It may seem highly unlikely, but wheels suddenly detach from moving cars and trucks more often than most people think. These wheel separations can lead to serious injuries when the driver loses control and collides with another vehicle or pedestrian, or when another vehicle swerves to avoid the debris. When a wheel separation occurs on a highway, the approaching speed between a bouncing wheel and oncoming vehicles can exceed 100 miles per hour.
Why Does a Wheel Separate From A Vehicle?
The most common reason that a wheel separates from a vehicle is failure of the fasteners, either because the lug nuts fall off or because the wheel studs break and release one or two wheels from the vehicle. These failures usually happen two to four weeks after a wheel was taken off and put back on during some type of service, such as tire installation or rotation.
The majority of accidents involving wheel separations occur because of improper maintenance – mechanics not properly torquing lug nuts after changing a tire for one of two reasons:
- They are not properly trained.
- They use an air gun to tighten the nuts and do not verify the torque readings with a torque wrench. The only way to verify proper torque is by using a torque wrench that is set to the specific car/tire specifications.
Even when wheel nuts are properly torqued, they can still lose their clamping force due to wear of paint coatings on brake drums, the breakup of corrosion or dirt present when the wheel was put on, and wear of aluminum wheels. The remedy for lost clamping force is to simply re-torque the wheel nuts to the manufacturer’s specified torque to each wheel after a short amount of driving.
Wheel Separations Still Major Problem
Wheel separations from trucks, trailers, cars, and buses are still a major problem, although exact numbers are hard to determine because many incidents go unreported. Wheel separations came under scrutiny in 1992 after a rash of such accidents in the fall of 1991 left seven people dead. Although policies and procedures have since been put into place to solve the problem, recurring incidents still happen, possibly because of the industry’s reluctance to put more rigorous maintenance procedures in place.
The wheel separation lawyers at Childers, Schlueter & Smith, LLC continue to investigate and review new potential wheel separation cases all over the State of Georgia. If you have questions about a potential incident, give us a call. All initial case reviews are free of charge and are kept completely confidential.