One of the most important issues I see out on the road, are people who have no clue about tire safety and maintaining their RV tires, or trailer tires. I’m going to discuss the things you should be doing to make sure your tires have the proper air pressure, tips to help prevent the dreaded tire blowout, and I will also give you some tips on prolonging the life of your tires. (who doesn’t want to save money? I know I do!)
To start, I want to ask you to please speak with a professional if you are unsure about anything having to do with your tires, what your tire pressure should be, whether or not your tires are adequate for your RV, camper, travel trailer, fifth wheel, van etc…I refer to all of them as RVs or campers or rigs…whatever comes to mind most of the time…but you catch my drift.
With that being said, I’m not going to try to tell you what your exact tire pressure should be, or what exact brand of tire you should use. Not because I don’t want to help you, but because there are so many factors and variables involved, depending on your specific rig and setup. Your weight, how often and how far you tow, outside temperatures and altitude you usually tow in. The list goes on and on. I do not want to be responsible for giving someone inaccurate information on such an important safety concern when I am not educated on all of those variables.
What I do want to share with you, are some things that I have learned and give you a few tips to get you headed in the right direction when it comes to your tires. My main goal here, is making sure that you are aware of these things and at least attempting to travel safely.
And this is why.
Here’s a little visual of what happened to me on my first trip.
Yep, my very first trip. It really is painful to look at these pictures. Just imagine, you finally get your new baby, spent all of your savings on it, have being dreaming of this day for so long, and this happens! And keep in mind, this was our FIRST DAY living full time in our new rig! I’m so glad you guys didn’t witness the ugly-crying that ensued! Not even kidding!
Not only were the side walls and skirt fenders damaged, the cover that encloses my underbelly, was ripped to shreds, and there was more damage done than you can even really tell from the pictures. It was thousands of dollars in damage.
Now, I will say that I don’t believe that this was a tire pressure issue, but this could absolutely be the outcome of something as simple as not having your tires at the correct pressure.
Having a tire blow at that kind of pressure going 65 to 75 miles an hour can completely flip your rig and your tow vehicle along with it. This could have been so much worse. It could have killed us and/or other people around us as well. I thanked God when it really sank in (still ugly-crying) for keeping us safe. My son was only 3 years old at the time, and every time I think about it, I thank God again.
This accident recently happened in Flagler, FL due to a tire blowout. I could write an entire post just showing all of the accidents I have read about recently. Most of them are due to either a tire blowout or because they exceeded their tow vehicle’s towing capacity. You can click on the photo to read the article. Scary huh? This happens all the time.
If you haven’t read my post on what the heck GVWR is, GCVWR, towing capacity and weight ratings, I highly recommend that you do. It is another really misunderstood topic and a huge safety concern as well as your trailer tires. You can read it by clicking on the image below or here.
What went wrong with my trailer tires?
Looking back, I think the tires on my fifth wheel were the original factory tires. They appeared to be in great condition, or so I thought. They were probably 6-7 years old at that point.
I didn’t know about dry rot, or load index, or ply or load range. I was a newbie and didn’t know any better than to just look at them. If they looked good, and had plenty of tread left, they were fine right?
There are seasoned RVers that still don’t know any better. Not a lot, but I’ve met a few that have just gotten lucky and didn’t have to learn these things the hard way like I did, and like most of us have. And that’s ok…you don’t know what you don’t know right?
I want you to learn from my mistakes. I don’t want you to learn these things the hard way. I call this learning from OPM (Other People’s Mistakes).
Btw, if you haven’t yet, be sure to sign up to receive all of my upcoming posts.
So what do I know know that I WISH I had known when I first started RVing?
The first thing that I want you to know, and understand, is what actually causes a tire to blow out.
Tires generally blow because the of heat generated as a result of under inflated tires, over inflated tires, overloaded tires, and/or cheaply made tires that RV manufacturers use to cut costs (they should be sued for this, don’t even get me started on that one!)
Here are the things you can do to greatly reduce your chances of having a tire blowout.
If you don’t have an air compressor, I recommend getting a digital one like this. These are pretty inexpensive and do the job just fine. You should be checking your tire pressure before you leave and EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. YOU. STOP…period. You should also Feel your tires EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. YOU. STOP.
The first sign that your trailer tires and/or bearings are having a problem is heat. They will be hot, more so than usual. If you get into the habit of feeling your tires on a regular basis, you will know when something is not right.
