, but it could be the rear torsion bar or radius rod. A broken bracket or bushing would cause it.
posted by amyms at 6:42 PM on August 14, 2008

Oh wow -- thats neat. I didn't notice anything at first. Do you have AAA? I would pull the "silly blond" and ask them to replace the tire with the spare. When they say "OH MY GOD YOUR xyz IS BROKEN" be like "ohhhhhhhhh your so awesome".

Can you get a photo from the ground, under the bumper of the appropriate side, ponting up towards the area in question? .. or even better ~6 inches in, 12 inches from the bumper, on the ground, pointed at the area in question? Neither picture really shows what might be hitting the tire. Can you visibly see what it is? There isnt a WHOLE lot going on in the back of a RWD car... unless a spring broke or a strut is damaged, I am not sure what else it might be.. what does the object look like that is touching the tire?
posted by SirStan at 6:43 PM on August 14, 2008

Response by poster: I don't know if this helps any, but from this photo it looks to me like the whole tire has gone a little crooked, leaning to the right a bit.
posted by amro at 6:44 PM on August 14, 2008

In this pic: HERE is the BOTTOM also "bulging" in? Did the tire just come off the rim perhaps?
posted by SirStan at 6:48 PM on August 14, 2008

Response by poster: SirStan, unfortunately when I got home from work it had just rained and I park in a dirt lot, so to be honest I avoided taking any photos from way down on the ground so as not to be covered in mud. And within an hour after I arrived home, it was dark outside.
posted by amro at 6:48 PM on August 14, 2008

Response by poster: And to try to answer your question, whatever is pressing hard against the tire is only pressing on the part of the tire closest to the front of the car and facing in.
posted by amro at 6:50 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: From that picture, it doesn't look like anything is out of place. Are you sure there is actually something pressing onto the tire? Because anything that could deflect a tire that much would have shredded the tire on the ride home. Or not let it turn at all.

I think you have a bad tire. Separated tread or belt or something like that.
posted by gjc at 7:01 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: If you move the car slightly, does the bulge stay where it is, or rotate along with the tire?

The reason I ask is because both the bulge and the noise could come from a messed up tire (and nothing is actually pressing up against it). To get this much deformation on an inflated tired would require a _lot_ of force. Potentially enough force to keep the car from rolling (it would be like keeping the e-brake on).

If you reach around (teehee) the tire can you feel the bulge (teehee)? Can you also feel where (or if) the tire is hitting something?

You might just have a jacked up tired. If that is the case, the relatively easy and cheap fix is to just get a new tire.
posted by milqman at 7:05 PM on August 14, 2008

gjc beat me to it! Feel the area with your hand. My guess is you are just going to feel a bulge (teehee) and nothing touching it.
posted by milqman at 7:07 PM on August 14, 2008

Response by poster: I could feel something metal actually pressing into the tire, I just couldn't (or didn't want to) get down under the car and see what it was, exactly.
posted by amro at 7:09 PM on August 14, 2008

Response by poster: UPDATE: I'm an idiot and I posted too soon. I just checked again, and it's NOT metal pressing against the tire, it's that line you can see in some of the photos (a brake line?). Those who said the tire is just bulging are correct.

So, is there any correlation between the jacked up tire and the seemingly loose brake (or whatever) line? And how would a tire get jacked up like that?
posted by amro at 7:14 PM on August 14, 2008

Response by poster: Oh, and I loathe to keep posting over and over inmy own thread, but... Can I drive a few miles on that bulging tire? Or do I need to have it towed?
posted by amro at 7:16 PM on August 14, 2008

The safety of a bulged tire is directly related to your disregard for your own safety, and those you pass as you drive. If its 2 miles away? I'd go suuuuuper slow (10mph). If it requires highway driving -- no way. If its side roads and you can crawl along, and the tire isnt hitting anything -- perhaps.

If you were a friend of mine? I'd tell you to tow it.
posted by SirStan at 7:22 PM on August 14, 2008

Can you have a friend/relative help you put on the spare tire in the morning? It may just be the tire and you can see if something is damaged behind it. I wouldn't drive it with that bulge.
posted by lee at 7:27 PM on August 14, 2008

Change the tyre. Do NOT drive on it at all.

The 'loose line' looks like the handbrake/e-brake cable, to me. Change the wheel, and pay close attention when you fit the spare whether it hits the cable or not - even if it does, it is unlikely to matter for a short drive to the mechanic at slow speed, and it is unlikely to be anything like teh cause of the issue. The tyre is screwed up and the cable is loose. It is (from what I can tell - which isn't a lot) not a connected issue. You have a deformed/permanently damaged tyre, and you happen to have a handbrake/ebrake cable out of its clip. One is minor. The other is the tyre and ZOMG do not drive it anywhere like that.
posted by Brockles at 7:28 PM on August 14, 2008

I'm amazed and disappointed by the comments assuming that since you are female, you are incapable of changing a tire by yourself. The way to fix this is to put on the spare, throw the bad tire in the trunk, and then go get a new tire. A unneeded tow could cost you almost as much as the repair.
posted by fritley at 7:42 PM on August 14, 2008

I'm female and if I had to choose between changing a tire around that sort of mud and getting AAA to tow the car or change the tire for me, I'd go with AAA. If you don't have AAA then yeah, changing a tire is something you can TOTALLY do by yourself, just make sure to re-tughten the lug nuts once you put the car back on the ground and off the jack (I forgot this once, big mistake). Good luck!
posted by jessamyn at 8:05 PM on August 14, 2008

"just make sure to re-tughten the lug nuts once you put the car back on the ground and off the jack"

And then AGAIN after you have moved the car. This is not being anal. Its a good way to lose a tire if you dont check it after you move the car.
posted by SirStan at 8:09 PM on August 14, 2008

As for how it could get jacked up like that:
Bad parallel parking job
Intense heat (on that part of the tire)
Road debris
Faulty tire

Putting on the spare should not be too tough. If the mud is too sloppy for the jack, put a board under it.

