Commentary: How Much do Your Technicians Know About Wheel Integrity?

In spite of endless service bulletins and instructional videos and even mandatory training programs, the worst still happens.

March 2014, - Editorial

by Rolf Lockwood, Executive Contributing Editor

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A couple of Saturdays back I met an old friend for coffee. A veteran of our industry, a long-time driver, nowadays a safety supervisor, he’s one of those guys who can do anything when it comes to trucks and trucking. Easily one of the smartest people I know.

We got to talking about wheel integrity.

The subject arose when I asked how things were going at work. He described a near tragedy he was investigating, a wheel-off incident in the downtown section of a major city on a weekday afternoon. Thankfully, no great speed was involved and in the midst of urban traffic and pedestrians, the errant wheel did no damage to person or property. The gods were smiling.

Now, my friend is not a mechanic, and he admits to gaps in his understanding about the ways wheels can part company with trucks or more likely trailers. But he soon found that the technicians responsible for the rig in question didn’t actually know much either. The issue, he thought, was the way those techs were attaching wheels, the way they were using torque and impact wrenches.

The real trouble, my chum realized as we talked, was that those mechanics didn’t know how much they didn’t know.

He was pretty unhappy about that, especially when I started talking about the simple science of torquing wheel fasteners properly. About how tiny bits of rust or dirt or even paint drops can compromise the strength of those connections. I promised to send him some things I’ve written on the subject, including an article from the April 2012 issue of HDT, “Preventing wheel-offs.”

Turns out it was a revelation.

For me, the revelation was that the carrier in question is one of the best on the continent, based in Canada but with sizeable operations in the U.S., too.

And with ample reason to be better at such fundamentals as wheel security.

If these guys, in at least one terminal, can’t manage wheels, what can we expect from lesser fleets?

With the advent of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s CSA (Compliance, Safety, Accountability) safety enforcement regime, and quite apart from the moral demand that owners keep their trucks safe, the practical need to run safe trucks has jumped up the priority ladder a rung or two.

I’ve penned a story on the subject every couple of years since we first began to understand wheel integrity almost two decades ago. Back then, in 1995, a spate of wheel-off fatalities directed a bright spotlight on our maintenance and inspection practices. Data is scarce to say the least, but it’s reasonably clear that wheel-separation incidents have dropped since then. Whatever the figures may be, there’s no disagreement about the notion that one fatality is too many.

Yet in spite of endless service bulletins and instructional videos and even mandatory training programs, the worst still happens.

Why? Simply, truck wheels and fasteners and hubs and bearings and all that are mechanical things, and such things eventually fail. Always. Inevitably.

Some such failures are to an extent predictable and thus preventable, but that assumes perfect maintenance and inspection practices and the alignment of all possible stars. Won’t happen every time.

Are there mechanical solutions aside from learning proper fastening techniques? Yes. There are products that replaces the standard flange nut on hub-piloted disc wheels altogether. Other products warn of heat build-up that could mean impending bearing failure.

However, the real solution may be understanding that we can’t let up on this front.

To read the prior article mentioned, “Preventing Wheel-offs,” go to


  1. 1. Jay Jones [ April 09, 2014 @ 10:28AM ]

    That is a great story, which really needs to be broadcast further. Years ago, I was in my dually on a freeway in Sacramento. A 40-footer on the opposing side had a wheel-off at freeway speed. The assembly began bouncing, ultimately reaching easily 10' off the ground, clearing the median into the opposing side. I saw it far enough back to slow and steer in S-turns with flashers on (light traffic permitted.) One small utility truck impacted it with the leading edge of its flatbed, just missing the driver compartment while sending it airborne once again. Luckily no injuries occurred, but it could easily have resulted in a fatality.


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