RV TPMS: What It Is and Why You Need It

One of the greatest fears every RVer has is a breakdown on the road. Apart from it dampening the enthusiasm of your road trip and ruining your schedule, a breakdown can be downright scary if it happens in the wrong place, at night, or during bad weather.

Though there are a multitude of things that can go wrong on any vehicle at any time, one of the most common failures on an RV is a tire. Motorhome owners have a lot of them to contend with between the coach itself and the towed vehicle and it only takes something as small as a wayward nail to cause a flat—or worse yet—a blowout.

For decades, RVers simply had to remain vigilant about inflation pressure—checking it before travel and during fuel stops. While this is still a good habit to be in, it won’t help if you start to lose pressure in one or more tires as you travel down the road. That’s why a Tire-Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) is such a worthwhile addition.

By constantly keeping tabs on all the tires as you travel, a TPMS can let an RV owner know the instant a tire starts to lose pressure and address the problem before it gets catastrophic. At the very least, a good TPMS can save owners a lot of money especially if the tire can be fixed rather than replaced.

An RV TPMS is a safety feature that not only protects you (and everyone riding in and around your RV while you’re on the road) but it also helps to keep your tires in tip-top condition, a goal near-and-dear to the hearts of RVers—for many reasons.

Let’s take a look at why this system is so important.

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What is an RV TPMS?

The purpose of an RV tire pressure monitoring system is to track the pressures of all tires on the rig to make sure proper tire pressure is maintained as you travel.

Many factors can cause tires to lose air including a change in ambient temperature, a slow leak, and a fast leak caused by something the tire strikes on the road or even just time and travel.

Using our rig as an example, we’re 40-feet long (without the car in tow!) and heavy. If we’re rambling down the highway at 65 miles per hour and one of our RV tires blows out we could find ourselves in a very precarious situation. Not only would we be in danger in this scenario but so could anyone traveling near us on the road.

This is what makes an RV TPMS so critical.

Constant monitoring of tire pressure allows you to be alerted to any changes in the tire pressure of every tire on your rig as they happen.

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How does an RV TPMS work?

A TPMS places a sensor at each of the RV tires and the sensors allow the constant monitoring of each tire’s pressure. As soon as the pressure in any one of the tires drops below the appropriate level, the driver is notified via the information on the TPMS console mounted on the dashboard of the rig.

Those are the basics of how a TPMS system works but depending on the model, some offer a variety of additional features. Some systems offer customizable high and low-pressure alerts and a high-temperature alert (each sensor also monitoring the temperature of the air in the tire).

Why do you need an RV TPMS?

There are several important reasons to have an RV TPMS. The first and most important by far is for safety.

1. Safety

A system that monitors your tires contributes to your safety, the safety of everyone in your RV, and the safety of everyone in the vicinity of your rig.

A TPMS system is a good tool for every vehicle and even more so for RVs. Most motorhomes are large, long, tall, and very heavy. Some have twice as many tires as the average vehicle on the road.

Our rig has six tires and our toad has four more. So, we ride down the road on 10 tires. Our RV alone weighs over 14 tons and we spend a lot of time on the road. At any given time any one of those 10 tires could have an issue and we want to be alerted as early as possible.

A blowout in any vehicle is dangerous. A blowout in a 38-foot motorhome towing an SUV while hurtling down the highway could very easily be catastrophic.

2. An RV TPMS extends tire life

Tires that are over- or under-inflated wear out more quickly than tires that are maintained at their recommended psi. Overinflation leads the tire tread to wear more quickly at the center of the tire while underinflation can cause the outer treads to wear prematurely. For this reason, a TPMS extends tire life.

3. Environmentally friendly

Under-inflated tires wear sooner and reduce fuel efficiency by increasing drag. This makes a TPMS an environmentally friendly system in a couple of ways.

First, there’s the fuel consumption issue, of course. Improperly inflated tires can increase the drag resisting the rotation of your wheels causing your RV engine to have to work harder (i.e. burn more fuel) to roll down the road. Under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by about 0.2 percent for every 1 psi drop in the average pressure of all tires.

