Wednesday, February 13, 2019


I'm going to take this time to talk about automobile tires... or more accurately, mounting the wheels. It's an important conversation. Recently I took my car in for a set of tires. The end result was horrific, and getting action was tedious and mind-numbingly frustrating.

Before I air dirty laundry, let's get a few facts out of the way:
  1. The lug nuts that hold your wheels on the car are intended to be tightened to a very specific value. Too loose and they're insecure. But too tight, and they'll over-stretch, weaken, break and/or damage the bolts; damage your brake rotors (resulting in a pulsating sensation when you brake the car); or even potentially damage the wheel itself. Losing a wheel or locking a brake is dangerous. But being stuck on the side of the road with a flat, unable to change it is dangerous as well. A properly fitted wheel is designed to be removed in less-than-ideal circumstances on the side of the road by an average person using hand tools.
  2. A torque wrench, improperly used, is worse than useless. It makes you believe things are correctly adjusted when they're not. And it's VERY easy to improperly use one. Many mechanics are at fault here. The most common failure is to use an pneumatic wrench to over tighten, then "check" with a torque wrench. MAJOR FAIL.
This second point is vital. Unfortunately, many of the resources that claim to teach you how to use a torque wrench don't do it properly. Even Popular Mechanics is at fault here. What they say in the linked article is correct: but they leave out the single most important point, which is...

Image result for overtightened lug nuts
This is what overtightening can do
to a wheel.

You can NOT use a torque wrench to validate the tightness of a nut that has already been tightened to its maximum extent. In an extreme example, consider this: if I were to solidly weld a nut to a metal tabletop, and you use a torque wrench to check it for a torque of 70ft/lbs, is it "properly tightened"? The tool will say "yes", every time. Every. Single. Time. In fact, it doesn't even matter what value you're looking for. It will read whatever you want. And you can't use the tool to untighten the nut to verify this. That's not what the tool is for, and not how it works. To make sure it's right, you have to loosen the nut and do it again properly.

So how does it work? How do you use it correctly? It's a three-part process:
  1. First lightly fasten all of the nuts. "Half-torque" is the usual phrasing for "snug, but not tight". The important point is that when you go to finish it up and apply the wrench again, the nut must move. Otherwise, you don't know if it stopped moving at the specified torque. It's common sense, really.
  2. Then go back and tighten to spec. The spec is found in the owner's manual of the car, but references are available and accessible to any qualified mechanic. To tighten to spec, simply use the torque wrench to tighten the nut until the bending bar needle reads the proper value or the torque wrench clicks (depending on the type of wrench you're using).
  3. Go back and tighten them all to spec again. This is important because the wheel may shift a bit as all the lug nuts are tightened, and some that you thought were tight initially may wind up a bit looser the first time 'round.
This WikiHow describes how to do it (almost) properly. I say "almost" because the pictures don't exactly match the text. They show improper gripping of the tool, and the discussion of using a bending bar isn't illustrated with a bending bar. But the text is correct. Many "professional" resources gloss over step 1, presumably because it is common sense. You use a wrench to tighten, not to check.

What Happened To Me

I took my car into a professional tire center in December and got two tires. These were placed on the back wheels, and those wheels were moved to the front steering axles. This is normal procedure which prevents fishtailing on wet roads. My intent was to come back the next month and get the other tires replaced.

The tires had other ideas. Although my tread was good, in January the valve stem gave way on my driver's side front tire. When I tried to change the flat, I found the nuts over-tightened an extraordinary amount, to the point where the nuts wouldn't come loose. Keep in mind here that the recommended torque for these nuts is 77ft/lbs.  I then sprayed them down with penetrating oil and waited 12 hours before trying again. I applied well over 300ft/lbs using body weight and a lever before my lug wrench shattered. After buying a new, larger carbon steel wrench, I tried again. To remove each nut I had to apply full body weight with greater leverage using the larger tool, and another person using a lever. Well over 300ft/lbs torque and several minutes labor were required to remove each nut.

I mounted the half-spare and took it back to the shop. I showed it to the shop manager, who told me that they always use a torque wrench to prevent such problems and, "Here's your problem. This wrench is made of cheap metal". Well, NO. That's NOT the problem. But it did tell me that they don't know how to use the torque wrench. The problem was over-tightened nuts which made it necessary to apply enough force to far exceed the operational limits of the wrench and shatter it. I bought the two remaining tires and told him to loosen every nut on every wheel and re-tighten them properly.

When the job was done, the mechanic came to see me, re-iterated that they always use a torque wrench to prevent such problems, and again pointed out the metal of the wrench. AGAIN, NO. The wrench gave its life to a task made futile by unconscionable maladjustment.

That would have been the end of it had I not received a message from them asking how I enjoyed my visit. I responded that I now feel the vibrations of a warped brake rotor and will not return, but thanking them for the follow-up. They responded yet again that they use "torque sticks" to prevent these problems, and that they'd be happy to correct the problem. Sigh.

This led me to write an email to the owner detailing the above, including a screenshot of the texts. I concluded the email as follows:

As you can see, I'm assured once again that your techs use torque sticks. This lead me to write this letter, because the implications are astonishing. It's undeniable that my lug nuts were tightened with excessive force. The amount of force is inexcusable. And yet, I'm told for the third time that the torque sticks are in use. Well, I don't deny that they are. But there is no way, no how, that they could have possibly been used properly. The laws of Physics forbid it.

