Wecome To RVs and OHVs

This blog is all about RVs (recreational vehicles) and OHVs (Off Highway Vehicles), camping, sailing, and survival
and how they work together to provide wholesome family fun and great learning opportunities.
Many posts are intended to familiarize novice campers and RVers with RV systems and basic camping and survival
skills. But even experienced RVers and campers will enjoy the anecdotes and may even benefit from a new
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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Changing a Tire

I am surprised how many drivers I meet who have never changed a tire.   I suppose I shouldn't be.  With today's convenient road side assistance programs and cell phones it is easy to get professional help when you need it.  And many times it is prudent if not absolutely necessary, even for folks who are experienced and know how to do it.  But it still surprises me that any driver has never actually changed a tire themselves.  Flat tires are a common occurrence and certainly happen when you least expect it and often where you have little or no access to professional services.  Knowing how to change a tire may be especially important for campers and RVers who are frequently in remote areas where services may be very expensive if they are available at all.   I have been in situations where road side assistance either wasn't available or wouldn't come off road to help me.

Changing a tire on a tow vehicle or moderate sized RV is much like changing the tire on an ordinary car or truck.  In fact, many times the tow vehicle IS an ordinary car or truck.  It would be a good idea to practice changing a tire at home where you can choose a safe location that is out of traffic to learn the process and develop your skills so you'll be prepared out on the road.  Don't wait until you have a flat tire.  You can practice any time.  One difference is when changing a flat tire you will probably have to jack your vehicle up a little higher to install the good tire after you have removed the flat.  Another is a flat tire is likely to be hot to the touch and may have physical damage that makes it dangerous to handle.  Wear good leather work gloves when handling an actual flat for sure and, to help build the right habits, wear them while practicing.  When practicing be sure to actually find, get out, and install the spare so you will be familiar with the procedure when you have a flat out on the highway.

Small to medium size travel trailers are pretty similar too, just be sure to block the unaffected wheel(s) to keep the vehicle from rolling when you jack it up.  Trailers may or may not have designated jacking spots like those found on most passenger cars.  You need to place the jack under the frame (not the body).  Jacking under the body is likely to tweak the structure, perhaps separating the body from the frame and causing expensive and permanent damage.  Jacking under the axle is very stable but often doesn't allow the wheel and tire to drop down enough out of the fender well to be removed.

Changing a tire on a large RV is more like changing the tire on a large truck or bus and is often best left to professionals.  I've seen the time when experienced professionals had trouble even loosening the lug nuts on my big Class A diesel pusher motorhome.  I ended up having to drive slowly several miles on a flat tire to the towing service shop where it took a 3/4" air impact wrench powered by a very large compressor to loosen the lug nuts.

With today's road side assistance programs, why would you need to know how to change a tire yourself?  Good question.  First of all, many roadside assistance programs will not service locations that are off pavement and if you do any boondocking you may find yourself outside of service range.  And what if your roadside assistance has expired?  I've seen that happen to many people.  I had my own AAA service suspended for a year when my online banking service failed to deliver a scheduled payment.  Knowing I had scheduled the payment, I thought it was in full force and didn't find out it wasn't until my wife needed it one day months later and found it wasn't active!  Bad news!  I was once in a location with my big motorhome where there was no local contractor for my road side assistance.  They were able to find an independent service but I had to front about $350 for the call and wait weeks for reimbursement from my road side assistance program.  Had I not had the $350 I would have been forced to try to change the tire myself.

