Essential trackside tyre repair tips

By: Michael Borg, Photography by: Tony Rabbitte


Got a flat tyre on the tracks? Here’s everything you need to know to get back on the road.

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Over the years, I’ve seen some seriously creative bush mechanic repairs, with everything from bent diff housings being straightened out with a bit of chain and a bottle jack to welding up a cracked chassis with a DIY bush welder. But, you know what? Chances are the vast majority of us won’t ever need those particular sets of skills.

A flat tyre on the other hand is a much more likely scenario, especially if you shift your fair share of gears in the bush. No big deal though, right? Just bung the spare tyre on and fix ‘er up when you get back into town.

But what if that’s just not possible? What if you need to fix it right there and then using nothing but the gear you’ve got on board? Let’s face it, if your tyres don’t turn you won’t be going anywhere in a hurry, so it makes sense to know the basics of trackside tyre repairs just in case.

So I’m taking a look at what your options are when it comes to patching up your 4WD or camper’s ruptured rubber, along with a few handy hints and tips on avoiding damage altogether too. So break out the bottle jack and the old 12V air compressor – you might need them!

SIMPLE PUNCTURE REPAIRS

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A tyre puncture repair kit can be worth its weight in gold out in the bush. In fact, in a lot of ways it’s one of those things you just shouldn’t go bush without.

You can buy these kits anywhere from $30-$150 depending on how extensive the kit is and, while the basic principles are all pretty much the same, there can be slight differences in the actual puncture repair process.

If you don’t want to carry a full kit, there’s also the option of a tyre sealant canister, which basically coats the inside of the tyre to seal any minor holes up. It should be noted that repairs to a tyre’s sidewall should not be attempted due to safety reasons.

BEAD TALK

There’s nothing worse than getting debris stuck in your tyre bead while you’re tackling the tracks. The only real solution is to break the tyre’s bead (seal), clean it all out properly before reseating the bead again and pumping it back up, which can turn into a mission if you’re not prepared.

There are a few different ways to get the job done, but they all start with removing the tyre’s valve so that the tyre is 100 per cent deflated before you begin.

USING YOUR HI-LIFT JACK

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It takes a fair bit of pressure to break a tyre’s bead. Luckily, your hi-lift jack can effectively turn your entire camper trailer or 4WD into an efficient bead breakout tool. Simply place the base of the jack on top of your tyre’s sidewall and position it nice and close to the rim (close to the bead location). Then, proceed to jack/lift the vehicle up slowly from a solid point of the camper or vehicle, like the towbar or similar. The idea is to use the weight of your camper trailer to eventually break the bead for you. If you don’t have a hi-lift jack available, a basic bottle jack will more often than not do the job – it’s just not always as user-friendly.  

USING YOUR VEHICLE

If you don’t have a jack at all, you could always use a bit of brute force. Do this by positioning the flat tyre in front of your vehicle’s front tyre and slowly driving up and on to it. You don’t have to go all bogan and rock hop the tyre at a million miles per hour. The real key here is to get the positioning right. You want to drive up as close to the tyre’s bead as possible and, as mentioned earlier, make sure you remove the bead first.

RESEATING THE BEAD

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Reseating the bead is another story altogether. The safest method is to use a decent air compressor to re-inflate the tyre. You’ll most likely need to hold the tyre up as you push the rim down to ensure the tyre is up on the bead, which seals the gap up initially. A little trick is to wrap a ratchet strap around the circumference of the tyre and tighten it up. Not too tight though, the idea is it helps push the tyre up and on to the bead to kick things off without breaking your back in the process! Once it starts to build a little pressure up, remember to remove it though. Also, spraying a bit of silicon spray or WD-40 around the bead beforehand can help the tyre slip on as well.

TYRE PRESSURE MONITORING SYSTEMS

Corrugations can wreak absolute havoc on your tyres on those harsh outback tracks. The main problem is you just don’t know when a tyre is losing pressure, that is, until it’s too late.

An under-inflated tyre begins to build up heat pretty quickly, and before long it winds up totally destroying the tyre.

For this reason a tyre pressure monitoring system is a God-send. The gauge can alert you to an under-inflated tyre before it’s too late, which saves you not only the cost of a replacement tyre but the headache that goes with it.

FINDING A LEAK

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You can’t fix a leaking tyre if you don’t know where the air is escaping from.

The problem is that it can be hard to locate those smaller punctures, especially when you’re on the tracks and the tyre is covered in mud!

But there are a few techniques available to help you out. The first is to pump the tyre back up and listen for the hissing sound of air escaping – sounds easy enough, right? Well, it doesn’t always work but it should point you in the general direction.

If you’re still having difficulties, you can spray some soapy water over the tyre and look for any air bubbles. Concentrate on specific areas like around the tyre’s bead (where the rim and tyre meets), the valve and then on to the tread and side wall.

If you don’t have soapy water, a little trick is to submerge the tyre in water while it’s inflated and look for escaping air bubbles that way. A river or dam should do the trick. 

BE PREPARED

If all that doesn’t give you the confidence you need to repair your own tyre, nothing will.

As I said earlier, the best option is usually to simply fit the spare tyre up. But, when you arrive into camp and you’re nice and relaxed, it’s the perfect time to patch the damaged tyre up. You never know; it wouldn’t be the first time two tyres call it quits on the one trip!

The key is to be prepared for this kind of trackside drama. It doesn’t mean you need thousands of dollars worth of gear either, even something as simple as ensuring your spare is pumped up can save you a world of hurt in the long run.

In saying that, if you were going to buy some extra gear you’ll find tyre repair equipment is probably a great place to start. I guess that’s where the saying ‘plan for the worst but pray for the best’ comes into play!

Check out the full feature in issue #110 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.