Some Nut with a Loose Screw – Car Mechanics in Ecuador

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I remember camping on a deserted, non-touristy beach on the west coast of Turkey. We deployed the rooftop tent [read here] and spent our days reading, cooking, and strolling the hot sand. The beach was patrolled by the military because it was part of an archeological site. It was perfectly safe to camp. In the afternoon locals were giving each other driving lessons and during the weekend we got company from a local family in a Morris pickup truck.

One afternoon, a Turk asked if he could borrow some tools because he got stuck with a flat and had no jack. I got up from my chair and walked with him to see if I could be of any assistance. While changing his right rear wheel, which was done in a trice, I noticed that the wheel missed two wheel nuts, and told him so.

“Not to worry, it still got four to hold the wheel,” he replied when I walked around to look at the other wheels, which missed nuts as well. In my European mind this spelled danger, but as we’ve often seen in other parts of the world, things will just go on as normal.

Missing Wheel Nuts

I didn’t pay much attention to it at the time and archived the incident in the back of my head. Until recently, that is, when various events drew that moment back to light. First, I watched a Vlog of Losers friends we met in Suriname – who, when buying new rims for their Lexus, discovered the vehicle had wobbly wheels due to some broken wheel bolts. Now, broken bolts are much worse than a few missing nuts, but still, why would you have a missing nut in the first place?

Recently we found ourselves in Saquisilí, in the central highlands of Ecuador, on a market day. From far and around indigenous people flock to town to sell and buy wares and produce. Pickup trucks and lorries dominate the streets as all that stuff has to be transported over a spiderweb of dirt roads crossing the highlands. First thing I noticed were Ecuadorian-made Andinos; a rare breed. As one got pushed inside a roadside workshop, I talked to the mechanics to try and find out more about this particular car.

I walked around it and noticed missing wheel nuts. That did it for me, and for the continuation of the day I kept looking at wheels of all pickup trucks and lorries. New or old, many were missing one or two nuts. It was more a common sight than an exception. I started taking pictures and asking owners if they thought it wasn’t dangerous to be missing a couple of nuts on their wheels. They all seemed rather baffled by my alarming looks. Mind you, I wasn’t looking at light family sedans or saloons. No, they were all 3-ton-or-more cargo carriers.

Car Mechanics and Wheel Nuts

So, the question remained: why were these vehicles missing nuts on their wheels? Well, a couple of weeks ago we had the umpteenth flat – I know now what causes those flats, but more on that later – and the guy who fixed the flat tightened the wheel nuts, but one didn’t go. An inspection showed he had cross-threaded it and forced it on with his big cross spanner without thinking much about it.

Luckily, I carry old spares so I tightened them myself, but it got me thinking. Clearly, there must be more mechanics out there who are indifferent to cross-threading a nut once in a while, and who may even leave the nut off without telling the owner? What do you think?

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5 thoughts on “Some Nut with a Loose Screw – Car Mechanics in Ecuador

  1. I can’t get over the picture of the star wheel with 3 of 6 present. I drove to work ONCE with improperly tightened lug nuts and I thought the Range Rover was going to lose an axle half shaft or something.
    I guess those aren’t race cars and unimproved roads hide many a noisy wheel.

  2. This same thing happened to me in Nicaragua. I bought a set of rims/tires for the company owned LC, and the retail shop installed them. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that we were swapping the rims/tires with another LC in the fleet that we discovered one of the lug nuts was cross threaded when it was installed, and run down tight, ruining both the nut and the lug bolt, requiring replacement of both.

    The general quality of service I got from mechanics in Nicaragua was generally very poor. We had an auto electrician replace the tail lights on a truck, and when I reviewed the work, he had not soldered any of the connections nor even wrapped them in tape. They were all simply twisted together and bent so that they didn’t touch. I asked why they weren’t soldered and insulated, and I was told with a laugh, “Ha! You’d have to go to the USA to get work done like that!” I promptly had a solder gun, solder and flux, shrink wrap, etc, brought the next time someone flew in from the US so that I could do the electrical work myself.

    I think it all basically has to do with a general low level of expertise and a low standard for what is acceptable quality, relative to what we are used to in EU and USA. “Good enough to work right now” seems to be the general guideline, which generally leads to problems later.

    – Toyotero

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