Tell me if this sounds familiar:
“If I have a flat tire on my trip, I'm just going to call for roadside assistance (from AAA, Good Sam, Coach Net, etc)."
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
Even if you are on a major highway there's no guarantee that you'll get serviced in less than an hour. Heaven help you if you're far out in the boondocks.
On the other hand, you or someone you know can change a tire on your Airstream in about 15 minutes. Why wait?
Flats happen in places you really don’t want to be
There's a good chance the flat will happen by a busy highway with trucks roaring by a few feet from your involuntary parking spot.
Or, you could be in a questionable part of town, sitting there in the truck hoping your shiny 40-foot rig isn't too obvious.
You might start to feel like you’re in a scene from the movie Deliverance. A flat changes you from an independent traveling Airstreamer to a completely helpless potential target, in an unfamiliar place.
Airstreams require some specialized knowledge
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. And a heavy-handed mechanic with an air wrench can do a lot more harm than good. I learned this one the hard way, during my early Airstreaming days.
After towing over a 3-inch drywall screw that someone had annoyingly left in our Grand Teton National Park campsite, I quickly drove my trailer with a hissing tire to a service station inside the park. A well-intentioned mechanic replaced the tire but unbeknownst to me at the time, overtightened the lug nuts. The next day while towing down a 5% grade, the entire wheel unexpectedly came off. (Overtightening stretches the threads of the lug bolts and weakens them, increasing the risk they will break–which 5 out of 6 of mine did.)
That was the last time I paid someone to change a tire for me.
Roadside assistance doesn't go everywhere
Headed to one of the many beautiful and remote national parks out west? You'll find that cell phones don’t work everywhere, and roadside assistance doesn't either.
What's your Plan B if you can’t reach the toll-free number, or they told you (as happened to a friend of mine) “you’re in a non-service area?"
Tools are cheaper in the long run
A few tools to enable you to take care of a flat yourself are a lot cheaper than paying for roadside assistance year after year. Our Tire Changing Kit, for example, is a one-time purchase and includes everything you need to change an Airstream trailer tire. (Motorhomes usually have tire changing tools included.) The basic level service of one of the most popular road assistance programs will cost you $325 over 5 years–at the end of which you still don't own the tools to do it yourself.
You can do it
Fortunately, it’s really not hard at all to change a tire. You don’t have to be very strong. 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. You can see how that's done in our video, "How to change an Airstream tire".
Even if you physically can’t do it, having the tools on hand and knowledge of the correct procedure means someone else can help you.
I wrote a book about Airstream Maintenance that includes a big discussion explaining exactly how to swap a tire. The procedure is also documented in a six-page booklet that comes with every tire changing kit we sell in the Airstream Life Store.
Now, just so you realize I’m not just blogging this solely to promote our product: 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.
Stay independent, my friends. Being prepared for common problems like flat tires will keep your Airstream experience fun.