Tires As Part Of Basic Vehicle Preparations, by D.K.

It’s easy to overlook an important item, such as tires, for those planning different bugout scenarios, getting home after an event, or just driving home from work. I was reminded of this during a recent trip moving my daughter to California. We rented a 5’ X 8’ U-Haul trailer, hooked it up to my Chevy Avalanche, drove it to her apartment, and loaded it for the move the next day. She had bagged up trash, and as I was taking it out I noticed some 8” zip ties. I pulled them out of the trash and threw them in the truck. The weather was hot and windy on the way from Arizona to California. The drive was long but uneventful. The next morning we ate breakfast, dropped the trailer (a long story), and headed home.

A Recent Event

Driving through the San Gorgonio Pass on I10, I felt a vibration and thought it was the center line reflectors. Then I heard flapping getting louder and louder and felt a shimmy in the front. I knew I had a flat tire. We were in a left lane, so I pulled to the left shoulder and turned on the flashers. I got out and saw that the flat was on the right front and knew there was no way I wanted to change a tire on the traffic side of a multi-lane highway on a downhill. I got back in the truck and waited about five minutes for a gap in traffic and slowly drove over to the other shoulder. (“This will be a piece of cake now,” I thought. My son was with me, and he could help. “It would be a good learning moment for him, too.”)

blown tire

The Problems and Options

We could have called for roadside assistance, but I figured we could get it done before they arrived. I was glad this hadn’t happened 100 miles down the road in the middle of the desert. It wasn’t too hot. I had a cell phone signal. I had tools. We had water and snacks.

We got out to determine how bad it was. I checked the wheel well. The plastic fender liner was chewed up and ripped back on top of the tire. Some of the retaining screws were gone. I’m thinking and here’s my process.

How the Story Goes

I thought, “Even if I call roadside assistance, they’re not going to want me to drive back to AZ with that. Okay, what can I do?”

I could cut it out of the way. It was thick plastic, and I wasn’t sure I had something to cut it easily. Last year, I had tried to replace an interior door panel and found out they weren’t making them anymore. I didn’t want to damage it and not be able to find a replacement. I thought, “How about taking it off? Okay, no problem. Let’s get started. I have my tool box in the back.”

About 15 screws later, we realized there were two plastic retention pins we had to access from inside the engine wall. Oh, man! I didn’t want to try to get those out and hope we didn’t break them. I thought, “Wait, all I have to do is bend the liner back in place and refasten it. But I don’t have any spare fasteners to replace the ones that were lost. Wish I had some wire. What can I use?” I’m wondering, “What do I have in the truck?” I was thinking about duct tape or plastic bags. Then, I thought of other plastic. Hmm. Then, I remember that I have those zip ties. I could use them!Zip Ties

The Fender

The fender support bracket had ripped off from an attachment point as well. I thought, “It may have even chewed up the tire. Or it may chew up the spare if I don’t remove it. I’ll just take it off.” I wondering, “How much can we do while the truck is still on the ground?” Then I realize I didn’t want the truck rolling off the jack. I said, “Oh yeah, we’re on a hill. We’d better block a couple of wheels and set the parking brake.” I walked down the shoulder and picked a couple of big rocks to use as tire chocks. I told my son, “Let’s do as much as we can and then jack it up.”


I pulled out the two pneumatic jacks and two 2×4’s I had stashed in the side box. Why have two jacks? The one that came with the truck didn’t work very well when I first used it. I bought an inexpensive jack, and it didn’t provide enough clearance. Another one had to use the 2×4’s as spacers after the first one tops out. (I measured the clearance this time, so a new jack is on my shopping list.)

While I was jacking up the truck, my son lowered the spare and unhooked it. (Do you have a full size spare and has it been checked recently? Mine was in good shape, but when I had the tire replaced, it turned out the spare was original, which meant it was 16 years old!) He finished loosening the bolts, and I dug out the gloves that I keep in the toolbox. The tire had shredded and the steel wires would have cut up our hands while we were maneuvering the tire off the bolts.

He took off the blown tire, set it aside, unbolted the fender support since the attachment point had torn, and threw it in the truck bed. I folded the fender liner back in place, put the screws in, and zip tied where we had lost screws. I had to jack the truck up a bit more to mount the spare, but we had no other problems. We drove a couple hundred miles home and replaced the spare and tire a week later.

What Was Learned?

