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RV's can be particularly prone to tire blowouts for a number of reasons. These include:
- RVs typically carry more additional weight (weight that is not built into the vehicle itself) than other types of vehicles. This weight puts additional strain on tires.
- Since trailers and motorhomes can be left stationary for long periods of time, their tires can be prone to dry rotting. Dry rotting can significantly contribute to blowouts.
- As RVs are more likely to be driven or towed over multiple types of terrains in a short period of time, their tires can be prone to blowing out if you do not plan in advance to use appropriate tires for the terrain that you are driving on.
- Buying a secondhand camper could see you inherit tires that are in poor condition.
In this article, Mike Skoropad, co-founder and CEO of tire technicians and retailer United Tires explains how you can mitigate these risks and thereby reduce your chances of suffering a tire blowout on your RV.
Tire checks when buying an RV
When buying an RV, in particular one that is not new, you should perform a visual and tactile check of both the tread and the sidewall of the vehicle’s tires.
There are a few specific things that you are looking out for with these tests. They include:
Cracks or bulges in the sidewall of the tire: If you can see or feel any cracks or bulges on the sidewall of the tire (that is, the part of the tire that is perpendicular to the road) then tires need to be replaced before you drive on them. There is little give in a tire’s sidewall, so any damage to it greatly increases its chances of blowing out. Try to get the cost of replacement knocked off the overall amount you pay for the RV.
The age of the tire: There will be two rows of letters and numbers that run around the sidewall of a tire. The final four numbers on the inner ring of letter and number combinations refers to the week and the year that the tire was manufactured. For example, if the final four numbers on the inner ring of a tire read 1819, then the tire was manufactured in the 18th week (the first week of May) in 2019. Tires that were manufactured over six years ago are at a dangerous risk of blowing out and should not be driven on. Again, if you identify this before you purchase a motorhome or trailer you can try to negotiate having the cost of tire replacement(s) knocked off the total price of the vehicle.
The tread of the tire: When you run your hand over the tread of the tire (the textured part of the tire that comes into direct contact with the road), it should feel uniform. Non-uniform tread patterns can be indicative of tires that have been consistently driven on either over or underinflated. It's therefore worth having tires inspected if you notice uneven wear. The type of uneven wear that merits the biggest cause for concern is “cupping wear”. This is where there are seemingly random patches of wear on your tires. This can indicate a suspension or axle alignment issue and means that an RV will have to have its suspension inspected before being driven on.
The level of tire tread depth: It's worth bringing a tire tread depth gauge (these can be purchased for under $10) with you when you go to purchase a camper. If tire tread is under 2/32 of an inch then tires should be replaced. 4/32 to 6/32 of an inch is an ideal level of tread depth.
Preventing blowouts when driving
The three main contributing factors to a blowout that you can control when on the road are:
- The weight of your vehicle
- The heat and pressure in your tires
- The appropriateness of your tire for the terrain being driven on
It’s worth going through each of these factors one by one to see what you can do when driving to reduce the chances of having them raise your chances of suffering a tire blowout.
Ensuring your vehicle is not overweight
All vehicles have a maximum Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) found in their owner’s manual. This refers to the amount of weight that a vehicle can carry, including the weight built into the vehicle and all its contents.
If you are concerned that you may be overloading your vehicle, then there are specialist truck weighing stations dotted along highways in the US. It usually costs between $25-50 to weigh your vehicle in one of these stations.
If you are travelling with a trailer, then the trailer and the vehicle and trailer combined must not exceed a certain weight. These are referred to as your trailer weight rating and combined weight rating respectively.
Keeping your tires at the correct pressure
Having under inflated tires can cause pressure to shift away from the flexible tire treads to the more brittle tire sidewall, potentially leading to a blowout. Tires with too high pressure can quite literally burst when being driven on.
Low tire pressure can be easily remedied by keeping your tires inflated to the pressure recommended in your owner’s manual. Tire pressure should be checked once a month if your vehicle is stationary, or once every two weeks if it is being driven on regularly. A tire pressure gauge can be purchased for around $20 and is small enough to be kept in your camper at all times.
