How to Safely Handle a Flat Tire on Your Boat Trailer
Have you noticed that there seem to be fewer tire blowouts on the road these days? This isn’t a coincidence. While we may always have the occasional flat tire, tire technology continues to improve, with fewer blowouts as the happy consequence.
This is good news for drivers everywhere and particularly good news is you are transporting your boat on a boat trailer.
However, even though your odds of experiencing a tire blowout are greatly reduced, the possibility still exists. When you know what to do if you experience a rapid loss of tire pressure or a full-on tire blowout, you are much more likely to stay safe and also safeguard your investment into your boat and boat trailer.
Steps to Take in the Event of a Blowout
Blowouts and major flats can be caused by all sorts of road hazards, from encountering debris to jumping a curb. Under-inflation and defective tires can also cause blowouts.
Even if you are lucky enough to be towing your boat with a tandem-axle trailer, you still need to know the steps to take to minimize damage.
- Grip the steering wheel firmly.
- Refrain from slamming on the brakes!
- Tap the accelerator and keep firm, light pressure to maintain momentum.
- Turn the steering wheel gently in the opposite direction of the flat tire
- Activate your vehicle’s emergency flashers.
- Steadily depress the brake to slow your speed down to 15 mph.
- Navigate to safety at the side of the road.
- Steer to the farthest side of the shoulder away from the nearest driving lane.
- Place your emergency road triangle (in your vehicle safety kit) to warn other drivers you are dealing with a breakdown.
- Change your flat tire.
Common Causes for Trailer Tire Blowouts
The number one thing you need to do to avoid a trailer tire blowout is to resist the temptation to overload your trailer or under-inflate its tires.
3 ways to locate tire PSI:
- Look on your license plate for the PSI instructions.
- Look for a sticker on your trailer frame.
- Consult the vehicle owner’s manual.
The second most common reason for preventable trailer tire blowouts is improper tires. You should never install passenger vehicle or light truck tires on a trailer used to haul a boat.
2 ways to choose the right tires:
- Look for tires with the letters “ST” preceding the tire size (ST = Special Trailer).
- Consult the vehicle owner’s manual.
What Does a Tire Blowout Sound Like?
If you hear any of the following three sounds while you are transporting your boat on a trailer hitch, you may have had a tire blowout.
- A loud boom, bang or pop that seems to linger in the air.
- A long, loud whooshing sound.
- A sound of flapping or flopping.
What to Do After a Trailer Tire Blowout
Experiencing a trailer tire blowout is near-guaranteed to send your body into its own “emergency response system” of fight-or-flight survival mode.
The good news here is, recognizing that you are in fight-or-flight can help you focus and make good choices to quickly navigate to safety.
Here is what to do after a trailer tire blowout.
- Follow the instructions above here (see “Steps to Take in the Event of a Blowout”).
- Activate your vehicle’s emergency notification (flashers, reflective cones or triangles, flares, et al).
- If it is safe to do so and you know how, begin to change the tire yourself.
- If it is not safe to do so or you do not know how, call emergency roadside service for help.
- In either scenario, pay close attention to any special instructions for installing and driving with your spare tire.
Taking time for these preventative measures may mean the difference between a safe drive and a tire blowout mid-trip.
- Check the tire pressure once when you depart and again every 50 miles to ensure your tires are inflated to their maximum PSI.
- Verify you are using the right tires for your trailer and load capacity.
- Secure your boat to the trailer using tie-down straps at correct anchor points.
- Tighten the lug nuts to the correct torque.
- Carry a spare tire and check to make sure it is properly inflated to maximum PSI and has healthy tread before you depart.
- Install the correct tire for your trailer and load.
- Rinse your tires with fresh water after they have been exposed to salt water or salt spray.
- Cover tires if you store the trailer outside.
- Use only the tire size recommended for your trailer manufacturer.
Assemble a Tire SOS Kit
Assembling a tire SOS kit like this one can come in handy for all sorts of future incidents you can’t imagine right now.
- Tire ramp.
- Air pump.
- Basic tool kit.
- Set of wrenches.
- Tire plug kit.
- Kneeling pad.
- 1/2″ breaker bar (with deep lug socket).
- Li-Ion battery impact wrench.
- 1/2″ torque wrench.
- Emergency flags and flares.
- 20-ton bottle jack.
- Basic first aid kit.
- 16 oz. red Solo cups.
- Hose clamps (great to remedy a lost hubcap dust cover).
Warning Signs of Tire Wear
These warning signs can indicate your tires are more at risk for a flat or blowout.
- Spider cracks.
- Dry rot.
- Center wear in the tire tread (often a symptom of over-inflation).
- Side wear on either side (often a symptom of under-inflation).
- If your tires have treadwear indicators, watch for changing colors.
Another way to calculate your tires’ useful life is to look for the DOT I.D. stamp on the sidewall of each tire. The last four digits indicate the week and year of manufacture (ex: 1209 = 12th week, 2009).
Different Tires for Different Jobs
Just like you wouldn’t set out on a trip wearing the wrong size shoes, it makes no sense to set out on a trip with the wrong size tires on your trailer hitch.
Trailer tires are designed to have stiff sidewalls and spin freely to counter stiff suspensions. This is the opposite of how passenger vehicle and light truck tires work. In other words, trailer tires are designed for use with trailers and only with trailers. For your own safety, only use trailer tires for your trailer.
Should You Choose Radial or Bias Ply Tires?
Radial tires get their name from the steel-reinforced plies that run perpendicular beneath the tread and belts.
Conversely, bias ply tires have plies that run at a 30-degree angle (think candy cane stripes and you’ll get the right visual idea).
Which tire type is right for your trailer hitch is dependent on how your trailer handles while on the road. You should always defer to the manufacturer’s tire recommendations where possible. In lieu of specifics, these guidelines can help.
A swaying trailer or a trailer that carries near-maximum weight loads consistently can benefit from bias tires.
For steady rigs that pack on the miles on long straightaway trips, radials will give you the extended useful life you are looking for.
Always ensure all tires on your trailer are the same size, type and load range.
Watch this video about radial tires and bias-ply tires for your boat trailer
Special Trailer Tires
ST tires, or Special Trailer tires, are tires that are designed and manufactured to meet the specific requirements of trailer rigs.
Typically, ST tires feature stiffer sidewalls that reduce on-road sway. These tires are designed to bear up under heavy loads that passenger vehicle or light truck tires could not accommodate.
ST tires are also designed to fit perfectly on trailer wheels, which tend to be narrower than the wheels of a passenger vehicle or light truck.
Finally, ST tires have a shallower tread that reduces on-road wiggle, improves fuel economy and counteracts on-road heat buildup.
Special Tire Care Tips
Always try to park your trailer on a hard surface to stave off tire corrosion and tire rot.
If your trailer will be parked outside for a period of time, cover the tires (paying special attention to completely cover the outer sidewalls) to protect them from damage from the sun’s ultraviolet rays and any nearby salt spray.
Finally, check the valve stem of each tire by gently pressing it first left and then right. Listen for the sounds of air escaping and remedy any leaks to prevent under-inflation.
By taking the time to learn and follow the trailer manufacturer’s tire guidelines in every way, assembling a tire safety and SOS kit to use mid-trip as needed, doing periodic PSI and tread checks en route and protecting your trailer and tires properly during storage, you can maximize your tires’ useful life, enjoy safe trips and – most importantly – prevent tire flats and blowouts on the road.