Dangerous Wheel Fatigue

by Bob DeP.

Dear Bob,
Instead of a question, I have a story for you. I wonder if you have you ever heard one on this noise topic. I'm a woman in her 40s with brothers and men friends who have urged me over the years to heed car noises, saying they always mean something. I owned a '75 Buick Century when it was 15 years old (1990) and began hearing a noise I couldn't recognize --- I could only relate it to some kind of metal stress. It was occasional and so at the back of my mind, although ongoing for a month or so.

It happened the day following a late night drive home to D.C. from vacation in North Carolina, at full speed up Interstate 95. That afternoon, I had just crossed the river to Virginia with my 12-year old son in the car and was rounding a curve at about 35-40 MPH, when the car gave a mighty lurch, then bounced repeatedly; throwing us hard against the roof. As I wrested the car off the busy road, we glanced up see our tire flying high into the air and disappearing over a hill.

Shaken, we climbed out to inspect the wheel area as a young rural man stopped to help. We saw that the tire missing and something more. We saw the four bolts still screwed down holding the middle area of the metal wheel securely in place. The mounted tire had wrenched off at the welded seam, and the car had bounced over it, popping it up like a tiddly wink. The young country boy just shook his head and said, "Damn, that's the worst case of wheel rot I've ever seen." Wheel rot!?

I had indeed been hearing metal stress. I never thought a wheel could wrench apart that way. If it had torn off as we barreled along the Interstate at midnight, with trucks rumbling along beside us, I imagine one or both of us would have been killed. I'll never again fail to pay attention to that unique sound. Have you ever heard a similar metal fatigue or "wheel rot" story?!
Carol C.

Whew! Sounds like you got lucky out there. Personally, I never heard of a rim falling apart like that, but I have heard of rims leaking air. My dad had an Olds '98 back in 85 or so. The right front tire kept losing air. He kept bringing it into the shop and they kept looking at the tire. Testing the bead, the stem, the whole deal. All to no avail.. They thought that someone was letting the air out manually. I forget how they spotted it, but it turned out to be a bad rim. I also have another story for you. My mom was driving my car one day (this is back when I was in high school). My friends and I were all going down the shore and we took her car (a big old wagon that could seat 10 or so). My car was a 73 Buick regal. Well, she took it food shopping. on he way to the car from the store, she saw something hanging down near the front wheel. She looked at it and was able to determine where it came, so she put it back on. She loaded her groceries and came home. Well as she pulled in front of the house and stopped, the wheel "fell off". What had happened was the tie rod let go. That is what was hanging at the store. She put the knuckle back on the stud and drove 5 miles home. It was a lucky thing that it did not happen while under speed. The tie rod controls the way the tire turns. Without it connected, the tire can turn any way it wants. So in the long run, vehicle maintenance not only can save money, but save lives!
Good Luck!
Drive Safely!
Bob, The Auto Answer Man

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