Sometimes, the purpose of your life may be to serve as a warning for others…
On the side of our trailer, a 2015 Rockwood Windjammer 3029, just left of the door is a sticker that reads, “NOTICE - Check Wheel Lugs prior to each trip only using a torque wrench…”. For three seasons, and over 10,000 miles, I read this sticker and ignored it. I reasoned that “we don’t see those stickers on our cars & trucks so maybe Rockwood is just being overly cautious” and hoping to deter litigation. I ignore it no more; I added “Torque Check trailer wheels” to my pre-departure check list and recommend you do the same.
Monday August 3d, we had a blowout, on the driver’s side front axle, which damaged the J-rail flashing forward of the axle, tearing about 3-feet of it away from the trailer. Fast forward through the tire change, police report, insurance claim, and the next two days of visiting friends and relatives. On Thursday, August 6th we departed on the first of a planned 3-day journey to Maine where were going to visit my wife’s family and escape the brutal heat and humidity common in coastal Virginia during August. About 30 miles after our mid- morning departure I heard a loud “BANG!” and looked in my rearview mirror in time to see a cloud of dirt rising from the large dump truck that just passed us going the other direction. The road was a typical rural two-lane US route, windy with narrow shoulders. It was about a mile and a half until I found a safe place to pull off. When I got out of the truck, my stomach turned when I saw I was missing a wheel; the same one that blew out three days earlier! Of course, the first thought in my mind was, “did I do the final torque when I change the tire?”; apparently not! Fortunately, no one was injured, and the truck driver was understanding, as was the State Police officer that investigated. Eventually, the insurance company was notified, I was able to replace the broken and damaged studs on the hub, and we continued our trip with the spare mounted and torque-check twice. I never did find the missing wheel. We were extremely fortunate that no one was hurt. The dump truck could very easily have been a small car loaded with kids, or a motorcycle.
Afterwards, I can track this to two failures on my part. First, I failed to do the last torque of the lugs when I changed the tire at the first blowout. I was alongside a busy highway, there was a local policeman sitting in his car behind me, and “get-back-on-the-road-itis” caused me to forget to do that last critical step. Second, failed to heed the warning label on the trailer. Had I paid attention to the sticker I would have noticed they were not tight before embarking on the next leg of our trip.
Some background: I have been driving and working on vehicles for over 45 years and I have changed countless tires of different types of vehicles; from cars to big rigs. I know the procedure inside and out. I spent 27 years in the military working electronics and mechanical maintenance; I know how to fix things. Yet, with all this experience, I let myself get in a hurry and skip the vital last torque of the lugs and compounded this by ignoring a prominent safety sticker. I say all this because if this situation can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.
Final word: If anyone has any Lionshead, Lynx aluminum wheels in the size 15” x 6”, with the 5-lug star pattern they want to sell, I am interested. Cheers!
Chuck & Donna Eckman
2015 Windjammer 3029