Lessons From A Tire Change Gone Bad

\"\"Last month I changed some tires on my car. It did not go well.

But when life gives you lemons, turn it into a quick and easy blog post.

What Happened?

My car needed three new tires. The fourth tire – and this is important – was almost new, thanks to another fascinating chapter of my tire history we won’t cover today.

I pre-ordered my tires, went to the shop, and told them just to swap the three tires (since the fourth, you’ll remember, was almost new). I knew protocol was to rotate the fourth tire, but I didn’t want them to do that since it was, you know, new. I also knew minimizing touches was a good thing. You can’t screw up something you don’t touch, right?

You can screw up things you do touch, though. Minutes later, the sheepish worker came to me and said they had tried to take off the fourth wheel to rotate it and had broken one of the lug studs (these are the parts that secure the wheel to the car). He appreciated me pointing out the irony of them damaging the one wheel I told them not to touch.

The great news was there was a mechanic next door who could fix things almost instantly at the tire shop’s expense. Yay!

The bad news was the mechanic next door couldn’t fix things almost instantly. They were missing my fancy BMW-made lug stud – it was a special order. Boo!

Days later, the part arrived, and I went in for the repair. During the repair, the mechanic damaged another lug stud and decided that the hub (the part the lug studs go into) needed to be replaced or the car would be unsafe. The hub, of course, was also a special order item.

The cost to fix my wheel was growing quickly, and the additional damage made for a complex discussion between the tire shop and the mechanic. You could say that wasn’t my problem, but it actually was – I got to play mediator between the two sides to make sure we didn’t end up at an impasse (and ensure I didn’t have to pay anything…).

After over a week of driving a car with some missing lugs (which the internet warned was rather dangerous), the parts finally arrived and my tire was fixed.

A simple tire change turned into a stressful and time-consuming mess, but in happy news, there are some takeaways to share.

Making Things Foolproof? Good Luck With That

I’m a belt-and-braces guy, and I knew from prior experience there might be miscommunication within the tire shop. So in a supremely anal-retentive move, I made it foolproof:


I still wonder what was going through the guy’s head when he removed this tire. Let’s just be thankful he’s not a surgeon.

Making things foolproof is a noble quest, but there is always a bigger fool around the corner.

Simple is Better

The favored industry design for attaching wheels to cars (with lug nuts going on studs) has been around for a long time, and most car manufacturers are happy to use it. It also makes for easy and inexpensive fixes when the stud is damaged – a common occurrence.

My BMW-made Mini Cooper is different. The fine engineers at BMW said, “There’s a design that’s simple, time-tested, and accepted by everyone? No thank you!” So they attach their wheels differently (studs thread directly into the hub), and it’s worse when problems arise. Plus, I guess, more custom BMW parts sold.

Everyone involved in this process was amazed at how a simple repair cascaded to a major expense. Lucky me.

I didn’t actually consider lug nut design when purchasing my car. But now that I know that BMW doesn’t embrace my philosophy of simplicity, I won’t ever buy a BMW-family vehicle again. That may sound like an overreaction, but is it really? Why make life harder than it has to be? (Don’t worry too much BMW – no one wants me as a consumer anyway.)

Benefits of Being Asset-Based (and Frugal)

Just for fun, I fully considered a scenario where my wheel flew off, my car crashed and was totaled, and the finger-pointing between the tire shop and the mechanic meant both of them somehow escaped any liability and I had to buy a new car myself. (As I’ve mentioned before, I am a glass-half-empty fellow).

I certainly wasn’t excited about that possibility, but I realized I have the assets to swing a new car purchase if needed (it helps that frugality means that cost would be low), and that made the situation far less stressful.

Knowing I could easily handle the worst-case scenario gave me the confidence to focus on chasing the best-case one.

Advanced Negotiating Strategies

I fashion myself a nice person. However, early in life I found that was a liability in negotiations. I’d find myself empathizing with the other party and, to ease their pain, give away things I shouldn’t.

I developed a super advanced negotiating tactic to address this weakness: I shut my mouth.

During this debacle, I felt bad for the tire shop manager. A modest mistake by an employee, compounded by BMW’s engineering brilliance, was going to cost him a lot of money. When he got the quote for the full repair from his normal mechanic, he called me and was rather desperate. Would I please go to another shop (a buddy he knew) and see if this repair was truly necessary and get another quote?

If I spoke, I might have waffled and agreed to waste more of my time and even risk my car’s safety – I wouldn’t have planned it that way, but I might have meandered there.

But I kept my mouth shut and my niceness hidden under a bushel. As we sat there in silence, it was weird. But it was far weirder for him than me, and he probably thought I was a volcano nearing eruption. Finally, he said, “I understand you’re upset. What can I do to make things right?” You can fix my wheel, dude. It was that simple.

Silence can be very powerful in negotiations. The other side won’t know (and may fear) what’s going on in your head. There’s always the option to get angry, but once you go there, you can’t go back.

Murphy’s Law Is Alive and Well

There was a part of me that was entertained by my Kafkaesque week of wheel woes. I kept wondering how things could get worse, and then they did.

It’s easy to take a working car (with its wheels firmly attached) for granted, but I’ll add this experience as yet another lesson of how a tiny issue can become a real problem.

Preparing for the worst shouldn’t dominate your thinking, but it should definitely inform it. I’m thankful that I had the flexibility – in time and assets – to roll with the punches.


Do you have an interesting tale of car problems, perhaps spiced with a dash of incompetence? Let me know in the comments.


1 thought on “Lessons From A Tire Change Gone Bad”

  1. Hi Paul

    Thanks for sharing your ‘experience’ at the tire shop!

    I know I have personally had a few of those ‘whoops’ things happen over the years.

    In fact, thats what got me into the hobby of car repairs/modifications……..when i was 16 and had my first truck, the shop made mistakes and charged me for things that I didnt believe needed to be done.

    If i remember it correctly i went into the shop expecting $500 of work to be done to my truck, and came out with a $2000 bill. LEsson learned…I decided at that point to learn how to work on my own vehicles from that point on.

    Lucklily, I drive domestic brand vehicles, so I wont run into as many parts and design issues as you do with your MINI.

    Thanks for the good read!


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