Expat Tip: Always Keep Tire Lock Nut in Your Car!

Have you ever heard of a tire lock nut? I don’t blame you if you haven’t, because I had no idea until last Friday, but trust me, now I know.

It turned out to be another one of my typical South Africa days, though I have to admit I can’t blame it on culture as much as my own stupidity and carelessness. As is typical for a Friday, I was rushing out the door before dinner to take my domestic to her bus stop. The reason I always rush is that Fridays are busy with the kids’ swim galas all afternoon and it’s the only night of the week Noisette has a chance of coming home early. So I don’t at all enjoy leaving the house at 5:00, but this “taxi service” has sort of encroached and I feel bad not providing it.

What’s more, whereas I usually just went up the road to the nearest bus stop, I lately have been going through Dainfern (the perks of our recently acquired golf membership!), because it saves Sibongile time and money. However, it adds 17 speed bumps and – it turns out – one giant curb to my route. In short, I hit the curb right after the entrance (which, after subsequent inspection, juts out at a sharp angle and shows many marks of being hit by everybody else!) and busted my left rear tire, a fact which unfortunately I didn’t discover until I was out of the estate at the other gate. I dropped off Sibongile and headed – very slowly – to the nearest gas station. Alas, they couldn’t repair such a big tear but not to worry, they would change my tire, I was informed. Fortunately I had a little bit of tip money on me, so I gladly took up the offer. They removed all my tools (which, in the Audi, is an intricate puzzle of interlocking pieces) and spare tire, and inflated it. Then they took off screw after screw to take off the wheel, until only one was left. This is where my education in South African road matters started. The guy got up and searched the trunk again, obviously looking for something he wasn’t finding. Finally, he turned to me expectantly:

“Where is your lock nut?”
“The what nut?”
“Lock nut, you know, the one that goes on this screw here.”

Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the one screw looked different, with a sort of jagged edge that the regular wrench couldn’t grip. It turns out that, in South Africa, many cars have wheels outfitted with such special nuts, especially the bigger, more expensive ones, because – I should have known – otherwise your wheels could be stolen. You might park your car in front of a restaurant at night, and come back a few hours later to find all four wheels missing. Tire lock nuts are like special keys – they are all different and only fit their counterpart.

This is when it began to dawn on me where I had last seen my tire lock nut. Noisette had handed me some kind of bolt thing, after we had bought the car, and said something like “this is for your car.” He might have said wheels. In any case, the thing rattled around in my glove compartment for the longest time, until I finally got so tired of the noise, I took it out and put it in our garage, together with some other car stuff. “This is a good place for this,” I remember thinking at the time.

I’m sure you can imagine how this panned out. Noisette was still at work and couldn’t possibly come rescue me. Dainfern security wouldn’t come because I don’t live in Dainfern (I don’t blame them) and Dainfern Valley security wouldn’t come because the other side of Dainfern was too far away from them. I finally reached my friend L who lives in Dainfern and she was kind enough to come. Not just to drive me home (over said 17 speed bumps), but to wait for me while I rummaged the garage for the lock nut, drive me back (by now 34 speed bumps altogether) to the gas station, and wait with me while the wheel was being changed. I will be forever grateful!

New to South Africa and nervous about going on your first road trip? Find out all you need to know in our Webinar December 12, 2017 at 7:30. Click image to sign up.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. The following Monday I took the car in to get a new tire, and it ended up costing me R11,000. That’s $1,500! First, my Audi Q7 comes with these wide 20-inch tires, which are made by Yokohama or Pirelli. Yokohama is what was already on there, and the cheaper option, so I wanted one of those, but after calling three different tire places it turned out that they were backordered until the end  of March. Plus there was no way one tire would be enough, as they were both already pretty used up. After less than a year? I went online and found a whole string of complaints from Q7 drivers, saying that car eats up tires like nothing else. Leave it to me to find the car with the most expensive tires. I’m somewhat comforted by the fact that the particular tire I wrecked was the one that I already had repaired from a nail hole, and that it seems those tires wouldn’t have lasted that much longer anyway. But what an expensive weekend. I ended up buying two new Pirellis “on special” for R5,500 each. Yikes. Driving on them feels very nice though. Needless to say, I’m now very careful around curbs of any kind.

Still, as always, it makes for a good story. My advice to new expats here:

  1. Before you buy a car, find out what the tires might cost, and don’t go for wide-rim wheels. With Johannesburg’s pothole-riddled streets, the amount of security gates you have to go through, and the many trips into the bush you might undertake, you will go through tires rather sooner than later.
  2. Make sure the tire lock nut, in case your wheels are of that kind, is ALWAYS in your car. In fact, if you buy a used car, make sure it COMES WITH the tire lock nut. There even is a place for it with your car jack, which of course in my case I’ve only found out now.
Note: My car and I are cursed. Not long after getting said new Pirellis, one of them was flat again. Fortunately, this time it could be fixed for R30 at the service station, after a giant screw was found and retrieved, but still…