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Old 09-17-2014, 08:52 AM   #1
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1968 22' Safari
Soquel , California
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Wheel fell off!

Hi All,

I'm looking for some wisdom from the collective knowledge base here.

My wife and I were traveling along enjoying the trip back from a weekend getaway at a local hot springs, when we started to notice loud groaning sounds from the trailer. A few miles later, the entire left wheel assembly fell off our single-axle 68 Safari, causing some damage to the fender well in the process. The brand-new brakes were toast, as was the outer bearing set and the drum, but lucky for us, aside from the mangled brake, bearing and drum assembly, the mechanical components of the hub and axle appeared to remain in generally sound condition.

Even more lucky, we were able to get a replacement set of OEM drums with complete brake and bearing assemblies from a nearby airstream dealer who just happened to have a pair sitting around for a great price. And with the help of a good friend who is mechanically inclined, plus the skills of a nearby arc welder and a good polisher our Safari is back on the road almost as good as new.

The question we have is whether or not we should go after the shop that had just installed new brakes and repacked the bearings immediately preceding our weekend trip, which was about a 2-hour tow, a little under 100 miles, before the wheel came off.

It bears mentioning that up until this point we have had a friendly working relationship with our local RV Repair guy. He's the first to say that he's not an airstream specialist, but in the course of triaging the broken hub, several observations were made that raise the question of whether the work his shop did in replacing the brakes and repacking the bearings right before the trip contributed to the failure.

It has been determined, and everybody agrees, that the cause of the failure was the snap ring (also known as a "circlip") breaking, which led to the bearings coming apart.

What concerns us is that in removing both wheel assemblies, our friend observed with the help of a torque wrench that the lug nuts had been tightened down in excess of 180 foot-lbs: more than twice the manufacturer recommended specs. He also observed that the five nuts holding the brake-shoe backing plate assembly of the intact set were all inconsistent with how much they had been tightened; two were about 30 foot-pounds, another two were closer to 50 and one was correct at about 60.

The local RV repair guy confirmed that his shop just uses an air wrench to tighten down the nuts. But when the question of torque was raised, he maintains that none of this had anything to do with the circlip failing and does not feel it is fair to hold him responsible for what he says is an archaic system.

Keeping in mind that the trailer had been on and off the road for 46 years without the assembly failing, and that the failure occurred on literally the first trip after his shop replaced the brakes and repacked the bearings, it at least bears asking the question.

On one hand I don't want to throw our local repair shop operator under the bus (or trailer as it were) if it really was a coincidence. But on the other hand, his techs had their hands all over that wheel assembly right before our trip.

So if the general consensus is that the work his shop did directly contributed to the failure...or if it is likely that there were conditions with the assembly that they could have advised us on before letting us go on the road, it seems only fair that he should reimburse us for our costs of repair and restoring things back to normal.

We're not talking huge money here, maybe $1,000, plus a refund of what his shop charged us to put the new brakes on. More than the money, it is the principal of the matter that I am concerned with, since I would like to keep the relationship with his shop fair on both sides.

So what do you folks out in the Airstream community think?

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Old 09-17-2014, 08:58 AM   #2
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2006 23' Safari SE
Biloxi , Mississippi
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If you mean law suit, I would suggest you contact a real lawyer for legal advice. If you do sue him you will no longer have any sort of future relationship with the shop. Good luck.

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Old 09-17-2014, 04:55 PM   #3
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If you're only talking $1k and a refund on the work, why a lawsuit? If I were the shop owner and you presented these facts to me, I'd offer the refund immediately and would inspect the work myself. I'm not sure what the $1k is for - and I don't know that I'd agree to that but if the guy is generally good, he should be willing to work something reasonable out with you. If not, you could pursue a lawsuit but to what end? You'll spend a lot of time and unnecessary worry:stress on it instead of camping.

One guy's $0.02.
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Old 09-17-2014, 05:11 PM   #4
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Hi from AZ. . . I have to say that I would not want nor care about a relationship with a shop that used a rattlegun to torque lug nuts to 180 lbs. That's a shop/tech who does not know what they're doing or doesn't care, or both ! Me thinks you're lucky to have gotten away with as little damage as you did ! Sue the b*stards ?, nah, move on & find another shop (IMO). . . travel safe, Craig
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Old 09-17-2014, 05:35 PM   #5
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Your out of pocket is $1000. Consider yourself lucky, a wheel coming off could have been tragic.
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Old 09-17-2014, 05:42 PM   #6
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I would move on and be thankful he did not screw up anything else. Also since the trailer was making strange noises that should have been a red flag to stop and see what the problem was. Noises or lack of noises mean something is wrong.

