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The little blue car at home

The little blue car has been feeling poorly for a few weeks now. She developed a strange sound, like running on a flat tyre, but only when she’d warmed up. I noticed it first returning home after a longish drive. Once upon a time I would have had the wheel off, checked the brake pads for wear and so on. But I’m out of the habit of actually tinkering with cars. Instead, I did the lazy thing and booked it into the local workshop. But they didn’t warm it up enough because they were too busy to mess about, and as a consequence they couldn’t repeat the noise, let alone diagnose it. They had it briefly on the ramps, checked underneath, and spun the wheels.

“Brakes are fine,” they said. “Bearings are fine. Nothing loose. Bring it back when it’s doing it all the time.”

I drove away feeling like a bit of a clueless, fussy Freddy. But I grew up around cars, mainly old, rusty cars, spent whole weekends of my teens getting oily in my uncle’s backstreet garage, and I knew something was definitely off. I was also losing it, losing confidence, and not just in the car, but in my ability to just do stuff. This is a feeling that comes and goes.

Anyway, I was thinking that’s it. The car’s getting on a bit now, it’s always been a reliable little thing, but I couldn’t really trust it now to get me any distance, when I didn’t know what this noise was. What else could it be? Gearbox? Drive-shaft? Differential? Any one of those, and the car’s a scrapper, given it’s worth next to nothing, now. Plus, I mean, come on. Maybe I shouldn’t be expecting to get about much in a car that’s nearly 20 years old. I’m emotionally attached to it, and that’s never a good thing, but even with 95K on the clock, it’s still the best car I’ve ever driven, old or new.

All good things come to an end, though,…

The little blue car, Slaidburn, November 2014

Anyway, I was giving my garage a clean out, and came across a shiny new spider wrench – one of those cross shaped things with a different sized wheel-nut socket at each corner. That’s odd, I thought. I don’t remember owning one as posh as that. It must belong to one of my sons who’d dumped there, rather than having it rattling about in his car. Either that,… or the wheel-nut fairy left it for me as a hint to buck my ideas up.

I wondered if it would fit the wheel-nuts of the little blue car, so I give it a try, and it did. In the process of trying it out, I also discovered the wheel nuts were loose, and I mean all four nuts on all four wheels. Well, they weren’t loose exactly, just barely nipped up. So I tightened them properly, and gave the car a spin, got her good and warm. Problem solved. No more strange sounds. The little blue car is back!

But now I have another problem. Well, it’s more of a mystery, really. I’ve never heard of wheel nuts coming loose on their own. I calculate the last time the wheels were off the car would have been nearly a year ago, during a service, when the workshop cleaned and checked the brakes, and I find it hard to imagine I’ve driven around in it since then, the mechanic perhaps having forgotten to torque them up properly. I’m not about to accuse them of it anyway.

My wheels aren’t fancy – just factory fitted aluminium ones, so I find it hard to imagine someone tried to pinch them, then got bored, having partly undone all the nuts. And then even less likely, I hope, that it’s a thing now, strange people going around with a set of spider wrenches, loosening peoples’ wheel-nuts as a sinister prank.

I’ll most likely never know.

I’ve been thinking back to all the runs I’ve made in the car this year, many of them at high speed up and down the M6 and the A59, and the possibility I did it all with slack wheel-nuts. I’ll be having sleepless nights for a while on account of that one. But we’re on the road again, and all thanks to the wheel-nut fairy, for that gift of a shiny new spider wrench, and the hint to get my mojo together, and my hands dirty now and then, instead of running to a mechanic at every squeak and rattle. I’ll be checking the wheel-nuts with it regularly, from now on.

Just out of curiosity, has anyone else had their wheel (hub) nuts come loose on their own?

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