Tire safety has come a long, long way since it became mandatory in 2007. That year, our cars were required to have tiny sensors inside the tires to tell us when the tires needed air. Dummy lights became the popular name for these built-in systems, because (like your check engine light) they really don’t give you much information—outside the fact that something’s wrong.
Advances in tire safety have since closed that information gap, especially in the RV industry. For good reason: Tires are the touchpoint between your RV and the road. With that in mind, performing five checks and two tools can be the difference between a memorable road trip and a roadside crisis. Choose wisely.
5 Key Checks Before You Hit the Road
Protect your tires from cracking and UV damage.
One of the easiest things you can do to extend the life of your tire is to regularly clean them. All you need is an off-the-shelf tire cleaning solution. Regular cleaning helps prevent cracking caused by dirt and dust during travel. To reduce UV damage, use tire covers. They are quick and easy, both to throw on and to stow, and they greatly reduce the risk of UV damage. If you’re storing your RV outside, tire covers should be used. If your tires show any sign of cracking—also known as dry rot—it is time to replace those tires. Dry-rotted tires pose a significant catastrophic blowout risk.
Check your tires' ages.
Most tire manufacturer’s state a 10-year maximum usable lifespan for tires. However, most RV tire warranties end after five years, or when tread wear becomes visible. To determine the age of your tire, look at your tire’s sidewall. You will find a four-digit code that correlates to the month and year the tire was manufactured.
Inspect valve stems and extenders.
If you have a tire, you have a valve stem. In some RVs, especially in the travel trailer category (see Page 36), rubber valve stems can be a point of failure. You can inspect your valve stems by seeing if they can be easily moved and swayed with your fingers. If they have visible signs of wear, such as cracks, consider replacing them. A faulty or worn rubber valve stem can cause a blowout.
Fortunately, replacing a rubber valve stem on your travel trailer is a lot easier now due to user-replaceable valve stems, which can be swapped out without removing the tire. (They screw right on to the valve stem.)
Motorized RVs, especially those with aluminum rims, come with nickel-plated brass valve stems that are bolted to the rim, which makes tire issues rarer. For dually tires, most valve stems will use valve extenders that provide access to your tire’s air pressure. They’re also one of the leading points for air leaks. If the valve extender comes loose, it could slowly—or quickly—start releasing pressure. And because it is on the inside and not very noticeable, it’s hard to detect. So how do you prevent a valve extender from leaking? Many companies offer longer valve stems that directly replace valve extenders. With these valve stems, you gain the benefit of easy access, without the issue of a potential leak from your valve extenders. If you still would prefer to use valve extenders, it is recommended to check that they’re tight prior to hitting the road.
Measure tread depth.
While checking your tires, make sure there is plenty of tread on your tires. If it starts to look a little low, use a tread depth gauge to make sure you can safely travel. If not, it’s time to replace the tire. The safe time to start considering replacing your tires is 6/32 inches and required at 2/32 inches.
Ensure your tires are properly inflated.
Overinflated tires are more susceptible to damage from road debris, as well as elevate the risk for a tire blowout. It will also distort the shape of your tire, reducing the contact area in which your tires make contact with the road.
Like overinflated tires, underinflated tires increase your chances of a catastrophic blowout. When a tire has less than recommended amount of air pressure, the contact area increases, which can lead to sidewall damage. Underinflation will also cause uneven wear on both the inner and outer sections of the tire, reducing the tires overall lifespan.
When checking your tire pressures, make sure that the tire pressure is set to the manufacturer’s suggested pressure—what pros call the “baseline” pressure. It can typically be found on a placard located on the driver’s side exterior of a trailer or inside the door jamb of a motorhome. You should also confirm that your weight and pressure is correct when compared to the load inflation chart of your specific tire (found on the respective tire manufacturer’s website). As the weight of your RV increases, the recommended tire pressure will increase. You will need to have your RV weighed to determine the weight, which is best done on a per tire basis. It may sound like a lot of work, but maintaining proper pressure greatly reduces the chances of having a blowout and increases tire longevity.
Tools for the Road
Tire Pressure Monitoring System
Checking your tire pressures prior to hitting the road can be done with either a standard tire gauge or a TPMS. With a TPMS, keep in mind that when you first turn your system on, it may take several minutes before the pressures update. (Some systems have a feature that you can utilize to “request” updated pressures.) You should also be aware that some systems will not update until you are in motion. In fact, the majority of standard car, truck, and SUV systems operate this way. However, the most popular brands of RV TPMS send tire pressure and temperature data, even while stationary.
TPMSs continue to monitor tire pressures while driving down the road. Each system works slightly differently, but in essence all systems have an update internally between 4 to 20 minutes, sending tire data wirelessly to the main monitor. These systems also check every 6 to 12 seconds for a tire issue. If an issue is found, an alert is immediately sent to the monitor. That means some systems could take up to 12 seconds to warn you. However, it is more likely to send an alert in half that time frame. These timing intervals are the biggest difference between individual brands of TPMS.
The next biggest difference in an RV TPMS is the types of alerts the system will provide. Almost all of them include high- and low-pressure alerts, along with high temperature alerts, but another valuable type of alert is a leaking alert. Some, like TireMinder, even include slow- and rapid-leaking alerts. While traveling down the road, the pressure will rise in your tires, possibly even an excess of 10 to 15 PSI. Because the Tire-Minder TPMS includes a timed-pressure loss alert, it can alert at the appropriate time, even when the pressure has risen due to weather, altitude, or normal driving. This allows an earlier warning to be displayed, even when the tire pressure is within the normal range.
Portable Air Compressor
If you have a slow leak, a portable air compressor makes a world of difference. It can also prevent you from having to wait hours for roadside assistance to arrive, giving you the ability to fill up your tires anywhere you travel. Tire size matters when choosing the right air compressor. Small 15-inch trailer tires have less volume than larger 22.5-inch bus tires, which makes the fill times different. You will want a compressor powerful enough to fill up your specific tire in a timely fashion. After all, if it is going to take hours to fill up your tires, you might as well wait for roadside assistance. Let’s avoid that.
Technology from the Tire Safety Revolution
Differences between systems include: sensor weight, battery life, signal boosters, smartphone compatibility, pressure accuracy, warranty, and price. Compare these features when selecting your TPMS. (And remember: a good TPMS measures pressure and temperature.)