The “tire bead” is the term for the edge of a tire that sits on the wheel, in a small groove designed to hold it in place. The air pressure within the tire is what keeps the bead in the groove. But desert driving in soft sand requires airing down — a lot. And below a certain pressure, there is concern that a tire could get unseated and actually fall off the rim. That’s what happened to us while training in the dunes.
Luckily, there’s a relatively simple “field fix” for this situation, as demonstrated by Nena Barlow, founder of Barlow Jeep School. This technique requires no special tools, just some items we should always have along in our Jeep when we are off-road: a ratchet strap, a jack and a portable air compressor.
The first step is to jack up the vehicle to access the tire. In very soft sand, the standard jack may not be able to lift high enough. Even with a board beneath the jack, it was sinking into the sand under the weight of the vehicle. The Hilift was a better option, allowing us to raise the wheel directly, with plenty of room to maneuver the tire back onto the rim.
Making sure there was no sand along the edge, we carefully placed the tire in position and used the ratchet strap to hold it in place. Then we just hooked up the compressor and started re-inflating the tire. Slowly but surely it began to take proper form, tightening around the rim as it should. Finally, with a startlingly loud noise, it literally “popped” into place — and voila, we were good to go.