Solid contact

| October 05, 2005

This photo shows what happens when a tire is run flat. This tire actually came completely apart due to heat and fatigue.

Imagine that instead of driving the next 500 miles you had to walk it in ill-fitting shoes with holes and uneven soles that caused you pain every step of the way.

Now think of your tires as your rig’s shoes.

Of all the moving parts in your tractor and trailer, only your tires touch the road. So it just makes sense to ensure that the tires, and the wheels they’re mounted on, stay in good shape.

Changing a wheel or having a tire serviced sound simple, but they’re jobs that involve precision.

Changing a wheel on your truck can easily lead to a wheel off if you don’t know how to perform every step. Also, truck wheels can run almost forever, which means they are subject to deterioration. They need periodic inspection and must be replaced when damaged.

We visited the Wingfoot Commercial Tire Systems center in Levittown, Pa., where Jeff Moyer, the lead technician, showed us how wheels are changed and tires are serviced. Don Nelson, Wingfoot regional director, offered additional help and advice.

You’ll need adequate tools to change your wheels. These include hydraulic jacks and jackstands, as well as a torque wrench with a long handle rated to at least 475 pounds-feet. It’s best to use an air gun with impact sockets to work those tight lugnuts and studs off.

Special tire-handling tools, sometimes called “spoons,” are needed to work the beads on and off the rims, and you’ll need a device that uses a blast of air to seat the beads.

Keeping inflation pressure at the correct level is by far the most important aspect of tire maintenance. Truck tires typically run 95-105 psi. Check your owner’s manual for the correct pressure. Use a good tire gauge that is properly calibrated.

It’s the air pressure that supports the vehicle, not the tire itself, which is mainly an air bladder like the air springs on your suspension. Unlike air springs, tires that are underinflated overheat badly because of the excess flexing of the sidewalls. The belts may flex enough to suffer fatigue, too, according to Steve Boone. When properly inflated, flexing is minimal and tires run quite cool. The tread also squirms less, prolonging life and improving fuel economy.

Changing a wheel
It’s best to carry all the necessary tools along with you, including, especially, the right torque wrench. It really helps to have along an air-powered impact wrench to get those lug nuts off, too. Many drivers figure out a way to connect their air guns to the brake system air supply near one of the air storage tanks.

Even if you can’t carry enough tools to do the job yourself, if you get roadside assistance, make sure the service technician does the job as we describe it. If he does not, have the wheel mounting checked by a competent service outlet at the next available opportunity.

  1. The first step is always to place a chock both behind and in front of a wheel. Working on a level area also helps guarantee your safety.

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