Auto Service World
Feature   November 16, 2020   by Bruce Eccles

It’s Your Turn: Those dreaded Wheel Locks!


By Bruce Eccles

Few things can frustrate my technicians more than a missing wheel key. And nothing spoils the mood in the office like an unreasonable customer. Funny how these two situations are often go hand-in-hand!

Dealerships can get quite inventive selling locking wheel nuts, referring to them as “Wheel Protection Packages” or “Theft Prevention Kits.” I’m sure some customers have no idea what they’re buying, and dealerships make little effort to explain how they work, and why it’s so important to keep the wheel key safe.

Fast forward to the day the customer shows up at our shop in need of a set of brakes, or a chassis part, or new tires. My tech gets straight to work, sees the wheel locks, looks around for the key, checks with the service advisor, and then has to start rooting through every part of the vehicle.

“Key? What key?” Some
customers are
that such a thing exists.

If you come up empty handed and have to call the customer, there’s a good chance they’ll say, “Key? What key?” They are dumbfounded that such a thing exists.

One woman came in with a nail in one of her tires. It was a brand new Mazda and not only had she not been told about the locking nuts, but they hadn’t provided her with the key. She tore the vehicle apart looking for it. We ended up putting air in the tire and sending her down the road to the dealership. She was furious!

But let’s say the errant key is found. Well, that’s when the real fun starts!

We’ve had some very bad results in past using an air gun on these nuts, so the technician has to remove these little beauties by hand.

Working as gently as they can, the tech removes one, then two, then three of the dreaded locking wheel nuts. Almost like it was scripted, number four is seized or over-torqued. Suddenly, snap! The inner guts of the key shear off. There is some profanity in the bay, some calming exercises, and then the customer gets a call.

“Yeah? So? What are you going to do now?” they might say. In other words, “Hey, this is on you!”

There’s a tool you can hammer onto the nuts with teeth that bite into them. It’s successful about 50% of the time. When it fails, we have to drill or cut the nuts off. Unfortunately, protecting alloy wheels from damage makes it a tedious and time-consuming process.

It was at this point, recently, that a customer took great offense to the idea of “downgrading” to regular wheel nuts. “This is not my problem!” he kept saying. But we explained that if he’d had a flat and was stuck on the side of the road, it would most certainly be his problem. But he would have none of it.

Ove the years, we’ve learned not to argue with customers It’s a no-win scenario. When they get upset, we simply deduct the cost of the wheel nuts from the invoice.

Is this right or wrong? Well, in a perfect world, the customer would accept the relatively low cost of replacement nuts as a penalty for losing the key. But we don’t live in a perfect world, do we. You know how I know? Because there would be no such thing as locking wheel nuts in a perfect world


Bruce Eccles is the founder of Eccles Auto Service in Dundas, Ont. He retired earlier this year.