Changing wheels would have to be one of the most overlooked areas in motorhoming and to a lesser extent caravanning. Not being able to change a flat tyre could be a major problem in isolated areas with zero phone coverage, and things get even more complicated if you have dual rear wheels.
What we are talking about here is having sufficient strength to undo tight nuts, especially those that have been done up with a ‘rattle gun’. You can get your own version of a 12V rattle gun, or an ‘electric job’ that works fine on caravans but not so larger nuts such as the 41mm ones found on trucks.
Additionally, motorhomers should always carry an extension handle and some method of supporting the socket wrench.
Alternatively you can buy a ‘multiplier’, usually known as a ‘nutcracker’. It works by gearing down when you wind a handle. For the mechanically minded, it uses the principle of orbital planetary gearing and the gear ratio is a massive 68:1. Perhaps the best solution for all vehicles over 4.5 tonnes GVM?
If you are a caravanner with any sort of health problem, then a smaller multiplier will fit the bill perfectly. These are not too heavy and are actually far easier to use than the bigger truck jobs. They work slightly differently in that they have two identical sockets – one is adjusted on a sliding arm to fit over an adjacent nut, with the other slipping onto the nut you want to undo. These gadgets really are foolproof as they have a built-in torque wrench setting so you can safely tighten your nuts as well.
Truck models should never be used to tighten nuts as there is very real risk that you can shear off the stud – such is the massive power of these units. Most kits come with an adaptor to help you tighten nuts by hand. But you may still need a balance piece to rest your wrench on – a jack works fine as a balance piece once you have lowered the wheel back onto the ground.
Nutcrackers come with a square socket for the studs and one nut socket that may not fit your nuts – buy the socket set that covers all vehicles, including caravans, which will let you be a Good Samaritan to anyone broken down. If you have fancy wheel trims, be certain that the socket has enough clearance to fit snugly on the nut.
You can also buy a gadget called a ‘Wheely Ezy’. This is essentially a height-adjustable stand to allow you to press heavily on the socket wrench, using a built-in, extending long handle. Once again, though, if you are not particularly strong and the nuts have been ‘rattled’, chances are your nuts won’t budge. The main drawbacks are weight and size.
For smaller vehicles, you can also make a device to do a similar job quite easily from scrap if you have a welder. Now, if you get caught without any of these aids, you can use an extra jack as a socket wrench support. It is tedious work, but it does work. You can get away with one jack if you crack the nuts with the wheels still on the ground.
There have been real-life stories where a tyre couldn’t be changed with a standard vehicle toolkit. So, please check your gear and have a good think about the problem – preferably in the driveway at home.
Yes, the importance of doing a dummy run can’t be stressed enough. It is prudent to ask your mechanic to try all your nuts and to tighten them with a torque wrench. And for those who haven’t bothered too much with wheel changing gear due to having roadside assistance. Now, what would happen if you had no phone reception and had to rely on giving messages to passers-by?
Just on this subject, it is a smart move to carry a satellite phone – cheap insurance and peace of mind – especially if you are travelling in country areas where normal phone coverage is borderline.
ACCESSING THE SPARE
It is best to get the spare wheel down before jacking up the vehicle, and please make sure all the tools you need to get it down have been provided. Not all vehicle manufacturers consider the fact that motorhome builders will put a floor above the spare carrier, so a spanner may be too big or too long, etc.
Motorhome builders might put a water tank in the way of that long spanner that winches the wheel down. Best to find this out in your driveway and not in the middle of the Nullarbor! And be certain to check that your wheel wrench is long enough to clear the motorhome body.
CHOCKING THE WHEELS
This really is critical: you must stop the vehicle rolling off the jack. It’s best to buy commercial chocks rather than use bits of wood. Similarly, you should never put your head under a vehicle with a wheel off unless you are using properly rated safety stands.
If you are having trouble undoing a nut, try to ascertain if it is a left-hand thread. This will usually be on the passenger front wheel and on dual rear wheels with shouldered studs. Luckily these are mostly identified with an “L” embossed on the end. You will always find this noted in the vehicle’s manual.
DUAL WHEELS, FANCY TRIMS
On light trucks you will find that dual wheels fit on common fixed studs. This means that you can’t use the trick of driving the inner up on a ramp if only the outer is flat. You can do this with heavier trucks though (saves using the jack), as the inner is mostly held on with a shouldered stud (usually a left-hand thread with a square head).
Make a note of where the extended valve stems go if you are using wheel trims, otherwise you will discover they are missing next time you try to check the pressure. Wheel trims are tricky the first time you remove them and you possibly won’t find it in the manual.
The ones that look like huge chrome nuts are just a cover. Some manufacturers supply pliers specially coated with plastic. If you don’t have these, you can get them off by hand, or use a pair of multi-grips with a piece of cardboard to stop marking – don’t squeeze too hard, though.
Read your vehicle manual, as you can severely damage your RV if you try to lift it in a non-structural area. If the manual is lost, the safest point is along the axle as close to the wheel as you can get. With the front wheels, keep away from swinging wishbones.
Never try to lift heavy truck wheels up onto the studs. Instead, use a shovel or tyre lever, etc., as a lifting aid. It’s best to tighten opposite nuts in turn and to do the final tighten with the vehicle safely on the ground. And check your nuts after 50km, as they can sometimes work loose.
If you have health issues or are not mechanically inclined, ensure that you have some sort of roadside assistance. The most expensive motoring club cover usually counts for zilch if your GVM is over three tonnes, even if you have ‘gold’ membership. Even if you are under three tonnes, you can get caught out with a high air-conditioner, etc., that puts your vehicle height out of the automobile club’s equation.
Be aware that “roadside assistance” may mean no more than a 150km towing service in real life. Caravans are mostly covered by your normal auto club, but if you have a large tow vehicle, check for weight restrictions as these vary from state to state. Our best advice, though, is to ring roadside assistance if you have a flat in a built-up area. You have paid for the service so you may as well use it!
Go forth and ‘multiplier’
- Caravanners should use a four-prong wheel brace.
- Offroad caravanners may need a small ‘multiplier’ or a 12V nut remover, especially if the nuts have been done up too tight with a rattle gun.
- Campervans need a four-prong wheel brace.
- Motorhomes to 4.5 tonnes work okay with a ‘Wheely-Ezy’.
- Large motorhomes and all buses need a truck ‘multiplier’, such as the Nutcracker.