So check your tire pressure and feel them…all of them…every time you stop for food, or gas, or to let your fur babies do their business…you get my point. DO IT.
Trailer tires should be at max psi for the most part. Higher altitudes and outside temperatures can be a factor in this however. The max psi is listed on the side of your tires.
The max psi for my RV tires is 110. If it’s really hot outside, I will usually inflate them at about 105 cold, and then I will monitor them very closely. Hot air expands, so you’ll want to allow for that if you are in the dead of summer in the south for example. If the psi goes above 110, I will immediately pull over and let some air out.
Higher altitudes and cold weather will have the opposite effect. If I’m in the mountains in Colorado and it’s freezing cold outside, I’m going to need to adjust for that. The colder the weather and the higher the altitude is, the lower the pressure in the air will be. You will want to keep a close eye on your tire pressure and add more air if you start to lose pressure.
Now my tow vehicle is different. I typically inflate the front tires on my truck at the recommended psi, not the max. I usually inflate my back tires, which will be holding all of the weight of my fifth wheel, to the max psi. This is just when I’m towing however.
Please consult with a professional on this though. Your rig, your weight, your tow vehicle, and your specific tires are all major factors in this, so don’t do exactly what I do without checking with a professional about your specific setup. I cannot stress that enough.
What else can you do to make sure your tires are properly inflated?
Check your tires for uneven tread wear. This can indicate over inflating and under inflating which will vary depending on the load you are putting on them.
If the middle of the tread on your tire is wearing rapidly, your tires are most likely being over inflated. If the edges of the tread on your tire are wearing more rapidly, this can indicate they are under inflated.
If you notice an uneven wear on the tread, moving forward you can check for proper tire inflation by drawing a line of chalk across the tread of the tire. Driving a few yards (on concrete or asphalt) and look to see where the chalk has rubbed off more. This will indicate exactly where the tire is contacting the road the most. The edges and the middle of your tire tread, should be making even contact with the road. If not, your tires are not properly inflated, and you need to adjust the tire pressure.
I’m not saying you should go through all of that trouble every time you tow, but if you are towing an unusually light amount of weight (like a completely empty RV), or an usually heavy amount of weight, you do need to take that into consideration when you choose how much pressure you put in your tires.
I know this is a lot of information and a lot of variables and “if’s” involved, but you will eventually get a good feel for what works best for your specific tires and setup.
2. Another extremely important factor in ensuring your tires are safe, is to make sure you are not overloading your trailer tires.
Make sure that your tires are rated for the amount of weight you are towing. Check the numbers on the side of your tires. The load index and load rage will be listed on the side wall of the tire.
You will then want to look and see how much your RV or camper weighs. You can check your owner’s manual, or even look online for the specs on your specific RV.
This will just be the “dry” weight, so you still have to take into account that you will be adding a lot of extra weight once you load it with all of your RV accessories, clothes, food, camping gear etc.
Have your truck and trailer weighed at a truck stop to make sure you are not exceeding your load capacity once you pack it up with all of your camping gear and camper accessories.
3. Replace cheap factory RV trailer tires, and tires more than five years old.
These tire are commonly referred to as “China Bombs” ie. Trailer King. There are other cheap brands as well, but Trailer King is just one that comes to mind because I see it a lot.
After my incident, I replaced all of my tires, including my truck tires. I now run a 14 ply tire with a load range G on my fifth wheel. Is that overkill? Maybe. But after my experience of having one tire blow on one side, and then the NEXT DAY, one on the other side blew, overkill was just fine with me!
We had just gotten the first one replaced and had literally just gotten back on the road, when the back tire on the other side blew! After that, I wanted some peace of mind and “overkill” was not even in my vocabulary!
Needless to say, I highly recommend you put new tires on your RV if they are the cheap factory tires, or if they are more than about 5 years old.
You should not use a tire that is more than about 5 years old. A tire can dry rot (slowly deteriorate) from the inside out, and there will be no visible sign of this whatsoever, until one blows on you and potentially destroys your RV or worse. The tread on RV tires or trailer tires, is made to not significantly wear down, so waiting for the tread to wear down before you replace them is not the way to go.
Replace them with a higher quality tire that has a higher ply and load range than you think you need. Even if they are brand new tires when you get your rig. The factory tires are usually extremely cheap tires that just aren’t good quality and sometimes are not even rated to carry the weight of the trailer they are put on. I say usually, because there are exceptions to this.
I haven’t had one single issue since replacing mine. I’m still running those tires 4 years later, but I will need to replace them soon.
