One of the most-overlooked—and yet most essential—tools for every Airstream trailer owner is a torque wrench.
I can understand why. A good quality torque wrench is a moderately expensive tool, and it will probably sit in your Tire Changing Kit most of the time.
Also, people often wonder why they need a torque wrench for their Airstream trailer wheels, when they don't apparently need one for their car.
But here's why you need one
The aluminum alloy wheels found on all late model Airstreams are prone to allowing lug nuts to loosen in the first 50 to 100 miles of towing. To prevent them from completely coming loose, you need to check the nuts with a torque wrench at least a couple of times, any time that the wheel is removed. And each lug nut must be tightened to a specific tightness.
For aluminum Airstream wheels this is usually 110 foot-pounds (ft-lbs) of torque. (If you use metric specifications that's 150 Newton-meters.)
Steel wheels, which are commonly found vintage trailers and spare tires, need 150 foot-pounds.
To verify the correct torque spec for your wheels, check the Specification page in your Owner's Manual or ask Airstream about the wheels you have.
Why proper torque is so important
The wheel studs (the part the lug nuts thread on to) are designed to stretch a tiny amount to clamp the wheel on. This elasticity of the stud is what helps to secure the wheel on the hub.
If the lug nuts are put on too tightly, the threads on the wheels studs can stretch beyond their elastic range. In the extreme, this can cause the studs to break and the wheel will come flying off with disastrous results. Too loose, and the lug nuts will gradually work their way loose, which is just as bad.
When a wheel comes off, the wheel is generally damaged beyond repair, and the Airstream tends to get collateral body damage that can run into the thousands of dollars – like this disaster:
Watch how easy it is to ensure the right lug nut torque
You don't want to guess at the proper tightness. Even if you work with cars every day, you can't accurately estimate how tight those nuts should be. The torque wrench is the way smart professionals verify the job is done right.
Here's how to use one and make sure you're lug nuts are properly torqued:
A few other tips
Before putting lug nuts on, check that the threads are clean (no dirt or grease). Wipe any contaminants off with a paper towel or clean rag.
Don't use any kind of lubricant (oil, grease, moly, anti-seize compound) on the studs. Those things will make the torque reading inaccurate and you’ll end up over-tightening the nuts.
Make sure you choose a good quality torque wrench, with a hard plastic storage case to protect it. We include a quality wrench in the AIR GEAR Tire Changing Kit.
Always wind the torque wrench down to 0 after using it, and before you store it in the case.