The day the wheel almost fell off

Driving with most of your worldly possessions with you, feels at time liberating, but also frightening. If something were to happen to the vehicle, it’be like losing your car, house, and storage unit in one foul swoop. Luckily that didn’t happen to us on this day, but it was close.

We were en route back down Baja to catch the Ferry, and were gunning for the Bay of Los Angeles, on the Sea of Cortez. MogTug has been running like a champ, just a tad hotter than usual, due to the Mexican diesel (he runs 3-5 degrees cooler on US diesel than Mex diesel).

We were cruising down the Mex 1, and I noticed the steering wheel was a tad off center to keep the Mog running straight. This isn’t uncommon because the Mexican roads are graded differently, but a little nagging voice in the back of my head said to pull over. The irony was that we had just stopped 5 minutes prior for a bio and photo break. The four of us has scurried around, over, and under the car getting photos. Surely, if something was wrong we would have seen it.

Well there was something wrong, very wrong. The rear wheel on the driver side of the truck was almost completely off. All of the lug nuts had backed out with only a few threads holding each on.  I felt a bit overwhelmed with emotion. Had we continued driving, it would have been catastrophic, and I hate to be dramatic, but potentially fatal. We were driving a section of the highway that winds through mountains with very steep embankments, and sharp drop offs. The sudden loss of control of our 8 ton truck in a curve would not have been pretty.

The other guys looked at me strange because I was happy vs frustrated. I was ecstatic that I trusted that voice in my head to stop and check. I was elated that we caught it before the wheel came off.

Surveying the damage, it wasn’t good news for the rim. The lug nuts had loosened, so the wheel had been wobbling and banging against the hubs, wheel studs and lug nuts. What impressed me though was that the wheel hub was fine, and the lugs had taken the abuse. So much so, that the lug nuts had worn away the seats in the rim. A little longer and the holes on most of the rim would have been enlarged enough for the wheel to slid off over the lug nuts.

Wheel Problems
With the steel rim toasted, we sat out to do our first tire change in the field. We have an electric air compressor and tanks, so we made pretty quick work of getting the spare on. While everything went back together OK, we will be replacing the broken rim, wheel studs, and lug nuts in La Paz. They have taken quite a beating.

Hard work!

So the big question is how did this happen? Um, the lug nuts were loose. It’s that simple. We didn’t check them regularly enough, and we weren’t on top of it. As meticulous as we are, this basic maintenance item almost caused a disaster. So learn from us, check your lug nut torque often.

For now, I am all smiles as I start trying to figure out how to get a new Unimog rim and parts to us in La Paz, and thankful for the little angel that said to pull over.

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