How to Change a Trailer Tire

Trailer Tire Change Post

I first learned tire changing skills from my father. I learned even more about this necessary skill later on while pursuing my undergraduate degree at MTSU. It was there, while studying toward my teaching certification in agriculture education, that I further honed this skill in my shop classes. In spite of my background, for this post I sat down with a real expert in the matter, Rick Barnes of Barnes Tire and Service Center Pros in Jasper, TN. For reference, Barnes is the co-owner and manager of the twenty year old family owned and operated business. Even if you’re experienced at this sort of thing, everyone needs a refresher and if you’ve never done it before, here’s what you need to know:

Even if you’ve done your part maintaining your trailer’s tires, changes in the weather, etc. can still cause a blown tire to occur. “Heat is an obvious cause for blown tires in the summer,” says Barnes “but tires can also lose approximately one pound of air for every ten degree drop in temperature in the winter.” Should a blown tire happen to you, here’s what you need to know to make changing the tire as simple as possible:

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Step 1 (Instructions for when traveling): If you experience your flat tire while traveling, immediately slow your speed and turn on your vehicle’s hazard lights. If you are traveling on a highway, use the shoulder of the road to slowly and carefully maneuver your trailer to a parking lot or other safe area. If at all possible avoid changing your tire on the shoulder of the road. If you are traveling on the interstate, consider making your way to the nearest exit ramp and then to a service station. If your blown tire occurs at night, consider searching out nearby well lit areas otherwise a flashlight will come in handy. In order to avoid damaging the rim of your wheel you’ll want to avoid traveling on it as much as possible but the safety of you and your horses is of greater concern.

Step 2 (Location, Assessment and Other Options): Once you have made your way to your selected tire changing location, stop and check on the horses. Unless an emergency situation inside the trailer demands it, it is not recommended that you unhitch the trailer or unload the horses. Set out your orange traffic cones or other emergency markers, especially if it is dark and there are cars in the proximity.

Carefully assess the situation.  If your tire is flat, rather than blown, you may sometimes be able to find the leak by visually spotting a defect in your tire, listening for the accompanying sound, or feeling the air leak from the tire with your fingers. If it is a slow leak it is possible that rather than replacing the tire at your current location you can air it up with a portable air compressor then slowly make your way to either your original destination, if it is close by, or a more desirable location than your present one to change your tire out.

Changing, rather than airing up the tire or attempting repairs is the preferred approach. “Even if a repair may be possible, I typically advise my customers to change their tire rather than attempt to plug it. Because trailer tires are heavier and have more ply or steel than those found on towing vehicles plugging can be too much of challenge.  In addition, plugging a tire is a band-aid approach rather than a long term resolution to the problem,” says Barnes.

Step 3 (Prepare for the tire change): Even if you have done so prior to your trip, re-check the condition of your spare before un-mounting it from your trailer. Remove any decorative hub cap from your damaged tire with the sharp end of your standard lug wrench then loosen the lug nuts. It can be difficult to loosen, especially if you have not regularly lubricated them at home. It can be helpful to spray them with lubricant prior to using your standard lug wrench, breaker bar, or impact wrench.

When ready, position your bottle jack under the axle as closely as possible to the wheel where you’ll be working and gently begin jack up your trailer. If you have not done so already, make certain that you have set your vehicle’s parking brake and remembered to turn the engine off. Check to be sure that all doors, which can be difficult for passing cars to see, are closed. Use your wheel chock to block the wheel diagonally opposite of your flat tire.

Step 4 (Removing the bad tire): Now that your trailer is raised and the lug nuts loosened, remove the lug nuts completely. At this point your standard lug wrench will probably be all that is necessary. Place the lug nuts in your pocket, all together on the ground with your tools, or other location for safe keeping. Carefully remove the bad tire from the bolts. If your tire blew while traveling, you’ll want to inspect your trailer while the tire is off for any additional damage the force of the blown tire may have caused.

Step 5 (Tire replacement): If your inspection yielded no additional damage you are ready to replace the blown tire with your spare.  Once you have it on the bolts, reapply the lug nuts firmly tightening them with just your fingers. Compare your installation of the spare tire with the other tires on the trailer. Correct any differences that you see as they should look the same. Barnes points out, “a common mistake in the application of lug nuts is putting them on backwards. The beveled side of the lug nut, rather than the flat side, goes toward the wheel.”

Your wheel may begin to spin while you are tightening of the lug nuts. To prevent spinning, you will need to place pressure on the tire by slightly, though not completely, lowering it to the ground. Though you will not yet completely secure them, tighten the lug nuts a second time using your wrench. This will also enable you to do complete any additional positioning of the wheel should you need it prior to tightening the lug nuts a final time. Do not attempt to tighten the lug nuts with your wrench the final time until you have safely lowered the trailer and removed the bottle jack.

Step 6 (Completing the process): When prepared, use your wrench to complete a final tightening of the lug nuts. A “star” or alternating pattern is best for optimum tightening. Your last check point, with the use of your tire gauge, can be to make certain that your spare trailer tire is properly inflated. Here too having portable air compressor in your emergency preparedness kit can be helpful for inflating your spare tire to its correct psi should that be necessary.  The appropriate psi or tire pressure will be indicated on the tire’s sidewall.  If desired, you can re-install your decorative hub cap at this time or wait until you return home.

Once finished, safely store the damaged tire and collect your tools and supplies. You will need to have the tire repaired or replaced either before your return trip home or at least before your next outing in addition to replenishing your tire changing kit. Before getting back on the road, do a final inspection of your truck and trailer by walking around both while noting and correcting anything you find amiss. You will want to do a final inspection of your horses as well.

As an aside, if your spare trailer tire differs even slightly from the others on your trailer you will need to adjust to a slower travel speed as well as maneuvering your vehicle more carefully upon re-entering the highway. Although not recommended as your spare tire should match the others on your trailer, if you have applied an odd sized spare you will need to exchange it for a standard sized tire when you reach your destination or, if possible, before.  As previously mentioned, you should have a spare tire ready for trip back home and definitely before you use your trailer again.

The good news is that, due to their construction, tandem axle trailers usually handle blown tires quite well with the weight of the trailer shifting to the unaffected wheel. This helps to prevent loss of control of the trailer while driving and, as long as you adjust your travel speed accordingly, to slowly make your way off the road to change them.  “Tandem axle trailers typically handle blown tires so well that I often tell my customers to think about purchasing a wireless tire pressure monitoring system. For a small investment, even if you don’t happen to notice the blown tire, the sensor will alert you to it in addition to making you aware of changes in tire pressure and temperature potentially preventing a blown tire and damage to your trailer to begin with,” Barnes says.

By following these steps you’ll be back on the road and back to enjoying your day as quickly as possible.

Note: For this post, I stuck strictly to the steps necessary to successfully changing a trailer tire but I also referenced several tools you would use. I’ll be talking about those more in a future post but for now, what tools do you keep in your personal emergency tire changing kit?



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