Everything You Need to Know About RV Tires
Tires are arguably one of the most important pieces of equipment on your RV. They’re not glamorous and they’re not all that much fun (though we allow as there may be some out there who really geek out about tires, and more power to you). But they are the very foundation that allows your luxury RV to roll on down the road to wild and amazing destinations. So, while they may not be something you want to think about, as an RV owner you need to take care of your RV’s tires so that they’ll take care of you.
Here are a few important things to know to extend the life of your tires and prevent a dangerous blow out.
RV Tires Are Different
First things first – RV tires are not interchangeable with passenger vehicle tires. They may look the same, but they are very different. RV tires are designed with thicker sidewalls and a narrower tread which allows them to carry considerably more weight than the tires you’d put on your SUV. Car tires simply cannot support the weight of your RV and if used on a travel trailer would be more prone to blowing out. Tire blowouts can be a major inconvenience and cause costly damage to your RV, but more importantly, they can be dangerous for you, your passengers, and others on the road with you.
There are two types of tires that you can use on your recreational vehicle. ST, or “special trailer” tires are what you’ll find on most new RVs because they can carry a significant amount of weight, they resist sway, and have a high heat tolerance. They often are coated in chemicals that make them more resistant to sun damage. LT tires, or “light truck” tires can also be used on RVs, though they aren’t specifically designed for towing travel trailers. They are designed to absorb more of the jolts and bumps you’ll have while towing your RV.
Within the RV tire category, there are also different classes of tires, each with their own weight and speed ratings. For example, the tires you put on a 40-foot Class A motorhome with multiple slides or a large toy hauler with thousands of pounds of carrying capacity are going to have a higher weight rating than what you’d need for a lightweight luxury travel trailer like a Bowlus Terra Firma or Endless Highways Edition. Make sure you know the speed rating for your tires before you head out. Most are rated for 65 to 75 miles per hour, and if you’re traveling faster, your tires may overheat which could lead to a blowout.
Knowing Your Tires
The best way to know what your tires can handle is to decode the alpha-numeric soup on the sidewall of your tires. At Bowlus, we put Goodyear Endurance tires on our luxury travel trailers. There are several versions of this tire, but if yours says ST205/75R14 on the sidewall, that means that you have special trailer (ST) tires that are 205 millimeters wide. The height-to-width ratio is 75 and the R indicates that it is a radial tire. Lastly, the rims have a diameter of 14.
Other important pieces of information you’ll find on the sidewall (often in small print) are details on the max load (how much weight the tire can carry at its maximum air pressure), load range, and the inflation pressure information in pounds per square inch (PSI).
Filling Your Tires
Experienced campers always check their tire pressures before they head out on a trip – both on the trailer and the tow vehicle (or their motorhome and dinghy if traveling in a Class A or Class C). Underinflated tires can lead to blowouts at worst. At best, keeping your tires underinflated will reduce their life and kill your fuel efficiency or battery life if you’re towing with an EV.
Overinflated tires are no better and can create a bumpier ride and extend the amount of time it takes you to stop. Too much air also increases the wear and tear on your brakes, suspension, and tires.
RV tires can be inflated with either air or nitrogen. Compressed air is the easiest to find while traveling, and you could even carry a portable air compressor with you to top off as needed during your trip. Nitrogen is becoming more popular with some RVers because it can help the tire maintain proper pressure for a longer period of time. The downside is that you need a professional with special tools to fill your tires – and that can be harder to find if you’re traveling outside of big metropolitan areas. You’ll likely find an air compressor at the filling station outside of a national park, but it will be harder to find someone with the skills and equipment to top off the nitrogen if you’re boondocking in a national forest.
Keep in mind that altitude and temperature will impact your tire pressure. If you’re climbing in elevation or going from the cold mountains to the scorching hot desert, you’ll need to check your pressures periodically.
Invest in a Tire Pressure Monitoring System
For peace of mind when traveling with your RV, consider investing in a remote tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS). Your car or SUV has this as a standard feature and it alerts you if your tire pressure is low, if you have a flat, or if your tires are overheating. The government mandated that every car manufactured since 2007 have a TPMS installed at the factory, but that mandate doesn’t extend to RVs.
Fortunately, there are a number of high quality aftermarket remote tire pressure monitoring systems that you can install either on the valve stems of each tire or inside each wheel. The system comes with a monitor that can mount either to your dash or windshield. The more sophisticated monitors will auto-cycle through the various stats the system is monitoring every few seconds. Others require you to manually scroll using the on screen navigation tools. Look for a TPMS that allows you to replace the batteries – sealed batteries may last longer (up to five years as compared to one), but once the sealed battery dies you have to replace the entire sensor.
How Long RV Tires Will Last
The life of your RV’s tires will depend on several factors, including the number of miles they’ve traveled, the road conditions, how well they’re maintained, and how your RV is stored. Tires from the major manufacturers like Goodyear, Firestone, Michelin, Continental, and Cooper will last around six years or 50,000 miles. If you’re traveling on rougher roads to get to boondocking sites, you may need to replace your tires sooner. If your recreational vehicle is stored outside and the tires are baking in the sun every day, that could cause them to dry out and need to be replaced sooner than if you’re rig were stored inside. If you’re storing outside, you may want to invest in tire covers.
Even the way you load your RV can impact the life of your tires. If you notice that one tire is wearing faster than the others, you may need to shift some weight around on the inside – or have your rig inspected to ensure the suspension is properly aligned.
Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation when you need to get new tires for your RV and remember, not all trailer tires are created equal. As with many things in life, you get what you pay for. You wouldn’t buy a cheap pair of hiking boots because your feet would be covered in painful blisters after even a short hike. Your RV won’t feel pain, but you might if you have the wrong tires on your luxury RV.