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Honda Wheels Went Loose

Q. Vincent, I have a complicated car question that I need some help with. It's kind of long, so please, bear with me. I have a 1993 Honda Accord EX coupe, with an automatic transmission. It has 170,000 miles, but is trouble-free.

At least it was until I had 2 new tires put on it at a local tire and repair store. I had replaced 2 tires about 8 months ago, then I replaced the other 2 in July, and had them rotated. I only drove to and from work for the next week.

Then, I had to go out of town exactly one week later for a business conference. About 40 miles into a 180 mile trip, I started to notice a mild vibration that I could feel through the steering wheel. The further I went, the more noticeable the vibration became, until finally, the vibration became so severe that I couldn't wait any longer. I had planned on waiting until my final destination before looking at the car, but it couldn't wait--not even the final 15 miles I had remaining on my trip.

I stopped at a convenience store, got out a flash light, and took the wheel cover off the front driver's side wheel. Sure enough, the lug nuts were all loose. I took out a lug wrench to tighten them down, but one wouldn't tighten at all. Upon closer inspection, I noticed it didn't match the other lug nuts. So, I got in the car and went to my final destination, but the lug nuts came loose all over again. I took the car and left it at a repair shop.

Fortunately, I was able to borrow a car from a family member for a day. The repair shop said that the lug nut and wheel stud needed to be replaced, and that I also needed a new wheel bearing on that side. They said the car should hold up until I got back home if I replaced the lug nut and wheel stud, but I needed to get the wheel bearing replaced as soon as I got back.

I tried to contact the District Manager for the local tire and repair shop(s) where I got the tires and the wrong lug nut was placed on the wheel. I had to leave a message for the district manager, but never got a call back. After driving for a week, the vibration began to return, so I took it to another car repair shop. They told me the front wheel bearings (both the driver's side and passenger side) needed to be replaced.

They also told me the passenger side inner tie rod had been damaged. I had them replace the wheel bearings, but not the tie rod to see what would happen. There was still a noticeable noise and vibration, so I took the car back on the next business day, and had them replace that inner tie rod too.

All of what I've described has led to this: I have been trying to get reimbursed for the damages caused by putting on a lug nut that didn't fit appropriately. There is some dispute by the District Manager of that tire store chain and myself about the damages. He said he had never heard of a such a thing being caused by a lug nut coming loose. (Actually, all of the lug nuts came loose during that 180 mile drive, not just one). He said he could maybe see the damage to the wheel bearings being possible, but not the tie rod.

I don't know enough about how cars work to know what causes what. So, I ask you this: could driving 180 miles on car that has had the wrong lug nut put on to it, which came loose during the drive and causing a major vibration, cause damage to wheel bearings? Furthermore, could driving on a car for about 10 days to 2 weeks with damaged wheel bearings lead to damage to a tie rod?

This is important information for me, because it will affect what I settle for in terms of reimbursement. I appreciate any help you can provide, to help keep me from getting taken to the shed by a repair shop. Thank you for your time.

A. Zzzzz.... Huh?!? What?!? Who?? I was paying attention, honest I was.

It is very likely that the loose lug nuts caused the wheel bearings to go bad. The front wheels wobbling around does add undue stress to the bearings. The tie rod? The bad wheel bearings wouldn't really cause the tie rod end (especially an inner tie rod) to go bad. It is conceivable that the tie rod was very nearly worn out and the loose wheels just made it go totally bad quicker.

I would definitely insist on recovering for the wheel bearings, but maybe you can get them to go 50 - 50 on the tie rod end. I would try but I wouldn't press for it too hard.

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