They say a solid foundation is the key to any good relationship. When you’re free-wheelingit across the country, everything rides on your tires so when it comes to keeping ”the beast” happy, that means taking care of her wheels. Now, there’s all kinds of information out there on tires, when to replace them, how blow-outs happen and so forth and a lot it is really, really hotly contested stuff. If you ever want to rile up a bunch of RVers just post on an RV forum that you’ve found the definitive answer to tire maintenance and use…then sit back and watch the herds go wild. The only two things I can say for sure is that you want to do whatever you can to keep your wheels happy, and blow-outs are bad business. With that in mind let’s go through a few basics
Keeping Tires Happy
1/ Tire Pressure – The biggest thing in your control as an RVer is your tire pressure and even the most hard-headed tire critics would agree this is important stuff. Incorrect tire pressure puts extra wear on the tires, can cause heat-build-up or handling problems and greatly increases the risk of sudden failure. In fact, the two most common causes of tire blow-outs are overload or underinflation. The right tire pressure is individual and depends entirely on your weight, as we’ve covered previously, and you want to check it regularly. We had the beast weighed early on and check tire pressure before each drive (when tires are cold) using a truck tire gauge.
- Limit environmental exposure - long-term UV and ozone exposure can damage rubber. A lot of RVers buy wheel covers to keep UV at a minimum. Although this is one of those debated areas we figure the covers are a cheap piece of safety equipment and use them when parked for more than a few days. When we park for the winter we’ll also roll the tires onto our Lynx blocks to minimize damage from the ground. Storing on marine-treated plywood will work too.
- Use your RV – Not everyone knows this, but tires that are exercised regularly last longer than stored ones. Rubber compounds contain oils that like to be flexed and distributed (by driving). So, get out there and go camping!
- Keep the tires clean - Oil and dirt are never good friends for your tires, so a regular clean with soapy water is the best solution. Most RVers recommend avoiding “tire dressings”. Petroleum-based cleaners or dressings that contain silicones or alcohol can damage your rubber, so the easiest solution is to avoid them altogether.
Nothing is more hotly contested on RV forums than when to replace your tires. Some people say you can keep on trucking as long as the tires show no visible cracks or damage on the side-walls. Some RVers prefer to replace at 5-7 years regardless of looks. Michelin recommends a yearly tire check with a max life of 10 years from date of manufacture (usually printed on the side).
I can’t give you a definitive answer since no-one really knows. There’ s simply too many variables from the environment, to how you drive, where you drive, the loads on your RV and the individual material properties of your tires to come up with a fast and firm answer. The only thing that’s sure is your risk of a blow-out gets larger the older your tires are. We’ve heard about people who lasted more than 10 years on their wheels and we’ve also heard about blow-outs happening as early as 5 years. We even met a guy in UT who had a blow-out the day after his tires were checked and OK’d by a tire professional. Each person has their own risk and comfort levels so you’ll have to decide that for yourself. Our plan to is to change our tires at 6 years no matter what they look like.
What To Do in a Blow-Out
Most RVers live in fear of a blow-out and for good reason. Blow-outs are sudden failures and can damage a lot more than just your tire. If you’ve ever seen a bunch of rubber strewn across the highway and squirmed at the thought of what happened you’re right there with the rest of us. I’m no expert on blow-outs and hope never to become one, but this video is the closest thing I’ve come to telling me what to do should it ever happen. The key in a blow-out, would you believe it, is not to hit the brakes but to hit the accelerator. It’s well worth watching:
Other Tire Supports
1/ Tire Insurance Plans - there’s plenty a dealer that will try to sell you a nifty tire insurance plan that will cover tire repair and replacement for multiple years. Given the price of RV tires it can be a mighty tempting offer, but I have to admit I’m not a huge fan. These fine-print type of plans rely on the companies that run them to be in business, and I’ve read of way too many stories from people who bought 5-7 year plans only to find out the company was bankrupt by the time they needed them. If you do buy a plan, go with a reputable company that’s been in biz a lot of years. We don’t have one.
2/ Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems - These systems are made up of sensors that monitor the individual tire pressure of each tire and send the data wirelessly to a receiver mounted near the driver. They usually have alarms that sound when any one of the tire pressures drop below a certain %. There are lots of companies that make them, but Pressure Pro seems to have the best reputation, followed by Truck System Technologies. Now, these things are pricey (running up to $800 range) and they’re not infallible, but many people report being able to avoid problems just in time by having the system on their RV. We’ve not bought one yet, but it’s on our “maybe” list.
That’s it folks. Whole books have been written and snoozed over on this subject, but I think I’ll end it here. May your tires always be bouncy and your home well supported!