Flats happen. Don’t let them ruin your day.

A tire failure on the road can range from a minor inconvenience to a costly event that delays your trip for hours. It all depends on how well you’ve planned for this possibility.

Prevention is the best policy. Keeping tires inflated to the pressures recommended for the load they’re carrying — and not overloading the tires — reduces the chances of tire failures. But even your best maintenance practices can’t save your tires from the stray nail or piece of metal. Being able to change the tire and be on your way without too much time or effort is a matter of planning.

Changing a tire on your trailer or tow vehicle can be easy. You simply stop in a safe place, loosen the lug nuts, raise the tire off the ground, remove it, put on the spare tire, lower the tire to the ground, tighten the lug nuts … and you’re on your way. And, if you’re properly prepared, that’s all there is to it. But let just one little variable enter the picture — such as a jack that won’t go under the rig or a spare tire lock with a missing key — and you’re at the mercy of the road rescue crews.

Safety first. When you realize you have a flat tire, stop your vehicle in a spot that doesn’t block traffic and gives you room to work safely. Although you might cringe at driving on a flat tire and possibly damaging the wheel, that’s a small price to pay if it means avoiding a dangerous situation.

As you’re positioning your vehicle/trailer to a safe spot, be aware of soft or steep shoulders. You already have one problem to deal with; don’t add another by getting stuck. Use your flashers along with any other traffic warning devices you have.

Now the work begins. Make sure your vehicle’s brakes are set. If you’re on even any hint of an incline, block at least one front tire, too. You don’t want your vehicle or trailer to roll when you raise it.

Get your jack, spare tire and lug nut wrench. Here’s where the planning pays off. Because you’ve tested it in your driveway (see below), you will know that al three are accessible and that the jack has a low enough profile to reach under your vehicle (which is obviously sitting lower because of the flat) and can raise your vehicle high enough to let the inflated spare tire go on.

You should have also made sure your spare tire is carrying the same amount of air pressure as the tire it will replace. If the spare’s held in place with hardware, the mechanism needs to be free of corrosion and have the right size wrench it takes to remove it. Similarly, if the spare tire is locked, you should already know where the key is and that it is not frozen by corrosion.

Put your jack under the vehicle/trailer and raise it just enough to steady the jack. A small plank of wood placed under the jack can help keep it from sinking in soft ground. Jacking points vary; frame members and spring u-bolt connections are recommended; axles and other suspension components aren’t.

Loosen the lug nuts while the tire is still contacting the ground to prevent it from turning. If there are wheel covers or other types of decorative trim covering the wheels or lug nuts, be sure you have the tools it takes to remove them.

Loosening the lug nuts can be difficult. Make sure you have a wrench that perfectly fits the nuts and has a handle long enough to give plenty of leverage. As part of the planning phase, you should have already made sure you have the right tools and that you can indeed get the lug nuts loose yourself.

With the lug nuts loose, go ahead and raise the vehicle high enough to allow the old tire to come off and the spare to go on. Remove each nut, replace the tire, and then snug the lug nuts following an alternating pattern before lowering the jack.

With the tire firmly on the ground, tighten the lug nuts in the alternating pattern. Ideally, you’ll be using a torque wrench to tighten the lug nuts to manufacturer specs; if not, tighten them about as firmly as you can. At your next stop, snug them again, following the alternating pattern.

See how easy that was? You might want to have a pair of work gloves and coveralls stashed with your tools so you don’t get dirty as you continue on your trip. Get the damaged tire fixed as soon as possible and congratulate yourself on being prepared.

Practice Pays

Could you change a flat tire? It’s not difficult, but you need the right equipment. Doing a “dry run” tire change in your driveway is a good way to make sure you have the equipment and know-how it takes should you have to change a tire on the road.

RV flat tire

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