What happens when suspension bolts fall out at speed?

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Updated Dec 18, 2016

For the answer to this question, at least as it regards the passenger side rear, we turn to owner-operator Howard Salmon. I had lunch with Salmon today at the Nashville downtown TA. He’s on his way to Atlanta under a reefer load in his 1999 Kenworth W900, set to reload to head back up I-24 north to a court date with the North Georgia jurisdiction where he was issued a following-too-close ticket a couple months back. The officer issuing the ticket was responding to his run-in on I-24 with a Prius and a minivan, the latter of which both Salmon and the Prius driver blamed for the accident. (The minivan’s driver wasn’t ultimately hit, and didn’t stop for the minor aftermath.

Thankfully, we’re happy to report, bumper damage incurred during that incident ….

howard-salmon-kw-post-accident

… was covered by insurance after his physical-damage policy picked it up — with dashcam evidence, the insurance company deemed it nonpreventable, Salmon says (here’s hoping the court hears the case the same way):

howard-salmon-and-1999-kenworth-w900

Looking sharp, but for one remaining piece of damage, where the bent bumper was rubbing the front driver-side fender when the hood was up, before it was fixed. In case you were wondering just where exactly:

Salmon is nothing if not helpful.Salmon is nothing if not helpful.

But in terms of the matter at hand, here’s what the bolts in question are supposed to look like:

salmon-suspension-bolts-replaced

Salmon recently had the suspension on the Kenworth, at 1.8 million miles, upgraded/replaced. Three weeks following that replacement, this past Sunday, he’d been rolling a while across Kansas and had a car cut over “in front of me, so I stepped on my brakes. Now it’s a little wet on the road,” but the truck-trailer “goes like a side-winder.”

The feeling was momentary, and Salmon at first just speculated he’d briefly encountered a rut in the road or something similar. Then, the next time he tapped his brakes, the same thing — “a side-winder, I’m wiggling. Every time I touch my brakes I’m lightly swaying left and right,” he says.

Next: Get out and look, when he could get to a stopping point. “My trailer’s fine, steering’s OK, but the suspension on my tractor — two bolts were gone on one side.”

Dang.Dang.

He strapped it up as tight as possible with a ratchet strap and lucked out on a repair shop very close by — Murphy Diesel in Parsons — for what turned out to be something of a quick fix, breathing a sigh of relief at the same time. He’d dodged a bullet, having come South from an absolute maelstrom of Lake Effect snow up around the Great Lakes the prior week that, had the bolts come loose and fallen out there, could easily have ended up with “my truck inside my trailer,” he says.

Murphy Diesel checked other bolts on the suspension and found more that weren’t properly torqued.

He delivered that message to the Wisconsin shop that did the suspension work, who were equally alarmed and guaranteed their work. They pledged to make the problems right and pick up the repair bill and necessary alignment that will follow — “my strap that was all screwed up,” too, Salmon says.

It goes without saying, of  course, but to the extent you can, double- and triple-check major maintenance you get down the line. Many of you, I’d imagine, have had similar experience with a repair gone wrong. How’d you handle it, what was the ultimate outcome?

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