Tell me if this sounds familiar:
“We’re going out on a long Airstream trip. What sort of Roadside Assistance (AAA, Good Sam, etc) should I have, in case I get a flat tire?”
…. sigh … I hear variations on this all the time. And I get a little sad every time I hear it, because too often things don’t work out well with this strategy.
The best roadside assistance program you can ever have is yourself. Even if you aren’t “mechanically minded,” or even if you have a physical disability that prevents you from being able to do a tire change, you need to know how to change a tire, and you need to have the necessary equipment on hand.
Why? Lots of reasons:
- Roadside assistance often takes hours to show up. You, or someone you know, can change a tire on your Airstream in about 10 minutes. Why wait all that time?
- Flats happen in all kinds of places, including places you really don’t want to be parked for long time. Like by the side of the highway, or in a rough neighborhood.
You might start to feel like you’re in a scene from Deliverance. It’s a hard transition from independent traveling Airstreamer to completely helpless potential target.
- Not all mechanics have familiarity with Airstreams, or the proper tools for the job. Someone who doesn’t know that they shouldn’t put a jack under most parts of the belly pan, or the axle, can do serious damage. A heavy-handed mechanic with an air wrench can do a lot more harm than good. (I learned this one the hard way myself.)
- Roadside assistance programs don’t always cover every place. And cell phones don’t work everywhere. What would you do if you couldn’t reach the toll-free number, or they told you (as happened to a friend of mine) “you’re in a non-service area.”
- A few tools are a lot cheaper than paying for roadside assistance year after year.
Fortunately, it’s really not hard at all to change a tire. Even if you physically can’t do it, having the tools on hand and knowledge of the correct procedure means someone else (perhaps a Good Samaritan) can help you.
I wrote a book about Airstream Maintenance that includes a big discussion explaining exactly how to swap a tire. But if you don’t want to buy the book, you can learn the procedure from a six-page booklet I published. A free copy comes with every tire changing kit we sell in the Airstream Life Store. (That kit includes all the tools you need to swap a tire, and every Airstream owner should have those tools with them on every trip.)
Now, just so you realize I’m not just blogging this solely to promote my store: I don’t care if you copy down the list of tools provided in the kit on the Airstream Life Store and go buy all the parts yourself at local stores. Just make sure you have them. If you travel a lot, sooner or later you will need those tools.
One of things I always point out to people is that you don’t have to be very strong to do this job. For example, to get the tire out of the spare holder without lifting (after you’ve lowered the holder to the ground) just sit on the ground and push the tire out with your feet.
Sometimes the job seems hard because you’re doing it the hard way, so a little practice will help a lot. Try it in your driveway, or this June at Alumapalooza where we will have a tire-changing class & contest.
You might be thinking that flats are pretty rare, and you’ll take your chances. That’s OK, but there are other reasons to have the tools & knowledge handy. For example, sooner or later you’ll need a fresh set of tires. Have you ever had a tire shop act like your trailer was some sort of dangerous object? I’ve heard things like, “I’m not allowed to take a wheel off a trailer,” and “We don’t have a jack big enough for a trailer like that.” Having the ability to swap a tire yourself can help a lot in such situations.
Stay independent, my friends. Being prepared for common problems like flat tires will help keep your Airstream experience fun.