By Tim Hayes
The sound first seized hold of our aural nerve centers as I tapped the brakes of our workhorse minivan to turn onto our street one evening not long ago. A violently screeching noise of metal-on-metal, shrieking, screaming, groaning, moaning – a visceral automotive guttural cry for rescue.
“I think we might need new brake pads,” came the fateful words from my mouth. Little did we realize the oil pan-soaked odyssey that awaited us.
We took the hurting old girl to a longtime friend, a fireplug of a guy whose fingernails haven’t spent a day uncorked by grease since the Ford Administration, no pun intended. The only truly trustworthy auto mechanic I’ve ever met. A one-of-a-kind, honest-no-bullcrap, fix-it-right-and-won’t rip-you-off fellow to whom we’ve been dragging cars in various stages of disrepair for years.
“Yeah, you better not drive this thing if you’re hearing grinding metal,” he said. “Could yinz leave it here tonight, and I’ll get to it in the morning?” So that was the plan. Simple. Clean. Easy.
Until he called the next day to tell me that he couldn’t get the wheels off the damn thing.
Seems the manufacturer of the minivan employed some engineers who obviously had become too smart for their own good. Or for the good of anybody who bought their vehicle.
The minivan came with a darling little pouch that contained a special adaptive tool – the only means of removing the lug nuts that permitted the wheels to come off the axle, which represented the only means of getting to the brakes. Over the years, through various flat tires, new tire installations, tire rotations, and so on, this tool – which will be henceforth be known in Hayes family folklore as “My Precious,” after the one-of-a-kind ring that caused so much trouble in the “Lord of the Rings” books – had become stripped and rendered useless.
So, it was on to a dealership, where they had their own version of My Precious and, they promised me, it would be no trouble at all to get those lug nuts off and take care of the brake issue. After driving on tiptoes to the dealer, trying to not overtax either the brakes or my ears, I filled out the overnight drop-off envelope and waited for the good news the following day.
Until they called to tell me that they couldn’t get the wheels off the damn thing either.
The lug nuts had been tightened so zealously by the last mechanic who laid hands on them, that the dealer’s edition of My Precious actually broke. Snapped apart. Hoisted on its own grease pit petard, as it were.
What kind of nightmare on wheels were we driving, anyway? How did our harmless powder blue minivan turn into “Christine,” the crazy evil automobile in the Stephen King novel? And why was it so maniacally attached to these stupid lug nuts?
“About all we can do at this point, sir, is to drill them off,” the dealer’s service guy told me. “That’ll take about an hour and a half of labor. Then we can get to fixing your brakes.” They had me up against the wall at this point. It was either drive a screeching demon seed into the ground, or cough up the big bucks to get it repaired.
And all because of My Precious and the lug nuts from hell.
So what moral can we take from this cautionary tale? I think it’s that when you’re creating something, don’t overthink it. Don’t build in such amazing and unique features that only turn into raging problems down the road –again, no pun intended. For Pete’s sake, keep it simple. We’ll all thank you later, trust me.
And, by the way, My Precious has been permanently retired. The guys at the dealer put universal lug nuts on the minivan. Halle-freaking-luia.
Copyright 2013 Tim Hayes Consulting