Wheel separations can be eliminated, CFMS panel contends

TORONTO, Ont. — Asked if commercial vehicle wheel separations can be completely prevented, all members of a Canadian Fleet Maintenance Summit (CFMS) panel gave a resounding “yes.”

However, that ambitious goal will only be achieved if wheel installations are done properly, by qualified and well-trained people. Rolf VanderZwaag, manager, maintenance and technical issues with the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA), said there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the equipment that’s in use today. Problems arise when technicians or wheel installers take short cuts and don’t follow the procedures laid out through the wheel installer course that’s mandatory in Ontario for anyone aside from a technician who performs wheel installations.

About 700 people a year go through the program but VanderZwaag acknowledged many eventually return to their bad habits.

“One of the disappointing things I hear from instructors is they train them and they go back to the workplace and fall back under old habits again,” VanderZwaag said. “Training is one part of it but having them rigorously follow those procedures is what makes the program successful.”
The province is now considering making wheel installers re-take the course every few years to maintain their certification.

Dave McDonald, commercial sales manager, Northern Ontario with Bridgestone, said one of the biggest mistakes wheel installers make is not using lubrication.

“A hub-piloted wheel torque is lubricated torque,” he said. “People are still putting them on dry and it’s a big problem.”

He also said installers need to carefully clean and inspect all parts before assembling the wheel and to use quality parts.

“I get the fact you want to save money on your maintenance budget, but buying a cheaper nut to hold the wheel on is not a place you want to save your money,” McDonald said.

VanderZwaag said even the best wheel installers can have a bad day. Processes need to be in place to ensure any mistakes are identified before a wheel separation occurs.

“You need deliberate checklists, deliberate procedures,” he said. “If a step is forgotten when putting a wheel on, it could have fatal consequences. Individuals that are doing the work need to have that discipline in doing that work and in some cases have a second person involved in some of those procedures because when something slips, the price can be very high.”

Brandon Uzarek, field engineer with Accuride, said shops need to promote a culture of safety.

“You need manager buy-in,” he said, urging managers not to rush wheel installations.

McDonald agreed. “Our industry creates a desire for speed. The minute that happens, the technician takes some shortcuts,” he said. “I tell them, if it takes 45 minutes to do the job, you can’t do it in 30 or you’re missing something. The first thing that goes is lubrication and the second thing that goes is the cleaning of the parts.”

Technicians also need to be armed with the right tools to do the job and to know how to properly use them.

“A torque wrench is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. You have to have it,” said Bryan Hantke, product manager, hand tools and torque products with Snap-On. He said torque wrenches should be calibrated yearly or every 5,000 cycles, whichever comes first, as well as whenever it is dropped.

The panelists also emphasized the importance of torque checks after an installation is performed.

“The torque check is an audit of the installation and that’s how you need to look at it,” VanderZwaag said. “If something went wrong with the installation, there’s still a chance you can find it.”

If a problem is identified during the torque check, VanderZwaag said it’s not good enough to just fix it, investigate why the problem occurred and address any issues that led up to it so it doesn’t happen again. “It’s a quality control check of the installation,” he said.

Kerri Wirachowsky, head, enforcement program evaluation with the Ministry of Transportation, noted wheel separations appear to be on the rise in Ontario but the stats don’t tell the entire story. The MTO has urged its enforcement partners to better report wheel separations and as a result, the numbers have increased. Ontario is the only jurisdiction that tracks wheel-offs.

“I have thousands of pictures of wheels that have come off or almost come off,” Wirachowsky said. She said most wheel separations are fastener-related. Wirachowsky urged drivers to do a better job inspecting their wheels.

“When I can take a wheel fastener off with my hand and give it to a driver, there’s no reason he couldn’t have found it before me,” she said, noting the indicators of a wheel problem enforcement officers look for should be easily identified by drivers.

“Do I truly believe every drivers knows how to identify defects when doing their pre-trip? No, I don’t. Just because they drive it doesn’t mean they inspect it,” Wirachowsky said. “We don’t expect drivers to do more than what I can do. We don’t expect drivers to have a torque wrench. We expect them to look at the wheel, look for cracks, oil in the hubs, leaking wheel seals, missing fasteners, broken studs. That’s what I expect them to do. I have 1,000 pictures from all over North America. I would have no pictures if drivers identified those types of violations on their trip inspections.”

The MTO, in response to a spat of high-profile wheel separations in Ontario, responded with a focused enforcement campaign. During a four-month Operation Wheel Check campaign that ended March 31, the MTO examined 4,000 trucks and 37,300 wheel assemblies. Of those, 462 wheel-related violations were spotted and 289 were placed out of service. All 462 trucks had to remain parked on-site until repairs were made.


James Menzies

James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 18 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • Rolf nailed it. Personally from an instructor myself I see techs in classrooms with great interaction and seem grateful for the new information on keeping wheels on – especially hub piloted wheels but later return to their old habits….. It is very discouraging to see this as it is as if they are attending only because their boss wants them there and usually not because they want to be in the classroom. Second. I have seen refurbished wheels going on trucks or trailers clearly not inspected well before painting. Some refurbishing companies do a great job but clearly the low priced ones are cutting corners on their work. This is a real false sense of security for fleets.

  • Sonia Straface wrote an article “As serious as a wheel off” on April 20. The last paragraph on her article seems to say if you lubricate hob piloted wheels that is a problem. Several of us have read the article and come to that conclusion.

    Jim Menzies April 16, 2017 article seems to say that the proper installation requires lubrication of nut and washer.

    Which one is right?
    Too lubricate or not to lubricate that is the question!