I Had One But The Wheels (Almost) Fell Off

Beware if you drive a 2019 Mazda 3. If you’re a Madam Wheels reader you probably don’t, but maybe one of your kids does. Mazda issued a recall on July 3, concerning “an issue with the wheel studs that connect the wheels to the car”. They’re not done up tightly enough and the wheels could fall off.

The wheels won’t just fall off, of course. Mazda tells us there will be “a rattling noise” and then the wheels will fall off. So that’s reassuring. The fix is to take the car to the dealer who sold it, for “repairs”. They’re not really repairs – essentially what Mazda will do is tighten the wheel nuts. It’s something any owner could do, if they could only locate the jack and the wheel brace in the boot. Many years ago, when I was young and stupid, I was asked to drive a male friend’s (not a boyfriend’s) Ford Escort RS 2000 from Bundoora in Melbourne to Sunbury, north-west of the city. It’s not far – about 45 minutes on a good run today and probably faster then, because the area was nowhere near as built-up as it is now. But this trip had quite a lot packed into it.

‘I found the wheel brace and jacked up the Escort, then removed one nut from each of the other wheels, and put them on the front passenger-side wheel.’

It started off with me being unable to find the car in the car park of a local shopping center where its owner, Rob, had parked it earlier that day before commuting to the city. The search took a good 15 minutes, and remember this was in the days well before mobile phones so I could not call Rob to ask for better directions.I had a piece of paper with a description of the car and its registration number on it. But the description – given to me by Rob’s actual girlfriend – said the car was green and in fact Rob’s car was yellow; it was purely by chance I saw the registration number and realized what she’d done. To this day I maintain it was deliberate. She says it was a mistake. She may have been telling the truth; she certainly was stupid enough to make it.

About 20 minutes into the drive I started to feel wheel-wobble through the steering wheel. RS 2000s were fairly sporty cars, but they were, after all, built by Ford, in the late 1970s, so there was a bit of lively and sometimes unexpected feedback through the steering wheel and, unless I’m mistaken, a reasonable degree of chassis flex and the windows actually rattled. It looked just like this one. So a little vibration through the steering wheel was nothing to get agitated about, I thought. If I went a bit faster it seemed to get better for a while, but then started to get worse again. And suddenly it got terrible. Something was clearly and seriously amiss. At first I thought I had a flat tyre.

But when I got out to look, the tyres all seemed fine. It was then I noticed the passenger-side front wheel was at an odd angle. And on closer inspection I realized that all four wheel nuts had come off. I shudder to think what would have happened next. I figured I’d been doing about 80 km/h, or about 20-something meters a second, so if I could remember how long ago I’d noticed the wheel-wobble I could work out how far I’d have to walk back along the road go to find the missing nuts. But the thing had been shuddering like a wreck virtually since the get-go, so yeah, I’m probably not going to walk that far.

And then, in a flash of inspiration that I remain proud of to this day, a solution struck me. I found the wheel brace and jack in the boot and jacked up the Escort. Then I removed one nut from each of the other wheels, and put them on the front passenger-side wheel. With the wheels thus secured I completed the journey to Sunbury and explained to Rob in an only modestly expletive-strewn explanation exactly what his shit box of a Ford had just put me through.

I’ve written before about why I think it’s important that when you teach kids to drive you should also teach them the basis of maintenance and things like how to change a wheel. In that moment I was very happy that I’d been taught. Mazda’s recall notice suggests that changing a wheel may be a skill the typical Mazda 3 driver does not possess. After all, why would you have to go to all the trouble of a recall and pile up all that work on the dealers if the problem could be solved with the simple instruction to your consumers to get out there with a wheel brace and tighten their nuts?

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