There’s also the matter of tire replacement. A worn tire requires replacement and the more tires you replace, the more rubber, steel, nylon, silica, polyester, carbon black, petroleum, etc. you use (and dispose of)!

Types of RV Tire Pressure Monitor Systems

There are two types of RV TPMS—direct and indirect. Let’s take a look at what distinguishes them from one another.

Direct RV TPMS

The most common form of TPMS, this type adds a sensor to each tire (either installed inside the tire by mounting it to the wheel/rim or externally on the valve stem). The sensor is programmed to that tire position and then provides real-time data alerting the driver if the tire’s pressure drops below the appropriate level.

Some direct TPMS units will also alert you to a slow leak in a tire as well as when a tire’s temperature rises above a certain point.

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Indirect RV TPMS

Indirect tire pressure monitoring systems are less common. They work along with the antilock braking system of your RV or vehicle.

An indirect TPMS senses and monitors how fast the wheels are spinning. When one wheel spins at a different speed than the others, it generally indicates improper tire pressure in that tire. The driver is alerted to the discrepancy and can stop and tend to that tire.

With an indirect TPMS, the sensor must be recalibrated every time the tire pressure is changed.

Indirect TPMS units are factory installed only and are not available as aftermarket systems.

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What to look for in an RV TPMS

Here’s where we get into the details. RV tire pressure monitoring systems have a number of features that are important to assess when considering the purchase of a system for your rig.

Display

The type of display on a system you need to monitor while driving is an important consideration. If you can’t read the display in the sun, for example, the monitoring system is relatively useless whenever you’re driving in those conditions. Look for a display that is easily read even when wearing sunglasses. While this may seem like an obvious feature of any TPMS, it isn’t.

Also consider the size of the display screen; for most people a 4 ½ inch x 3 inch screen is easy to read.

It’s very important to have a TPMS with a high-quality display that’s easy to read.

Ease of use and installation

This is self-explanatory but no one likes to have to spend hours trying to figure out how any system works. You want a system that’s easy-to-install and easy-to-use so that you can set it up, learn how to use it quickly, and carry on about your business.

So, when shopping for a TPMS, be sure to read reviews where you can often find comments from people who will often express how frustrating a system was to install or to learn.

You want a system you’ll install and walk away saying, “That was easy” and one you’ll use almost without having to think about it.

Reliability

The reliability of any product is always important. But when you’re counting on a product to give you accurate information related to a safety item, you want to be darn sure that information is reliable.

I’ve heard complaints about wireless connectivity issues. If your TPMS only monitors the condition of your tires some of the time then it’s not serving its intended purpose.

The reliability of how the system responds is crucial. The system must properly respond to changes in tire pressure and temperature or it’s of no real use and could even present a danger if it’s giving inaccurate information.

Flexibility

One size does not fit all with a tire pressure monitoring system. The reason is that we’re all driving and towing different rigs. But let’s say you’re taking a road trip and leaving your toad behind.

You’ll want a TPMS system that allows you to separate the two different parts of your towing configuration. If you leave the toad behind, you want to be able to drop it from the system and monitor only the tires on your motorhome.

This is perhaps an even more important feature for trailer/fifth wheel owners. They need to know that even if they’re not towing their RV their TPMS will work on their truck.

Another important element of flexibility is whether or not you can buy as many sensors as you need, based on how many tires you have.

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User-replaceable sensor batteries

A system that allows you to replace the batteries is an important consideration when purchasing a TPMS.

Some systems don’t have user-replaceable batteries and as the batteries began to die they start having an issue with individual tires not properly reporting. The cost of replacing the low-battery sensors can be more than buying a whole new system.

You’ll want a system that has a monitor with a built-in rechargeable internal lithium battery and comes with a common USB charging cord that can be connected to a USB port for easy charging.

If you’re looking at a system that doesn’t have user-replaceable batteries, you need to know the predicted life of the included batteries and you also want to know whether the sensors can be sent back for replacement when they’re no longer sensing accurately due to low battery power. (Or perhaps replacements are offered at a discounted price.)

Cost/budget

Budget is always a consideration when shopping for a product and a tire pressure monitoring system is certainly no exception.

There are various systems out there at various costs.

