A reader named Roberto just sent a video of his car crashing at a race track because of loose lug nuts. Many of us can relate; I myself have far too many stories about loose lug nuts, including one involving a professional technician at Fiat Chrysler and a preproduction Jeep Cherokee KL. And you know how many such stories I should have? Zero. Because folks should just tighten their damn lug nuts.
Roberto’s crash happened at Virginia International Raceway on March 23.
“I forgot to tighten my lug nuts to spec and the rear left wheel came off during the race,” he told Jalopnik in an email. “The way the car impacted the tire wall meant much of the energy was dissipated throughout the side of the car,” he continued. “I walked away from the car with no injuries due to the safety gear working as expected.
Here’s the video of the incident:
Roberto got lucky; this could have wound up much worse. Now his car is damaged, and it all could have been avoided if he’d just grabbed a torque wrench and snugged those nuts down.
That said, I can relate; I have a number of stories about loose lug nuts, including one in a professional setting. It was my second or third week of work at Fiat Chrysler, and my boss had told me I was headed out west on a hot-trip to test the thermal management of the new KL Cherokee.
I had no idea what this hot trip would entail, but it wasn’t long before I was in California at a Chrysler dealership picking up a handful of preproduction Jeep Cherokee KLs—a diesel one for Europe, and a couple of 2.4-liters and 3.2-liters.
The trip involved running a slew of hardcore tests including the grueling SAE J2807 Davis Dam run, city traffic driving in Las Vegas, and off-roading in Moab. The KL did great, but there was one dangerous part of the trip, and it somehow wasn’t off-roading within inches of sheer cliffs or towing 4,500 pound U-Haul trailers loaded with Home Depot sand bags—it was simply driving down a straight desert road.
“My car is shaking,” the CFD engineer in our convoy said over the walkie-talkie. I was driving behind him, and could see that something was afoot. We pulled into a gas station, where the technician got out of his green Jeep Wrangler Unlimited “JK” support vehicle, and said something to the effect of “Whoops, I forgot to tighten the lugs.”
There was only one lug stud left holding the wheel to the hub, and it was finger loose. Aluminum shavings from where the wheel had rubbed against the other studs before dispatching them on the highway abounded. We took a stud from the other three wheels, and drove around with four until we could source some more lug studs.
I myself have had some issues with lug nuts on my $600 Jeep Cherokee. Though I’ve torqued them to the spec outlined in my Haynes manual, the nuts seem to get loose after just a few miles of driving (I need new nuts; the taper in my wheel could also be janked up, I’m not sure). I’ve noticed this happen twice after removing a wheel—a low, periodic grinding noise comes from my wheel, I pull over, grab my lug nuts with my thumb and index finger and give them a twist. Finger loose.
I’ve also heard stories from friends about their friends’ wheels flying off on the road, never to be found again.
The solution, in my case, is to torque to spec, then drive a few miles, then re-torque. Everyone should do this, and everyone should be careful to have a torque wrench on hand when installing a wheel, because if you have to go somewhere to grab a torque wrench, there’s a chance you’ll throw the wheel on with nuts/studs finger-tight, and forget about it.
And it’s just not worth it. Don’t crash because of something this easy to fix.