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Let the good tires roll.
Tires are one of the most frequently talked about and probably least understood topics in RVing. They are also one of the most important parts of any trip. The right tires can make your journey comfortable and safe. And the wrong ones can lead to headaches and blowouts.
To start, you’re better off talking to a tire professional to determine exactly which tires are best for your RV and budget. But, first, we want to give you the basic tire topics every RVer should know. That way, you’ll have the confidence to talk to a tire professional and feel like you’re getting a good deal.
All right, let’s roll.
We all load up the RV and flee to our favorite destinations to escape the exact thing that gets us there: pressure. Fortunately, it’s not work or life pressure we’re talking about in this guide, but tire pressure. Without it, you’re not getting very far.
Pressure is important because when a tire fails, it will damage not only the surrounding fender skirts, but also the sidewall, wheel wells, and possibly the trim. You’re talking about a lot of damage there and a lot of money to fix it. So you should never just arbitrarily reduce the pressure in your tires just so you can get a “softer” ride on the road. Always make sure you’ve got an accurate tire pressure gauge, and if your vehicle has dual rear wheels, make sure that gauge has an offset double head that can reach both the outer and inner valves.
As you’d expect, based on their inflation, tires are designed to only carry a certain amount of weight. Each tire will have weight ratings printed on the sidewalls for the specific inflation pressure the tire should have. The suggested pressure will vary based on the tire configuration of your vehicle. With dual-mounted configurations, if you’re on an uneven road, each tire will bear a different amount of weight; this is why those types of tires will have a lower pressure rating.
Temperature and altitude
If you remember from science class, when things get hotter, they expand. So, as the air temperature rises, the tire pressure does too. In fact, you can count on about 1 psi for every 10° F change in the temperature.
Altitude also plays havoc with your tire pressure. The higher the altitude, the lower the atmospheric pressure, which is the ambient pressure you experience. (Gauge pressure is the pressure inside your tire.) That means that if you fill your tires to the recommended psi at or near sea level and then head for the hills, you’ll likely gain 2-3 psi at the peak. However, as you reach higher elevations the ambient temperature drops, likely offsetting the psi increase.
You may want to set your cold tire pressure per your manufacturer’s specification the morning after you arrive at your destination. Then, reset the morning after you get home.
What’s the correct pressure?
To determine the correct tire-inflation pressure for your vehicle’s tire loading, check the manufacturer’s load inflation. You can get this information at tire dealers and online at the manufacturer’s website.
Oxygen vs. nitrogen
Oxygen vs. nitrogen. Is it all hot air?
Pull in to your favorite campground and you’re sure to see a few green caps on tire valves. That means those folks are driving on nitrogen-filled tires, much like your favorite NASCAR driver. What’s that all about? Does nitrogen deliver better fuel economy and a smoother ride like they say? Or is it just a means to start up a friendly conversation between RVers? Yeah, it’s a mix of all these and more.
Let’s begin with the basics. The regular air in your tires is 21 percent oxygen and 78 percent nitrogen, with the remaining contents a mix of noble gases, carbon dioxide, and water vapor. This water vapor leads to moisture inside your tires, and that’s bad.
This rust-causing moisture can lead to corrosion of your rims. It can also cause your psi to change when the temperature changes, leading to over-inflation. That’s because the moisture retains heat and will expand when it gets hotter. Also, oxygen molecules will permeate the inner lining of your tire, leading to pressure loss and degradation.
Nitrogen, on the other hand, is a larger atom than oxygen. That means it does not permeate the inner lining, leading to a comparatively longer tire life. And when your tires are filled with nitrogen, they go through a purging and filling method that eliminates nearly all the moisture. This translates into steadier pressure over the long haul.
Whether nitrogen is right for you is your decision. If your tires are already filled with it, you’re good to go. And if you should find yourself on a country road when the pressure drops below specifications, regular air from the lone gas station in the area will do.
RV tire storage
RV tire storage equals wallet protection.
We ask a lot of our RV tires. They must handle greater loads and weight while also performing in different terrains. It’s only natural that they ask more of our wallets. So, if you’re going to spend your hard-earned money on the right tires, you’re going to want to take care of them, too.
That means tire covers. Yes, tire covers. It might sound like you’re going a bit overboard but buying tire covers is an easy way to protect your tires from heat, cold, and the sun. They’re easy to put on and take off and are much cheaper than having to buy new tires ruined by negligence and the elements.