But shop for quality, ease of use, and reliability. If you buy a quality product up front that performs well, you won’t need to replace it for a long time to come.

Worth Pondering…

Speed was high

Weather was hot

Tires were thin

X marks the spot

—Burma Shave sign

The Danger of Underinflated RV Tires

Do not drive with underinflated RV tires! I have some critical advice to save you lots of grief.

One of the most important but neglected parts of your RV: your tires. There is nothing more frightening than having a tire blow out while you are driving at highway speeds. Studies show that more than 30 percent of us drive with underinflated RV tires.

In an RV it is dangerous!

Maintaining proper tire pressure in your RV should always be a top priority but with summer underway, it’s more important than ever to keep an eye on your tires. The dangers of underinflated tires include increased risk for tire blowouts which in turn can cause you to lose control of your RV and potentially cause harm to your vehicle and other drivers on the road.

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

What causes a tire blowout

There are a variety of reasons that an RV could experience a tire blowout but almost every cause for blowout can be traced back to the condition of the tire and whether or not it was properly inflated. In the summer, drivers have a tendency to underinflate tires, knowing that heat causes air to expand. This approach makes sense; however, in order to keep your tire pressure at a safe level, tires should always be inflated to the manufacturer’s specifications.

When tires are underinflated there is undue stress put on the internal components—the fabric, steel, rubber, etc. The extra heat of summer along with the low air pressure can cause these internal components to snap and break. If your RV tires are already weak or in poor condition, then you’re at an even greater risk for experiencing a blowout during the summer months.

Another cause of tire blowout includes overloading your RV and carrying more weight than you have the capacity for. Overloading your vehicle poses its own set of dangers and puts too much pressure on your tires. As I discussed above, too much pressure paired with too much heat spells out disaster.

Potholes, uneven driving surfaces, and sharp debris left in the road can also cause RV drivers to experience a tire blowout. A pothole can cause an underinflated tire to explode if hit at just the right angle. When driving your RV you need to keep a lookout for potholes, debris, and other issues so you don’t put yourself and other drivers in danger.

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What can you do to prevent a tire blowout?

Preventing a tire blowout from happening is of extreme importance as an RV driver. While there will always be factors that are out of your control, you need to take the time and effort necessary to do your part in keeping tires in safe working condition:

  • Always inspect your tires, checking for tread depth, signs of wear and tear, and most importantly, checking for adequate tire pressure
  • Make sure you aren’t overloading your RV and carrying more weight than you have capacity for
  • Keep a watchful eye on the roadways looking out for debris or potholes that could cause tire damage
  • Maintain a safe driving distance from other vehicles at all times just in case you would lose control of your vehicle due to a tire blowout

Tire blowouts can be very dangerous, not only for you but also for other unsuspecting drivers that have to swerve to avoid tire pieces. Follow these tips, maintain your tire pressure, and be safe driving this summer.

Is it safe to drive with low tire pressure?

Maintaining good tires is one of the most important parts of RV ownership. After all, without good tires, you won’t be traveling anywhere! Despite this, many people end up driving on low tire pressure which puts unnecessary strain on the tires and the entire vehicle. 

It’s a bad idea to drive with tires that are overinflated or underinflated because this shortens the lifespan of your RV tires. Although tires can be replaced once they blow, it’s best to avoid this situation altogether. Blowouts can be dangerous, especially if you’re driving at highway speeds when they occur. 

Driving with underinflated tire causes numerous problems for your RV, some more obvious than others. Below I’ll discuss a few of the risks you run when you drive with underfilled tires. I’ll also cover some tips for proper maintenance so you can enjoy disaster-free road trips. 

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Poor fuel mileage

One of the downsides of low tire pressure is the effect it has on your fuel efficiency. RVs are already fuel guzzlers so you don’t want to throw any extra money into that pit. If you drive with underinflated tires, your engine has to work harder to complete each rotation. This effort uses up your fuel and that means you need to stop for refills more frequently. 

Nobody wants to pay for extra gas, especially with the rising price of fuel. Keeping your tires inflated to the recommended level will help you save money and keep your RV in better condition. 