Safety is your biggest concern when changing a tire.   Your first order of business will be to find a safe place to pull off the road.  You need to get as far out of traffic as you can without getting into an unsafe position where your vehicle may lean or get stuck.  By the way, undesirable as it may be to drive on a flat tire, stopping in an unsafe location to try to save an already damaged tire is dangerous and  foolish.  Even though a flat might be due to something simple like nail in the tire, by the time you notice it additional damage is likely to have already occurred and the tire might not be salvageable anyway.  Always exercise caution when stopping with a flat tire.  It is going to affect handling and braking so take it slow an easy.  Once your are safely stopped, it is always a good idea to put out a series of reflectors or flares behind your rig to warn approaching drivers.  To decide where to place the flares or other signal devices, the placement of the first flare (furthest from vehicle) use the posted speed limit - convert that to feet then multiply by a factor of 4 - (30 mph = 30 x 4 or 120 ft).  If the speed limit is over 50 mph, add 100 feet  (50 mph = 50 x 4 =200 + 100 = 300 ft).  At 60 mph put the first flare 340 feet behind your vehicle.  Figure an average pace of about 2 1/2 feet.  Start off stepping out with your left foot.  Every time your right foot comes down will be about 5 feet.  You might want to measure your own stride for better precision.  Ideally divide the distance in thirds and place additional flares or signals at 1/3 and 2/3 the distance to the first flare.    Be aware that road flares are essentially burning metal and can easily ignite spilled fuel, so do not light them near an accident where fuel spills have or may occur nor in an area where fire restrictions are in affect.  The next step is to make sure the vehicle won't roll.  Set the parking brake firmly AND chock the wheel kitty corner from where you'll be changing the tire.  Put on your  work gloves before chocking the wheels.  The chocks are often dirty or may have sharp edges.  It is especially important to chock the wheels when changing a rear tire since most emergency brakes operate on the rear wheels or drive line and lifting even one wheel of the ground and possibly reducing the weight on the other may allow the vehicle to roll.  Locate your lug wrench and jack and prepare them for use.  Use the lug wrench to "break loose" the lug nuts before you begin jacking the vehicle.   Otherwise the wheel may just spin when you try to loosen the lug nuts with the wheel off the ground.  If you have limited strength or the lug nuts are exceptionally tight you may need an extension on the handle of the lug wrench to get sufficient leverage to loosen them.  I've seen special weighted lug wrenches that act kind of like a hand powered impact wrench but they're large, heavy, expensive, and hard to find.  Sometimes you can use a piece of galvanized or iron pipe that fits over the handle of the lug wrench.  You may have to remove a wheel cover or individual lug nut covers to reach the actual lug nuts.  Place the jack carefully according to the vehicle manufacturer's instructions.  Almost all vehicles have designated jacking points.  If you are using a different jack than the one supplied with the vehicle and it won't fit the designated jacking points, locate the jack under a strong suspension component such as a leaf spring mounting point or the vehicle frame.  Monitor the vehicle for unwanted movement as you begin jacking it up.  It if starts to lean too much, starts to roll, or the jack starts to tip, STOP immediately and correct the problem before proceeding.   Correction might include adjusting the position of the jack and/or doing a better job of chocking the wheels.   Jack the vehicle high enough to remove the tire and install the spare.  You may be able to remove the flat tire long before the vehicle is high enough to install the fully inflated spare.  That's OK.  Go ahead and get the old one off and position the new one so you can see how much higher you have to go to install it.  Only jack the vehicle up just enough to get the new tire on without scraping it on the lug nuts or having to force it at the bottom.  About a half inch or so clearance below the tire is about right for normal installation.  Once you have the new tire in place, re-install the lug nuts.  Unless the threads are damaged you should be able to spin the lug nuts down until the conical portion engages the holes in the wheel to center the wheel.  Tighten the lug nuts as much as you can  using the lug wrench before lowering the jack, then finish tightening them fully after the wheel is back on the ground.  Ideally they should be torqued to factory specifications but almost no one (include tow truck drivers) carry a torque wrench.   Tighten them as much as you can pushing near the very end of the lug wrench furthest away from the nut.  If the wheel covers are held in place by the lug nuts you'll need to install them before putting on the lug nuts too.  Don't attempt to fully tighten them until you have the wheel back on the ground, but do tighten them enough to seat them in the holes in the wheel and cinch the wheel into place before lowering the vehicle.  When it is back on the ground, fully tighten the lug nuts.  Unless you are extraordinarily strong you should probably tighten them as much as you can with your hands and arms.  DO NOT jump on the lug wrench or use a long extension on the handle as this may exert sufficient force to strip them!  If you are of diminutive build and strength, the use of an extension might we warranted, but take care not to over tighten and strip the nuts.  Then reinstall any snap on wheel covers, hub caps, or lug nut covers, gather up and store your tools and flat tire, and you should be ready to go.  Be careful handling the flat tire.  Many times the steel wires inside may have been exposed and they can inflict serious injuries.  Wear sturdy work gloves.  They will also protect your hands from the grime you can expect on a flat tire.

Personal Protective Equipment for changing a tire may include gloves, coveralls, and a reflective vest.  Gloves are needed to protect your hands against not only dirt and grime but sharp edges you are likely encounter on a damaged tire.  Coveralls protect your clothing.  A Class II DOT safety vest will help make you more visible to passing motorists.  This is especially important if you are changing a tire on the left side of your vehicle, putting you next to traffic.  I prefer the Class III DOT vest which is designed with additional reflective material for extra nighttime visibility.  Both types of vests are fairly inexpensive and available at safety equipment shops.  You may also find them in auto parts and department stores like Walmart.  The Class II vest is only appropriate for day times activities; you should have a Class III vest for proper nighttime visibility and the Class III vest can be used in daylight too.

