Drivers . . . Check Your Wheels

wheel-off in Key Biscayne

Wheel-Off in Key Biscayne

On Monday morning, two joggers were hit by one of two tires that broke free from a rear trailer axle of a passing tractor-trailer, while running on a path along the Rickenbacker Causeway in Key Biscayne, Florida.

Stephanie Hilzinger was hit from behind and knocked unconscious by the rogue tire. She is hospitalized in critical (but stable) condition. The other free tire rolled into a parking lot.

A Freak Accident?

While generally called a ‘freak accident,’ wheel-offs are not that uncommon.

Wheel-offs can result from the loss of the duals when the axle spindle nut becomes loose, or when the lug nuts loosen and the tires have nothing to keep them in place.

There are a myriad of situations that can lead to wheel-offs:

Bad drivers:

Constantly run up and over curbs, fire hydrants, scrub the tires, run fast and hard through deep potholes or uneven rail-crossings. They leave their marks in the parking lot by making tight turns and dragging the trailer wheels. In short, they are abusive to the equipment and were never properly trained on how to treat the equipment or are indifferent and simply don’t care. All those stresses and strains start to add up and take their toll over time.

If you start to notice tire wear from axles knocked out of alignment, tire failures from running into things or unusual damage, it might be time to start asking some questions and check to see if you have a one-man, rapid-depreciation program that you are not aware of . . .

Bad drivers allow dirt and grime to build up on the wheels — leading to corrosion — and potential loose lug nuts. Bad drivers don’t take the time to properly inspect their equipment or may not even know how to do an inspection.

But not every wheel-off is due to a bad driver . . .

Bad Mechanics

I grew up around trucks and wheels. Things are a lot easier now then “back in the day” when all mechanics had were hand tools and a lot of grit. I’m still amazed —looking back, how my father, not a big man, could, rain or shine, repair a tire or dress the wheel bearings out in the middle of a gravel yard.

All I will say on the subject of mechanics is that there is a proper procedure to be followed in the inspection and repair of wheels. If you are not sure about what you are doing, have your work checked out by someone who has the knowledge and experience.

Bad Components

“Parts are parts,” the old saying goes. But it’s not true when it comes to wheels. Only use good, quality parts. Be cautious of ‘super deals’ or cheap knock-offs. Don’t hand your reputation over to an inferior supplier . . .

Train Indoctrinate Your Drivers

Your safety culture is your primary defense against wheel-off risk.

Drivers and mechanics need to know how to do good inspections of the tires, wheels, suspension, and brakes.

Here is a basic wheel inspection:

Grab each lug nut and give it a hard twist to check for looseness.

check the lugsVisually inspect the wheel . . .

  • Check for looseness as indicated by rust streaks or shiny metal.
  • Look for oxidation on aluminum rims.
  • There should be no missing lugs or missing studs.
  • Look for any cracks or breaks at the lug holes or any other part of a rim
    or cast spokes.
  • Check for evidence of slippage of wheel assembly on cast spoke hub.
  • Note if any stud holes are elongated.
  • Check if any wheel nut, stud, or clamp is loose, or if there is rust or corrosion
    indicating possible looseness.
  • Check if any wheel, nut, stud, or clamp is broken or missing.
  • If equipped, check if there is an improper spacer installed between dual wheels.

This needs to be done on a daily basis.

Let’s prevent wheel-offs.

Thank you for reading this.