Increased vehicle strain

Every part of an RV has to work in order to get it moving. Whether you’re driving a motorhome or pulling a trailer, there’s an engine that’s working hard. It doesn’t need to deal with the added stress that comes from driving on low tire pressure. 

RVs are also significant investments, so it’s important to keep them well maintained and in good driving condition. Keeping your tires properly inflated and performing regular maintenance ensures that everything is in good working order. Underinflated tires require your engine and the other automotive parts to work extra hard. In turn, this shortens the lifespan of your RV. 

Check your tire pressure EVERY travel day © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Uneven tread weathering

Driving with low tire pressure also puts unnecessary stress on the tires themselves. When your tires are underinflated they tend to slump and spread out. This means that more of the tire comes into contact with the road as you drive. 

Typically, only the center of a tire will face the wear and tear of the road. But if you drive on underinflated tires, the sides will also be exposed to this rough treatment. This weathers your tread in an uneven way. Even if you reinflate your tires later, some damage has already been done. 

Reduced traction

This is related to the point above. When you place extra stress on your tires and wear them down, you’ll inevitably lose some traction. All tires eventually wear out but you’ll speed up the process if you’re always driving on low tire pressure. 

Traction is very important for RVers, whether it’s the tires of your RV or the tow vehicle. You need to have as much grip as possible to get your rig moving and control its direction. Driving on snow, ice, mud, and gravel also becomes much harder if your tires have lost their traction. 

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Less responsive vehicle

Driving with compromised tires is extremely dangerous especially when you’re driving something as large and heavy as an RV. Tipping and swaying are already huge risks, so you’ll want to do everything you can to make the experience safer. 

Low-pressure tires make your vehicle less responsive to small adjustments. This is connected to the reduced traction and uneven wear and tear of the tread.

If your vehicle can’t respond quickly enough to turn, change lanes, or make other adjustments, you’re in trouble. You also might deal with some wobbling and drifting if your tires are out of shape. 

Increased risk of blowouts

One of the biggest risks of driving with low tire pressure is the increased likelihood of blowouts and flat tires. Blowouts are dangerous for you and everyone around you on the road.

It’s never fun to deal with a flat tire but it’s especially hard when you’re working with an RV. Because of their increased size and weight, it’s harder to jack them up and replace tires. In addition, you can’t always guarantee that there will be a mechanic nearby, so you have to rely on your roadside assistance program.

It’s imperative that you avoid tire blowouts at all costs. Maintaining the proper tire pressure is a great way to start. 

Tips for RV tire maintenance

If you want to keep your RV in the best possible condition, you need to practice proper RV tire maintenance. This means more than just replacing tires once they go flat. You need to include tires in your regular check-ups, so you don’t miss any budding problems.

There are also preventative measures you can take to keep your tires good for as long as possible. You should always check your tires before leaving on a long trip. Also, check them before and after you put your vehicle into storage for the winter. Below we have a few tips that will help you keep your tires properly filled and in great shape!

Use a tire pressure monitoring system

Tires can unexpectedly become damaged, even if you look after them. This is why a tire pressure monitoring system is a great gadget to have. It can alert you if your tire pressure is too low or too high, if a tire has a puncture, or if the temperature is too high. These early warnings will help you address problems before they become dangerous.

RV tire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cover tires during storage

If you choose to store your RV during certain seasons, make sure you cover your tires. Quality tire covers will insulate your tires from extreme temperature changes, prevent UV damage, and keep them cleaner.

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

Check RV Tire Pressure EVERY Travel Day and Here’s Why

Proper tire pressure is critically important not only to your safety but the life of your tires. Here is why you should check RV tire pressure EVERY travel day

RV tires are vital to a safe, smooth trip, yet they are often the most overlooked parts of an RV. People know they need to check them but they don’t realize how often they should check them.

RVers should give a visual inspection of their tires before every travel day and at each stop along the way. But that’s not all! It may seem tedious but you should also check your RV tire pressure before you hit the road—every time!

Isn’t that overkill?! It’s really not and I’ll tell you why. (Spoiler alert: it’ll save you time, money, and headaches!)