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Old 09-17-2014, 06:16 PM   #7
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It'll cost more than a grand for the lawsuit, not to mention the time involved. No one will be a winner here.
If it were me, I'd talk to the owner, explain why you think it's his employee's fault, and what you feel will be a fair reimbersment.
If he refuses, it's pretty simple, I wouldn't go back. I would mark it up to an expensive part of higher RV education.
Maybe the guy has an employee who is not competent, in this case you would be doing his business a favor.
For whatever it's worth,

Larry C
Old age is coming at a really bad time!

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Old 09-17-2014, 07:16 PM   #8
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Agreed, considering the $ value, involving lawyers would seem not likely cost effective.

But also, and not to condone the mechanics use of the air wrench in over torquing the wheel nuts, but is there any reason to think that this had anything to do with the snap ring problem? Did the lugs fracture?

I am not familiar with that type of arrangement. does the snap ring arrangement somehow replace the more commonplace washer, castellated nut, and lock ring?

Brian & Connie Mitchell

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Old 09-17-2014, 07:36 PM   #9
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You can read about my travails ( where I had a wheel fall off. Now I am not a mechanic; in fact I am technically challenged. So I do not pretend to understand the circumstances or blame in your case.

But the one thing that seems in hindsight pretty apparent is the general lack of regard for torque. In all my years I do not recall a mechanic pulling out a torque wrench, but I can think of dozens of times where a mechanic has pulled out a pneumatic wrench and let it rip without much regard.

I now torque my own wheels, and check them regularly. If you are out $1K, that is sad, but quite frankly you (and those around you) are very lucky not to have been hurt or injured. I don't know how to guide you, but you may want to pay more attention (as I do now) to torque. Safe travels!!
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Old 09-17-2014, 07:54 PM   #10
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How about the lugs, did anyone determine that the were stretched? I never knew such a thing could happen until I inspected my own and a lug broke and another stripped while trying to remove the wheel nut- both victims of air rachets at a garage. I too strongly advise torque wrenches.
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Old 09-17-2014, 08:04 PM   #11
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Hmm. That sucks. I'd like to see some pictures. Because you know, without pictures...
I have never seen anything other than a castellated nut, washer and cotter pin on an Airstream axle. Unless you have a newer Dexter NevrLube axle. You mentioned 46 years, so I guess it is the original axle. Of course, I've not seen every Airstream made either.

If the C-clip was installed correctly and it broke, well, that's just an unfortunate outcome of things. Things break.
It is unfortunate that you heard loud groaning sounds, but continued to drive down the road until the hub and drum separated from the axle.
The lug nuts being over torqued is an unrelated issue, but still an issue.
Also, I'm surprised that you are throwing good money at an old axle. A complete new axle for your trailer installed would not be much more than what you've spent on new brakes and repacking the bearings.

Work is never done, so take time to play!
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Old 09-17-2014, 08:16 PM   #12
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I'm not certain what I'd do in your case. I know I'd be mad as h*!! about the situation and I think approaching the shop is a reasonable start. I probably would not file a lawsuit as the time/energy and possible outcome don't seem worth the effort.

You mentioned torque in your post and many people responding have latched on to that topic. Yes, torqueing the lug nuts needs your attention. But if I read your post correctly that had nothing to do with the failure.

It's not going to be easy to move beyond this issue but time will likely be a good salve for the pain/emotion and get on with life. There's lots of traveling/camping to do. Hit the road and have fun!
Lucius and Danielle
1992 29' Excella Classic
1996 GMC Suburban C2500 7.4L
2005 Chevrolet Suburban K2500 8.1L
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Old 09-17-2014, 08:25 PM   #13
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Wheel fell off!

$1000 is small claims court, no lawyer needed or even allowed in most states.

You will get the cost of repairs, but not a refund on what he charged to put the brakes on to start with.

You cant have your cake and eat it too.

If you go to small claims court you will win, but is it worth it? I don't know, but I do know that something didn't go together right for this failure to happen so soon after servicing.

The shop owner should swallow hard and pony up.
The fact that I am opinionated does not presuppose that I am wrong......

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Old 09-17-2014, 08:53 PM   #14
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It appears that the circlip is the real culprit here and the issue of correct torque values has nothing to do with the problem. The quality of components like the circlip available over the counter today is pure crap. Before I'd throw the mechanic under the bus, I'd want to know who supplied the circlip. If it came in a NAPA box, I'd send a letter explaining the situation to the PR department and ask them how they want to handle some compensation to offset your loss. I use NAPA only as an example.

If you don't go first class, your heirs will!
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