7 reasons why Roadside Assistance isn't the best strategy

Tell me if this sounds familiar:

“If I have a flat tire on my trip, I'm just going to call for roadside assistance (from AAA, Good Sam, Coach Net, etc)."

I hear variations on this all the time. And I get a little sad every time I hear it, because too often things don’t work out well with this strategy.

The best roadside assistance program you can ever have is yourself. Even if you aren’t “mechanically minded,” or even if you have a physical disability that prevents you from being able to do a tire change, you need to know how to change a tire, and you need to have the necessary equipment on hand.

Why? Lots of reasons:

Roadside assistance often takes hours to show up

Even if you are on a major highway there's no guarantee that you'll get serviced in less than an hour. Heaven help you if you're far out in the boondocks.

On the other hand, you or someone you know can change a tire on your Airstream in about 15 minutes. Why wait?

Flats happen in places you really don’t want to be

There's a good chance the flat will happen by a busy highway with trucks roaring by a few feet from your involuntary parking spot.

Or, you could be in a questionable part of town, sitting there in the truck hoping your shiny 40-foot rig isn't too obvious.

You might start to feel like you’re in a scene from the movie Deliverance. A flat changes you from an independent traveling Airstreamer to a completely helpless potential target, in an unfamiliar place.

Airstreams require some specialized knowledge

Not all mechanics have familiarity with Airstreams, or the proper tools for the job. Someone who doesn’t know that they shouldn’t put a jack under most parts of the belly pan, or the axle, can do serious damage. And a heavy-handed mechanic with an air wrench can do a lot more harm than good. I learned this one the hard way, during my early Airstreaming days.

After towing over a 3-inch drywall screw that someone had annoyingly left in our Grand Teton National Park campsite, I quickly drove my trailer with a hissing tire to a service station inside the park. A well-intentioned mechanic replaced the tire but unbeknownst to me at the time, overtightened the lug nuts. The next day while towing down a 5% grade, the entire wheel unexpectedly came off. (Overtightening stretches the threads of the lug bolts and weakens them, increasing the risk they will break–which 5 out of 6 of mine did.)

That was the last time I paid someone to change a tire for me.

Roadside assistance doesn't go everywhere

Headed to one of the many beautiful and remote national parks out west? You'll find that cell phones don’t work everywhere, and roadside assistance doesn't either.

What's your Plan B if you can’t reach the toll-free number, or they told you (as happened to a friend of mine) “you’re in a non-service area?" 

Tools are cheaper in the long run

A few tools to enable you to take care of a flat yourself are a lot cheaper than paying for roadside assistance year after year. Our Tire Changing Kit, for example, is a one-time purchase and includes everything you need to change an Airstream trailer tire. (Motorhomes usually have tire changing tools included.) The basic level service of one of the most popular road assistance programs will cost you $325 over 5 years–at the end of which you still don't own the tools to do it yourself. 

You can do it

    Fortunately, it’s really not hard at all to change a tire. You don’t have to be very strong. For example, to get the tire out of the spare holder without lifting (after you’ve lowered the holder to the ground) just sit on the ground and push the tire out with your feet. You can see how that's done in our video, "How to change an Airstream tire".

    Even if you physically can’t do it, having the tools on hand and knowledge of the correct procedure means someone else can help you.

    I wrote a book about Airstream Maintenance that includes a big discussion explaining exactly how to swap a tire. The procedure is also documented in a six-page booklet that comes with every tire changing kit we sell in the Airstream Life Store.

    Now, just so you realize I’m not just blogging this solely to promote our product:  I don’t care if you copy down the list of tools provided in the kit on the Airstream Life Store and go buy all the parts yourself at local stores. Just make sure you have them. If you travel a lot, sooner or later you will need those tools.

    Stay independent, my friends. Being prepared for common problems like flat tires will keep your Airstream experience fun.

    7 comments

    Jim Nitzberg

    Jim Nitzberg

    Thank you for your very useful blog notes. The level of detailed and useful information you provide is significant!! One question I have always had, is do you provide or have any recommendations for a good 2020 Airstream Caravel 19cb JACK (or Jack for Airstreams in general)? I get a lot of differing information when I ask this question, and I need to buy one (I already purchased your tools to change a tire!) before the next season begins. Yes, I too have a Good Sam membership but I believe your advice is 100% on target. Thanks again!

    Kerry Frank

    Kerry Frank

    Great blog post Rich. It’s always helpful to hear a first-hand account of why you are recommending something. We had a similar experience in October while traveling the Oregon coast. We had a portable 12v air compressor that allowed us to limp into a town with a reputable tire shop. I would’ve changed the tire, but I forgot to bring along a jack! Lesson learned.

    Rich Luhr

    Rich Luhr

    Jim, for a tandem axle trailer you don’t need a jack. Using a pile of leveling blocks will do. My Maintenance Guide and the instructions that come with our Tire Changing Kit both explain how that works.

    For single axle trailers, a bottle jack is the most portable option. Just make sure it has enough weight capacity and range (lifting height) to get the wheel off the ground, and make sure you know the correct point to place the jack so you don’t damage your Airstream.

    Leni Selvaggio

    Leni Selvaggio

    Rich, good advice. I bought your tire changing kit when I owned a 19’ AS. Last year we traded in the 19’ for a 27’ International Serenity. When I went to test the lug nuts on the 27’ I discovered that I suddenly didn’t have the right size lug nut socket. Imagine my surprise. Easily fix by yet another trip to the hw store. Just a cautionary tale

    Rich Luhr

    Rich Luhr

    Leni, thanks for sharing your tip. Yes, back in 2016 when you bought your Tire Changing Kit we included only one size of socket. A few years ago we switched to including two sockets (3/4" and 13/16", or 19mm and 21mm) because Airstream changed the size for later-model trailers.

    We switched again to thin-wall sockets because some newer Airstream wheels wouldn’t accept a regular wall socket. So we’ve kept the kit up-to-date with the latest requirements.

    Anyone who buys our kit today will get the socket they need for any Airstream made in the last 3 decades (unless the wheels or lug nuts have been changed from the factory originals). Still, it’s always a good idea to check, as you did! Happy travels.

    Chas Colbert

    Chas Colbert

    Airstream Atlas over MB Sprinter have no spare. What say you about this exception?

    Rich Luhr

    Rich Luhr

    Chas, on a large motorhome like the Atlas, Roadside Assistance may indeed be your best option. Changing a large truck tire (especially a dually) gets beyond the ability and tools of most people on the roadside.

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