On our current road tour, we started out with a bang—the kind that makes the rig shimmy and your wife scream before (hopefully) you come to a safe stop beside the highway, muttering about the trail of rubber left behind. That was our case, although $1,200 worth of wheel-well damage added to the insult of a blown tire.
We had to scratch our collective heads over the episode: The tire pressure had been checked less than a week before; the tire itself was not overloaded and had plenty of tread. After replacing it, and giving the insurance company fits, we started off on the “flip side” of our tour. Three road days out, the navigator began questioning the “feel” of the rig. Seemed like it “wobbled” on takeoff. The driver attempted to put off that sort of questioning by railing against poor highway maintenance.
The next morning, even the male side of the team couldn’t shunt the bad feeling away. Sure enough, the front tire on the driver’s side was separating. No chances here; we made it to a nearby tire shop, and replaced that bad boy. While the tire was being changed, the service guy looked knowingly at the sidewall of the bum tire and said he knew what the problem was—after all, the tire was now five years old.
What’s to be learned?
Aging With Grace?
There’s truth that tire aging has much to do with safety. For RVers, unless you’re a road-running full-timer, your rig’s tires will probably “age out” long before they wear out. Insidious elements like UV rays can chew up your tires’ integrity before the distances will scuff off the tread. How long are tires good for?
That depends on whom you ask. Over in the UK, the tire industry folks say (in that quaint British spelling), “Unused tyres should not be put into service if they are over six years old and all tyres should be replaced ten years from the date of their manufacture.”
Some European auto builders list the replacement timing at six years; in Japan owners are advised to have their tires inspected at five years. Tires used in hot climates seem to have less life than those in more moderate country. Since our truck had spent much of its life in the Southwest, perhaps our tire man was right.
Mind you, all of these tire life figures are for cars, not RVs. What’s the difference? Car tires are assumed to get more “exercise,” if you will. Chemical compounds in the tire that help the tire to age with grace are pushed around and distributed by the movement of the vehicle. When a tire is not rolling around but left parked or stored, those “Oils of Olay” are not being distributed, and the tire will not be protected. Most all of us would love to use our RV more often, but we still have other things in life to attend to. So how can we give our tires as much life as possible?
Maintenance and Storage Issues
We’ve said it before: Care for your tires properly. Check your tire pressure regularly when on the road. ALWAYS check tire pressure when setting off on a road trip. Since air seeps out of tires naturally, one authority recommends pressure checks at least once a month. We think it best to check it weekly. Both tire under-inflation and overloading are major causes of tire failure. WEIGH your rig, preferably wheel by wheel, and make sure you’re not overloaded.
When their RV is parked, many owners keep their tires covered to prevent UV rays from reaching them. That’s admirable, but one tire authority says for real safety, unused tires should be kept in darkness. Most tire covers used in the RV world don’t even come close to making that happen.
UV is not the only tire enemy, petroleum is another major antagonist. So when you park your rig for a while, ensure you’re not parking in a puddle of oil, diesel fuel, etc. In a similar vein, treating your tires with products that contain petroleum is unwise, and yes, even that nice shiny appearance given by a tire shiner containing silicon can actually damage your tires.
If your rig has been parked awhile, tires can develop flat spots. There’s been a lot of talk about flat-spotting, but it seems among industry folk, it’s an over-hyped problem. If you can move your rig every three months, so much the better. If not, that flat spot will probably go away on its own once you roll down the highway. Make it better by not leaving a heavy load in your rig while stored. DON’T decrease the pressure in your tires while stored. And if your rig has been parked for some time, it’s best not to roll it away when the temperatures are extremely cold if you can avoid it.
If you find yourself with tires off a rig and in need of storage, here are some tips to make them happier: If stored outside, don’t put them directly on the ground. Putting them on a board or pallet will help. Also cover them with opaque plastic. Inside? Keep them away from sources of ozone, such as welders, switches and motors.
Before putting tires into service after storage, clean out any debris or moisture that may have gotten in. This goes to the emphasis on covering stored tires—water can infiltrate a tire casing, and that can cause real problems.
Giving attention to your tires can increase your own safety, and save you bucks in the long run.
Russ and Tiña De Maris are authors of RV Boondocking Basics—A Guide to Living Without Hookups, which covers a full range of dry camping topics. They also provide great resources in their book, Camp Hosting USA—Your Guide to State Park Volunteering. Visit icanrv.com for more information.