One of the first questions we had when we began considering buying a new pickup truck to tow our fifth wheel trailer was: How do you change the inside rear tire on a dually truck? Well, a few days ago we found out!
Our 2016 Dodge Ram 3500 Dually has been a fabulous truck for us since we bought it six months ago, and we’ve now got 9,100 miles on it now, 4,633 miles towing and 4,467 miles driving around without our fifth wheel trailer attached.
A few days ago, we stopped at the Libby Dam on the Kootenay River in Montana to get a photo. As I walked around the back of the truck, I heard a weird hissing noise. I stuck my head into the wheel well, and my heart sank when I saw a huge bolt head on the rear inside tire. I put my finger on it, and the hissing stopped. I lifted my finger and the hissing started again. Oh, no!
I almost didn’t have the heart to tell Mark, but after we’d gotten our photos of the dam, I told him the bad news.
We were in a pretty remote spot, completely out of cell phone and internet range. We hit the nifty “Assist” button on the rear view mirror of the truck to give Dodge a call and ask some questions about changing rear tires, but the call wasn’t able to go through.
The closest town was Libby, Montana. It boasts a population of 2,700 people, but it was 17 miles down the road.
So much for getting any kind of roadside assistance!
The timing for this little inconvenience wasn’t great. We’d been on the road, towing, for 100 miles, and Mark had just been telling me he was ready to call it quits and take a nap. Oh well. No napping just yet!
Luckily, unlike the last time we’d been stranded on the side of the road — when one of our trailer tires blew out four months ago, shortly after our trailer suspension repair — rather than being on the traffic side of an interstate with cars whizzing by at 75 mph, we were working curbside in a nice big pullout next to an extremely quiet country road where a car would leisurely pass by us every five minutes or so.
We unhitched the truck from the trailer to make it a little easier to get at the rear wheels. Mark got our bottle jack out from its storage spot under the driver’s side rear seat of the truck, and he began setting it up. I grabbed a stool from our fifth wheel basement and laid out some mats on the ground to create a work space for him.
From a lifetime of mechanical work, he learned long ago to protect his hands, so he pulled on a pair of leather work gloves that he keeps in the truck.
The first step for changing the tire was to remove the hubcap.
Then, using a breaker bar, he loosened all of the lug nuts. Doing this with the wheel still on the ground is easier than after it’s lifted, because the wheel can’t spin.
We used to carry a 4-way lug wrench for swapping out flat tires, but one time one of the arms twisted like a strand of licorice as Mark tried to unscrew a stubborn lug nut that wouldn’t budge. It was probably a cheap 4-way lug wrench. Most likely, a better quality 4-way lug wrench wouldn’t have done that, but Mark swore off of those things right then and there, and we’ve been carrying a breaker bar ever since.
Our bottle jack is rated for 12 tons, enough to hold up the axles of either our trailer or truck easily. More important, it’s also tall enough for the axles on our trailer which we raised a few inches higher from the factory standard during our trailer suspension overhaul to help keep our rear end from dragging on steep ramps at gas stations and on uneven dirt roads.
He unscrewed the top of the bottle jack to raise it up.
He placed it under a flat metal piece that was welded onto the axle.
The bottle jack comes with a two-part handle. After removing the two plastic end caps, one tube can be fitted into the other to make a long handle and give you some leverage while pumping up the jack.
He pumped the handle up and down to raise the top of the bottle jack and lift the axle slightly so the wheels no longer touched the ground.
With the lug nuts slightly loosened, he now used a Rigid cordless impact driver to remove them completely.
We got the impact driver, a cordless drill and a portable radio as part of a terrific kit that included two lithium-ion battery packs. We use the drill every time we raise and lower our fifth wheel’s stabilizer jacks, and we listen to the portable radio all the time!
He collected the lug nuts in the hub cap.
Then he pulled off the outer wheel.
The wheel studs on a dually are extra long to hold both wheels onto the truck. So, once the outer wheel was removed, he could pull off the inner wheel.
And there was the culprit — a big fat self-tapping bolt!
Our 2016 Ram 3500 came with a toolkit for raising and lowering the spare tire. It is located behind a plastic trim piece under the passenger’s seat.
