When to Replace RV Tires

Worried that tire dealers and manufacturers are exaggerating when you need to replace motorhome and trailer tires? Well, here’s when to replace RV tires.

When to replace RV tires is a very common question among RVers that has a very important answer—an answer that can not only save you money in the long run but a big headache, too. Not to mention it directly affects your safety!

“If I can offer some advice to newbies…replace all your tires. I don’t care how old they are, how good they look, how much tread they have. If you did not put them, just do it.”

The above advice recently appeared on a Facebook RV discussion group. While this advice may seem drastic, it’s based on a sound foundation. I’ll explain why in this article as well as cover the exceptions. 

Hint: the key phrase is “if you did not put them on.”

Check your tires at each rest stop © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn from others’ BAD experiences

I’m unaware of why the writer lives by this advice but it’s easy to assume he learned the hard way.

First, I want to further explain or express what may be the reasoning behind this strong recommendation.

You shouldn’t necessarily trust the tires that came with your RV (either new or used). So many trailer tires are garbage. Heat kills tires; they heat up from being overloaded, going too fast, and just hot roads. A lot of trailer tires used to be only rated for 65 mph. There is a difference in quality between manufacturers.

You can’t just go by age or tread of the tires. Even if you put them on and at some point ran the tires 30 percent or more below psi for weight, replace them. That is the problem with trusting older tires from a prior owner or owners. You have NO IDEA of how often they were run with low air pressure or even flat and they are compromised and WILL blow out.

RV tire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When to replace RV tires

The rule of thumb for changing your RV tires is around 3-6 years. The consensus from RV owners leans to the 5-6-year end of that estimate. However, that rule of thumb only applies to quality tires that have been well cared for.

If you are driving on tires that you did not put on, you may not know the following:

  • The quality of the tires
  • If the tires were overloaded by a too-heavy RV
  • If the tires were underinflated
  • If the tires were extensively exposed to extreme temperatures or direct sunlight

All of the above can drastically affect the durability of RV tires without affecting their appearance. So, they may look like new tires with little tread wear but that can be deceiving. They can even be new tires with no tread wear and still not be safe or reliable.

So, even if there’s no dry rot, serious signs of wear or uneven wear, or obvious damage to the tire sidewalls, that’s no guarantee you won’t end up with a blown tire.

By the way, if you don’t know already, you should read about the Danger of Underinflated RV Tires.

How to REALLY know when to replace RV tires

It could be wasteful to blindly follow the above social media comment. After all, some new and used RVs come with high-quality tires that received the proper care and were always driven at the proper tire pressure. But the advice should encourage you to carefully consider your RV tires along with the following information.

Check the DOT number

You can look at the DOT number on your tire to determine its age. A DOT serial number communicates a lot of information in a short series of numbers.

DOT Numbers Represent the following in order of their grouping on your tire:

  • DOT (Department of Transportation)
  • Tire manufacturer / plant code
  • Tire size code
  • Tire manufacturer
  • Date tires were made (first two numbers are week, second two are the year)

Research the type of tire and quality

Based on the second and fourth DOT number groupings, you can research the quality of the tire. Most tires usually have the name of the manufacturer engraved on the rubber, too.

A general rule (that a lot of RVers like to shout from the rooftops) is to replace any tire made in China. These types of tires have earned the dramatic nicknames of Chinese bombs and Chinese poppers and for good reason. Chinese brands seem to blow more than any other.

Tip: You can even go as deep as researching the RV manufacturer and if they’re known for tire blowouts.

RV tire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Determine the age of the tire

By looking at the date code (the last four digits of the DOT), you can determine the age of your tires. If any tire is beyond the 5-year mark, this is a big tick on the replace side of your should I replace my RV tires chart.

If your trailer or motorhome tires are less than 5 years old and especially less than 3 years old, you can further consider the other factors in this article.

Ask the previous owners

If you’re buying used, it’s a good idea to ask the previous owner about their maintenance habits. Of course, you have to take what they say with a grain of salt. Its human nature to make it sound like you did a better job taking care of something than you actually did. But at least you can get an idea.

Questions you can ask:

  • How often did you check the tire pressure?
  • How much weight did you usually carry?
  • Did you ever carry any particularly heavy loads on a long road trip?
  • Did you use tire covers when you stored your RV?
  • Did you often travel at high speeds?

The best way to ask these questions is to preface them with a no-judgment disclosure. Start with something like, “I’m only asking the following to determine when I should replace the tires in the future. There’s no judgment on my part… I just need to know for my own safety.”

For the most honest answers, you should ask these questions after you’ve settled on a price.

Note: Many new RVs sit on the sales lot for a long time. So even new RV tires can be exposed to too much heat and underinflated before even leaving the lot.

Not the way to treat your RV tires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best tire tips for storing your RV

Now that you know what factors to consider in determining the realistic life of your tires, I want to leave you with some tire winterization tips.

RV tire tips for short-term and long-term storage

1. Visually inspect the tires before putting them into storage and again when taking the RV out of storage before the tires are back on the road. Look for any irregularities and differences or foreign materials in the tread that should be removed such as stones or other types of debris.

2. Store the RV in a cool, dry place, out of direct sunlight if possible.

3. If storing the RV outdoors place a surface barrier like a thin piece of wood under the tires to separate them from the ground. This will help protect the tires from the elements while stationary over long periods. It also will help them not to sink with the weight of the RV as the ground freezes and thaws.

4. If possible, lift the stored RV off the ground to take the load off the tires and wheels. Jack stands or lightweight trailer axel lift blocks are great for this task.

5. Cover tires to reduce exposure to sunlight and ozone. White coverings will reflect the sun and keep the tires cooler than darker covers. Specially designed tire covers work best for this task but so can white plastic trash bags.

RV tire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Keep in mind that stored tires can lose air pressure and in two ways:

  • Temperature: No matter the brand, tires can lose ~1.5 percent of air pressure per 10 degrees F with temperature changes. Tires are subject to the Ideal Gas Law which simply means that as the temperature changes, so does air pressure within the tire—in other words, cold air contracts while warm air expands. So, it’s vital to check tire inflation when the tires are cold prior to use and re-inflate tires to their proper pressure as per the placard on the RV (or the original paperwork) before putting them back into service.
  • Sitting static: Tires lose about 3 percent inflation pressure per month while sitting around inflated and not running (at constant temperature). Again, re-inflate the tires to proper pressures before putting them back into use.

Taking the time to prepare your RV before you store it for the winter can help protect your investment for the long haul.

Proper tire maintenance is crucial! Here are a few articles to help and I strongly recommend reading all of them.

I hope all of this information helps keep you safe!

Worth Pondering…

Speed was high

Weather was hot

Tires were thin                                                                                     

X marks the spot

—Burma Shave sign