Yesterday happened to be the day that the brakes went bad on my truck.
For the past week I’d been getting the “squeeking” sound when I put on the brakes and had planned to replace the pads today, but yesterday while driving home from a trip, there was the dreaded “grinding” metal-on-metal sound that means your rotors are getting torn up. I just had new rotors put on my truck about 8 months ago, so I didn’t want to put off changing the brake pads any longer.
I stopped at the auto parts supply store and bought brake pads on the way home.
Before I go further, I have to admit that I know enough about cars to get by, but I’m nowhere near a mechanic. I do my own tune ups, change my oil, change my brakes, and even do my own wiring for stereos. When things get more complicated than that, I leave it to the experts. Changing belts and replacing major parts is out of my league. When the dealer replaced my rotors, it cost me more than $600. What can you do? You have to pay it.
I put the truck up on a jack and pulled off the wheel, exposing the brake caliper (upper left) and the rotor (round shiny thing in center of picture). After I pulled off the brake calipers, sure enough, the brake pads were worn flat. You can see the brake pad sitting on the floor at the bottom of the picture.
Then I noticed something that got me angry.
There are two screw holes (red arrows) on the rotor that hold the rotor in place. The screws were missing and the rotor was flopping back and forth on the wheel hub.
The damn dealer forgot to attach the rotor to the wheel hub when it replaced the rotor.
I pulled off the other wheel. Same thing! The rotor was just flopping there.
What if the rotors came off while we were driving home earlier in the day? My family would have been a statistic. We’d all be dead.
I called the auto supply store I usually go to. They don’t stock bolts like that. “Why wouldn’t they replace them when they changed the rotor?” the parts guy asked.
I called several other supply shops. None of them stock bolts like that, either. The last store I called told me that I’d have to call the dealer in the morning before my car would be safe to drive.
Every call I made caused me to get more angry.
I’m putting the name of the dealer on my blog and blasting them. Damn them. I’m calling the better business bureau. I’m writing a letter of complaint to the head of the dealership and I’m sending a copy of the letter to the newspaper. How the hell could these IDIOTS risk the lives of my family by just slapping new rotors on my truck without securing them to the wheel hub?
A couple of more phone calls to parts stores that were closed got me even more ticked off. The dealer would probably have to special order the bolts and I wouldn’t be able to drive my truck for a week.
I was fuming.
Then I found a parts store about 25 miles away that might have the bolts in stock. I was in luck. The guy I spoke to put me on hold while the manager of the parts department came to the phone.
“What can I get for you?” he asked.
“I need two sets of bolts that hold the rotors to the wheel hub for an ’04 Chevy Blazer.”
“You mean lug nuts?”
“No. The rotor itself has two threaded holes on it. I’m assuming that bolts go through those holes and attach the rotor to the wheel hub. Right now, when I pull the brake calipers off, the rotor is just flopping around on the wheel hub.”
“Yeah, but it’s supposed to be like that.”
“Are you serious? The rotor is just supposed to flop around on the wheel? What if it slips?”
“Bud, I was a mechanic for 20 years. Once you put the wheel back on and tighten up the lug nuts, the rotor is locked in place. It won’t move a bit. You don’t need the screws to hold the rotor in place. The lug nuts do that.”
“Are you sure?”
“Every mechanic I know has been doing it like that for as long as I can remember. A lot of car companies don’t even make bolts to hold the rotors in place. Besides – sometimes you get rotors that aren’t made by the manufacturer and they don’t even have the holes in them. Sometimes the holes don’t line up with the holes in the wheel hub. Then what do you do?”
“Makes sense. I just don’t want the brakes to go or the wheel to pop off or anything like that.”
“You’ve been driving around on them for how long without a problem?”
“A long time … OK, I get your point. I’ll have to bring you in a six-pack for putting my mind at ease. Thanks.”
I’m sure he hung up the phone and thought to himself “what an idiot.” Even so, I’m making it a point to go to his shop in the future because I value his opinion, and instead of trying to sell me something, he helped me understand the problem.
Then I had a “lightbulb moment.”
What I just went through is exactly what many patients must go through after having a bad outcome from medical treatment.
Patients accumulate knowledge about medical problems from all kinds of sources. Maybe they read things off the internet. Maybe they hear things from neighbors or relatives who had similar problems. But, just like my experiences with my brakes, the information that patients accumulate about their medical treatment isn’t always correct.
I know very little about replacing a rotor, and when something wasn’t the way I expected it to be, I assumed the worst – even though the work was done right. I spoke to several people at auto parts stores who apparently knew as little about replacing rotors as I did. Their uninformed comments got me so mad that I wanted revenge.
My problem was that I assumed I knew enough about brakes and rotors to make a decision about the competency of an expert I hired to fix my truck. When I doubted his competency, I then tried to confirm my suspicions with others whom I assumed knew more about the topic than I did. But I never went to the expert who did the work. In fact, I never asked any expert. I just assumed the worst. Based on my lack of knowledge I was ready to blast an expert who did appropriate work.
When there is a bad medical outcome, or even when there is the perception of a bad medical outcome, the natural tendency is for patients to assume the worst. The patient with the bad outcome then discusses his experience with others, and may be provided with misinformation. Enough misinformation and pretty soon the patient is all worked up – maybe for no reason.
Not saying that bad outcomes never occur from someone doing something wrong – whether talking about car parts or surgical treatment. Just saying to make sure you’re well informed before making that decision.
What did I learn from my experience?
1. Don’t jump to conclusions.
2. Experience is what makes an expert an expert.
3. There would be a lot less acrimony in this world if people would just communicate better.