No, you don’t have to look like a dork at the campground and whip out your tire covers after you park. If you’re not going to use your RV for an extended period, however, it’s recommended you cover the tires. And when it comes time to winterize your rig, check out our How to Winterize Your RV e-book for information about protecting your tires over the winter.
Tire replacement. Age before beauty.
It doesn’t matter if you enjoy driving your RV a lot, or just a little. Eventually you’re going to need to replace your tires. The last thing you want to deal with on the road is a blowout. Enough said on that subject.
Now, if your tires are older and you haven’t had them inspected in a while, then you’ll never be sure if they’re safe for a long-term trip or just a short weekend stay at the nearest campground. That’s why it’s recommended that you get your tires inspected every 90 days.
The amount of weight you’re putting on your tires could also cause your tires to wear out faster than they should. If you have an oversized load, the tires can’t handle it and will collapse under the pressure. Failing to maintain proper weight distribution can also pop the tires that are holding the most weight.
To determine whether you need new tires, you can always try the coin test. Just grab a quarter or penny and fit it into the grooves of your tires. The coin should stand straight up. If it can’t, then the treads are too worn-down to continue driving.
While there’s no hard-and-fast rule about when tires should be replaced, if they’re older than seven years then it doesn’t matter how many miles you’ve put on them, they probably need to be changed.
How do you know how old tires are? It’s actually fairly easy. All tires contain a Tire Identification Number (TIN) that identifies the week and year that the tire was manufactured. TINs start with the letters “DOT” followed by several numbers and letters. To determine the age of your tires, you’ll want to pay attention to the last 4 digits of the TIN. Consider these digits your tire’s “born-on date.” For example, if the last 4 digits of your TIN are 4210, that means that your tires were manufactured in the 42nd week of the year 2010.
RV tires. What’s your type?
If you’re hauling your RV behind you (as opposed to driving it), you’re going to want ST tires. Tires with an ST designation are designed for “Special Trailer” usage. Trailer tires aren’t used for steering or traction during acceleration, so traction is not a consideration. This means their tread patterns are specifically designed for low rolling resistance. However, trailer tires do have to carry a lot of weight and endure outside storage and weathering for extended periods.
The compounds in ST tires typically use more chemicals to resist UV rays and aging and may also use harder rubber than drive wheel and steering tires. It’s also important to know that ST tires are speed-rated at 65 mph under normal inflation and load conditions. If you plan on traveling more in the 65-to-75 mph range, you’re going to need to increase the inflation of your tires. But be aware, DO NOT ever increase the recommended pressure in your tires by more than 10 psi. And if the maximum pressure for the wheel prohibits the increase of air pressure, then the maximum speed for your trip is simply going to have to be 65 mph.
Class A, B, and C RVs are more likely to use LT-metric (light truck metric) tires. In many cases, a straight-rib highway tire will work best on the front of your RV. This type of tread has the lowest rolling resistance and best wear. If you plan to drive only in mild weather and on good roads, straight-rib highway tires at the rear will also give the best mileage and fuel economy.
Money makes the tire go ‘round.
It’s been said that price is what you pay, but value is what you get. Just consider what kind of savings you would get if you didn’t have to buy new tires every three years and instead got five years’ worth of safe service out of your tires.
We’ll not go into any price specifics in this e-book, since pricing always changes, but prices for a good tire can run from around $180 per tire all the way up to almost $350 per tire. That’s for Class A, B, and C motorhomes. If you’re pulling a travel trailer, prices are lower. Trailer tires can run from around $60 per tire to $200 per tire. If you’re looking for some of the best deals, however, you may want to consider buying your tires from one of the following:
RV Rallies—Tire vendors will attend these rallies, and you can go from one to the next asking what their prices are.
Costco or Sam’s Club—Of course, you have to be a member, but the cost of that compared to what you can save is negligible.
Truck Tire Dealer—Generally truck tire shops have the widest selection of tires that will work with RVs, since trucks and RVs tend to use the same kinds of tires.
Big Retailers—Shops like Walmart, Sears, Discount Tire, and others may be worth checking out as well.
Camping World—Of course one of the biggest names in RVs has tires.
Before you roll.
If there’s just one thing to leave you with when it comes to RV tires, it’s this: don’t skimp. Tires keep you safe, they keep the other drivers around you safe, and in the end, they also keep the large investment you made in your RV safe.
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