Should I go back to the mechanic who didn't tighten the lugnuts on my wheels?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jul 01, 1997

Dear Tom and Ray:

Last weekend I was driving down the highway when I noticed that my '89 Honda
Civic was considerably louder than usual. The noise was coming from the right,
rear tire. I pulled off the road as soon as I could only to discover that my
TIRE looked fine. The wheel, on the other hand, was conspicuously missing two
lug nuts, and was well on its way to losing a third.

I'd taken my car to a highly recommended mechanic three weeks earlier for it's
105,000-miles service. Several so-called "experts" (i.e. Big Al the Tow Truck
Guy) insist that the incident was caused by my mechanic's failure to tighten the
lug nuts after inspecting my brakes. So I'm appealing to your Department of
Automotive Ethics in order to determine a) whether my mechanic is clearly at
fault, b) if so, what should I expect him to do to make it up to me, and c)
should I ever go back to this bum, or should I take my chances on someone else?
-- Elizabeth

RAY: Well, I would say there's a 0.000001 percent chance that this was caused by
something OTHER than your mechanic, or at least one of the lackeys who works in
his shop.

TOM: But look on the bright side, Elizabeth. At least you know he actually did
check your brakes!

RAY: What you should expect from him is an abject and sincere apology for
putting your life in danger. And I would base any decision on whether to use him
again on how abject and sincere that apology is.

TOM: Right. We know that everybody makes mistakes sometimes. You get distracted,
the phone's ringing, your wife just left you, two of your kids just joined the
Moonies, the IRS is on your case, it's 105 degrees in the shop, and you've got a
rash on your butt the size of Minneapolis. And in the midst of all that, you
forget to tighten a few lug nuts. It happens. I've been there!

RAY: The important question is do you take responsibility for it? If he tries to
weasel out of it and says, "It couldn't have been me, I would never do anything
like that ... those Honda lug nuts just come off by themselves sometimes, etc.,"
I'd dump him and never go back, because then he's proved himself to be a bona
fide sleazeball.

TOM: But if he says "Oh, my God, Elizabeth, I must have forgotten to tighten
them in all the confusion that day. I'm so sorry that I did that, I'm so glad
nothing happened to you; let me pay the towing bill," then I wouldn't hesitate
to try him again, because he's clearly an honest guy. And even competent, honest
guys make mistakes once in a while.

RAY: Of course, if it ever happens again, then he's an honest guy who also
happens to be a moron, in which case I would go to someone else. But I'd base my
decision solely on the forthrightness of his response. And we're glad you didn't
get hurt either, Elizabeth.

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