Things are going to go wrong on this trip. I know this, because the plan is absolutely foolish. I bought a 275,000-mile fancy Toyota Land Cruiser (a Lexus LX470) sight unseen. I took two trains to pick the car up. Now I’m driving the huge off-roader 2,500 miles to Seattle to fix and drive a 1958 Jeep that’s been sitting for decades. I haven’t made it far, because the trek began with a major blunder involving a used tire shop.
You are justified if you read “used tire shop” and “blunder,” and then immediately thought “duh.” But I’m a notorious cheap bastard, and I’m also careful to make sure that the vehicles I drive on public roads are safe. So when my coworker Mercedes dropped my new high-mileage Lexus off at the Metra train station I’d just arrived at in Crystal Lake, Illinois, and showed me the dry rot in the tires, I began scouring the Chicago-area Facebook Marketplace for deals on new-er 265/75 R16 rubber.
Before I continue to the blunder, watch these videos to see my trek from Troy, Michigan to Chicago, and to witness when I first set my eyes on the glorious Lexus:
I found Hankook Dynapro all-terrains, build year 2017, for sale a half an hour away in Palatine, so after bidding Mercedes adieu, I headed straight there.
The shop was called M&Y. It was a small garage apparently run by a single guy with some floor jacks — there was no hydraulic lift to be found. The gentleman showed me the tires, I haggled a bit since two of the treads don’t have much life left on them, and we agreed to $220 mounted and balanced.
Despite my Lexus being from Texas originally and only having spent a few years in rust-plagued Chicago, the SUV’s wheels were hard to get off. The technician had to resort to whaling on the old tires with a sledgehammer. Once had the wheels removed, he took them to his mounting rig and balancing machine, and worked some magic to install the new rubber. While he was doing that, I took a peek at the suspension and steering bits:
I’ll crank out a more in-depth look at what’s wrong with this $5,000 fancy Land Cruiser, but as you can see in the video above, there’s a cracked tie rod end boot and cracked steering rack bellow. Plus, the rotors are warped. These issues don’t manifest themselves as anything scary — just a bit of whining from the rack and shuddering under braking, so they don’t need immediate attention.
What did need immediate attention before I could begin my over 2,000-mile trip to Seattle were the rear wheel studs on the driver’s side. And I could thank the mechanic at M&Y for that.
I watched as the man installed three of the four wheels with ease, but took quite a bit more time on the left rear. He kept installing the lug nuts, then removing them, then shifting the wheel against the brake drum. Then re-installing the nuts. Then wiggling the wheel. Then removing the nuts again. It wasn’t clear what was going on until I looked closely and saw only one stud poking through the mounting holes in the wheel. I looked in the man’s hand; there was a lug nut with a broken stud stuck in the center. Oh crap.
The man looked confused. He seemed afraid to tell me what had happened. I asked him what was up, but he remained quiet. I asked him if I could take a look. He moved aside, and I caught a glimpse of something truly baffling:
The man had sheared four of the five wheel studs. Four!
How do you get to the point where you shear one stud, then continue on to shear a second. And once there, how do you go on to shear a third? And once you’re done breaking off 60 percent of the wheel’s attachment points, how do you decide to go for 80?
I only express this incredulity now, in retrospect, because it’s incredibly silly. But at the time, I remained calm and told the man I was going to figure out how to fix this. I removed the caliper, and the man went to a mechanic next door. The mechanic said he could fix the studs for me for $110.
“Should I have to pay for this?” I asked, wondering what protocol is for stuff like this. The mechanic’s demeanor changed. He seemed mad. “Yes, dude. There was clearly something wrong with your car if he broke four studs.”
“But he broke the studs while installing the nuts, not removing. I’ve worked on cars a long time. This seems like an error on his part.” The mechanic then started getting a little fiery, and since I’ve probably only got another 50 years of life left if I’m lucky, I shut that down quickly and began working toward a solution.
I called an Advance Auto Parts store just down the road. The establishment had studs and lug nuts in stock. The mechanic who had broken the studs drove there in a Buick Rendezvous (largely irrelevant to this story, but hey, these things are Pontiac Azteks but, somehow, even more hideous, so I had to mention it) and bought the hardware.
He then hammered out the broken studs. Here he is using one already-removed stud to get the last one the final half-inch out of the hole:
The man then installed the new studs using a tool that the somewhat irked mechanic lent him. The lug nuts and studs had cost $40. I gave the tire technician $20 to help ease the financial burden a bit, as he seemed a little sad. He was appreciative.
The mechanic eventually let up a bit and explained that, in general, it’s hard for technicians to swallow the bills for parts that break during service. He works in Chicago, land of rust, so this kind of stuff happens all the time. Should something that breaks due to corrosion be the tech’s responsibility?
Clearly, these lug nuts had failed because the technician had struggled to get the wheel to sit perfectly flat on the rear brake drum flange, and he tried using the impact gun to force the wheel into submission. It wasn’t an issue of corrosion. But I understand why the mechanic is wired to respond the way he did.
In the end, the sheared studs only cost me an hour and a half, I was happy with how the tire technician took care of the problem, and the mechanic next door seemed in a much better mood. Crisis averted.
The 275,000-mile Land Cruiser now heads west through Wisconsin and Minnesota. See my Instagram for updates on how this vehicle — known to be totally unkillable — handles the long journey.