He pulled off the plastic trim piece to get the toolkit out.
Then he pulled the toolkit out from under the passenger’s seat. It is held in place with two knobs, one of which is tightened with a wingnut. When he put the toolkit back in place later, he had to align it before sliding it in, and then tighten the wingnut.
The toolkit has several handle extensions and other goodies in it.
One of the goodies is an L-shaped handle, and there are several extensions that interconnect to lengthen the handle as well.
He assembled two handle extensions to make a long rod and attached the L-shaped handle to the end. Then he inserted this handle into a hole above the license plate bracket. There is a square fitting inside the hole. The end of the handle slipped over the square fitting.
Then, he rotated the handle slowly.
This gradually lowered the spare tire from its storage spot under the chassis of the truck onto the ground
The spare tire is held tight to the underside of the truck with a spring fitting that can be snugged nice and tight.
Then he mounted the spare tire on the truck to replace the flat tire.
Next, he slid the outer wheel in place. Using his cordless impact driver, he replaced the lug nuts, tightening them in increments. Starting at the valve stem, he tightened the closest lug nut a bit and then tightened the one that was opposite, then tightened the next one, and then the one opposite that one, etc., working his way around the rim and tightening the wheel equally all the way around. Then he gave each lug nut a final tightening using the breaker bar.
Then he put the hubcap back on. It didn’t pop on really easily using his palm, so he used the top of a rubber mallet to tap it in place.
Interestingly, we could now see exactly how much rubber we had worn off our rear tires in 9,100 miles, because the wheels didn’t hang down evenly.
Using a pocket knife, he got a rough estimate of just how much rubber had been worn off — maybe 1/8″ or so.
He raised the flat tire up into the storage spot under the truck chassis where the spare tire had been, and lowered the bottle jack under the axle so the truck was sitting on all four rear wheels again. We hitched the trailer back up and started to drive.
This little hiccup in our RVing lifestyle had taken about 30 minutes.
Our fancy new truck has a cool display (the DID, or Driver Information Display) that shows the air pressure in each of the six tires on the truck (this is the TPMS, or Tire Pressure Monitor System). We were both really alarmed when the spare tire reported that it had 17 lbs. of pressure while the other three rear tires all had 63 to 65 lbs. What the heck??
The dealership where we bought the truck had told us they’d aired up the spare when we bought the truck new six months earlier. Even though Mark usually uses a tire gauge to measure the air in the spare, he hadn’t this time because it was a brand new tire that seemed perfectly good, had the right sound when he thumped it, and bounced nicely on the ground.
But we grew ever more alarmed as the dashboard display showed 15 lbs., then 13 lbs., and then went to dashes. The road was super quiet, so while driving the 17 miles to get to the Les Schwab tire place in Libby, we pulled over several times to check that the tire wasn’t heating up… It wasn’t.
We made it to Les Schwab, and they put a terrific new kind of patch on the tire that mounts from the inside. It has a big round rubber flange that mounts inside the tire with a plug that fills the hole.
The spare turned out to have 65 lbs. of air pressure, just the way it should have. So, we all scratched our heads for a while about the weird air pressure numbers we’d seen on the dashboard.
Then our service guy suddenly brightened up. “I know what it was!” he said. “The spare tire doesn’t have a sensor in it to report its tire pressure to the truck, but the original tire did!”
So, as the original tire was being carried under the chassis of the truck, where the spare usually sits, it was transmitting its decreasing tire pressure to the console on the dashboard, and the dashboard was dutifully displaying the numbers as coming from the right inside rear tire even though the tire was no longer in that position. Eventually the tire pressure got so low it was below the minimum, so the display showed dashes.
It turns out that that option for the spare tire to have a sensor on the valve stem is only available on Premium models of Ram trucks. We never saw that option in any dealer option lists.
I just showed this post to Mark to see what he thought, and he looked at me in astonishment and said, “When did you take all these photos? This is great!”
“When you were changing the tire!” I explained. “I’m sneaky!” (And I’d MUCH rather write about changing a tire than do it myself!)
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Other blog posts about trucks and trailer towing:
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