First Time Changing a Flat Tire While RVing

A white car towing an Airstream Nest pulled off on the side of the road with yellow, fall color trees and mountains in the background.

Car troubles are an RVer’s worst nightmare. I had been lucky for the first month and a half of a trip pulling my Airstream Nest around the U.S. After spending a magical evening enjoying Palouse Falls in Washington, I made my way to an RV park in Walla Walla to hook up for the night, eager to embark the next day on the seven-hour drive to a beautiful Idaho campground with natural hot springs.

But the next morning, 30 minutes into my drive, I heard an odd, repetitive clicking noise. I pulled over on the side of the highway to check it out. As I made my way around the car to inspect the tires, I found a large bolt lodged into my front passenger-side tire. It was so deeply embedded, it looked like someone had drilled it in as a vicious prank…washer and all.

The tire still appeared to hold air. I decided to drive thirty minutes back to the nearest tire shop, hoping I could make it before the tire went flat. But I’d gone less than a mile before I could feel my car rolling on nothing but the rim. I’ll admit, even though I’m often on the road by myself, I know very little about car mechanics—but I have changed my fair share of tires. I decided to take the matter into my own hands with The Nest still attached.

Sitting on the edge of the busy highway, I unpacked my trunk to access my spare. As I jacked up the car and switched out the tire, I prayed the jack wouldn’t slip out under the added weight of the trailer or the hill I was parked on. (Sidebar: Never park on a hill to change your tire.) I was intimidated by the 16-foot trailer attached to my car, but to my surprise, I found I could leave the trailer attached to my car while changing the tire without issues.

Though my hands were greasy and my spirit slightly broken, I managed the task on my own. I made my way to the nearest tire shop to see what they could do about my punctured tire. The friendly guys at the shop told me they could patch it up, so I went to a nearby restaurant and rewarded myself for my DIY success with a well-deserved burrito. When I returned, the guys didn’t charge me for the repair, and told me to enjoy the rest of my trip. When I left, I had a bolstered sense of self-confidence and a renewed appreciation for the kindness of strangers.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind the next time you get a flat tire while trailering:

  1. Make sure you have a spare tire. Whether you own it or are renting, double check your vehicle’s spare. Once, I ended up with a flat tire in the highlands of Scotland, by myself, in the pouring rain, without cell service. I was in the middle of nowhere, except for a single farmhouse I remembered passing a few miles back. Because I know how to change a tire, I remained calm—but when I opened the trunk of my rental car, the spare had been taken out. Now, it’s one of the first things I check any new rental, and I make sure to check the spare in my own vehicle to ensure it’s full of air and ready to use at any time.

  2. When you get a flat, reduce your speed immediately to avoid any dangerous sway. Trailer sway is the number one cause of trailer accidents, and a shift in the balance of your vehicle can set it off. Don’t make any sudden movements, but find a safe place to pull over, out of the flow of traffic, so you can assess the damage.

  3. Change your tire on level ground. If your tire does need changing, find level ground,  especially while pulling a trailer. It can be very difficult to jack up a car on an incline. The slope and added weight of the trailer could throw off the jack’s balance, and you don’t want anything slipping out when you’re in the middle of changing a tire.

  4. Once you take off your flat tire and get your spare on the bolts, tighten the lugnuts in a star formation. If you tighten in a clockwise or counterclockwise circle, you could end up putting the tire on lopsided, and it will wobble. By tightening in a star formation, you ensure that all bolts are tightened evenly.

  5. Go to a repair shop as soon as possible. Get your flat tire patched or buy a new tire as soon as possible. You don’t want to be driving around on three normal tires and one donut for long. Plus, without another spare, you’re flying without a safety net. You don’t want to be stuck with a second flat tire and no spare, needing to call a tow truck. Once, I had two tires pop within an hour of each other, and the amount it cost to tow to the nearest town was ridiculous.

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