Zero Wheel-Off Goal = “What the hell is a wheel-off?”

Zero Wheel-Off Goal = “What the hell is a wheel-off?

-Mark Anderson, Team Torque Inc.

How well do you understand the meaning of the term irony? Simply put, irony occurs where actions or events have the opposite result from what is expected or what is intended. Here’s a great example of irony: Remember those odd, two-wheeled Segway motorized scooters? Well, the owner of the company that makes those scooters died when he somehow managed to drive his Segway off an 80-foot cliff. Now, you might expect that he would be an expert Segway rider. In addition, we can be pretty sure that he did not intend to perform a midair, 180-degree, front-side kick-flip over a limestone cliff when tragedy struck. “Irony”.

Now, let’s think about possible irony in the automotive repair shop setting. When re-installing a tire and wheel assembly, it is very likely that your intention is to tighten the lug nuts on to the wheel studs so tightly that – well, at least tight enough so that the wheel doesn’t fall off.

At least, that is your expectation. In another case of tragic irony, over-torqueing the fasteners actually increases the likelihood that the fasteners will loosen and the WHEEL will come OFF.

Wheel-off is simply slang for: I absolutely failed to properly torque all the wheel fasteners…


Bad things happen when wheel-offs happen to you.

In June of 2017, a Dodge Ram pickup truck lost a rear wheel while travelling northbound on a road in Northern Indiana. Investigators said the loose wheel bounced over the road median, striking a southbound vehicle. The southbound vehicle’s driver was unconscious when first responders arrived. That driver was transported to a hospital immediately following the crash, but later died from her injuries. A passenger in that vehicle was also injured.

Of course, the larger and heavier the loose tire and wheel assembly, the more spectacular the outcomes can be. Just a few months earlier, on a highway in Canada, a similar incident occurred. A tractor-trailer was heading west just before 6a.m. when the driver noticed smoke coming from the wheels and began to slow down. As the driver was pulling over, a set of wheels from the trailer came off, bounced across three lanes of roadway, then over the center median and landed right in the windshield of a van as it was travelling eastbound in the far right-hand lane. The force of the crash tore most of the cargo van's roof off and the driver was killed instantly.

These events happen so frequently that the internet is full of wheel-off videos from traffic cameras and dash cams. There’s even a recent YouTube wheel-off video that has gone viral. In that incident, a security camera from a pharmacy shows a runaway wheel-off from a moving vehicle rolling down a road at high speed, bouncing off a bicycle tied to a tree and then rolling in through the pharmacy's open front door, striking two men inside.

temp-post-image \ wheel-off

You may have experienced or been witness to a wheel–off scenario yourself. Centrifugal energy accumulates in a wheel as it rotates. During a wheel-off incident on a moving vehicle, (and as the wheel separates from the vehicle), it usually carries enough force and speed to pass up the vehicle from which it fell -- and continue on a high speed path until it meets an obstruction. Have you ever seen a wheel from your own vehicle pass you by? On the other hand, have you watched helplessly as a loose wheel goes speeding off down the road ahead of the oncoming vehicle it was previously attached to?

It should be noted that none of these wheel-off reports were labelled as “accidents”. Although no one intended for such tragedies to occur, each if these incidents was preventable. Virtually all wheel–off incidents cause damage to property. Many cause serious injury and death. Courts are often tasked to determine who is responsible. Is the responsible party you?

Bad things happen when wheel-offs happen because of you.

Ask any repair shop’s risk management department, and they will tell you that wheel-offs are either number one or number two on their list of most-costly loss incidents. Sometimes, a shop-owner just reaches into his pocket and pays the property damage claim. Often, the incident escalates into a personal injury claim and or a claim where more than one party seeks damages. Now, that’s when the shop’s insurance company gets involved. Don’t think for a minute that the dollar loss is limited to the insurance policy deductible. The insurance company will insist that the shop put training, policies and procedures in place to eliminate any more wheel-off claims. The shop will be required to implement strategies and tactics geared towards a goal of zero wheel–offs. Insurance premiums will rise. There is a cost to invest in the proper tools and training. In addition, the greatest costs to a wheel-off claim come from the indirect costs associated with the claim – What will it cost to rebuild the shop’s reputation? The day before the wheel-off, the shop enjoyed a long-standing reputation of providing quality repairs in their community for many years. But now, that reputation is exponentially tarnished with the severity of the claim.

Even property-damage only wheel-off incidents can result in costly lawsuits. In a recent action, a shop had to defend itself against accusations of negligence for failing to perform their work in a workman-like manner, failing to follow the standard of care applicable, failing to properly reinstall the wheel, failing to replace the lug nuts on the wheel, failing to ensure that the lug nuts were installed and tightened to an adequate level of torque, failing to provide quality assurance in connection with the work performed, and for failing to warn that they had not properly installed the wheel or had not properly installed the lug nuts, or properly replaced the lug nuts.

Did a negligent repair by your shop actually cause someone to lose his or her life? Some shops never recover from that scenario. Even with adequate insurance coverage to pay any settlements, the bad publicity might cause too many customers to lose faith and trust in your shop for them to feel safe letting your shop (ever again) repair their car or truck.


Beyond all the associated ironies, and despite all the available technologies, wheel-offs (or wheel separations as they are known legally) have been on the rise dramatically since 2010. This information is supported by both the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the U.S. and Canada’s Ministry of Transportation.