Changing a tire on a motorcycle or other OHV usually involves patching or replacing a damaged inner tube.   You will usually need some kind of stable stand to lift the vehicle up so the damaged tire is hanging free.  An ATV or side-by-side is much like changing the tire on a car -- if you have a spare to put on.  For a motorcycle, raise the vehicle and place it on a stable stand, then loosen the axle nut and remove the axle.  Carefully slide the disc brake (if so equipped) off of the caliper.   With drum brakes you will have to disconnect the brake cables so you can slide the wheel off with the brake assemble still inside the drum.   On rear wheels you may have to slide the whole wheel assembly forward to loosen and remove the chain.  Once you have the wheel and tire assembly removed, you will need to separate the tire from the wheel.  You can do this with the tire and wheel laying flat on the ground.  Securing it to a stand at waist level will be more comfortable.  Then, locate the rim lock and loosen the nut the holds it in place.  Then press down firmly on the top of the rim lock bolt to push it down inside the tire and away from the bead.  Removing the tire from the wheel requires special tools called tire irons. You will need at least two.  Three or a special tool called a "Bead Buddy" makes it easier.  When pushing the tire irons between the tire bead and the rim and leveraging the bead away from the rim, take care not to insert them in too  far and pinch the tube or you'll do more damage to the tube and may be forced to replace it when the tool rips a hole too big to patch.  Using two or three tire irons, work your away around the tire until the bead is entirely on the outside of the rim.  Make sure the bead opposite where you are working is down in the middle of the rim to give you the slack you need to lever the bead over the rim. Here is where a "Bead Buddy", an extra tire iron, or a second pair of hands comes in handy.  You should now be able to pull out the inner tube to repair or replace it.  If you are going to replace the tire you will need to remove it entirely from the rim, working the second bead over the rim using the tire irons like you did the first one.  Remember, making sure the bead opposite where you are working is down in the middle of the rim will give you the slack you need to lever the bead over the rim.   Inner tubes can sometimes be patched using simple self-adhesive bicycle tire patches but I prefer to use hot-vulcanizing patches.  The patches in this system come attached to little diamond-shaped metal trays.  You position the patch where you want it and hold it in place with a special clamp that is part of the patching system, then light the material in the tray to heat the patch in place.  Allow the whole shebang to cool for a while after the tray stops burning, then carefully pull the tray away from the tube and the patch.  Vulcanized patches not only stick better, they tend to be heavier.  When installing an inner tube, either one you have patched or a brand new one, put a little air (but not too much) in it to give it some shape first.  Then dust it with talc or baby powder so it doesn't stick to the rim or the tire. I usually put the valve stem in first and reinstall the valve cap so it doesn't get pulled back inside the wheel while maneuvering the rest of the tube in place. Some heavy duty tubes have a nut on the valve stem to hold it securely in place and make sure it doesn't get pulled at an angle.  Carefully work the tube inside the tire before levering the bead back over the rim.  Take care not to pinch the tube with the tire irons.  Check to make sure the tube isn't pinched between the tire and the rim and then inflate the tire.  You will usually have to over-inflate it way above the operating pressure to get the bead to seat on the rim.  Usually you will hear the bead "pop" into place.  Inspect the entire circumference of the wheel to make sure the bead is fully seated before re-installing the wheel on the vehicle.  If there are still gaps, you might try bouncing the tire on the ground at that point to get the bead to pop into place or just keep applying more air pressure until it does go into place.   If all else fails, you may have to remove the tire again and lubricate the bead and reinstall the tire.  When the bead is seated adjust the pressure to the desired operating pressure and re-install the wheel.  Be sure the line up the brake disc properly with the caliper and make sure it doesn't twist and bind as you slide the wheel into place.  Be sure to reinstall the brake assembly into the drum for drum brakes and then  remember to reconnect the brake cable.  On rear wheels you'll need to slide the wheel way forward of the proper operating position to get the chain back in place on the sprocket.  Then install the axle.  Once everything is in place, push the wheel back until the proper chain tension is achieved.  Lacking a specific measurement I look for about two fingers worth of movement in the middle of the chain.  Then tighten the axle bolts and you should be ready to ride.  Patching ATV or side-by-side tire requires much the same procedure, but you usually don't have sprockets  attached to the wheels and you may have to loosen and remove the brake calipers.  The large tires used on these vehicles may be difficult to change using ordinary tire irons.  Sometimes it even requires professional pneumatic tire changing machines to remove and reinstall ATV and side-by-side tires.  Here is a link to a video claiming to be The Easy Way To Remove A Dirt Bike Tire.

Changing bicycle tires follows a procedure similar to changing a motorcycle tire but it will be a lot easier.   Bicycle tires are softer and the larger wheel diameter and smaller tire profile gives you more slack to work with.  Bicycle tire irons are much smaller and often have notches in them so they can be clipped to the spokes to keep one in place while you more another, making it easier for one person to do the job.  Take care when inflating bicycle tires.  It isn't unusual to pop them if you try to put in too much air.  You do want to make sure the bead is "set" -- that is, seated tightly on the rim.  Sometimes you have to over inflate the tire a bit to get the bad to "pop" into place.  Then let out just enough air to reach your desired riding pressure.

Keep rolling, rolling, rolling!