Well, a lot has happened in the last 24 hours. I suppose the only logical place to start would be the beginning.
I got a call from Leah (my wife) yesterday (03/10/2008) at 5:02 PM, saying that she thought that she blew one or more tires out, but that she was OK. She told me that she was at the intersection of Twyckenham and South Bend Ave (SR 23), and that she had gone just a ways after turning left onto Twyckenham when she felt the driver rear of the car drop violently. I asked if she had hit a pothole or something, and she said no, that it had just happened randomly. She didn’t sound frantic, but given that I work very close to there, I ran down the 6 flights of steps to my car and got over to her as quickly as I could.
On the way, I called again to re-assure that I was nearby and that I’d be there soon. She told me that she had gotten out of the car and noticed that the wheel, in its entirety, was missing from the rotor, and that she couldn’t even see it, and to look for it on my way to her. Shortly after turning right onto Twyckenham, I went about 300 yards and noticed the wheel from her car in the front yard of a house about 4 houses down from where her car had eventually ended up. There was a pretty heavy mark in the pavement from where her rotor had torn itself and the asphalt up after the wheel had departed. As I was examining the wheel and rolling it out of that person’s front yard, a woman from across the street yelled and brough over the hub and nut cap, which goes over the lug nuts and the exterior of the hub cap. Every single lug nut was still intact in the cap. It was as if every single nut had simultaneously fallen off and the wheel fell off very shortly after that. The house where the cap was at was about 50 feet further down the street than was the wheel, so the two instances had occurred quite rapidly together.
Fortunately, Leah was unhurt, and was even unsure of what exactly happened. Puzzling together, we decided to call the police to file a report about the incident, should record be needed in the future. After waiting about 10 minutes, a friendly officer arrived, and after inspecting the tire and wheel rotor with me, determined that the only cause that could reasonably be considered was that of the failure of the lug nuts (due to improper torquing of the wheel installation). This is the part where Wal-Mart enters.
We had taken the plunge after a long while and gotten 4 brand new tires put on Leah’s car, after her car had developed a flat over a year ago and we had put the (full) spare on the vehicle, while visiting Bethany and Preston in Missouri. As we were taking my car to get an oil change as well, we decided to get new tires for Leah’s car, since our brake guy had recommend that the tread difference on the rear tires was doing damage to the transaxle and the 4-wheel driveshaft. That was on 2/24/2008. Given that only 2 weeks and 1 day had transpired, we determined that the fault must lie with Wal-Mart, and their improper installation of the wheel.
After consulting with the insurance company that Leah’s step-father insures her car through, she was told that since the cause of the damage was vehicular failure, they were not at fault, since no accident had happened (Which is technically correct, since they do not cover damage to the car not caused by other motorists or driver error). They do unilaterally pay for towing after an incident, so they contacted a towing company to come out and tow the car to the Wal-Mart in question. The towing operator, upon arriving, confirmed what we had already concluded, that it was nearly certainly lug nut failure, since they had all be intact in the hub cap. He did require that 3 of the nuts be replaced on the wheel, so that the vehicle could be loaded onto the truck for transporting. Thus far, this is the only tampering with the situation that had been done.
Upon arriving at Wal-Mart, Leah went into the service area of the Tire and Lube Express, where the technicians had earlier installed the tires and done the oil change. As she walked into the area, the technician greeted her and asked her “How are you doing today?”.
Leah responded “Not very well”.
The technician: “Well, why’s that?”
Leah: “Um, let’s see, the wheel just fell off my car while I was driving it”.
The technician: “OK…well, what do you want me to do about it?”.
Leah: “Um, well, you guys are the ones that put the tires on 2 weeks ago”.
The technician: “Oh…looks like Wal-Mart’s got a pretty big bill on their hands, huh?”
Leah: “Um, definitely”.
He grabbed some coffee and headed out to the parking lot, where the towing operator was unloading the car. The technician, halfway back through the parking lot, said “That white explorer right there? ” After we affirmed his expectation, he remarked somewhat to himself, “Huh, I remember working on that car a few weeks ago”. After the operator had taken it off the bed and was taking the chains off, the operator remarks to us “I sure as h#ll wouldn’t let them work on my sh*t again”. To which we responded with a resounding “Um, yeah, definitely not, and they won’t be”.
