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The Consequence of Bolt Failures

Failure from lack of locking mechanism resulting of metal fatigue

Often fatigue failure is a result of the bolt self-loosening which reduces the clamp
force acting on the joint. Joint slip then occurs which leads the bolt being subjected
to bending loads and subsequently failing by fatigue. Figure below is a view of a
classical reverse bending fatigue fracture of a bolt. The arrows point to the initiation
sites of the fatigue crack. Metal fatigue can be a result of a design deficiency as well
as improper assembly of the part.

This figure shows that the bolt was found out of position after the crane transmission
jumped out of gear dropping a heavy load.

Suggested action:

In order to prevent bolts from loosening over time, various locking

mechanisms are employed. They include lock washers, locking nuts, jam
nuts, mechanical deformations, wire wrap, cotter pins, metal locks, expansion
anchors, helical coils and polymer locking compounds. If the locking
mechanism is not applied to the machinery during manufacture, a
catastrophic event may result.
There is sufficient clamp force present on the joint interface to prevent
relative motion between the bolt head or nut and the joint.
The joint is designed to allow for the effects of embedding and stress

Failure from improper torque

As the nut and bolt are tightened, the two plates are clamped together. The
thread angle in the bolt converts the force applied into tension (or stretch) in
the bolt shank. The amount of the tension created in the bolt is critical.
A bolt tensioned properly works at its optimum efficiency and will resist
coming undone. However, if the tension is too low, the nut could vibrate or
work loose. If the tension is too high (overstretched), the bolt could break.
When threaded fasteners are utilized, the amount of tightening or bolt torque
is often important. Figure 10 shows a view of a failed wheel stud compared to
a new one. This bolt failed as a result of insufficient torque. Figure 11 shows a
part of the stud that was bearing on the wheel rim causing severe wear of the
thread, another indicator of insufficient bolt torque.


Figure 11

Suggested Action

The appropriate torque is required in order to prevent relative flexing of the

two parts being fastened and to assure an acceptable mechanical connection.

Every bolt has a correct optimum torque/tension figure for each fastening
application. It is important to have these figures available so that the end
product will be safe, efficient and economical.

Failure from improper design

As shown in Figure 12, the bolt failed in the threaded section at a shear point in the
bracket. It is generally considered poor design to allow significant alternating shear
or bending forces in the vicinity of the threaded section of the bolt since the threads
form a stress riser and tend to initiate fatigue cracks, as happened in this case

Suggested action:
A better design would be to utilize a bolt with a shorter threaded section so that the
unthreaded shank material is at the shear area of the bracket. This eliminates the
stress riser from the threaded section and increases the effective bolt diameter.

Failure due to improper manufacture

Figure 17 is a view of the right rear control arm of a midsize automobile that rolled
over while traveling on an interstate highway. it is apparent that the control arm bolt
is out of position and, in fact, fractured near the threaded end. With little evidence
of an extreme force application at the right rear suspension, it appeared unusual
that a bolt would fracture from an overload in such a manner. The bolt was removed
and tested. The exterior surface hardness was found to vary considerably along the
bolt length, resulting in a stress discontinuity at the fracture surface. The
nonuniformity of hardness occured from improper heat treatment of the bolt during


Suggested Action

Proper heat treatment of the material