Another Close Call

Last Tuesday night I was driving home from class and had a bit of a problem with the Jeep. We’ve had the Jeep since October 2002 so its about 2 years old. There are 38,000 miles on it so far. Recently my brother was in the Jeep with me and said it sounded a little loud and maybe was making a grinding noise in the front. I didn’t really notice anything. Of course, when you drive a car everyday, you might not notice gradual changes if they are very small. But a little bit of change day to day adds up to a big change after two years. This was one of those cases but I didn’t realize that until too late.

So, as I said, I was driving home on I-90 and was listening to the radio to find out the traffic ahead. The radio said that there was construction and a delay between Route 31 and Randall Road. I was planning on getting off at Randall Road. I didn’t want to go through the delay so I took the exit at Route 59 instead. As I pulled through the toll booth there, the left front side of my car dropped noticeably. I thought, “Oh no, a flat tire…” and proceeded forward and started to pull off to the right. The car dropped another inch or so and then made grinding noises. I thought, “Ahhh nuts, it must be completely flat now…”

After pulling over, I got out to look at the tire. Yes, it was completely flat. No problem, I can change a tire pretty quickly. I got out the jack, jacked it up, took off the tire and found a surprise. The rim of the tire had been sheared in half. In other words, if you took your finger and touched the rim about two inches in and then ran your finger all the way around the rim, you would be tracing the fracture line. This part was a bit of a mystery to me. But I just wanted to get home - its 11:30 PM now - so I threw the tire in the back and put the new one on and unjacked the car. Unfortunately, the car was still drooping on the left front side. In fact, the tire actually was in contact with the body of the car.

To make this long story short, I called Jeep’s roadside assistance and my wife. There is a side story about my cell phone running out of battery here and me having to walk half a mile to a pay phone to make the call to my wife but I’ll stay focused on the Jeep problem. My wife came and picked me up and we sat in the car waiting for the tow truck. The tow truck eventually came and towed the car to Schaumburg Jeep - which is also where we bought the car.

Upon their inspection, it was determined that the left front ball joint failed completely, broke off and fell into the rim of the tire. As the wheel rotated, the ball joint acted like a laser and cut through the rim in the rotational fashion mentioned above. At the time, there was nothing really holding the tire and the sheared part of the rim to the car. It was divine intervention that the rim came apart in the toll booth and not on the highway, and that I had taken the Route 59 exit instead of going on down the road. I was driving about 70-80 MPH that night so I shudder to think what might have happened had I driven down the highway another 30 seconds.

In the end, Jeep fixed everything under warranty. Apparently there was a recall out on both front ball joints. The recall notice never made it to us because they sent it to our old Presidential Towers address. We also take the Jeep to Jiffy Lube for service rather than the dealer so we never heard about the recall there either. Perhaps one day these recall notices will be sent directly to the vehicle electronically or something, regardless of the vehicle’s location. Kind of like a proactive OnStar feature.