So one of two things is happening here, neither of them good:
1. You're attempting to limit liability. No problem there, as I have no intent of suing you. I call this a "lesson learned", and will go elsewhere. If you can't admit that there's a problem, then we can't have a serious conversation about fixing it.
2. You honestly don't know that there's a problem. If so, you've got a far bigger problem, because there are other people who use your services, and they're the ones in danger.

This situation could have been avoided by simply saying, "Ooh, that's a problem. We'll administer refresher training on the torque sticks." But not once did I hear that there even was a problem. I've been assured several times (in person and in text) that you're using the tools to "prevent the problems" I had. Obviously, I still had the problems, so how can that be believed?

Please imagine this: You eat at a restaurant, and get food poisoning. You tell the manager about your nausea and fever, and you've also got good evidence-based reason to conclude that they're not storing food properly. The manager and the cook assure you that, despite any evidence you may see, they're doing everything properly, and the problem must have been with your fork. The manager then offers a free meal to make it right.

Would you eat that meal? Me, neither. PLEASE train your folks. They need it badly.

AFTER TWO WEEKS, I received an email 'survey', and simply cut and replied the entire email into it. The following day I received this text:
David, Thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention. I appreciate your comments and the time you took to let us know. Rest assured additional training will be done.

That's all I ask.


I have 12 years experience working for a major automotive manufacturer. The company described in the above is a local tire retailer with two locations in the Spartanburg, SC area. Because of their promise to retrain, I'm not naming them here; however, I won't be using them again. However, I can strongly recommend Firestone, Midas, or NTB, all of which have done excellent work for me.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

My Wife's Dog

My wife has a little dog. He is a Mountain Feist named Murry (sic). Now, for those who don't know what a Mountain Feist is, it's a small terrier. If you took a Jack Russell and painted it with red oak stain, you would have a close approximation of my wife's dog.

I am tempted to say my wife treats that dog as she would a child. That is not accurate. She treats him better. Murry sleeps with her, he eats with her. Where she goes, he goes. However, Murry doesn't listen to a word she says. She asks. She wheedles. She cajoles. She begs. And the dog does what the dog wants to do.

Me, on the other hand... He hangs on my every word. If I say "come here", he comes. If I say, "Go to your room," he goes to his room. If I tell him to dance, he dances. He does everything I say, the first time. I never have to repeat myself. If he hesitates, I simply stare him down until he complies. I haven't trained him, and I never punish or reward him. He just does it. That damn dog would do my taxes if I told him to.

My wife once noted, "You don't praise him; you don't reward him; you don't pay him any attention; you don't pet him. You don't even call him a good dog! Why is it that he listens to you and not me?"

I replied, "He obeys me because I don't praise him; I don't reward him; I don't pay him any attention; I don't pet him. That little dog is desperate to get any of those things from me; and he is sure, in the depths of his little doggy brain, that if only he does what I say... If only he is good enough... Then someday, somehow, he will get what he craves from me."

To some extent, he is probably right. In a few years, when he is near the end of his little dog life, I will probably lay a hand on him and say, "Murry, you were a good dog." At that point, he will collapse into spasms of orgasmic pleasure and breathe his last. In the meantime, I'm not too concerned about Murry's emotional well-being: he gets all the love and attention he can stand from my wife.

Now, I don't believe that any of this is conjecture. I firmly believe that this is what's going on in his head. And it begs the question, how do I know? I'm not a dog whisperer. I don't read little dog minds. Hell, I don't even like dogs. So how can I be so sure about what is going on inside this dog's head?

It's because my stepfather was a U.S. Marine.

And I was that little dog.


I'm tempted to stop here, but I'm going to take a moment to "talk past the close" because some of you will probably read this and think, "Oh that's so sad! He wasn't really talking about the dog." Well, yeah; I am. I'm just not talking about only the dog.

Some people carry on about the attention and/or validation that they never received from their [parent/mentor/role model]. And in some cases, it's a truly sad story. In some cases, it's simply because they themselves have missed the boat. Take my stepfather for instance. When it came to his children, he wasn't really aloof... he just didn't know where to set the bar. So he didn't. For us, it wasn't a matter of dealing with constant disapproval. Rather, much like my wife's dog, it was a constant quest for approval. And it was always so close.

And that's just good parenting advice. One of the best lectures I have ever seen in my life was by Randy Pausch. It's entitled "The Last Lecture". It's also available in book form, and I strongly advise you to get it and read it. Randy faced this exact problem when he first started teaching about the creation of virtual worlds using computers. The class far exceeded his expectations, and he didn't know where to set the bar. He didn't tell them that they were amazing and wonderful and he had nothing to teach them. On the advice of a mentor, he went back to the class, looked them in the eyes, and said, "That was pretty good. But I know you can do better."

The quest for approval can drive you to improve yourself in ways that praise will never, ever help you to attain. In the grand scheme of things, we parents have one job, and that's to make sure that our kids can get along without us when we inevitably die. And yeah, as with anything, it can be done wrong. But that doesn't change the fact that it can be done right, too. Done right, parents establish a direction, and let their kids discover their own goals. This is in contrast with negligent parents, who give their children neither. I think that parents should be careful not to be so concerned with providing their kids with what they want that they fail to provide them what they need in order to excel.

On the other side... well, maybe you didn't get the constant praise you felt you deserved. But, you got to be a better person because you tried harder than you otherwise would have. When you look at it that way, it's not that hard to live with.

And yeah... Murry's a pretty good dog. But don't tell my wife I said that.