We returned to the interior of the store, and the technician rang up the manager for the area of the store, who would be handling the claim. The phone rang back a minute later, and the technician responded rather angrily: “Well, the wheel on her car came off while she was driving it. The rotor is messed up, the wheel is messed up, the quarter panel is messed up. You might want to come take a look”. The manager arrived a short time later, wearing just a headset and a shirt bearing his name. He made some nervous jokes about the weather as we walked back to take a look at the car with him, and as he looked with really no interest in the car, he asked quite a few questions about how it happened, whether Leah was ok, etc. He made a few more jokes about how he can’t fix her, but he wished that the Wal-Mart garage that was going up next-door was finished, so that they could fix it right there, but that was not the case.
He led us back into the store and told us to sit tight for a few minutes while he grabbed a case file. After waiting a few minutes,he came back and took some basic information about Leah (DOB, etc) and then asked her to write a description of the incident on the case file paper. After consulting with me briefly, she wrote a very detailed description of what had happened, and how we felt Wal-Mart was at fault for the damages caused. The manager then, after going over the rest of the paperwork, then basically told us that the store would be launching an inquiry into the incident, and that he should be hearing back from the headquarters about how to proceed futher within 5 days. We were somewhat at a loss for what to do at that point, since we didn’t know if it would be covered or not by Wal-Mart. The manager, walking us back towards the Tire and Lube Express, said “You know, I’m not really supposed to say things like this, but I don’t see how this won’t be our fault. We put those tires on two weeks ago and you say that it hasn’t been tampered with since then. There really doesn’t seem to be any other scenario where we couldn’t be at fault. ” He then apologized on behalf on Wal-Mart and the Tire and Lube Express, and then we left the store.
We went home, let the dog out, found the local Ford Dealership, rang them up, found out that they were already closed, and then called the same towing company again to tow the car over to the Ford Dealership, so that they could deal with it. They said that they would be there in 10-15 minutes, and we said that was fine, since we lived only about 5 minutes away.
When we returned back to the Wal-Mart lot, the towing operator was not in his still running truck and we walked into the store to find out where he might have gone. The same technician as before responded that he had gone to the front to get paid from the claims dept, and that we could wait on the bench for him. Leah and I noted that the technician (whom we presumed was responsible) seemed to be drinking coffee very quickly while we were waiting. After waiting about 10-15 minutes, Leah received a phone call from the towing operator, who was still at the front of the store, wanting to get paid. Apparently, there had been an altercation between the assistant manager in charge of the case file and the towing operator, with the manager getting quite upset about how the towing operator was wanting to get paid for an association with customers absent. The towing operator stormed out to the parking lot after the manager, and began hooking up the car to the bed again. We spoke to the manager again who made a brief comment about how the operator was not very nice to him, and then got Leah’s driver’s license number from her. Leah inquired about the possibility of them re-imbursing a rental car, and the manager responded that we should include that receipt along with the rest of the receipts that we should be collecting, so that we could then turn them upon the completion of the case file.
We went back out to the parking lot and the operator was fuming about how he’d never been treated like that before and was very upset abotu how the whole situation was being handled. Leah told him that if she went to the news about the story, that she promised to give him time to talk about they treated him. This was obviously a joke, but as the night progressed, we considered more and more the possibility of something like that needing to be done.
We drove towards home and talked about how Leah really shouldn’t have to be put out by the situation (she was going to have to carpool with her co-worker, who would have to go early or Leah would have to go late), and that we should really pursue a rental car. After going by the local Enterprise, we departed up towards the airport, where the only rental car counters were open. After walking through most of them and being told that they didn’t have any more cars, we finally arrived at Hertz and waited in line for about 15 minutes. After getting up to the counter, we were told that they did indeed have cars left for those without reservations.
After confirming with the woman that they did rent to those who were under 25 (my wife is 22), she asked to get an SUV, since the car that had been disabled was an SUV. After picking which one she wanted (the smallest that they had), the woman totalled up the amount to rent the car from Monday Night to Friday Night: a staggering $662. As we walked back to the rental pickup location, I told Leah that we needed to be careful with this, since we are going to have to front the money for the rental and have to entertain the possibility that we won’t be re-imbursed for the vehicle. Leah hopped in the car and we drove it home.
More to follow, as the story progresses. I’m already very concerned about the things that have happened thus far. I’m just very, very thankful that Leah wasn’t injured, and neither was anyone else. The fact that the wheel came totally off while driving…she could’ve flipped, could’ve been very badly injured. What if she had been going a higher rate of speed or making a more complex negotiation? The implications of their error is great. It’s more than a simple (yet costly) inconvenience. They endangered the life of anyone who drove that car.