I left New York City on Thursday, headed for Los Angeles, knowing that at some point along the way I would need to get a few basic maintenance things done on my Honda Fit. Namely, I had to get a brake fluid flush and tire rotation. I did not expect the tire rotation, possibly the simplest bit of regular car maintenance there is, to end — at a shop no less! — with a broken lug nut stud.
The shop in question was a Valvoline Instant Oil Change in Flagstaff, Arizona, where I stopped to get my oil changed, initially. I did not expect them to be able to do tire rotation — many oil change places don’t, because they don’t have a lift — but this one did, which was a pleasant surprise. The price was $30 and I said yes.
Like most shops of this rank — you know the type, “quick” oil change places — the staff seemed young and inexperienced and probably untrustworthy, but oil changes are pretty straightforward affairs. Tire rotations are even more straightforward, as they involve literally just changing tires, swapping the fronts and the rears. My dad taught me how to change a tire 30 years ago. I would do it myself except that I don’t have a lift and without that tire rotations are an extreme pain in the ass.
Anyway, there I was, thinking that surely any crew of normal delinquents could pull it off in my stead, and the crew at Valvoline seemed capable enough. I was about to find out otherwise.
The trouble started almost immediately, after they lifted the Fit and one of the “technicians” — their description, not mine — attempted to remove the lug nuts from the front left wheel with a socket wrench but couldn’t because the car was lifted in the air and the wheel was moving. He then asked for the car to be brought back down again, after which, for some reason, he loosened only the wheel lock lug nut on all four wheels, then asked for the car to be lifted again. With the car back in the air, he tried to loosen the other lug nuts but failed because of the same issue as before — the wheel turned and he couldn’t apply the necessary torque. At some point another technician thought that engaging the handbrake would help, which, of course, it didn’t.
The technician then asked for the car to be lowered again, and from down below, the guy operating the lift said exasperatedly, “What are we doing here?” Still, he lowered the car, and, this time, the guy was able to loosen all of the lug nuts, or so he thought. He asked for the car to be lifted back up. Back in the air, he tried to again remove the lug nuts, but they were still too tight, and the wheel kept moving.
At this point, the guy down below, ran up to see what the issue was. Seeing the wheel move each time his colleague tried to loosen the lug nut, instead of again lowering the car he opted to try to hold the wheel in place as his colleague tried to loosen the nut.
This seemed to work, however amateur it looked. Eventually they were able to get all the lug nuts off the front left tire, in addition to the rear left and also — I was only in position to see the left side of the car — the right side tires, too, I think. About 15 minutes had passed, but I wasn’t mad, I was too amused.
“You guys like doing things the hard way I guess?” I said, and they didn’t reply, toiling on. A few moments later, one of the technicians reported that that rear wheel “wouldn’t come off.” I then spotted a more worrying issue, which was that one of the lug nut studs on the front left appeared torn off. All of the sudden, work stopped and everyone seemed to make themselves scarce, and an assistant manager came over to me with a lug nut still screwed on to half of its torn stud.
“So that happened,” he said, offering an implausible excuse about how possibly the lug nut had been screwed on incorrectly before them. He said that they would be putting the tires back on the car and sending me on my way, as it went unspoken that fixing the broken stud was well beyond their expertise. He also said that he wouldn’t be charging me for the tire rotation that his “technicians” were unable to perform, which was nice of him, and also gave me $15 off my oil change and a phone number to dial to possibly get reimbursement after I had the stud fixed at a more capable shop.
I was too stunned to be very mad, but I was also a little annoyed that I now had a car with a tire that was resting on only three of its four studs and I would need to get that fixed. And that before I took it to these bozos I had a car with four tires and sixteen intact lug nut studs. And it was a Sunday. All of which led me to a chop shop on the other side of town, a 24-hour place that seemed to thrive on people like me — travelers just passing through who need a fix and fast.
I pulled up and presented them with the lug nut still screwed to the broken stud and explained the issue. They seemed perplexed that a shop could break a lug nut stud in the course of rotating tires, but they said they could fix it, sure. The difference in expertise was stunning. Within 15 minutes or so, they had procured a new lug nut stud, and their mechanic got to work replacing it, taking the tire, brake caliper, and rotor off, and then banging the old broken stud out and banging the new one in.
Within 20 minutes, the mechanic — an absolute surgeon at the peak of his craft — was done, which was about the same amount of time it took for the clowns at Valvoline to not rotate the tires and break the car. He did it like he’d done it ten million times before, and I should’ve asked them to rotate the tires too, while they were at it, but the task seemed beneath them. They estimated that the stud replacement would cost $150, based on an hour’s worth of work, but the mechanic was so efficient and quick it was only $88 in the end.
With the car patched up, I drove on to Los Angeles, though I still needed the tires rotated. A shop in Huntington Beach did it in about five minutes and charged $20. There were no issues, because tire rotation is the most basic regular maintenance one does, aside from refilling windshield wiper fluid.
Anyway, friends, if you are using a socket wrench to change a tire, be sure to loosen — not remove — all the lug nuts before lifting the car. Loosen, that is, enough so you can take them off with your hands after lifting. If you are using an impact wrench, do whatever you want. If you are considering having your tires rotated at a certain Valvoline Instant Oil Change in Flagstaff, Arizona, I would recommend not. I should’ve guessed that any service beyond what they are named for is simply beyond them.