What can I share from this experience? I think the tire was weakened by the sun. I had just replaced a five year old tire for bad sidewall crazing. This one still had plenty of tread and was only four years old but had some crazing on the sidewall. The heat and sidewall flexing from the wind and trailer must have weakened the tire to the point of failure. I thought I could get another year out of the tire, but it turned out to not be true under load. If the plan is to bug out/GOOD, then:

  • Be conservative and inspect tires each time the car is used. There may be a nail or screw in a tire.
  • Check air pressure each gas stop.
  • Know how old the tires are and have a replacement plan. Typically manufacturers recommend replacement after six years and recommend at least a weekly drive to help the rubber “self-heal”. Environment or use also affects the lifetime. The manufacturing date is listed at the end of a DOT string on the tires and lists workweek and year. For example 2312 at the end means it was manufactured the 23rd week of 2012. Sometimes the information is on the inside of the tire, and it’s easier for a mechanic to read the date. I will be more conservative on tire condition now.
  • Next, practice changing the tire or at least jacking the car up. Does the jack work easily? Are there tools in the car? An inexpensive socket set is better than nothing. I bought mine at an auto parts store, and it has served me well. It’s in a plastic case and includes a socket set, pliers, screwdrivers, and also allen wrenches. I’ve made minor repairs and changed out the battery several times.

Other things to remember:

  • My truck burns oil, so I keep a couple of quarts of oil in my side tool box.
  • I also have jumper cables, flares, a foldable shovel, crescent wrenches, vise grips, flashlight, duct tape, and a first aid kit. (And now I also carry zip ties.) It’s not a complete set, but it’s better than nothing.
  • I want to add some wire, tire chocks, and reflective triangles. A patch or plug kit and one of those portable air compressors that run off the car battery are worth considering, if expecting bad conditions. If the plan is to do some off-road driving, then there are a lot more tools to consider.
  • If using the vehicle to Get Out Of Dodge, it may be worthwhile to consider puncture resistant, run flat, or even the new puncture proof tires. I have no experience with these tires, but it makes sense to research them if planning to use a vehicle when the SHTF. I didn’t get far when my tire blew, and I would have been a sitting duck if stop sticks had been part of a roadblock. Back in my hometown in the 80’s, there was a strike, and they tacked together nails to form a ball and threw them in management’s driveway to keep them from getting to work. Tires are a weak link for vehicles and an often overlooked consumable. Learn about them and monitor them to drive more safely.

Check Kids’ Tires Too

Also, check the kids’ tires. A couple of weeks after this happened, the same son called me to come help him change his tire that went flat on the way to work. The steel belts were exposed on the flat and on his other rear tire. His spare was low on air but got him to the tire store. I feel bad I didn’t check them.

Check all the kids’ tires. We visited my daughter last week, and I got a call. She had just arrived at work and got out of the car and heard a hissing noise. She had a flat tire. I told her I could take care of it, drove over, and changed it. While using the lug wrench, I told her she was lucky that I was there, because the nuts were hard to loosen with her short wrench. She said, “No, what I do is put the wrench like this (parallel to the ground on the left side), and step on it.” There’s another good tip if the lug nuts seem tight.


I put on the spare. It was one of the compact doughnut ones. It seemed a little low on air, but it’s hard to tell on those tires. I was hoping it would get me the couple miles down the road to the tire shop. When I got in the car and started backing out I heard a flapping kind of “thunking” noise. I pulled back in the spot and got out to look at the tire. The sidewall was powdery and the rim had bottomed. The spare was flat. I thought how lucky we’d been on that drive to California and all those other times she has been driving far from home.

I threw the original flat tire in the back of my truck and drove it to the tire shop. It turned out to be a nail that they fixed for free. I put that tire back on the car and took the spare to the shop. It was original and seven years old so I decided to replace it. The problem is they don’t stock compact spares. It took a week for them to get one.

I feel really lucky that nothing happened to my daughter since I don’t know how long she was driving without a spare tire. She never traveled alone, but it would not have been a fun trip to be stuck somewhere with a flat and no spare. I was glad to be there to help since she had a business trip the next day, and I could take a bit of the load for her. I also feel bad I didn’t have her check the spare after my first flat on her move.

Moral of the Story

Check all the tires periodically on all vehicles and be aware of their shelf life. And, it’s easier written than done.

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been another entry for Round 72 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

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Round 72 ends on September 30th, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.


  1. At least your vehicle has a full size spare tire. Many newer vehicles don’t come with a spare at all, just a can of fix-a-flat and a phone number. What happens if you have a blow-out ?

  2. Special rule when travelling into country that has been recently hit by a hurricane: take two (2) spare tires along. Reason: The roads are covered with millions of roofing nails and other sharp objects, virtually guaranteed to create a flat…or two

  3. We were in Alaska on the Denali Highway. We had an extra tire besides the spare. We had a flat because of the newly graded granite road. We decided to turn around and go back the way we had come. We had almost gotten to where the pavement started and we had another flat. Luckily we had one bar on the phone and was able to get an old Alaskan fellow out to help us. We always carry an extra beside the spare.

  4. Last week, I had the left rear tire blow out on my Ram 2500. The tire was 7 years old with 69,588 miles on it and was rated for 60K miles. Shame on me, I kept doing the coin test on the treads and it wasn’t quite there yet. So, now I have four new tires on it.

