Why Maintaining Your Spare Tire & Emergency Jack is Crucial

Ask someone, “What items do you consider important maintenance items on your car?” and generally speaking, you’ll get the usual ones that most customers know: oil changes, air filter, tire pressure, fluid check and wiper blades. These alone make up the majority of maintenance items done by DIYers and the top items in Oil Change businesses. When customers purchase a used car that's new to them, often these items are the first ones to be addressed so the owner has peace of mind.

Your spare tire and your emergency car jack, generally speaking, are forgotten items. You never think about them, until your tires wear out or blow. Often times, a 12-15 year old car may go that entire time period without ever having it’s spare tire removed and used, or the jack. Other times, it’s missing – borrowed to use elsewhere and never returned. There’s no worse of a feeling than having a flat in a parking lot or on the side of the road, miles away from help, knowing how to change and tire and not having a working jack, or discovering your spare tire is missing - or flat from sitting around for years. For trucks and SUV’s, many of these spare tires use a hoist-style system to crank the spare tire to the bottom of the vehicle, directly under the rear of the bed. Another heartbreaker is to find out that the system has seized up because it hasn’t been used in 15 years, and the spare tire cannot be lowered down. You can often spot these various trouble-scenarios on the side of the road – a car partially jacked up, flat tire removed, and a spare sitting next to it or not around at all, with no owner in sight. It’s usually a tell-tale sign that something went wrong.

The solutions for this are very easy – be prepared! Follow these steps and tips to make sure that your jack, tools, and spare tire will do exactly what you expect them to do when you don’t need them, so in turn, they will do exactly what you expect when you DO need them.

How to Maintain Your Spare Tire & Jack

1. Check Pressure Monthly

Check your tire pressures at least once a month. That said – everyone remembers the 4 tires on the road, but don’t forget the spare! Remember, going into cold winter months, gasses compress and your tire pressure will go down even if no air escapes from a tire (thanks, science!). Going into summer months, pressures expand, so if you filled your tire over winter to get to 32-38PSI, you’ll be surprised when suddenly that’s 35-42 PSI!

2. Check the Spare Tire with the Others

Get in the habit of ALWAYS checking your spare tire when you check your other tires. When taking your car to an Oil Change place, request that they check the spare. Often times, this is not something they do.

3. Make Sure You Have the Right Jack

Make sure your jack is the proper one to lift your car. Often times, jacks are borrowed or swapped. Make sure all the handle-tools are available to work the jack. Get familiar with how it works – a great idea is to do a practice-run and make sure the jack is performing properly and lifting the car correctly. If your jack is missing, a small, compact bottle jack like 80303T, or scissor jack T10202D can take it’s place.

4. Confirm That Your Lug Wrench Works

Make sure your lug wrench tool is the correct one for your current lug nuts. Nothing is worse than having a jack and spare tire, only to find out your lug wrench is missing, is wrong, or that you have a lug-lock on each wheel! First, make sure you have a lug wrench available. Next, make sure it fits your lugs and check to see if you have a lug-lock (a lugnut with a locking pattern, requiring a tool to turn the lug nut to prevent theft of a wheel/tire). Many times, aftermarket wheels and even some factory wheels now come with a lug lock. Sometimes it’s in the glove box, sometimes its in with the spare tire tools – and other times, it’s missing. Also, make sure your lug wrench properly fits the lug lock! Sometimes they are a different size! Check each and every lug nut on the car and be sure your lug wrench fits. In rare cases, an aftermarket replacement lug nut (or one someone put on there because it appeared that it “fit”) may be a different size than your lug wrench. Check them all! If you need a lug wrench for your vehicle, Dorman 20564 or PowerBuilt 642250 will work perfectly.

5. Test Your Spare Tire Hoist

Most trucks and SUV’s are equipped with a spare tire under the vehicle. This tire is lifted by what’s called a Spare Tire Hoist. To get the tire down, you insert a rod in through the back bumper (also make sure you have that rod!) and the hoist is cranked down, dropping the spare tire to the ground. The problem with this system is 2-fold – lack of use, and road dirt, water, and salt/rust if you’re in the rust-belt. Every 2 oil changes, it’s a great idea to crank down the tire, and crank it back up. Most of these systems are semi-sealed meaning they are built to not need to be lubricated, but some are relatively open, and can be lubed with WD40, chain lube, or protected with Fluid-Film. Never assume this hoist is going to work and always make sure! Even the sealed hoist systems get water and dirt that penetrate into them, and after 15 years of non-use, they stop working. Nothing is worse than to be half-under your bed in 100 degree heat, on the side of the highway, and your spare tire is stuck.

6. Don’t Bolt the Spare in Place Too Tightly

If your spare tire is located on the back of the vehicle (like some SUV’s and Jeeps) it’s usually lurking under a protective cover of some kind, and often hasn’t seen the light of day in years. While often times its difficult to remove and re-install this cover, it’s the only way you can check the pressure of your spare tire. Another tip is to make sure your lug nuts (usually 3) that hold the spare tire to the rack are not rusty or over-tightened. You have to be able to remove them easily. These spare tires are notorious for being flat and leaking all their air from non-use.

7. Don’t Rely on Emergency Services for Equipment

Never assume that an emergency service will be available when you need. Knowing how to change to your spare tire, and that all your emergency items are up to speed is vitally important. Often times emergency services will attempt to change the tire for you, and if your equipment is missing, or flat, you’ll be forced into having your vehicle towed, which could cost you money. Remember emergency vehicles may have the tools to get your tire off, but they are reliant on your spare tire actually working. Many spare tires, especially under trucks, if not checked regularly can be so dry-rotted that they physically cannot hold air.

8. Keep Tabs on the Spare’s Date Code

When changing your tires to a new set, ask your tire shop to check the spare’s date code. If the tire is older than 10 years and not a “trunk tire” that is sealed and not exposed to the elements, it’s a good idea to either purchase a new spare tire, or rotate one of the tires you are taking off your vehicle into spare duty.

9. Torque Lug Nuts to the Proper Spec

Finally, when having any service done on your car where a wheel is going to be removed, ask that your lug nuts are hand-torqued to the proper spec. Nothing is worse than having your lug nuts zipped down with an impact wrench and over-torqued, only to find that your lugs are so tight you cannot remove them on the side of the road with your lug wrench!

By following these maintenance steps, you are insuring that your car’s emergency tire gear is working and functioning properly, and that you’re prepared in the event of an emergency.

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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