It was a dark and snowy day of driving across the Midwest when I first discovered what could’ve quickly turned into a major accident. As frustrating as it is to have problems, especially when running a tight schedule, I feel very blessed to have found the cracks in my steer wheel before the problem resulted in a “wheel off” incident.
The importance of vehicle inspections simply cannot be overstated. Every professional driver is required to log a vehicle inspection once per driving shift. Every professional driver had better actually be performing that inspection – at least once – every driving shift.
I’m not going over each point of a proper pre-trip inspection here but if you have question, I’d be happy to help you out since I used to teach this – just leave a comment or contact me.
Personally, I perform and log my 15-minute inspection at the start of my shift, and I also perform checks at every rest stop, fuel stop and then I go over the entire rig again when I park at the end of my shift.
It’s a lot simpler to replace a burned-out light or get scheduled for tire service in the afternoon or evening, than to find those problems early in the morning when you’re ready to hit the road.
During winter, we usually begin driving in the dark and end our day after the sun goes down again. So, having a good flashlight and fresh spare batteries is a must.
Problems which result in thousands of dollars of damage can occur and then worsen within only a short distance of driving, so frequent checks when you pull over to fuel or take a pit stop are important.
Cracked Steer Wheel
Initially, what I saw appeared to be a scratch less than a half inch long near one of the lug bolts. I hadn’t seen it the night before, even with my flashlight. I’d noticed some increased vibration over last week but couldn’t find anything abnormal up to this point. I knew I had to get to a truck shop & found one a little over an hour away. Instead of my normal cruising speed to the shop, I slowed by about 15-20 mph.
I looked again at the wheel when I parked in the shop’s parking lot to find the crack had spread drastically. In fact, it was a humbling moment s I realized how quickly this could have become a “wheel off” accident.
Needless to say, the wheel had to be replaced. Over the next few days, I also had the hub, the other steer wheel & steer tires replaced, along with a 3-axel alignment.
When I bought this truck a few months ago, it had one odd-looking, unpolished aluminum wheel. I may never know why it was on there, but apparently the wheel had problems and it was only a matter of time before it failed.
How Long Do Truck Wheels Last?
I’ve talked with a lot of drivers and mechanics who’ve told me aluminum wheels, when cared for, can outlast a truck. If a wheel has been run on a lot of rough roads, has hit a curb or been damaged somehow, it will begin to fail.
The crack my wheel wound up having could’ve been from the wheel being slightly out-of-round, being previously damaged slightly, or any number of things. None of the lug nuts were loose when my cracked wheel was replaced. Ultimately, I was lucky, fortunate, blessed – whatever you want to call it – for this situation not to have resulted in an accident.
What Is A Wheel-Off & How To Prevent One?
Wheel separation or a ‘wheel-off” is just that: when a wheel separates and comes off as the vehicle is traveling. It can occur because the lug nuts have come loose or from catastrophic failure of the wheel, itself. When truck wheels come off at highway speeds, they have so much momentum they can go through the wall of a building. Just imagine that coming through your windshield! Many people have been killed or seriously injured by flying wheels from a truck. If a truck’s steer wheel comes off, the truck is most likely going to lose control and crash.
The best prevention is frequent, careful inspection of the wheels. This should include:
- The outside and inside of the wheel on both steer and drive wheels.
- Look for damage/dings to the rim near the tire
- Anything that looks like a scratch around the lugs or near the vent holes
- Any abnormal spacing between duals
- Debris stuck between your dual drives, etc. I once saw a truck parked near mine with a chunk of dunnage (wooden board) stuck between the drive tires!
- Watch for any streaking from around the lug nuts, which can be an indicator of a lug coming loose.
- If you’ve had your wheels off for service, make sure to have the torque checked again as soon as possible within the next 50-100 miles of driving. Yeah, I know, this is a pain, but it’s vital.
Wheel-offs can be prevented. Inspections are important. Keep an eye on your equipment every day and check it several times each day. Keep trucking and stay safe.