    I pretty much had the gear described in this article, changed the tire in 21 minutes, and made my appointment. I had to slowly roll about 1/2 mile to a safe spot.

    Sometimes being frugal will get you into trouble. The tire shredded in a spectacular fashion, even the tire folks spent a couple of minutes looking at it in awe, at a very busy time for them.

  5. Bubble Gum and Bailing Wire methods as we called it back in the day worked and still does. There’s a reason we did things the way we did and carried “extra” stuff as well as tools even on our belts

  6. One item I always have in a vehicle is a spare container of water/antifreeze 50/50 mix. It has bailed another motorist and even myself out of a otherwise bad situation.

  7. Thanks for the reminder!!! I asked my son to pull out all the spare tires and check for dry rot and air! Living in the south, the rubber rots faster than it wears. I might have to make a trip to the tire store to get a “new” spare.

  8. Be sure to add a head mounted light to your tire changing gear. Better than the best Maglight. I had to change a tire by myself on a rainy midnight on the side of the highway. It would have been nearly impossible without the headlight.

  9. My grandfather changed his tires every 5 years and that has stuck with me for decades.

    Also, buy the best tires one can buy. I have done that for a long time and have not had one flat. Thank God

  10. Two years ago I was dumb and had my left front tire shred itself from being underinflated. It tore hell out of the fender. I am a 100% disabled vet, and was struggling to get the tire replaced. Being in East Texas, I was fortunate enough to have a young man stop and do it all for me. When I offered to pay him, he said if I could just pray for him to get the job he just was returning from the interview for, that would be enough. I told him I would, then asked if he had any kids. He said he had two boys 10 and 12. You should have seen his eyes when I handed him a 100 round box of .22LR. I said, how about giving this to them then.

  11. Tire strength is established by the cords in the tire, not the rubber. The rubber provides a high friction traction surface for the road and provides protection for the cords. UV, dry rot, etc. to the outside of a tire doesn’t have significance to tire strength. UV is only a surface condition. Take a wire brush and scrub the surface a bit and you’ll quickly uncover rubber that looks and smells fresh and new.

    Many many years ago cotton and other natural fibers were used for cord construction and weather cracking of the tire sidewalls would expose the cords and allow degradation. With modern tires synthetic fibers typically nylons and even aramid fibers such as kevlar are being used and they are far more weather resistant so small cracks in the rubber are no big deal. More often what happens is impact with chuckholes and the like over stress the cord fibers and dome fracture. This is the predominant cause of tire degradation and failure. Worry about the tread depth and tire history, not sun, age or surface cracks.

  12. @DK: You can purchase spare retainer clips for fender liners/interior body panels at your local autoparts store. They are pretty universal and cost roughly $2-3 for a box of 4 or so. Then you don’t have to worry about saving the clips when doing a repair as it’s nearly impossible to remove them without breaking them.

  13. The OP is completly correct. I also carry two spares for any trailer being towed. Regarding travel in post Hurricane and Tornado areas the Red Cross vehicles carry a spare for every tire on the ground because the repair and replacement locations may not be available just as in a bugout situation. Thanks for the excellent web site and the reader/posters priceless words of wisdom.

  14. If you think it’s wise to ignore UV damage, dry rot, or cracking… just drive a few miles at interstate speeds on tires that have set for 6 months in the FL sun!
    Neighbor just had a huge tow bill to get his class A motorhome to a repair shop after less than 15 miles, both front tires shredded. Damage to the steering gear, and body. Scared him so bad he had the shop deliver it back to his house.

    So go ahead and drive on those ‘undamaged’ tires, odds are nothing bad will happen… don’t worry about the other folk on the road either, they can just get out of the way!

  15. I carry a steel pipe about two feet long and 1 inch in diameter in my car. It fits nicely over the handle of the lug wrench to provide more torque and/or foot space for the lug nut removal. Also, being a lady, it’s handy to have on hand if someone stops to “help” who may have other intentions.

  16. If you have a modern all wheel drive (AWD) vehicle, you have an additional problem: all your tires must not only be the same size and the same tire, but have the same amount of wear. If you shred one tire and only replace that one, the electronic “brain” in the car which sends the appropriate power to each wheel will misread the RPMs of that one tire, and eventually it will destroy the transmission. You have to replace ALL FOUR TIRES.

    Select 4 (2X4) wheel drives are not affected, nor are many older (pre-95) AWD such as Subarus (but don’t quote me on that). One solution is to replace your doughnut spare with a full-sized wheel and buy a set of 5 tires. Each time you rotate the tires, rotate the spare in (and keep track of which tire was put up). You’ll then have 5 equally worn tires.

    AWD cars have some great driving advantages, but if you go through a lot of tires, you need to be aware of the disadvantages.

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