When purchasing new trailer tires for your RV or camper, you will want to consider the brand (quality), type, load index, ply and load range.
There are two types of tires that are typically used on an RV or camper. Light Truck Tires (LT), and Special Trailer Tires (ST).
Light Truck, or LT tires, are typically used on light trucks, meaning SUVs, pickups, and vans. They have thinner sidewalls than ST tires in order to provide a more comfortable ride, and are designed to run at faster hwy speeds.
LT tires are made with a deeper tread than ST tires to maintain better traction, and since LT tires are designed for trucks and are “leader” tires, they need to have good traction. Your trailer tires are “follower” tires, therefore traction on your trailer’s tires, interfering with it’s ability to “follow” is not a good thing.
ST tires, or Special Trailer Tires, are made to carry a heavier load. They have thicker sidewalls, which is needed to reduce flex or bulging caused by heavy loads (ie the massive rolling house sitting on them). Flex in a tires sidewalls is a major cause of trailer sway. An important thing to note if you are towing a travel trailer.
Also, ST tires have thicker steel and polyester cords running through the tire than LT tires do. This prevents them from rolling under the rim when turning or cornering. They are made out of a special rubber compound and have a more shallow tread than an LT tire, which reduces traction. As previously mentioned, a “follower” tire should not have traction, that would interfere with it “following.”
They are also designed to effectively dissipate heat. Remember what I said about heat right? Heat is ultimately what causes blow outs. Those features do come at the price of lower hwy speed however.
ST tires have gotten a bad rap because of the cheaply made trailer tires from China that most RV manufacturers are using in order to cut costs. Now there are some good quality trailer tires from China as well, but those are not what RV manufacturers are using, and not what I am referring to. RV Manufacturers are slapping on the cheapest tires they can find. This is why you hear of so many ST tire failures, and why some people are so caught up in wanting to use LT tires instead.
A good, quality made ST trailer tire with the proper tire pressure, the proper weight rating for your rig, along with being well maintained, is hands-down the best choice for your RV. When I say quality, I’m referring to Goodyear, Michelin, Bridgestone etc.
Still, some people like to use LT tires on their rig. I however do not, but I completely respect anyone that does, and their opinion. There are a lot of people that disagree with me on this subject, however, there are also a lot of people that do agree with me.
And so, the debate rages on. At the end of the day, you should do your research and look at all of the facts, then consult with several different professionals. Go with what you feel is the best choice for you.
Next, you will want to look at the load index, ply and load range of the tire and match it up with the weight of your rig plus the cargo you will be adding to it.
How do you know what age your tires are, the ply, and the load range? Look at the numbers on the side of the tire.
The higher the ply and load range, the stronger the tire will be and the more weight it will be able to absorb. This is not an area you want to go cheap on. Get a good quality tire!
The load range will be an alphabetic number from B-H, and ply will typically be anywhere from 6-16. They go higher than that, but for RV purposes, you will most likely be somewhere in those ranges.
Here is a what you will look for…
Let’s look at the numbers on the right side of this tire. P215/60R16. So what does this mean?
The “P” is the type of tire it is. P meaning Passenger Tire in this case. Your tire will say LT or ST depending on which one you decide to go with. I’m sure you know by now what LT and ST mean. “215” is the width of the tire in mm from sidewall to sidewall. “60” is the aspect ratio, which basically means that the height is 60% of the tire’s width. The “R” means that it is a Radial tire. The “16” means that it is a 16″ wheel.
This number is the load index which tells you how much weight the tire is rated for. The 117 is the load index number for a single axle and the 118 is the load index number for a dual axle. The numbers correspond to a load index chart, which tells you the maximum load or weight the tire can carry. You don’t typically need the chart since the weights are usually on the tire as you can see here.
So as an example, this particular tire has a load index of 118 for a dual axle. We can look at the load index chart for the corresponding weight amount. In this case, it is right on the tire for us, which states that it is 2,470 lbs. (if your RV is a single axle you will use the weight amount listed for single axle.) So if we have 4 tires, the max weight we are rated for using this particular tire would be 2,470 x 4 = 9,880 lbs. That means we cannot safely load more than 9,880 lbs (evenly distributed) on these particular tires.
That my friends, is how you know how much weight your tires are rated for. Make sure you are not overloading your tires! You want to try to stay well under the max load capacity.
Here is the load index chart just in case you are shopping online for tires, and it only lists the load index numbers and not the corresponding weight amounts.
