Welcome to RV Mishaps, a content series written by RVers about problems they’ve encountered on the road, how they solved them, and lessons learned. Have a mishap story of your own that you’d like to tell? Send us an email at email@example.com.
My husband and I spent most of 2018 planning for a new life on the road, watching YouTube videos, listening to podcasts, and reading books to learn everything we could about full-time RV life. We learned that safety is of the utmost importance and that tire blowouts are one of the most common causes of accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, tire blowouts cause over 75,000 accidents each year and can be both a damaging and terrifying experience. The cause for most tire blowouts? Underinflated tires.
To avoid this situation, we invested in a tire pressure monitoring system, also known as TPMS. A TPMS alerts drivers of any tire inflation issues. Most basic systems will alert when the tire pressure is low, while more high-end systems also alert for high temperatures, high pressure, and fast leakage. TPMS for travel trailers can range from $250 to more than $650, and while not inexpensive, they’re worth the investment.
Before driving off the lot with our new Airstream travel trailer in 2019, the dealership installed a TST 507 Series 4 Sensor TPMS with Color Display. The kit came with four small sensors that were added to the existing RV tire rubber stem valves and a monitor positioned nicely on our tow vehicle’s front console. The TST system has proven effective and reliable, and even offers flow-through sensors—meaning that it’s possible to add or remove air from the tires without removing the sensors.
After 14 months on the road and thousands of miles under our belts, we were ready to make our third trip across the country. We felt confident and pleased with our TPMS—it had come in handy a few times over the year, alerting us when the tire temperature was creeping up or if the pressure was a bit too low.
What Went Wrong
After a few nights of boondocking, we wanted hookups and amenities and found a site at Jordanelle State Park in Utah. As we pulled into our spot, the TPMS alarm went off, showing a slow leak coming from the rear driver’s side trailer tire. Luckily, we were settled for the week and not boondocking or driving. We assumed the leak was caused by a hole from a nail or another sharp object. Upon inspection, we noticed a hissing sound coming from the valve stem, which showed cracks and was leaking where the stem meets the tire.
During the initial search for a TPMS, we bought one that was compatible with both rubber and metal valve stems. Because metal valve stems can sometimes snap more easily, we opted to keep the standard factory rubber valve stem on our tires. What we didn’t know was that the centrifugal force of the sensor can cause the more flexible rubber stem to slowly fail over time.
We considered ourselves lucky that we were in a convenient and safe location, as well as experiencing temperate weather. We were also grateful for our CoachNet roadside assistance membership. The membership covered the service call fee and our Airstream warranty covered the cost of the tire replacement. We simply called CoachNet that evening and they worked with a local tire repair service center to send someone to the campground. The technician was at our site the next morning to replace the rubber stem valve, and we were thrilled we didn’t need to be towed to a tire center.
After inspecting the failed valve stem and reading Airstream and TPMS forums, we self-inspected the valve stems on the other three tires and found that two of them were also failing. We made the decision to have all four rubber valve stems replaced with metal valve stems.
While tire safety is not the most glamorous aspect of RVing, it’s definitely one of the most essential. In addition to our TPMS, here are a few tactics we use to avoid a tire mishap:
- Cover the tires while the trailer is in storage.
- Continually check the wear and tear of tires.
- Routinely check the tightness of lug nuts, especially before a travel day.
- Get annual dealership tire checks and rotations.
- Replace tires showing any signs of wear, tear, or low tread.
Invest in a compressor to easily fill your tires from anywhere on the road. One popular option is the Viair 00088 88P Portable Air Compressor.
Disclaimer: Togo RV is part of a joint venture, partially owned by Thor Industries, Inc., of which Airstream is a subsidiary.
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