Like shoes on a person, the most important feature on your RV are the tires. They support and carry your load and weight for as long as your moving. Oftentimes though, those tires on a motorhome, fifth wheel or trailer tires are overlooked which could lead you right into the path of destruction. So, we’ve put together our valuable RV tire safety and maintenance tips and accessories guide to help minimize or even eliminate potential of tire blowouts or accidents.
After all, those black round rubber things are what carries your RV AND your family and belongings. So, doesn’t it make sense to take every precaution and proper care to ensure your motorhome or travel trailer get to your destination all in one piece?
And, just because you’ve not drive or pull your RV more than 5000 miles doesn’t mean those tires will be good for another 5000.
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Shopping for Tires
Shopping for tires is different for every RV owner. We encourage you to talk with the owners of like sized RVs to see what they are using for tires. But more importantly, do your research on different tire manufacturers. Also, look into what your RV manufacturer recommends based on your motorhome, fifth wheel or travel trailer’s weight.
Tires can be purchased from multiple places including local tire chains or online. We also encourage you to look beyond the OEM tires as they often are not the best option, but were cheaper for the original manufacture to install.
Also, your motorhome or towable’s spare tire is the most forgotten of RV tire safety and maintenance because it just sits there under the coach or on the back of a towable. They will literally dry rot before you even get to use them because they are subject to the weather yet not get used as intended. So, when it’s time to shop for tires, we highly recommend, even though your spare tire has not seen a mile of pavement, you also purchase a new replacement. The last thing you want is your spare tire to rip apart or blow because of age or lack of use.
But heed my advice, before forking over your hard-earned dollars for new RV tires, pay attention to the birthdate of the tires your installer will put on. Ask to see the tires and verify that they aren’t tires that sat around the shop for months to even years. Just because they look new, doesn’t mean they are new.
The date of manufacture is the last four digits of the DOT code. The first two digits are the week of manufacture, and the last two digits are the year. For example, if the last four digits of the DOT code are 0203, that means that the tire was manufactured during the second week of the year 2003.
Always regularly check for wear patterns such as cupping or uneven belt wear. The penny test method will help define tread groove depth. Stick a penny head-first into each groove. If you see the top of Lincoln’s head, it’s time to purchase new tires.
Also, wear patterns could be tell-tale signs of suspension, alignment or steering system discrepancies. You should immediately visit an RV tire specialty dealer at the very first sign of vibration or “shimmy.” Rebalancing may be the answer however, if that isn’t the culprit, they will conduct further diagnostics to find the cause of the vibration. Make certain they AND YOU test drive before leaving for the day.
Front End Alignment (Motorhomes)
Front end alignments are critical for motorized RVs. Without the correct front end alignment, your motorhome tires will wear prematurely thus costing you time and money. You should check your tires for signs of unusual wear before every trip. Again, look for flat spots, cupping or signs of excessive tire wear. You should schedule a front end alignment at least annually.
Front end alignments for motorhomes are best left to the professionals. If you have a large motorhome, you may need to have a facility accustomed to handling big rigs do your alignment. These types of shops will have the necessary equipment to give your motorized RV a quality alignment.
Wheel and Axel Alignment (Towables – Fifth Wheels and Travel Trailers)
The care and attention given to motorhomes should be the same for towable RVs such as fifth wheels and travel trailers. The best place to have a proper trailer wheel and axel alignment done on your towable is by a certified technician at a trailer service center. You should schedule your wheel and axel alignment yearly.
Tire Rotation & Rebalance
Tire rotation and rebalancing goes hand in hand with proper alignment regardless if it’s a motorhome or towable RV. To get the maximum life out of your tires they should be rotated on a regular basis. It’s also a good idea to get them rebalanced as even a simple pothole could send them out of balance. Check your RV’s manufacturer for the rotation interval. That said, with some RVs, it is not practical to rotate the tires. Dually wheels can be a good example of this situation. Most owners just monitor the wear of the tires and replace them as needed.
Another of our RV tire safety and maintenance tip is be aware that tires that are out of balance can cause a vibration. This can detrimentally lead to premature and excessive tire wear and suspension wear and tear. In addition, it can cause driver fatigue which could potentially lead to an accident. Tires should always be balanced when they are mounted on wheels for the first time or when they are remounted after being repaired.
You should check your tire pressure every day you travel and several times throughout the travel day. The pressure will change through out the travel day and can change with the ambient air temperature. Underinflated tires increase fuel consumption. As well, According to AAA (American Automobile Agency) operating a vehicle with underinflated tires can result in a 25% reduction in fuel economy. Overinflated tires will have less grip and possibly cause unexpected blowouts.
A simple accurate tire gauge is all you need to monitor your tires for proper inflation. Checking the inner wheels of a dually can be quite challenging unless you have steel valve stems installed.
We can’t stress to you enough that every RVer should carry a portable air compressor. It can be 12-volt or 120 volt powered depending on your preference. Make sure the compressor is large enough to handle the maximum tire pressure of your RV. Generally speaking, the larger the RV tire, the larger volume air compressor needed.
You can purchase a compressor from several sources, but this is one of those you get what you pay for investments. Small, cheap compressors are usually single stage, will not handle large RV tire, and will burn out quickly. We prefer the Viair 12 volt RV pumps. They come in multiple sizes and are extremely well made.
Monitor Tire Pressure
Monitoring your RV’s (and tow vehicle) tire pressure is another of our RV tire safety and maintenance tip. As stated above proper tire inflation is crucial to your safety and the longevity of your tires. Check the tire pressure by hand with a tire pressure gauge or by installing a tire pressure monitoring system. Tire pressure gauges are available from several sources, but make sure you buy a quality gauge that will be more accurate than a cheap one purchased from a dollar store.
A necessary safety gadget that should be readily available is a reliable digital tire pressure gauge that takes precise pressure measurements.
The other way to check your RV’s tire pressure is with a good quality tire pressure monitoring system. Personally we feel a good TPMS is very important for safe RV travel. The TPMS will monitor the pressure and temperature of the tires and report that data back to you in real time. Many TPMS can monitor up to 18 tires with a single receiver unit and multiple tire sensors.
The TPMS will instantly notify you of a slow leak or an increase in your tire temperatures allowing you to take corrective action before disaster strikes in the form of a blowout. We prefer the TST-507. It has a color monitoring screen, monitors multiple tires at once, and was easy to program. No RVer should be without one.
Speaking of valve stems, stainless steel valve stems are very important to safe travel in your RV. They are much more durable than rubber valve stems and are the best option for installing the sensors of a tire pressure monitoring system. We use Borg Warner valve stems on our Winnebago View Class C motorhome. They are well constructed and should last for years. We had a professional tire shop install ours. Though it was pricy, it was well worth the money and piece of mind.
Read our RV Gear Product Review on the TST 507 RV C Tire Pressure Monitoring System.
PROTECT YOUR RV TIRES
RV tire covers a crucial for extending the life of your RV tires when your RV is in storage or at a park for a lengthy visit. They keep the harmful UV rays from the sun from degrading the sidewalls of your tires thus shortening the tire’s life. You can purchase single, double, or triple axle tire covers. Be sure to measure your RV’s tires before buying to ensure you get the correct size covers.
The color of the cover is completely up to you but they typically come in gray, white, tan or black. Most RVers will purchase a cover color that enhances the look of their RV. Do know though, the black tire covers get hot in the sun and white tire covers tend to show dirt and wear faster.
Tire Protectorant Applications
There are two kinds of tire application products; water based and solvent based. Water-based are more earth-friendly while still offering a sleek new-tire appearance.
However, solvent-based applications are primarily of petroleum distillates which are dangerously harmful to the tires as well as brakes and brake pads. Besides being water-resistant, over the course of time, each layer of application will cause the tire sidewall surface to turn brown. Worse, those solvents will lead to premature cracking of the rubber.
In our opinion, aerosol tire applications should never be used on any tires. Because they are petroleum-based, most tire applications will have a negative impact on tire wearability and effectiveness. While shiny tires may look cool, be weary of products like this that will degrade your tires.
Furthermore, they petroleum, silicone or chemical products that are not environmentally friendly. Each time it rains or you wash your RV, those solvents are going down the storm drains; thus into our ecosystem. Additionally, please consider the health issues that stem from using tire application products (ie. inhaling, skin contact, etc.).
So in other words, just give your tires a good bath after washing your RV with a good scrub brush; removing oils, tar and other road grime. Think of them as the bottom of your shoes. Save the primping for your shiny rims. Be very careful not to overspray chrome polishes onto your tire’s sidewalls. And never ever spray anything other than plain water onto your tire treads.
That about covers our basic RV tire safety and maintenance tips as well as some accessories we use (or don’t use). Just remember, like your shoes, your RV (or any vehicle) tires are the most important component on your motorhome, fifth wheel or travel trailer. Again, always consult your tire manufacturers’ maintenance and care recommendations.
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