I preach maintenance every day at work, yet I failed a basic and important maintenance step on my personal truck that had the potential to leave me stranded. Last week I had friends coming in town for a few days and the plan was to let them borrow my truck instead of them having to pay for a rental.
The day before they arrived I was leaving for a lunch break and noticed one of my tires was very low. I brought it into the shop and filled it with air, checked it for leaks, and were unable to find anything wrong. I then drove it to a nearby tire shop and left it in their hands.
They called me in the afternoon and told me I had a cracked wheel, so I asked them to put the spare tire on and I’d bring it back to my shop. After I got over the fact that my wheels are out of their two-year warranty I started searching for a new wheel. The soonest I could get one was two days away, right in the middle of our friends’ visit to Phoenix, Arizona.
Then begins the next dilemma. When I went to get my truck from the tire shop I knew my spare was smaller than my current tires so I was going to limit its use until the new wheel arrived. Well it turns out my spare was not only smaller, but extremely cracked on both sidewalls and had two large cracks running the full diameter of the tire.
Fortunately, I only had to drive it a mile back to the shop, but if this had happened while on a trip or when towing my spare would have been worthless. A quick check of the Department of Transportation (DOT) code or even a better visual check of the tread would have been enough to replace it instantly. After looking at the DOT code I found it was made during the 37th week of 2004 making it over 12 years old.
Here are some tips and reminders regarding the tires on your truck or trailer. In case you don’t know what the DOT code is, it’s a string of numbers and letters that is mandatory to be printed on the sidewall of tires by the U.S. Department Of Transportation and can tell you when and where the tire was made.
Since tires have a life expectancy of five to ten years depending on the climate you live in it’s important to know how old they really are. This a helpful piece of information when buying a used vehicle as well and remember that just because a tire has a lot of tread left it may not be wise to continue running it.
Here in Phoenix, I’ve had tires with excessive dry rot at just over three years. Running a tire like this could easily lead to a blowout and best case scenario you’re changing a tire on the side of the road. If the tire decides to shred it could easily damage body panels on your truck or trailer or worse cause an accident if you lose control. Moral of the story – find out how old your tires really are.
Larger Aftermarket Tires, Same Small Spare
Running larger than stock tires on a truck brings on another challenge. Depending on how tall your tires are this could make your spare useless whether it’s good or not. Depending on the size difference running a smaller spare tire can lead to damage in the differential or cause malfunctions within the ABS and traction control systems.
Vehicle speed should always be reduced in this scenario. When I had a lifted Ford F-250 I had a full-size 37-inch spare tire that I would put in the bed of my truck on trips and when towing. It took up a lot of space but it was better than the alternative. If you can’t fit a full-size spare, then get the tallest tire you can. It’s difficult to fit even a 35-inch tire in place of the stock spare, but there are several companies that make tire carriers for this purpose.
Fixing The Problem On The Road
Here’s how to change a tire in case you have a flat. I know, sounds dumb right? But have you ever tried to use the factory jack and tire iron? If not then give it a try or at least figure out where it’s located in your truck or trailer.
During a dune trip a few years ago I had a blowout on my trailer and it tore up some of the fender when it came apart. Just wait it gets better! It happened just outside a state prison between Phoenix and Gila Bend.
After a few minutes spent trying to find the jack for my truck I discovered there wasn’t one. The previous owner had taken it our for whatever reason, and my ultra classic 1970 something trailer never had one.
I was left having to call a tow service to come out with a jack so I could change the tire. I spent most of the time following in Yuma buying new trailer tires instead of enjoying beverages from my cooler. Since my trailer was always the laugh of our camp I can only imagine what other duners thought when they saw it missing four wheels and tires while sitting on floor jacks! My lesson learned on this trip was to always carry a floor jack and a better tire iron with more leverage.
It all really comes down to being prepared. Everyone should know certain things about their truck and trailer to help prevent scenarios like the ones I faced. I know there are always exceptions and even new tires can separate or get damaged from debris on the road, but try to limit your chances of losing precious time when you need it most while avoiding the risk of injury to yourself or others.