Dear Tom and Ray:
Recently, we had our 2005 Toyota RAV4 taken in for its regularly scheduled maintenance, which included rotating the tires. Each tire has a locking lug nut, and when I picked up the car, my mechanic told me that one of the locking lug nuts "broke" when he tried to remove it, and that he had to then drill through the wheel stud and replace it. I was then charged more than $150 for the labor and parts. Should I have to pay for damage done to my car during routine maintenance? I trust my mechanic, and he showed me the broken lug nut -- but this doesn't seem right. Is it?
Ray: Well, I don't think your mechanic is lying, Bob. The mistake he made was not calling you first and telling you about it.
Tom: Right. He could have explained the situation and given you the option of not rotating the tires or taking the car somewhere else and letting them charge you $150 to get the wheel off.
Ray: A locking wheel nut is a lug nut that's smooth on the outside, so it can't be removed by a standard wrench. In order to remove it, you need the key -- which is a unique socket that fits inside that nut and allows the wrench to turn it.
Tom: The inside of your locking nut is stripped. We see this all the time. Once the inside of a locking wheel nut is stripped, you have to resort to extraordinary measures to remove it.
Ray: These may include jumping up and down on the car, cursing at it and, in rare instances, setting it on fire and shrugging when the customer comes to pick up the charred wreckage.
Tom: We usually start by chiseling at the nut. Then we drive the car around the shop with only that one locking nut holding the wheel on, hoping the weight of the car will break it free. If we're lucky, that may get it loose enough so that we can remove it.
Ray: We also have a special tool that allows us to grab the smooth outside of these locking wheel nuts and try to twist them off. But sometimes, nothing works.
Tom: In that case, we have to pull out the torch. When you burn through a lug nut with a torch, it's very easy to damage the wheel stud, too.
Ray: When that happens, we replace the stud, buy the guy four new regular lug nuts and throw those locking nuts, along with the key, into the garbage.
Tom: And that's what you should do, Bob. These locking nuts first became popular when alloy wheels were new and expensive.
Ray: But nowadays, almost every car has alloy wheels. And they come in all different qualities, designs and prices. If you had fancy wheels that cost you $800 apiece, then, sure, you should have locking wheel nuts to protect them. But for the standard $150 wheels on the RAV4? Throw the locking nuts away, and don't worry about it.
Tom: And tell your mechanic that you believe him, but it'd be nice, next time, if he calls you as soon as any unpredicted work becomes necessary. That way, you'll know what to expect, and your jaw will already be dropped by the time you come to pick up your car.
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk Web site.)