One of the life skills my father taught me early was how to change a trailer tire. He thought this ability was a must-have for any kid who grew up on a farm, but especially for me, because he couldn’t always come along to all the horse shows and other activities I had planned.

I probably balked at the time, but now I’m glad he was persistent. In my 30 years of traveling with horses, I have had to perform an emergency tire change twice—and both times I was thankful I was prepared and knew how to do it. I sometimes travel alone, and in my rural area, cell phone coverage is not always readily available, so it might not be easy to simply call for help when I need it.

The best way to deal with a roadside emergency is to prevent it from happening in the first place. That’s why I am always vigilant about preventive maintenance and I inspect my trailer and tires before every trip. And even for the shortest of local trips, I always make sure I’m prepared to handle whatever mechanical troubles may arise. Here’s what I’ve learned over the years.

1. Make sure you have the right tires

I know, you’ve been buying tires for your cars and trucks all your adult life. But tires designed for trailers are significantly different. “Passenger tires need to have flexible sidewalls to insure optimum traction on the pavement,” says Tom Scheve, co-author of The Complete Guide to Buying, Maintaining, and Servicing a Horse Trailer. “Trailer tires don’t steer, swerve to avoid obstacles or transmit engine power to the road, so they are engineered and constructed with heavier duty materials than passenger tires. The stronger sidewalls of trailer tires flex less and hold up better to the trailer’s suspension system. Tire flexing could cause sway and blowouts on a trailer.”

In addition, says Rick Barnes, co-owner and manager of Barnes Tire and Service Center Pros, in southeast Tennessee, “trailer tires have a heavier load-bearing capacity, and many of your major brands will also carry an additive designed to prevent dry rot. Always make certain to purchase only those tires designated with an ‘ST’ for special trailer, rather than those designated with an ‘LT’ for light trucks.”

Trailer tires come with two con-struction options—radial and bias ply, which refers to the reinforcing belts within them.

Radial tires, which have been standard for cars and trucks for many years, have steel belts that run at a 90 degree angle to the tread. The belting, which lies under the treads, does not overlap onto the sidewalls, so the two parts of the tire can function independently.

Bias ply tires have nylon belts that run at 30 to 45 degree angles to the tread lines, overlapping each other and running up the sidewalls, forming a single sturdy structure. Because the sidewalls are stiffer, bias ply tires are stronger, but they do not flex as much, which can give passengers a rougher ride. The overlapping structure is also more prone to overheating.

“While there are advantages and disadvantages to both, I recommend that customers purchase radial tires for their trailers,” says Barnes. “Heat is one of the top culprits when it comes to blown tires. In my experience, radial tires run cooler and wear better than bias ply tires.”

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