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Trailer loses tire; driver doesn’t know. Moral: Check those lug nuts!

Reader Wayne Caldwell wrote in with this story. It’s a good reminder for us all. 

Back in early April, I removed each wheel from our travel trailer, then the bearings so I could clean and repack them. I used my impact wrench (air gun) to shoot the lug nuts back on and went back over each one a second time to ensure each was tight, and then checked the air pressure in each tire.

We took a trip 430 miles each way from Belen, NM, to Midland, TX, the last week of April.

Mid-May we got ready to go to Moab, UT, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks. I rechecked the air pressures, loaded up the groceries and we were off for a five-day, 900-mile round trip. On our return, we stopped a few times for potty break and I walked around looking everything over, making sure everything was in place and all was well.

We cruised along at about 65 mph and got back to Belen at about 2 p.m. We live at the end of a cul-de-sac and I make my u-turn to get our 35′ travel trailer lined up to back it into our parking spot.

As I began straightening the trailer, I noticed we were missing the left-front tire on our trailer. It was gone! And we didn’t know it!

After disconnecting the trailer, we retraced our route back to I-40 looking for our tire.

The next day, I drove back to Grants (our last stop), 100 miles each way and couldn’t find the tire. My wife had checked the state police sites for any accident info about a lone tire and, thankfully, there hadn’t been.

The following day I was driving back home from breakfast with “the guys” and sitting in a neighbor’s front yard. There, one block from our house, was our tire and wheel. It had left the trailer the last left turn onto our street and had slowly rolled into his driveway. Four lug nuts had vibrated loose and the two remaining studs broke off. Other than several more grey hairs and about 300 additional miles, all this cost me was 6 new lug studs and a new rim (the tire was undamaged).

Now, honestly, how many of us check the lug nuts before we leave home or the campsite? I’m guessing that maybe 1 in 100 (if even that many) check. Until last week, I was one of the 99. Are you the 1 or one of the 99?

RELATED

RV Tire Safety: Lug nut torque – a critical safety item

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Eric
4 months ago

I always carry a torque wrench and check the lug nuts from the start of the trip, until none of them move even the slightest bit Checking them when the wheel warms up always allows them to be tightened some more, even though the torque wrench is set to the exact same number.

Roger Marble
4 months ago

I believe your rv owner manual tells you to check the lug nut torque a few times after changing a wheel. Also if you had a TPMS you would get a “Lost Signal” warning within a few seconds (10 to 20 I think but different TPMS have different timings).

Stu Mathison
4 months ago

A lot of trucks and buses have “pointers” that slip over the lug nuts that would quickly show if any were loosening as they all point the same direction when the nuts are tightened. Does anyone know if they exist for the normal 13/16 size nuts?

Wayne Caldwell
4 months ago

It’s reassuring to know that most people actually do check all of their trailer’s lug nuts prior to leaving home or the campsite. I know that after this experience I will be checking mine. (Thankfully the wheel came off during a +/- 10mph left turn the last residential city block going to our house and not at any higher speed).

Lynn
4 months ago

Lose the impact wrench, there is no way of knowing the torque without a torque wrench. I don’t understand the value of something that saves little time and may cause so many problems.

Dr4Film
4 months ago

That rim appears to be an aluminum one which means that after its initial installation and torque most reputable shops will always state that after 50-100 miles of travel the lug nuts need to be re-torqued to spec’s as aluminum rims react differently than steel rims.

Terry
4 months ago

Think of a lug bolt as a spring, if you pull it too hard it will over stretch and not go back. I bolt will do the same thing. Over tightening a lug bolt with an air wrench will do that to the lug nut – cause it to lose its spring then come loose. You should always tighten to proper torque with a torque wrench. I would recommend that all the lug bolts on all wheels that were over tightened with the air wrench be replaced ASAP

Terry
4 months ago
Reply to  Terry
Ray
4 months ago

Your story makes me wonder. If one possesses a full time tire pressure monitoring system and loses a wheel, it would seem the system would sound the alarm as the wheel became out of range. Has anyone experienced that?

Further I also assume a TPMS cannot detect a wobble, although it would seem entirely feasible to manufacture one that could.

Bob
4 months ago

I carry a torque wrench in the trailer. Check the lug nuts before we leave the house and leaving every campground. Sounds like a waste of time, but it only takes 5 minutes.
As far as having the wheels removed, using an impact wrench doesn’t mean the lugs are tightened to the correct torque. Plus, after replacing the wheels, the nuts should be checked after the first 100 miles.

Gman
4 months ago
Reply to  Bob

I have this same ritual. Better safe than sorry.

David Onder
4 months ago
Reply to  Bob

Same here. Just takes a couple of minutes. I also purchased a TPMS which should alert me if the unfortunate should happen.

Bob Palin
4 months ago

“Trailer loses tire”
How do you lose a tire off a wheel?

Dan
4 months ago

Just a thought. Could you have over tightened the lug nuts with your impact and damaged one or more wheel lugs? Possibly even under tightened with your impact wrench? That’s another reason to only snug the lug nuts with an impact. That gets them centered if you use a star or cross pattern, and then tighten them with a torque wrench, using the same star or cross pattern. Hopefully somewhere there is a torque specification for the lug nuts on your trailer. In spite of that, sometimes things just fail.

Donald N Wright
4 months ago

I check them every trip, but certainly not every day. Why is it we see so many trailers lose their wheels, but not cars and trucks ?

Bob
4 months ago

If you watch your trailer tires when making sharp turns, you will see how much they flex and twist. This puts a lot of pressure on the wheels and axles because the axles are solid.
The front wheels on cars and trucks turn in the direction of the turn.

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