January 31, 2023

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Exquisite Automotive

Tools for fixing cars that exist, but shouldn’t

An oversize wheel nut tool set, designed to make it easier to remove swollen wheel nuts.Lou Trottier/The Globe and Mail

You know the problem is bad when aftermarket tool manufacturers have come up with a solution to a problem that shouldn’t even exist.

I’m talking specifically about metal wheel nuts with decorative, shiny caps that several auto makers use. The chrome caps lose their seal over time because of repeated use, allowing moisture to penetrate. The cap then swells from corrosion causing your vehicle’s standard lug wrench to no longer fit. Imagine discovering this while stuck at the side of the road trying to change a spare tire. This problem often appears when they are less than five years old and the only fix is to replace them at approximately $8 apiece. With five nuts typically per wheel and four wheels, that’s $160.

Manufacturer’s that still use these cheaper nuts blame power tools. They indicate that the heavy forces applied by power tools crack the chrome cap, damaging them and allowing moisture in. While this may be true, their solution is to use hand tools only. The irony is that whenever you stroll past the service bays of any applicable dealership, there isn’t a single technician removing wheels without a power tool.

The aftermarket tool solution I referred to above isn’t a long-term solution. It is just a way that your service provider can expedite the removal process and not necessarily have to deal with what can be perceived by some as an unnecessary upsell.

The tool is a set of oversized sockets. These oversized sockets make removing swollen wheel nuts a breeze.

The question is why do some manufacturers continue to use inferior pieces? Don’t they care about your safety when you are stuck at the side of the road, frustrated, attempting to change your flat tire? Maybe they are just assuming no one changes their own tire any more and will call roadside assistance.

While these oversized sockets are incredibly handy for taking nuts off, they are also being used to put them back on, which only defers the problem.

I advise my customers to replace all the nuts when the originals start to show signs of swelling.The Globe and Mail

I advise my customers to replace all the nuts when the originals start to show signs of swelling. I also suggest spending a bit more and replacing them with a set of chrome-plated or stainless-steel polished aftermarket wheel nuts. These fasteners are meant to replicate the originals without the cheap cap. Once replaced, the problem you didn’t even know you had will truly not be a problem waiting to appear on the coldest, wettest day of the year.

Your automotive questions answered

Hi Lou,

I am considering leasing a German SUV that comes with run flat tires. I find lots of negative comments on the internet about run flat tires and very few positive ones. Any thoughts on run flat versus regular tires? Thanks, Ken

If you are thinking about leasing a brand-new German SUV, run flats will be part of your life. Notably, if you don’t buy the vehicle out at the end of the lease, you will be required to return it to BMW with the proper run flats. So, you will have to lay out the cash at some point.

The general dislike of run flats comes down to harsh ride, cost and limited longevity. The significant advantage is the tires’ ability to travel about 100 kilometres with zero air pressure. Not needing a spare saves the manufacturer space and weight. Most of those who drive an upscale European market vehicle will also invest in roadside assistance if it is not already provided by the manufacturer, further limiting the need for a spare tire.

Current run flat tires have a much better ride than from those of even five years ago. Yes, the additional cost of these tires will always be an issue, but what is cheap in this class of vehicle? I don’t see an advantage to using regular tires in place of run flats when the manufacturer has designed it to work that way. If I were in your position, I would stick with the run flats and accept it as a cost of long-term ownership.

Thank you for the story on tie-downs.

A little story for you. I live in Lethbridge Alberta and was on the way to meet one of my students in a nearby town bombing down Highway three at 110 kilometres an hour. The truck in the passing lane 35 metres ahead of me had a mattress in the back. Suddenly, it flew up, caught the wind and flew completely out of the speeding truck, first landing on my windshield and then eventually taking out the side view mirror on the rental car I was driving. We both pulled over and exchanged information. I was heading for a meeting and now I was late. So, speeding to my destination only about 30 kilometres from town, coming over a train bridge I was pulled over and issued a speeding ticket, and a ticket for a damaged vehicle. I tried to talk my way out of both of these tickets and, thankfully was successful. Mostly because the people hauling the mattress were from the same town I was headed to, and it appeared they were well known to the local RCMP detachment. This officer took mercy on me and let me on my way. I would point out however that driving down the highway at 110 kilometres an hour with a mattress covering your entire front windshield is a little more down a hairy experience.

Love your columns. Ronald S.

Thank you, Ronald, and oh my, that is quite the story. Glad you were okay. Since writing that piece I have experienced two separate occasions where items have flown out of the back of pickup trucks while travelling down a major highway here in the Toronto area. And so many others have told me about similar stories. As we enter this summer season let’s all, myself included, take a few extra moments to triple check that our loads are secured properly, including what’s in and/or hanging off our utility trailers.

Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail [email protected], placing “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.

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