Tire Tips for Safe RV Travel
How to inspect and protect tires on your motorhome or travel trailer
RVs allow you to bring a home along on your road trip adventures. The downside, beyond expense, is that you have both home and vehicle maintenance chores. This leads to a long to-do list, but tire care should be right at the top.
Replace older tires: Regardless of how much wear or use they have, CR recommends replacing tires that are more than 10 years old, or sooner if specified in the vehicle owner’s manual.
To determine your tires’ age, check the Department of Transportation code that follows the letters DOT on the tire’s sidewall. (You may need to get underneath the vehicle with a flashlight to find it.) The last four digits of that code indicate the week and year the tire was produced. For example, 2007 would indicate the tire was produced in the 20th week of 2007. Note: Tires manufactured before 2000 will have only one digit for the year. A 7 could mean 1997 or 1987, etc. This should be a red flag that the tire is too old for use.
Check newer tires, too. Even if the tires are less than 10 years old, carefully inspect the sidewalls for signs of aging or damage, such as cuts, cracks, and blisters. If you find any, replace those tires as soon as you can because those are signs of weak points that could result in a failure or flat during your travels.
Choosing RV tires: There are a limited number of models available, compared with the market for cars. Likewise, there are a few popular brand names, and some smaller suppliers that may be unfamiliar. Don’t cut corners in your choice. This is an item to spend money on to get the best tires for your application; literally everything is riding on them. Best sure to consult the manual for your vehicle for recommendations on size and load capacity. On balance, it is better to buy tires that can handle more weight than risk your vehicle or trailer being at the tire’s threshold when fully loaded.
Maintain the correct inflation pressure. It’s key to allowing tires to carry an RV’s heavy load safely and should be checked before each trip. This includes the hard-to-reach inboard rear tires and the spare. Look for the inflation pressure recommendation on the left side of the driver’s seat for Class B and Class C RVs; on the doorjamb; or in the owner’s manual.
Care for tires properly. Clean the tires periodically with soap and water to remove contaminants that may have accumulated on the sidewall, and block them from direct sunlight when parked; both can deteriorate the rubber over time. Don’t use tire dressing products, meant to improve the tire’s appearance, that contain petroleum or alcohol. These add a temporary sheen, but they, too, can deteriorate tires.
Balance the weight in your RV properly, so tires take an even load. Refer to the owner’s manual for how to load your RV. RVs should not be loaded by volume but by weight capacity and distribution. That includes the weight of any towed vehicles or trailers, cargo in the basement, and water in the tanks. If you are unsure, consult an RV specialist before heading out.
Add aftermarket tire pressure monitors. It is wise to invest in tire pressure monitors that can warn of problems before they become disasters. There are several products made specifically for RVs, with different levels of specificity (“low” vs. a readout in pounds per square inch) and that work with different displays, either their own or another in the vehicle.
The better systems involve fitting a sensor inside the tire. This is the pricier option, but the more accurate pressure reading and ability to monitor tire temperatures (which can signal an emerging problem) make them the prime choice. There are also many systems that simply screw onto the tire valve. No matter the system, it will give extra peace of mind, and notably make it much easier to check the pressure on the rear inboard tire.