Check your RV tires every travel day © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV tires: What you need to know

I’m writing this article because I realized I have been neglecting the topic up to this point. In truth, I started to get too lackadaisical about my tire maintenance (like all RVers do from time to time). I needed a kick in my pants to remind me of how important RV tire care and maintenance really is. 

When I got my kick in the pants, I checked my blog to see what posts I had to help my readers that I could update. Too few, it turns out! That spurred me to write a series of new blogs. 

So, let’s start this series and answer why checking RV tire pressure is so important.

Why you should check RV tire pressure EVERY travel day

Checking your RV tire pressure takes less than 5 minutes and makes a big difference in keeping you safe, keeping you off the side of the road, and keeping money in your pocket. 

Let’s begin with the most important benefit: your safety.

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The danger of underinflated tires

Underinflated RV tires lead to blowouts. It’s as simple (and as dangerous) as that. I hope you’ve never had an RV tire blowout but if you have you know how scary it is. 

When your RV tire blows, it can cause serious problems like loss of steering control, swaying, and even a fire. The debris from the blown tire can cause bouncing and possibly damage your RV, too.

Needless to say, you want to do everything you can to prevent RV tire blowouts. While some causes are out of your control (like debris in the road), tire pressure is something you can properly maintain.

If tire pressure is too low, too much of the tire’s surface area touches the road which increases friction. Increased friction can cause the tires to overheat which can lead to premature wear, tread separation, and blowouts.

Let’s talk about premature wear and tread separation now.

Incorrect tire pressure shortens the lifespan of RV tires

You might think that tire dealers and manufacturers try to get you to replace your tires earlier to make more money but the lifespan of RV tires is truthfully quite short. 

The rule of thumb for changing your RV tires is around 5-7 years. The consensus from RV owners leans to the 6-year end of that estimate. However, that rule of thumb only applies to quality tires that have been well taken care of. Underinflated tires can drastically decrease that projected lifespan.

Check your RV tires every travel day © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3 products to help you check and maintain tire pressure

Maintaining the correct tire pressure is easy if you have the right tools. I recommend the following (or some comparable version of the following).

1. Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)

Every RVer should carry a tire pressure gauge. However, there is a better tool. Instead of checking your tire pressure manually, you can monitor it with a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS). With this system, you just have to look at the display to check your tire pressure before you leave.

A Tire Pressure Monitoring System does exactly what its name implies. It displays a readout and/or gives you real-time status reports on all of your RV tires.

If a tire gets too low, it alerts you with a sound and flashes a message. Some show you exactly which tire is underinflated while others just alert you to check your tires.

Some RVs have a TPMS built in, but not all do. If yours doesn’t, you can install an after-market system.

2. Portable Air Compressor

A recommended air compressor is the Viair 40047-400P RV model. The RV means it is made for RVs and the unit is powered by jumper cables that attach to the battery of your vehicle.

It comes in a sturdy canvas bag and has all the accessories including a hose, inflators, and a pressure gauge. It is very easy to hook up and operate. 

It’s not the cheapest air compressor but it is considered by many to be the best.

3. Emergency Roadside Kit

No matter what precautions you take, RV blowouts can still happen. So, at the very least, you should carry LED road flares and/or orange warning triangles. Better yet, you can carry a whole kit.

In addition to having an emergency roadside kit, I highly recommend RV roadside assistance. At some point or another, every RVers ends up on the side of the road. It’s just a fact of the RV lifestyle.

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Weight distribution and loading your RV

It’s extremely important to balance your cargo throughout your rig so that the weight is evenly distributed across your axles and each tire. If one side or tire is loaded to more than its weight rating you are more likely to experience a blowout. When loading your RV, keep in mind that certain items like batteries and a generator weigh more than others. You’ll also want to pay attention to your layout—if your kitchen is on one side of your rig, load cargo on the opposite side to even out the distribution. Make sure you distribute the weight equally from front to back and side to side. 

Check your RV tires every travel day © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

FAQs about tires

Why should tires not be underinflated?

Underinflated tires can negatively affect a vehicle’s performance in several ways. For one, underinflation can reduce a tire’s load-carrying capacity which means the tire is more likely to fail when carrying heavy loads. This can be especially dangerous when driving on highways or other roads where high speeds are common.

