Dear Tom and Ray:
Recently, I had my tires rotated. After driving about 100 miles, I started noticing a bumpy noise. It felt like a flat tire, but I kept checking and the tires looked fine. After another 40 miles, it was getting a lot worse. The tires still looked good, but I checked the lug nuts this time. All the lug nuts were so loose on the driver's-side front wheel that they almost fell off in my hand. Did driving on this wheel like that cause any other damage to the car? Folks at my office said it could have, but the guy who forgot to tighten my lug nuts said it was OK. Thank you. -- Judy
TOM: Jeez! We're glad you caught it when you did, Judy. As someone who has seen his rear wheel pass him on the highway, I can tell you it's not a fun experience. Exciting, yes. Fun, no.
RAY: This is what happens when the coffee truck shows up. Guys drop whatever they're doing and wander out for that irresistible cheese Danish. They forget what they were in the middle of, and then somebody drives off without any oil or with loose lug nuts.
TOM: Aside from the fact that your life was in danger, Judy, you've probably done no other damage to the car. Once in a great while, you'll see a loose wheel actually cut into the wheel studs (the things that the wheel nuts screw onto). But those wheel studs are tough, and most likely, no damage was done.
RAY: But to make yourself (and us) feel better, get a second opinion. On our Web site (www.cartalk.com), you'll find a service called the "Mechan-X-Files," which is a database of mechanics personally recommended by our readers and listeners. Enter your ZIP code, find one who sounds good to you, and have him double-check your wheel studs for damage. And if you like the guy, make him your new mechanic, because you need one.