The most common place to inflate your tires is at a gas station. If you are planning on keeping your RV stationary then it might be worth investing in an electric air compressor / tire pump so you can keep your tires inflated over this period. Having your vehicle parked on underinflated tires can lead to flat spots in your tires.
Pressure can build to hazardous levels in your tires if they become too hot, as pressure rises with heat. You are at particular risk of this happening if you are driving at high speeds and if the air temperature is over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are driving on a highway at this temperature then you should stop for 30 minutes for every two hours that you are driving to allow your tires to cool down.
Using the right tires for the right terrain
When driving on gravel or off road, you need thicker tires to prevent punctures. Thinner tires are required to prevent overheating and shredding. Here is a basic rule of thumb for the best tires to use on different terrains:
- If you plan to travel on a variety of terrains and do not want to carry different sets of tires then opt for all-terrain tires.
- If you are travelling for long distances on gravel or dirt roads then opt for 10-12 ply tires. This will give you the thickness of tire required for such terrains, but will also allow you to safely travel on tarmacked roads for short distances if required.
- If you are travelling long distances each day on the highway then you may want to consider low rolling resistance tires. These will help stop your tires from overheating and improve your fuel economy. They are slightly more expensive than standard tires, however, but could well be worth it if you are travelling in the summer months.
Protecting your tires when your RV is parked
If you are parking your RV for an extended period of time then you need to watch out for two types of damage that can occur to stationary tires. These are dry rotting and flat spots.
Preventing dry rotting in stationary tires
Tires are manufactured with certain oils to help them retain their moisture. This moisture is worked back into the tires when they are being driven on. Consequently, when tires are stationary for long periods at a time, they can become susceptible to dry rotting as these oils slowly leach out of them. Dry rot makes tires brittle and therefore more prone to blowing out.
Other than being stationary, the other large contributor to dry rotting in tires is rapid changes in temperature. Therefore, keeping an RV parked on tarmac or concrete may accelerate the rate at which dry rotting occurs, as these materials conduct heat, getting very hot during the day and very cold at night. Keeping your vehicle parked on grass or gravel should slow down the dry rotting process. RV wheel covers or tire shades can also protect tires by shading them from direct sunlight, which contributes to rapid temperature change and cause the rubber to break down over time.
Moisture on the tire can also pull out its oils. This is a similar process to how licking your lips can paradoxically lead to dry lips. Therefore if you are parked on snow or ice, it may be worth removing your tires and keeping your vehicle raised off the ground during the frosty period.
Try to keep your tires in your vehicle during this time to protect them from icy conditions. This should also be done if you are keeping your RV parked in a particularly muddy patch of ground as constant contact with moisture from the mud can accelerate the dry rotting process.
If you are able to, try to take your RV for a ride for a couple of hours every few weeks so the pressure of being driven on can work the oils back into the tires and slow down dry rot.
Signs of dry rot include: a grey color to the tires, visible cracks on the tire, and the tire being leathery to the touch. If you notice any of these then it's worth taking your RV to have its tires inspected before your next journey.
Preventing flat spots in stationary tires
Stationary tires will develop flat spots in the areas where they are in contact with the ground as a result of this constant pressure. Flat spots can make your ride more bumpy when you do get back on the road, and can be permanent if your RV has been stationary for well over six months.
Flat spots can be avoided by moving your RV slightly once every two weeks to a month just to make sure that the same part of the tire isn’t in constant contact with the ground.
Flat-spotting is also more likely to happen in underinflated tires. Cold weather can cause tire pressure to drop, so check your tire pressure and inflate your tires if necessary when there is more than a 20 degrees Fahrenheit change in temperature.
Hopefully these tips can help you avoid suffering a tire blowout in your RV. If you have any suggestions I’ve missed, please leave a comment below!
For more tips and ideas related to RVing, check out the RV Inspiration Resource Library!