How to Change a Tire on the Trail

Closeup of a Red Honda Pioneer in a Rock Garden

At SuperATV we like to hit the trail prepared with plenty of tools, a spare tire and wheel, some spare axles, and plenty of friends around to lend a hand when something goes south.

But we’re not always so well stocked. Sometimes we hit the trail with just us, a buddy, and a toolbox. When we leave the jack at home, how do we take care of a tire when it blows? Or worse, what if the tire bead comes off the wheel?

Here's how to get the job done.

How to Jack Your UTV With Improvised Tools

When you need to get the weight off your wheels, there are a few ways to get it done without a jack. These techniques use the environment around you and simple physics to make them work. One of these techniques should suit you no matter where you ride.

Get Off-Camber

Closeup of black Ranger UTV with front tire in air
The off camber method invovles elevating the tire that needs to be changed in the air by parking the other front tire on a rock or log.

The easiest way to do it is to find a rock, log, or mound and park one front tire on it. If you’re at the right angle, you’ll be able to rock your machine back and forth to take weight off one front wheel or one rear wheel.

Say you want to change your rear passenger tire. You’d want to get your front passenger tire onto a high point so you can use your front passenger and rear driver tire as the pivot point. Rock your UTV to the left and your rear passenger tire will lift off the ground.

Winch Over

Our favorite way, and the way you’ve probably seen most often on your rides requires a buddy with a winch. The method to get your tires off the ground is simple enough.

  1. Have your friend anchor their winch line to the top of your cage on the same side that your busted tire is.
  2. Your friend, parked off to one side of you, winches across your machine and lifts the busted tire off the ground.

That’s it. Two steps and you’re done. Easy peasy.

Winch Up

If you don’t have a good boulder to roll up on and you don't have a friend with you, there are other ways to get your tires off the ground. On method is to take your winch line and hook it up to a tree above you somewhere.

Pull the winch in and you can raise your front end off the ground to whatever height you want. This method has some obvious limitations, though:

  1. You need a tree.
  2. You need a strong tree.
  3. You need to be able to get up that tree to a point where you can actually wrap your winch line (with a tree saver) around the trunk above a branch. Some trees don’t have a suitable anchor point anywhere near the ground. (I’m looking at you, sequoia.)
  4. This method is pretty sketchy, but maybe I don’t trust trees as much as you do. I’m not so much worried about the machine falling on me while I’m changing a tire as I am about a big chunk of tree breaking off and crushing me.

If you get past all those hurdles, you can get away with some impressive lifting action. (We used a 10 ft ladder to find a good anchor point, by the way.)

Image of a UTV being lifted using the winch up method

Make a Ramp

A slightly more consistent way to get weight off your wheels is to build your own ramp. This technique is easier than it sounds and all you need are two logs or a log and a rock.

Lay one log on top of the other in a ‘T’ shape, then drive up the ramp so that your skid plate—not your suspension—rests on the inclined log. Throw your brakes on, chock your wheels, and you’re ready to get to changing.

This technique is best suited for changing your front tires. You could back onto a ramp like this but shifting your weight forward while relying on your front wheels only to push your machine can be pretty hard on your front axles.

Make a Bumper Jack

When you need to lift your front end and all else fails, you can use a single length of timber to make a bumper jack. This tip comes straight out of the US Army handbook for Recovery and Battle Damage Assessment and Repair. We do like to be Built for Battle after all.

Here’s how to make a bumper jack:

  1. Find an appropriately stout log at least six inches in diameter between four and five feet long.
  2. Jam the bottom of the log into the ground under the front-end of your vehicle. This will be the anchor point for the log so make sure it’s secure in the ground. Digging a small hole can be helpful.
  3. Secure the log to your bumper at an angle using ropes or chains. From the side, it’ll look like you just ran over a pole. Whatever lashing you use must be secure enough to hold the front of your machine in the air once the log straightens to vertical.
  4. Back up your vehicle slowly until the log straightens and lifts your front-end off the ground.
  5. Put the parking brake on, chock your rear wheels, and you’re ready to change a tire.

To use this military method, you need a bumper that’s Built for Battle, otherwise you might end up doing more harm than good to your ride.

How to Reseat a Tire Bead

I’m going to assume you know how to plug a tire and skip right to the worst-case scenario: your tire comes off the bead and you don’t have a spare. How do you reseat a tire bead without a special compressed air bead seater tool? There are two main methods: ratchet straps (smart), and fire (not smart).

Make sure you’re prepared with a Spare Tire Carrier.

Ratchet Strap Method—Recommended

Yellow ratchet strap
A ratchet strap can be used to reseat a bead once your tire is back on the wheel.

Reseating a bead using ratchet straps is safe and easy. Plus ratchet straps are a standard tool in just about every rider’s toolbox. The only other tool you need is an air compressor.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Get your tire back on the wheel. You may or may not have to do this depending on how badly you screwed up, but we always find that a good crowbar does the trick.
  2. Clean the bead. Use a rag to remove any dirt or debris.
  3. Lubricate the bead using soapy water. This helps your tire seal against the wheel.
  4. Wrap your ratchet strap around the tire and tighten them to squeeze the tire bead and the wheel together. You may need to move the strap closer to the inside or outside edge of the tire to apply pressure more directly on one bead or the other.
  5. Once tightened sufficiently, start filling with air. You only need to get enough air in it to seat the bead—don’t overfill before taking the ratchet strap off.

Once you remove the ratchet strap and fill your tire to the right PSI, you’re ready to roll.

Fire Method—Not Recommended

Closeup of black Ranger UTV with front tire in air
The fire method should never be used to attempt to change a tire.

The fire method involves spraying ether starting fluid on your wheel then lighting it. The small explosion generates enough heat and pressure to seat the bead instantly. Here’s why this easy method is also a bad method:

  1. There’s no recommended amount to spray. Get too much fluid on there and you can say goodbye to your eyebrows.
  2. Forest fires are really bad. Starting a fire in the middle of your favorite ride park is a really good way to make sure it’s nobody’s favorite ride park after it all burns down.
  3. Fire is dangerous. Even though the technique is straightforward, it’s easy to drop some starter fluid on your pants without realizing it. Light up the fluid and suddenly your busted tire isn’t your biggest concern. I’m sure you’re not a fan of compulsory manscaping, and serious burns are no fun either.
Closeup of UTV with a SuperATV spare tire carrier installed
The easiest way to prepare, is to do the work ahead of time.
—Josh South

Get Changing

There you have it. Changing tires on the trail and reseating beads is no big deal. It’s amazing how far a few tools and a little ingenuity will get you. Be sure to check out our spare tire carriers to make sure you’re prepared for the worst.

Share: