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Important Advice about RV Tires
Chris Dougherty is the former technical editor of MotorHome and Trailer Life Magazines, RV Enthusiast magazine, and RVTravel.com, an RVDA/RVIA/RVTI Certified RV Technician and life-long RVer. He’s been RVing with his family since 1973 and today trains other RV techs and presents seminars on RV technical matters at RV shows and exhibitions.
Below is an edited transcript of our interview with Chris.
Motorhome and Towable RV Tires are Very Different
Chris, it is a pleasure to have you on the podcast today. Let’s start off talking about the two different kinds of RVs with two different tires, the motorhomes with their tires, and then the towables, the fifth wheels, and the trailers. People think tires are tires. Maybe you could start us with a little education about that.
Well, definitely not Mike. Different tires for different applications, which is an important thing to keep in mind.
So when we’re dealing with motorized RVs, motor home tires, we’re looking at truck tires generally. Anywhere, if it’s a smaller Class C or class B motor home, they’re appropriate for the size and weight of the vehicle. But you have steering tires and you have drive tires.
So if it’s a two wheel drive, you can put snow tires on in that type of thing. There are some RV application tires that are out there, specifically Goodyear, that have special additives in the rubber to help protect them from ozone degradation and that type of thing.
But you’re basically looking at a tire that’s appropriate for the use that you’re going to be putting it to and making sure that it is sized properly, both in its physical size but also in its weight carrying capacity.
Towable RV Tires
So these are motor homes for all different classes of class A, B, and C. Tires that are meant to be on a vehicle that is controlled by the engine on that vehicle. So what’s the difference then in tires that we find on fifth wheels and trailers?
So trailers use a different type of tire. It’s a special trailer tire, ST tire, for Special Tire. And there’s different grades of those tires depending on-
Special trailer, ST. And that will be on the side wall of the tire?
Yes, it will be. So when you’re looking for the size, it would be an ST and the size of the tire. Okay. And so those have a little bit different design to them. They’re designed for the weight that they’re designed to carry.
Also the side walls are a little bit different make up, to allow for more lateral loads. So as the trailer is turning, we turn a trailer tightly. It allows for some of that scrubbing and it has a little extra sidewall strength for it.
So that’s the trailer. Anything different with a fifth wheel tire, same tire or?
Same tire. So any trailer or fifth wheel is going to use a tire like that, an ST tire. But again, you’re looking at the size and you’re also looking at different weight ratings for the different tires and also speed ratings.
Vehicle tires should not be used on a Trailer
Now I have seen many people suggest that RVs replace the ST tires on trailers with regular vehicle tires. Good idea or bad idea?
Not generally recommended. And again, it’s because of the change in the side wall of the tire.
Are there people that do it? Yes, absolutely, there are. But you have to make sure that if you’re going to change the tires that you’re going to put on your trailer wheels that are going to be compatible with those tires.
And you also have to be very careful about the low grading for those tires.
Load rating and Inflation of RV Tires are critical
So is it something people can do? Yes, but if you want to stick with, and really there’s no reason not to stick with a good ST tire, but if you’re having trouble with them, which I’ve had trouble with them, other people have had trouble with them, sometimes it’s better to go up a load rating and increase it to the next load rating up and make sure that you’re taking care of your tires and you’re inflating properly. That’s the big deal – load and inflation.
What about “China Bombs?”
And that gets us to a question that we are asked all the time, and it’s a term that I think is relatively new in the last year or two. And that has to do with people complaining of what they call China bombs, trailers that manufacturers put relatively lower quality tires made in China.
Is there such a thing? Is that a myth? What are we to know about these China bombs and how do we replace them? Or should we?
Well, that’s a tough question because I wouldn’t sit there and necessarily put an umbrella over them and say, okay, we have China bomb tires. I don’t think that that’s necessarily appropriate, but like everything else that’s made in the world, there are good products and there are cheap products.
So has there been a market out there for cheap tires? Yeah, absolutely.
A lot of people talk about, well I don’t want to buy tires made in China. Well, most tires are made in China these days. Very few are made here.
The only trailer tire that I’m aware of that’s made domestically is the Good Year Endurance, which they started manufacturing again a couple of years ago.
But I’ve changed tires, I’ve put some different types of tires on my trailer, different brands and so far so good. I went up to a G-rated tire on my fifth wheel. I have a Montana fifth wheel, so I went up a grade in with it and it’s been working pretty well. The original tires that were on it were softer and they failed within a few years. So it just depends.
RV Tire Ratings explained
Yeah, you mentioned you went up a grade. Explain that to us.
So tires have low ratings and so for my trailer when I bought it had D-rated tires, which was okay, but what I decided to do was go up a step to the G-rated tire.
And you can find the tire charts at the different tire manufacturers to see what the letters represent as far as the actual load rating of the tire.
But when I decided to change the tires, I took a good hard look at the wheels to make sure that the size of the wheels and the pressure and weight ratings would match with the new tires that I bought. And they did.
And so then I decided to go ahead and upgrade those. And a lot of the trailer manufacturers are offering them. People talk about Sailun tires all the time and they buy the Sailuns instead, which is still a Chinese tire, but it’s more of a commercial type tire.
I bought Synergy tires because the local tire dealer had that. But it’s a similar type of product.
But again, in my opinion, what’s more important is that you’re watching the weight on your trailer. And if you can weigh by wheel position, that’s fantastic. That’s the best way to do it, to make sure you’re not overloaded anywhere on the unit.
But go to a CAT scale if you have to, that’s just fine. It will work. It’ll get you in the ballpark and make sure that your tires are inflated properly for the load they’re carrying. And that’s the most essential part.
Proper inflation for RV Tires
This is a great, great question both for motor home tires and for trailer tires, what they should be inflated to? Over and over, we hear from people that say, well on the side wall of the RV or the trailer, it says I should have 80 pounds pressure in my trailer tires but my dealer says I really should go with 75 or my dealer says I should have 95.
And then of course everybody weighs in and has a different opinion. I’m asking you as somebody whose advice I trust and would take to the bank, what guide do we use to inflate those tires to? What standard?
If the tires are the same tires as were originally put on the unit, then you can go by the sticker that’s on the side wall of the RV to properly inflate your tires because they’ve calculated that out.
If you’ve changed tires or you’re concerned about your weight and you want to make sure that you’re absolutely correct, weigh your RV, and then not all, but most tire manufacturers will have on their website an inflation guide or inflation table which allows you to compare the weight that you have on the tire with the proper inflation for that weight.
Yes, some of the Chinese manufacturers don’t have those tables, but you can get a general guideline as to what the pressure should be.
The danger of under-inflated RV Tires
That said, the most damage you can make with a tire is under-inflating it.
Because when you under-inflate a tire for the weight that it’s carrying as you’re going down the road, the sidewalls flex more and that flexing along with the friction on the road, causes them to heat up and that’s what can lead to tire failure.
So if you can’t find that, then going to the side wall pressure is the most appropriate.
The side wall pressure is the maximum load the tire can carry at that pressure. That’s what’ll be listed there. And it may cause a little bit of extra center tread wear when the tire’s going down the road.
But in the RV space where we are, people’s tires age out before they wear out. So we’re replacing tires on time more than we are on mileage. And so that’s a big difference.
How long do RV Tires last?
Ballparks and time versus mileage, when should we consider replacing our tires?
So it depends. So as far as time is concerned, there is some variability there. So Goodyear, they have been all over the map with it over the years and their current thing, which I looked up before I came on with you just to see what they were saying these days is “that many RV-ers replace their tires at the expiration of the tire warranty.” Depending on which Goodyear tire you have, that is four or five years.
A lot of advice in the industry is five years. And I will say that in my personal experience with trailer tires that a lot of them don’t even last five years.
So I had a travel trailer that at three years I had to change the tires and with my fifth wheel I had to change them at five, but it didn’t have much mileage on it. It sat a lot for the first period of time.
So I don’t consider that a good measure of that. There are other manufacturers, the tires that I just bought, the Synergy tires, the manufacturer says that the tires should not last, should not be kept after 10 years.
And I’ve heard over the years, seven to 10 years, but I’m seeing more towards five and that seems to be good years then.
Being prepared – get an air compressor
So for the average RV-er, one of the things a takeaway from this is a key tool that they should carry is something to inflate those tires. Some sort of a tire inflator.
Well you have to monitor the pressure. You can always go to a gas station or tire store, something to fill up. A lot of places have compressors that are available. I certainly recommend carrying one, carrying a good quality air compressor with you and there’s some different brands out there and you’ve got to be, make sure that that compressor’s going to get you to the pressure that you need to get to.
But monitoring your tire pressure is probably the most important thing. So tire pressure monitor system is pretty much essential these days. The technology’s there. I have a tire pressure monitor system, I’ve had for a long time and it’s saved me a lot of damage.
Get a Tire Pressure Monitoring System for your RV – TPMS
One of the things is that on a motor home you can have an inside dual tire or something like that that goes low or on a towable, you blow out a tire you don’t even know you did it until you see pieces flying off down the road and you’ve done a lot of damage at that point.
And I’ve seen tires do some pretty catastrophic damage to travel trailers and fifth wheels over the years. And so it’s not something you want to deal with.
A tire pressure monitoring system is going to tell you when that tire goes down and you’ll be able to get off the road before big damage happens.
Protecting RV Tires in Storage
Let’s talk about storing an RV. First, for those who keep it in one location for a whole season, several months, what do you recommend? Maybe it’s a cement pad or a gravel pad. Should they have that tire on wood or one of those little square tire things or is it fine to be on cement?
Well, ideally, okay, if you talk to the tire manufacturers, if you’re storing for a long period of time, the idea is to take the weight off the tire. That is the gold standard.
They’re saying, okay, we don’t want to have a flat spot. We certainly don’t want to have it sitting in water or in mud or something along those lines.
But that’s not really a great thing for everybody because you have to get the vehicle up in the air, you have to put it on blocks. On a towable, you can’t jack the vehicle up by the axles because they’re tubes and you can damage them. So you have to go up by the frame.
So there’s a lot of logistics that make that difficult.
So here’s the thing, protect the tire the best way that you can. So get the tire up off the ground.
You ideally don’t want to leave it on pavement because it gets hot in the sun and absorbs heat. So we want to put it on wood.
If it’s going to be on there for a long period of time, we want to put it on some type of pad to protect it and then cover them. And if we do that and we maintain pressure, we’re going to be pretty good.
If you’re going to store the RV for a very long time where you’re not going to be using the RV, that’s when you can look at trying to get the weight off the tires. You can even take the tires off and put them in storage and then reduce the pressure if that’s something that you want to do.
Those are just some different options.
But for the most part, if we’re parking on something that keeps them up out of water, keeps them up out of snow or ice or mud, and then we cover them to try to protect them from UV and ozone, that’s about the best we’re going to be able to do.
BONUS: RV Storage Tips
Don’t store with the RV tires off the ground
Many people have hydraulic jacks or four point leveling, which can get high enough to at least take much of the weight off the tire. Perhaps not all of it, but much of it. Is that okay to leave up to use that to get it up? Or do you have to get individual leveling jacks that go on the frame?
So officially, the leveling manufacturers, you talk to a Lippert or somebody like that, they’re going to tell you that no, you can’t lift the RV off the ground with those jacks.
But they do.
Yeah, absolutely. But here’s where you can have a problem with that is you have these flexible hydraulic lines that go from the hydraulic valve assembly to the jack. And so in the wrong circumstance, you could have a failure of a hydraulic line and a failure of a jack and then you’ve got a problem with the RV falling over or whatever the deal is. Right?
