If you’re a fan of weird films, you’ve probably heard of Rubber, Quentin Dupieux’s tale of a rampaging tire. It turns out that it’s not too far from a reality of our roadways. Loose wheels have been known to cause serious, shocking crashes on roadways worldwide, and a recent loose wheel incident in Chatsworth, Calif. was picked up by Twitter user Anoop Khatra on his Tesla’s forward-facing camera. Take a look:
Witnessed and recorded the most INSANE car crash yesterday, you can see Autopilot also swerve and avoid the rouge tire for me $TSLA pic.twitter.com/csMh2nbRNX
— Anoop (@Anoop_Khatra) March 25, 2023
In the video, the left front wheel of a GMT900 Chevrolet Silverado makes a break for it in front of a second-generation Kia Soul at point-blank range, leaving the Soul driver with very little time to react. Unsurprisingly, it’s a direct hit. All the energy stored up in that loose wheel and tire launches the poor Kia Soul into the air like a Hollywood nitrogen cannon [Ed note: Actually, what happened is the tire acted like a sort-of “ramp,” with the tread grabbing the front bumper, and the vehicle just rolling right over it. -DT]. The Soul then rotates mid-air before slamming roof-first into the roadway. The hit is hard enough to flip the Soul back onto its wheels before skidding down the highway for a reasonable distance. Adding insult to injury, once the Soul has nearly stopped moving, the tire comes back to hit it on the tailgate.
Despite the sheer amount of destruction, the California Highway Patrol told local news channel ABC 7 that the driver of the Kia suffered only minor injuries. Without modern crash structures and restraint systems, this could’ve been a lot worse.
As for cause, CHP claims that the wheel of the truck came loose due to “sheared-off lug nuts,” so let’s touch on what can lead to shearing wheel studs. While it’s possible that inferior quality wheel spacers placed lateral force on the lug nuts, over-stressing the studs, the more likely culprit is improper torqueing of lug nuts. As with any fastener combination, wheel fastening hardware can deform if excessive torque is applied. Over-torque a wheel bolt or a lug and stud combination enough times and it can fail. Likewise, if wheel fastening hardware is under-torqued, a wheel can apply significant shear force to individual fasteners, causing failure.
In addition, aftermarket wheels may be incompatible with factory wheel fasteners due to their lug seat styles and the thickness of their back pads. A washer-seat or ball-seat lug nut won’t be compatible with wheels that use conical seats. Too thick of a back pad, and wheel fasteners may not meet the proper minimum turns of engagement. Oh, and it’s a good idea to pick up hub-centric rings that adapt the center bore of aftermarket wheels down to the bore of your factory hubs. While these often plastic pieces don’t add much in the way of strength, they can help prevent improper wheel installation by centering wheels on the hubs.
If you look around on Amazon or at Harbor Freight, torque wrenches decent enough for roadside wheel and tire use are dirt cheap, so there’s no excuse not to spend a few bucks on one to keep in your trunk. Likewise, when re-installing a wheel and tire, it’s good practice to torque the fasteners to spec, drive around the block once or twice, re-torque, then re-torque again after 50 miles of driving to correct any further settling. Remember, torque your nuts, or road safety enforcement will torque your other nuts.
Update (March 28, 2023 3PM ET):
The California Highway Patrol has filed an official collision report. Here’s some key information from it:
On 03/23/2023, at approximately 02:05 P.M., officers assigned to the CHP West Valley area received a report of a rollover traffic collision across the eastbound lanes of SR-118, west of De Soto Ave. Preliminary investigation suggests a silver 2011 Chevrolet Silverado was traveling in the #2 lane of eastbound SR-118, west of De Soto Ave. A black 2017 Kia Soul was traveling in the #1 lane of eastbound SR-118, to the left-rear of the Chevrolet.
A red 2019 Tesla Model 3 was traveling in the #1 lane of the eastbound SR-118, directly behind the Kia. For unknown reasons, the front-left tire and rim detached from the Chevrolet and traveled directly into the path of the Kia, colliding with the front of the Kia and causing it to overturn. When the Kia overturned, it threw up debris that struck the front-end of the Tesla. The Chevrolet drove to the right shoulder and waited for CHP to arrive. The driver of the Kia was able to exit her vehicle and declined to be transported to the hospital. The driver of the Tesla waited for CHP to arrive and provided video of the collision to CHP officers on scene. No other injuries were claimed and the Kia had no other passengers.
The public relations offer did say that the CHP’s initial assessment had to do with some kind of lugnut failure. “Usually the officer will look and see why it fell off,” the representative told me over the phone, indicating that it’s fairly standard to get the responding officer’s assessment of what might have been the issue.
It’s worth noting that a number of folks have pointed out that the rotor appears to still be attached to the wheel via the lug studs, indicating either a bearing failure or detachment of the entire hub assembly from the knuckle. Oddly, the rotor in the screengrab appears to be perfectly round despite having to somehow squeeze its way past the brake-knuckle-mounted brake caliper; I see no caliper in the screengrab, either, though I suppose perhaps it could have flown off after shearing its mounting provisions for the knuckle. This shiny disc could be the back of a failed wheel spacer, though in this video, it looks a bit large. In any case, right now the root cause remains unclear, and we don’t have much to go on. -DT
(Photo credits: Anoop Khatra, jkirkhart35 licensed under CC BY 2.0, Gorilla Automotive Products)
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It’s like no one here ever saw a Russian dashcam video. This is a daily occurrence on Russian roads. The wheel usually falls off from excess Vodka, but the effect is much the same.
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Holy shit, how was the trailer for Rubber not linked in the article? This movie seems insanely funny!
As a final insult to the Soul the Chevy’s tire comes back at the end to kick it in the rear.