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Things That Go Bump At 75 MPH

September 4, 2014

It was a gorgeous day. About 90 degrees with clear skies. I was able to leave work after only nine hours, rather than the ten to twelve hour days of last week.

I enjoy driving with the windows down, even on the freeway. Sure, the noise is terrible, and you pick up a fair amount of diesel exhaust, but if you turn the radio up loud enough you can still mostly hear the songs.

Except this one had a kind of strange beat to it. Sort of a THUNK-A, THUNK-A, THUNK-A. And then I realized that over the road noise and the radio and wind, I was hearing another sound. And it was not a good sound.

I pulled over to the side of the freeway. . .kind of. The shoulder was about two feet wider than my car. The THUNKING had come from the right front tire area. The cement jersey-barrier kept me from going too far off the road. As I got out to try to figure out what was wrong, I was no longer quite so accepting of the noise and the diesel fumes. Especially when the diesels spewing the exhaust were rumbling by doing 75 MPH about three feet away from me.

I found a piece of the inside wheel well cowling that was rubbing on the tire. A piece of rope out of my fishing gear which I always keep in the trunk and I was good to go. . .about another hundred feet. More THUNKING. I noticed a wide spot where another freeway merged with the 201 that I was on. Slowly, with my flashers on, I crept down to the wide spot. At this point I noticed it was more of a rattle than a thunk. I also realized I probably knew what it was.

I should give some context here. I drive a gold Lexus. That name probably brings a particular image to mind, just as Toyota hoped it would. But, not every Lexus is created equal. Mine is a 1996 ES300, that could charitably be described as “needs a little work.” (Free Like A Puppy.)

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I’m certainly not complaining. This puppy gets double the milage my Suburban got. On way too many Saturdays you can find me with the car jacked up in the garage and a neighbor allowing me to “help” them fix whatever is broken. We spent more time last weekend working on my car. We replaced the line that connects the power steering pump to the fan (I don’t know either) replaced an engine mount and replaced about a dozen lightbulbs including adding those really annoying “blue” headlights.

In the process we had to remove the right front tire. The same area that was now making some very unfriendly noises.

I should mention that I have a kind of phobia about the wheels falling off my car.

Back in college I drove a 66 Mustang. I loved that car, but it was a piece of junk. One day while turning right, I noticed a tire go rolling out in front of my car. I recognized it just before my axle hit the ground. Broken spindle. And it was the right front.

When I was about 14 I helped my brother work on his car. We took it out for a test drive and a wheel went rolling by. AND the drum hit the pavement.

Did you tighten those lug nuts?

Yeah, as tight as I could with my fingers.

I don’t remember if it was the right front, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say probably (at least a 25% chance!)

I limped to the side of the freeway yesterday. I discovered the problem just as my boss called. Apparently my at risk project is competing with several other at risk projects for network resources. He wanted to know if my project plan was up to date and what was the latest I could wait to get my routers?

It was a bit of a surreal call.

In the midst of a crisis, life goes on.

I was just finishing up that call when the highway patrolman knocked on my window. Apparently they really want you to not park on the side of the freeway.

Is it drivable?

If I take it slow.

Can you get to 33rd?

I’ll try.

And I did. With grinding the entire way. I was in the worst possible spot for a breakdown. About 2 miles from the nearest exit. And then another mile to the Maverick Store.

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The one at the corner of 900 West and 3300 South.

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According to Google it was about 3.2 miles from the spot I met the cop to the Maverick. And along the way, I broke another one. Here’s what my right front wheel looks like.

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Take a closer look at those lug nuts.

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Notice how some of them are missing? Yeah, these three.

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Those are aluminum alloy wheels. Our best guess is that after working on it on Monday we tightened the lug nuts, but then didn’t tighten them again 50 miles later. It’s a manufacturers recommendation that I will be following strictly going forward.

I’m reminded of a very old, only slightly funny joke.

On an airline flight the captain came on the announcement and stated, “Folks, we lost an engine. It’s okay we can fly on three, but we will be delayed an extra hour.” A few minutes later he’s back on the speaker. “Not sure how this happened, but we’ve lost another engine. Not to worry, we can fly safely on two, but it will delay us another hour.” And then a few minutes later. “I don’t want to alarm you folks, but we have had another engine fail. Don’t worry, we can run on a single engine, but we will be getting into our destination another hour later. One passenger turned to his seatmate and said, “If we lose that 4th engine, we’ll be up here all day.”

That’s how I felt about my broken lug nuts.

Remember my Smack It With A Hammer neighbor? Yeah. Still my neighbor. He rented a car dolly, drove 45 minutes to come pick up my car. Then, he and his lovely wife who had come with him endured a tortuous 30 mile drive that took about 2 hours, as we drug the puppy home to my house.

We bought some new studs and this evening we’ll be jacking up the car and pounding out the broken studs and putting the puppy back to together.

There’s a business lesson in here somewhere but I sure can’t find it. I was reminded of some other other breakdowns (What Would You Do? On A Long Lonely Highway With A Dead Car A Young Child And Night Falling?) , and since the wheel didn’t actually separate from the car, it’s a fairly mild issue.

The worst part? While parked on the side of the freeway, I forgot to listen for my car to be called out on the traffic reports!

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
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LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

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