And that’s pretty unusual there. The ratings on these things are a lot higher than the loads that we actually put on them, but if you’re going to take it up that high for that long, it’s better to put some truck jack stands underneath it, try to support it by the frame that way.
And at least you’re taking some of the strain off of that. Again, long-term storage. What we’re doing though, when we go out and actually are RVing with our unit, the units in use, we’re actually doing things with it. And so I’m not as concerned about that.
Is it some people will stay at a spot maybe a month or so and they will put it up on wood and use the jacks and the tires, I would assume would be okay for that period of time, right?
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, A month is nothing to think about. And to be clear, when I store my RV I store it off-season offsite/ I have it in a storage facility and I back it up on wood, but I don’t do anything else special with it. And I really haven’t had an issue with it.
Well that’s good to know because you hear advice everywhere. Takeaways from this interview, a couple of things. One, get a TPMS system. That’s a must have for anybody these days.
Many of the motor homes come with it now built in as part of the engine, the chassis, but for trailers, get a good one and use that. Check the pressure every day or every time you’re going to drive it, right?
Absolutely. And the nice thing about the TPMS is you turn it on and once you have a reading from all the tires, you’re good to go. It also monitors heat.
So if you end up having a brake issue or the tire’s getting unusually hot, you can set the system to alarm when it gets too hot or the pressure goes too high or too low.
And so you can check it out and see what the issue is. So let’s say I had a brake hang up for some reason and starts to really superheat the hub. I’ll know about that.
Third takeaway is put the tires up on wood, get them off concrete or gravel.
Any other final tips that you would suggest on tires? Do we worry too much about it or not enough in general?
Well I think most people don’t worry about it enough and they’re not taking the really important part of weighing your RV when it’s loaded.
So you put everything in it that you intend to carry with you and then you put it on a scale and find out what the weight is.
And so most tire failures, whether it’s these Chinese tires or it’s anybody else’s tires, relate in most cases to weight and under inflation.
So we want to make sure that those are settled. Look, you can hit a small object in the road that you don’t even realize you’ve hit and cause damage that causes a tire to fail. Fail happens.
And so it’s not always a manufacturer issue and I’m not making excuses for the poor quality tire manufacturers. But it isn’t always the fault of the brand of the tire or whatever else.
It’s how we’re treating it. Sometimes it forces us beyond our control.
So you see sometimes brand new RVs being transported out of the plant to their dealership and drivers pulled over on the side of the road with a flat tire on the RV. And that unfortunately just happens sometimes and sometimes it’s because of a tire issue.
But usually if there is a manufacturing issue, they investigate that. So if you go back for warranty for instance, and the tire dealer takes the tire back and puts a new one on, they’ll send that for some investigation.
They usually look into that if there’s enough of the tire left to try to determine if there was a specific issue, especially if there’s a pattern. But…
Sure, because it’s in their interest to fix this. They don’t… I think people always are so, we’re so cynical now as a culture and society and they forget that these manufacturers want to sell these things and they want a good reputation so they do take it seriously.
Chris, I thank you so much for helping us understand tires a little bit. How can people get a hold of you and learn more about Chris Daugherty?
So you can come to my website, daughertyrv.com and so I’m available there, and my email address and everything is there.
And if you want to find out more about tire safety, you can go to the RV Safety and Education Foundation at rvsafety.com. You can also go to goodyearrvtires.com and michelinrvtires.com I think. These are all good websites about RV tires with some great information that’s worthwhile.
Chris, awesome. Thank you my friend, for helping our audience understand RV tires.
My pleasure. Thank you.
Now that we’ve sorted out our tires – where to next?
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You know we love our RAD Power bikes – and have featured them for years, but we recently tested out and LOVE our new Lectric foldable ebikes. Being able to fold them up allowed us to put them in our Wonder rear garage area for a recent RV Lifestyle Gathering. You can check out our experience with them right here on our YouTube Channel.