GENTLEMEN, check your nuts! No, this isn’t an awareness campaign for male cancer (though, as I mention it, it’s never a bad idea to have a quick squidge of your undercarriage), as I’d also advise ladies to check their nuts as well.
And here’s why… Last week, a young chap came into our garage to get a pair of front tyres fitted to his newly acquired cheap runabout. The car in question was a 2003 MG ZS, and if you can get over the Rover 45 in fishnet tights image and find one that’s had a modified head gasket fitted, there aren’t many cars about that can provide such an entertaining drive for so little outlay – in this case, a mere six hundred quid.
Sensibly, the owner decided that, as he’d bought the car for pressing on a bit as a weekend toy, it would be a good idea to replace the knackered budget tyres on the front with something a little more grippy, so he came to us for a pair of mid-range new tyres to help him pick his way through the twisty lanes.
It came as quite a shock to us, then, that when we popped off the MG’s centre caps, both front wheels were held in place by only three wheel nuts, rather than the customary four.
Further inspection revealed that the same issue affected the rear axle – of the 16 wheel nuts traditionally fitted to an MG ZS, only 12 were present. You don’t need me to tell you that this is actually quite dangerous…
What’s more alarming is this. According to the paperwork in the glovebox, the last time the MG had been for new tyres was in 2012, a whole four years ago. It was then sold, later that year, by a trader about 50 miles away, and was run for three-and-a-half years by the guy our customer bought it off.
It’s fair to assume, then, that for that extended period, the previous keeper had been driving around with only three wheel nuts (per tyre) on his wagon.
Technically, the missing nuts would have been an instant MoT fail. But it isn’t in the testers’ handbook to inspect behind hubcaps or wheel trims, so if they’re fitted over the nuts, the nuts don’t always get checked. It’s something we do as a matter of course – every car that comes into our workshop is given a full safety inspection regardless of what it’s been brought in for, because as a respectable garage, we feel we have a duty to keep our customers safe and inform them if there’s an actual or imminent problem with their car, even if they then choose to not get it fixed.
It’s a duty, really, because we’re car experts, and the vast majority of our customers aren’t.
Our customer was crestfallen when we broke the news, as he was in a bit of a hurry and wheel nuts aren’t always something we carry in stock.
Luckily for him, we had a Rover 45 parked round the back, that the owner had asked us to dispose of after deciding the required head gasket repair was more than the car’s value. We’d kept hold of it as one of the apprentices had decided he wanted to fix it up in his spare time and sell it on. We do that quite a bit, as it’s a good incentive for the lads to learn their trade and make a bit of beer money, but that’s a subject for a different column.
Our apprentice will now need to add four wheel nuts to his parts list (and yes, we have told him) as by nicking the ones off the 45, we were able to get our loyal customer back on the road, and we only charged him a fiver for the nuts. Think about it – five quid to mend a potentially life-threatening problem.
Whether the case of the missing wheel nuts was the responsibility of the last but one owner (who may well have lost the locking wheel nut key and asked the tyre fitters to drill them off), or the tyre fitters themselves, for not telling him, or even the trader who sold the car, who in my view should have thoroughly inspected the car even if it was only a cheap PXer is uncertain.
But whichever way, it’s a bloody poor show, as it puts lives at risk.
Next time you buy a ‘brand new used car’ (Bruce Springsteen fans will know what I’m getting at there), check it out carefully. If you don’t check your nuts, it could lead to hospitalisation or even death – and yes, that applies to your dangly bits as well.
Who is Our Kev? If we told you, we’d have to kill you… What we can say is he‘s been around for longer than he cares to remember and has a fund of stories to tell…