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RV tire maintenance 101

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RV tire maintenance 101

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Recreational Vehicle (RV) accidents can be caused by a number of factors from steering, suspension, brake and tire failure to poor maintenance, driver fatigue, excessive speed, tire under-inflation and overloading. One of the most critical safety areas is, quite literally, where the rubber meets the road and it’s no surprise therefore that both chassis manufacturers and upfitters alike recommend regular inspection of RV tires. To demonstrate just how important tire safety is to existing and future RVers, the RVing Examiner reached out to Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation -- one of the most respected names in the North American RV industry -- for some helpful RV road trip advice.

“Conducting routine tire maintenance on your motorhome is important when it comes to the life of your tires,” states Mike Cody, Sr. Service Training Instructor of Freightliner Custom Chassis. “One of the most important things is to be sure you maintain the proper tire pressure. Be sure to weigh your coach properly, on all tire positions, then reference the tire manufacturers tire pressure table to insure appropriate pressures. Operating with the correct tire pressure not only ensures premium ride and handling thus reducing driver fatigue, but it also helps with braking and reducing tire wear.”

Tire balancing: Using drop in sand/polymer filled bags, tire beads and lead rim/stick on weights

Tire balancing is designed to eliminate hopping and vibration when a tire rotates. Although lead rim/stick on weights will be familiar to passenger vehicle drivers, sand/polymer filled bags or tire beads are sometimes used by independent and fleet truck operators to balance wheels on both tractors and trailers. These products can be dropped into a new tire or injected into an existing tyre (via the air valve entry). The bagged products break open and, as the tire rotates, the sand or polymer is distributed throughout the tire as it rotates. This helps eliminate vibration and prolong tread life. Interestingly, farmers have been using fluid wheel balancing (with salt water or anti-freeze) for many years. Naturally it goes without saying that you should not attempt such modifications yourself.

RV Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems

Tire pressure monitoring systems are used to monitor the pressure in the tires via sensors located in the tires or the use of wheel speed and other vehicle sensors and a warning light and/or chime is used to warn the driver of a potentially unsafe condition like a loss of tire pressure or increase in tire temperature. Since 2008, the NHTSA has required automotive manufacturers (though not RV manufacturers) to install such systems in vehicles with a gross weight of up to 10,000lbs.

Given the repair costs associated with a blowout -- where damage to the RV can often extend well beyond the wheel well -- installing a TPMS system should be a high priority for motorhome and travel trailer owners. A number of competing tire pressure monitoring systems are available including the Hawkshead Talon and the TireMinder TPMS system. The latter system can be found at Camping World.

RV Wheel Alignment

Wheel alignment is something that most RV owners will undertake at least once during the lifetime of their motorhome or travel trailer as alignment is usually recommended every 50,000 miles or after the installation of new tires.

An alignment shop will test the steering axle toe and tracking, as well as the camber and caster settings of your wheels to ensure that all wheels are pointing in the same direction. Although this sounds simplistic, improperly aligned wheels can result in poor vehicle handling (shimmy, vibration and pulling), excessive tire wear (like feathering, cupping and shoulder wear) and premature failure of suspension components.

Owners of larger RVs may have to seek out a truck alignment shop as smaller automotive shops often don’t have racks big enough to handle larger motorhomes.

RV Tire Load and Inflation Tables

RV owners should not only ensure that their motorhome or travel trailer tires are properly inflated but should also verify, by following the tire manufacturer links below, that tires are correctly rated for both load and speed.

RV Loading and Weight Distribution

Although RV manufacturers provide a “dry” weight for travel trailers and motorhomes one of the first tasks that a new RV owner should undertake is to find the “wet” weight of their recreational vehicle. Load up the vehicle with camping paraphernalia -- food, bedding, cutlery, and crockery, etc. – and ensure that there is some water in the grey, black, and fresh water tank (along with a full tank of fuel and LP gas) before heading out in search of a commercial vehicle scale like the CAT certified scales at Pilot-Flying J (available at most locations). Alternatively, use the CAT certified scale website to find a weigh station near you.

You will need to weigh the vehicle and verify that the results fall within the weight tolerances specified by the RV manufacturer:

  • Weigh the entire vehicle with all wheels on the scale
  • Then weigh the front axle with only the front wheels on the scale
  • Weigh the rear axle with only the rear wheels on the scale
  • Then weigh the left side with only the left front and back wheels on the scale
  • Then do the same with only the right side with only the right front and back wheels on the scale.

The weigh station results should provide an RV owner with the information necessary to determine whether the fully loaded RV weighs less than the vehicle’s maximum permitted Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) as well as ensuring that springs, struts, wheels, axles, and tires are loaded within manufacturing tolerances. If areas of overloading are discovered owners can take steps to off-load or redistribute weight more evenly across the axles.

The NHTSA requires that a variety of information is displayed on the sidewall of tires sold in the United States including a tire speed rating, date of manufacture and the maximum load in kilograms and pounds that can be safely carried by the tire (see slideshow for schematic).

Acknowledgements: My thanks to Laurie Perolio-Bullinger, Account Manager LaBov & Beyond, Inc.

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