Underinflated tires can also reduce a vehicle’s fuel efficiency. Because underinflated tires have a larger contact patch with the road, they create more rolling resistance which means the vehicle’s engine has to work harder to maintain the same speed. This can result in reduced fuel efficiency and increased fuel consumption.

Finally, underinflated tires can also cause a vehicle to handle poorly. Because the tire’s contact patch with the road is larger, the vehicle is less stable and more likely to hydroplane or lose traction in wet or slippery conditions. This can increase the risk of accidents especially on roads with poor visibility or other hazardous conditions.

Take good care of your tires © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What’s the best way to check tire inflation?

The best way to check tire inflation is to use a tire pressure gauge. A tire pressure gauge is a small tool that measures the air pressure in a tire and displays the reading on a dial or digital display. To use a tire pressure gauge, you simply remove the valve cap from the tire’s valve stem and press the gauge onto the stem. The gauge will then display the tire’s air pressure allowing you to determine if the tire is properly inflated.

It’s important to check your tire pressure regularly as it can fluctuate due to changes in temperature and other factors. Most tire manufacturers recommend checking the tire pressure at least once a month and before each road trips. Additionally, you should always check your tire pressure before driving after your vehicle has been parked for an extended period of time as this can cause the tire pressure to drop.

When checking your tire pressure, it’s important to use a reliable tire pressure gauge and to check the pressure when the tires are cold as driving can cause the tire pressure to increase. It’s also a good idea to consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual to find out the recommended tire pressure for your vehicle. This will help ensure that your tires are properly inflated and operating at their optimal level.

Check your RV tires every travel day © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How many accidents are caused by tire problems?

It’s difficult to say exactly how many accidents are caused by tire problems as tire-related issues are not always the primary cause of accidents. However, tire failure can certainly contribute to accidents and it’s important to properly maintain your tires to help prevent accidents and ensure safe driving.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), tire failure is a contributing factor in approximately 11,000 car accidents each year in the United States. These accidents can range from minor incidents with no injuries to serious accidents that result in fatalities.

To help prevent tire-related accidents, it’s important to properly maintain your tires and regularly check their inflation and tread depth. You should also inspect your tires for any signs of damage or wear and replace them when necessary. By taking these simple steps, you can help ensure that your tires are in good condition and reduce the risk of accidents.

Check your RV tires every travel day © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How are RV tires different than motor vehicle tires?

RV tires are specifically designed for use on recreational vehicles such as motorhomes, travel trailers, fifth-wheel trailers, and camper vans. These tires are typically larger and more heavy-duty than regular passenger vehicle tires as RVs tend to be larger and heavier than most cars and trucks.

One of the key differences between RV tires and regular tires is their load-carrying capacity. RV tires are designed to support the weight of the vehicle and its contents which can be much greater than the weight of a passenger vehicle. As a result, RV tires are typically larger and have stronger construction than regular tires.

Another difference between RV tires and regular tires is their tread pattern. RV tires are designed to provide good traction on a variety of road surfaces including wet and slippery roads. They often have a more aggressive tread pattern than regular tires which helps improve traction and reduce the risk of hydroplaning.

Additionally, RV tires are typically designed to withstand the unique demands of long road trips. This means they are often made from special compounds that resist heat, wear, and punctures which helps extend their lifespan and improve their performance over long distances.

Overall, RV tires are specifically designed to meet the unique needs of recreational vehicles and are typically larger, more durable, and more specialized than regular passenger vehicle tires.

Check your RV tires every travel day © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How do I know when a tire is bad?

There are a few signs that a tire may be bad and in need of replacement. One of the most obvious signs is if the tire has a visible bulge or blister on the sidewall. This can be a sign of a serious issue with the tire’s structure and can cause a sudden failure while driving.

Additionally, if the tread on the tire is worn down to less than 1/16 of an inch, it is likely time to replace the tire.

Another way to tell if a tire is bad is if it is showing signs of age such as cracking on the sidewall or tread. It is generally recommended to replace tires every six years even if they still have tread on them.

Worth Pondering…

Speed was high

Weather was hot

Tires were thin

X marks the spot

—Burma Shave sign