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This article originally appeared in Skinned Knuckles, a magazine dedicated to the authentic restoration of cars and trucks and to the preservation of vehicles from the brass era through the early 1970s. It is available by subscription only. Articles are copyrighted and all rights reserved. Reprinting authorized by written permission of the publisher only.
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Tubeless tires came late to the auto industry; the modern tire, which serves as both inner tube and outer tire, arrived on Plymouths, for example, in 1955. If you have a modern car, you don’t have inner tubes.
Many of us with older cars still use inner tubes rather than tubeless tires. One of the major determinations for the decision is the wheel. Sectional wheels are not suitable for tubeless tires because of the leaks that are inherent in their construction. The wheel has to provide the air-tight segment that fits over the opening in the tire, sealing it and keeping the air in. Sometimes it is the rim, sometimes it is the lip, or sometimes it is the construction of the wheel/spokes that were never designed nor constructed to be air-tight, and so are not suitable for tubeless tires.
Even on newer wheels (e.g. 1950s), wheels that can accept tubeless tires, it is often advisable to use inner tubes despite the fact that they are not required.
The inner tube provides a second layer of protection and a seal even if the tire is cracked or porous. The inner tube is an airtight container that fits inside the tire casing. It has its own valve, so that when properly installed, it is a pocket of air within the protective outer tire.
This article isn’t a forum to weigh the pros and cons of using an inner tube. That choice is yours. Here, we will discuss
the best way to install inner tubes and how to best maintain them.
Before we get to the actual inner tube, let’s talk about a separate layer of protection for the tube. Commonly known as a “flap,” an “inner tube flap,” a “tire flap” or sometimes as a “rim strip,” it is a layer of rubber that fits between the inner tube and the metal rim, protecting the tube from abrasion and punctures from sharp edges, bolts, or attachments on the rim. The flap, generally available from the same sources as inner tubes, come in sizes to fit the wheels (diameter and width) and the tube. The flap cannot be too big, or it will tend to fold over and cause lumps inside the tire. Those lumps can damage the tube. When properly installed, it must lie flat as a cushion between the tube and the metal of the wheel (or, in the case of a wooden spoked wheel, the felloe).
Few tools are needed for tube installation, but be sure that they are not rusted and that they do not have raw edges. Have a rubber mallet handy to make the job just a little easier.
Properly cared for, an inner tube will last as long as the tire casing itself — but it must fit properly, and after installation, it should be pumped up, fully deflated, and then reinflated to the recommended pressure.
This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue of Skinned Knuckles. It is copyrighted by SK Publishing and may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without written permission from SK Publishing. See Skinned Knuckles for more vintage and classic car tips. Also see vintage car repairs and these other articles from Skinned Knuckles:
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