Is the brake line _actually_ touching the tire? That would surprise me a bit. When you change the tire, check its path. You might just find that it is routed near the tire (which would not surprise me).

Good luck!
posted by milqman at 8:23 PM on August 14, 2008

I'm amazed and disappointed by the comments assuming that since you are female, you are incapable of changing a tire by yourself.

I'm amazed that the one comment suggesting someone else change the tyre makes you assume incapability.

Point 1: If they had any intention of changing the tyre, they'd have done it rather than mess about taking pictures. It would have been enormously easier to have taken the tyre off to look at it to diagnose the issue - even if were to then just take pictures. The fact that the tyre wasn't removed indicates that they don't want to/can't be arsed to/don't know how to/don't have time to take it off themselves. None of which is a sexist issue. Taking a tyre off in a muddy car park is a shitty job, and potentially dangerous for the lack of a suitable support for the jack.

Point 2: One person does not make 'comments'. Especially when even that one doesn't fit your parameters.

Point 3: Many people, when at home and clean, can't be arsed to change a tyre if they have either an alternative (a recovery service) or think that there is something else besides a tyre that is wrong. Both of those elements are strongly implied by the question.

No-one said "does the lickle girl need a big strong man to do it for you?". One person just acknowledged that there is, at the very least, significant reluctance to crawl around on the floor changing a tyre in this instance implicit in the question and responses. Your accusation is unfounded.
posted by Brockles at 8:42 PM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Uhm, yes, thanks Brockles.
posted by lee at 9:03 PM on August 14, 2008

My daughter's car recently had a defective tire that was bulging out, not as bad as this though. It isn't uncommon. The suspension on many cars is very close to the tire, and it's not a problem if everything is as it should be. The huge bulge may be sticking out so far that it is not able to clear the suspension. Or the noise could just be from trying to drive on a tire with a gigantic bump in it. In either case, replacing the tire will fix everything. I am willing to bet that your suspension is fine, it's just the tire, but the pictures don't give a good enough view to be able to tell.
posted by Daddy-O at 10:34 PM on August 14, 2008

I'm amazed and disappointed by the comments assuming that since you are female, you are incapable of changing a tire by yourself.

Thanks, Don Quixote.

I'd be surprised if you could properly change a tire. Because to properly change a tire, you need a torque wrench and the right torque values for your lug nuts. I doubt most people even know the correct values, even though I'd bet they're written in the owner's handbook that's likely hidden away in the glove compartment.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:25 AM on August 15, 2008

Response by poster: Well, it was probably pretty clear from my question and subsequent comments that I know nothing about cars, including how to change a tire (a situation I should remedy, but that's beside the point). I don't think anyone was making assumptions based on my gender. Luckily, I do have roadside assistance, and had the choice to either have it towed or to have the spare put on so I can drive it to a garage myself. Since it's still a bit muddy and I don't know for sure that the tire is the only problem, I elected to have it towed. But when the tow truck guy gets here shortly, if he thinks it's fine to put the spare on and would rather do that, he can have at it.
posted by amro at 4:43 AM on August 15, 2008

I think that you might have gotten brake fluid on the tire! That could cause the rubber to warp, and also is an obvious brake problem. Have the pro handle it.
posted by Citrus at 8:27 AM on August 15, 2008

Woo, sorry everyone, I was wrong - lee's was the only one like that (and it turned out to be correct that she doesn't know how to do it). I will look elsewhere for windmills. Comment #2 on my account and I already messed up.

Thanks, Brockles, for disputing my comment instead of attacking me. You were right.

Civil_Disobedient: It is neither here nor there, but I do have a torque wrench. You are right that although the manual may say to, I wouldn't bother to use it when changing a tire, and especially not in a situation like amro's. I also suspect you are right that few people have memorized the suggested torques for the various parts of their cars. (?)
posted by fritley at 9:32 AM on August 15, 2008

Best answer: BTW, if this experience (which had me stumped) leaves you wanting to learn a little more about cars, I'd highly recommend Deanna Sclar's Auto Repair for Dummies. The title's a bit of a misnomer: it won't transform you into a gear-head who takes engines apart on the weekends. What it's good for is a really approachable "crash course" in cars: a basic overview of how everything actually works, and lots of tips on doing basic stuff like changing tires, checking oil, and so forth. (And the foreword definitely addresses the, "Mechanics won't be as likely to want to take advantage of you" thing.)

I haven't even read it in full, but the beginning sections, plus consulting various sections, has transformed me from the goofball that goes looking for a screwdriver to change a tire or spends five minutes popping the trunk and gas tank open trying to figure out how to open the hood, into someone who hasn't brought his car in for service in a long time (no need!), and who was able to figure out why the lawnmower wouldn't start and replace the spark plug.
posted by fogster at 10:24 AM on August 15, 2008

When its fixed, Be sure to let us know what was wrong!

posted by Ryaske at 10:44 AM on August 15, 2008

Response by poster: It was just the tire. The tow truck guy was totally impressed, (He said, "That's the biggest bulge I've ever seen!" I resisted the urge to say "That's what she said.") When he drove it out of my driveway to get it in place behind the tow truck, the tire popped with a loud noise. I feel pretty lucky that it didn't pop when I was doing 70 on the interstate yesterday.

Thanks for all your help, guys.
posted by amro at 2:25 PM on August 15, 2008

I'm glad it was nothing more serious than the tire, and glad you weren't hurt..
posted by Daddy-O at 10:01 PM on August 15, 2008

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