The most common cause of wheel-offs (wheel separations) is due to under-torqueing or over-torqueing of the fasteners on a tire/wheel assembly after it has been re-installed during a mechanical service that requires the wheel to be removed, such as a tire installation, tire rotation, brake system or suspension service.

Now, please clear your mind. Think about this very closely. The very best thing that you and your shop can do is -- forget that wheel-offs ever happened.

That’s right. There should be such robust training, policies and procedures instilled in your shop that the question becomes, “What the hell is a wheel-off?” That is the goal. The terms “wheel-off” or “wheel-separation” should be absolutely unfamiliar due to the fact that no one can recall ever encountering such an incident.

How many car or truck repair shop staff understand that “cranking an engine” literally refers back to the days when you needed an actual “hand crank” to turn over the engine so that it could start? “What the hell is a hand-crank?” “Why the hell do they call this a crankshaft?”

Do any young technicians really know that a car’s trunk was at one time, literally a suitcase-like, wood and leather trunk strapped to a luggage rack at the rear of a vehicle?

That’s exactly how far out-of-mind you want wheel-offs to be in your shop and in our industry. “Hey Boss”, “What the hell is a wheel-off?”

Only by making zero wheel-offs your goal can this be accomplished. So, how can this goal be accomplished? The answer is easy. Execution of the answer sometimes proves difficult. But that's up to you. Mostly, it depends on just how important the goal really is to you and your shop operations.

Things become eminently more important when it is a matter of life and death. We know that wheel-offs have caused injury and death. Is that important to you?

Sometimes, it’s a matter of faith. How much do you believe in something? Do you have faith enough to know that you can achieve a goal of zero wheel–offs? Hopefully, no one has to become hurt or killed for you to get religion about eliminating wheel-offs.

Achieving your goal can also be driven by fear. You might be truly afraid (and rightfully so) that failing to achieve zero wheel-offs can cost you your business, your livelihood, your family’s happiness or more.

The easiest route to achieving a zero wheel-off goal in your shop might be for you to adapt some tried and true steps used to achieve zero safety-incidents in the workplace. If you are running the shop, you’ll want to control all the variables that can lead to uncertainties in the processes that will help prevent wheel-offs.


Borrowing from OSHA-like practices:

Ensure that everyone is committed to zero wheel-offs. Everyone in your shop, from the manager to the newest lube tech, must be committed to zero wheel-offs.

Set clear standards for zero wheel-offs. Make sure that all shop staff understand the rules and that management enforces the rules.

Take (and own) the lead. Shop owners, store and shop managers must set a good example in following all wheel fastening policies and procedures — for example, only using torque tools with current, valid calibration certificates.

Get technicians involved. Give techs some responsibility for developing and conducting wheel-fastening procedures, for documenting their own work procedures, and for checking each other’s work.

Promote understanding. Emphasize that improper wheel torqueing can put customers’ personal health and safety at risk. Understanding the “why” of safety is a strong motivator

Train for competence and safety. Train employees well and frequently. Make sure they have the required tools and information to develop the skills required to prevent wheel-offs.

Take control of all torqueing tools. Do not assume that new tools are correctly calibrated. Never assume that technicians own or maintain their own torque tools. The shop should provide all torque tools and require that only shop-supplied tools be used. Shop ownership is ultimately responsible for all liability, so the shop must take responsibility for the tools.

Develop a torque tool program. Implement a process for purchasing, replacing and maintaining all torque tools. Find an independent, accredited facility to test, repair, calibrate and certify all your torque tools (and testers). Best Practice: Treat torque tool chain-of-custody just as you would handle hazardous waste in your shop. Don’t simply hand a torque wrench to the tool truck driver and assume that the tool will return with a traceable, certificate of accreditation.

Encourage feedback. Welcome input from employees. Praise workers who identify best practices, and those who report problems they find with tools or processes.

Always look for teachable moments. When gaps in your shop’s wheel fastening process are identified, do more than just correct them. Use them as learning experiences to help your techs become more alert and more sensitive to potential dangers associated with improper techniques.

Move swiftly to correct any problems. Make sure you respond promptly to identified gaps in the process and take immediate, sincere and vigorous steps to correct them.

View wheel-off prevention as an ongoing challenge. It’s something you, managers and technicians must focus on every day, always improving, always striving for that zero wheel-offs objective, and always making steady progress toward achieving and maintaining that goal.

Additionally, ask your shop liability-insurance carrier to help you develop your own zero wheel-off program. All reputable garagekeepers legal liability insurance companies already employ risk management teams armed with ideas and best practices designed to help you achieve your zero wheel-off goal. And, the best part? They almost always provide the service at no additional charge beyond your regular insurance premium cost. Why? Let’s be honest. Zero wheel-offs means zero wheel-off insurance claims and payouts. It is in their own best interest to help you achieve your goal.

Maybe you’ve already achieved zero wheel-offs. If so, don’t forget to ask your insurance agent for a reduction in your premiums! Nevertheless, remember, you can’t rest on your laurels. Zero wheel-offs requires purposeful, continuous action on everyone’s part every moment of every day. Of course, it’s worth all the effort if even one serious injury is prevented.

But, just imagine… you’ve assembled your team to train for zero wheel-offs, and your techs look first at each other, then at you and in unison they say -- “What the hell is a wheel-off?”


Mark Anderson


Team Torque Inc.

P.S. If This was your intention. If This was your expectation. The irony is sadly lost.

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