You’ll also see to the left of the load index numbers, it says “10 PR” which is the ply rating, meaning this tire is a 10 ply tire. On the right of the load index numbers, it says “Load Range E” which obviously is the Load Range. The load range and the ply rating also correspond as you can see on this chart here.
The set of numbers to the far right, is how you can tell the age of a tire. The “26 is the week and the “13” is the year. So this tire was made in the 26th week of the year 2013. If you are looking at a used Rv, and the owner tell you the tires are brand new, now you know how to tell if he/she is telling you the truth.
4. Slow Down!
Your tires are usually not rated to go faster than 65 for ST tires and about 75 for LT tires. Slow your roll and take your time. You are on RV time now, don’t rush! Get there relaxed and safely.
5. Get a Tire Pressure Monitor System (TPMS).
This is one of my top must haves for people who travel full time or really anyone for that matter. They are worth every single penny. I have one like this.
This puppy will tell you the second your tire pressure changes by a certain pre-set amount, usually like 5 psi. It will also show you the temperature of your tires and tell you if that changes, all right from your dash while you are driving.
You don’t have to constantly be looking in your tow mirrors (which you should have if you don’t) to check for flying shreds of rubber. I have nightmares of this…not even kidding.
Had I had this system, I would have most likely been warned before my tire exploded and could have prevented the damage (and ugly-crying I might add). I will never tow without this again.
6. Maintain your trailer tires and take care of them to prolong their longevity.
I keep my tires covered when I’m not traveling, so the sun is not deteriorating or cracking them.
The sun is a tire’s worst enemy. Just like it deteriorates your RV graphics and pretty much everything it touches, it is doing damage to your tires as well. When you are traveling or do not have your tires covered, spray them with a good UV Protectant. Aerospace 303 is a good one, and you can use it on your entire RV.
I look at them, and have them professionally checked pretty often, for any signs of deterioration, nails, and uneven tread wear.
Just simply look at your tires on a regular basis. This really is just using your common sense. Is there something protruding from your tire, does it have gashes or cracking? Are the sidewalls bulging? You don’t need to be a professional to see those things. Get a feel for what they look like, so that when something isn’t right, you’ll know it right away.
I don’t let them sit on asphalt for long periods of time, or at all really.
Asphalt contains petroleum crude oil which is absorbed by your tires and causes problems when exposed to it for long periods of time. And you may not be able to visibly see this happening…so I always put something in between my tires and the ground when I am parked on asphalt…like leveling blocks or pads etc.
Just doing little things like this, can greatly increase the longevity of your tires.
Don’t let your RV tires sit in one spot for long periods of time.
If you store your RV for long periods of time, occasionally moving it forward or backwards a little bit is a good idea. This will help prevent one spot on your tires from deteriorating more rapidly than the rest of the tire causing dry rot, which is usually undetectable until the tire fails (aka explodes!)
You should also have your bearings checked.
A good rule of thumb is to have the grease removed and have your bearings packed with fresh grease at least every 2 years.
So what is my number one suggestion to you, aside from making sure you have the correct tire pressure?
Upgrade your tires. Beefing up your tires or just getting rid of the cheaply made manufacturer tires, is the best investment you can make for your RV or camper. Even more so than the surge protector that I go on and on about in this post! (get a surge protector if you don’t have one people!) But seriously, your tires are no joke, and something you should not take lightly.
Which is why I felt I needed to share all of this with you. I’m sure this is not everything you should know about your tires or everything you should be doing to make sure you are traveling safely, but these are the things that I learned the hard way. Things that nobody told me, and I wish someone had. I wish someone had taken the time to write something like this for me to have seen.
This post will probably not get much traffic or likes or shares, because tires are not fun and exciting and are usually something people don’t even think about or take seriously. But I don’t care. If I help just one person, then it will have been worth every second of my time.
And again, I am far from being an expert on this subject, but I wanted to at least share with you what I do know and have learned over the years.
So at least do me a favor and have your tires checked by a professional if all of this is news to you. Just be 100% confident that your tires are substantial enough for your rig and weight, including the weight you will be adding with all of your cargo.
This goes for your tow vehicle as well if you are towing. Make sure your tow vehicle is properly sized for the RV you are towing. I won’t get into that right now though. That is a whole ‘nother post!
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What are your tips and advice on tire safety and maintenance? I would love to hear from others on this and learn some more myself, so please let me know in the comments below! I’m excited to hear what you have to say!
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See you again soon!
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