How to Avoid Catastrophic RV Tire Failure

An RV trailer generally follows along behind your tow vehicle and doesn’t make much fuss about it. Often the RV is an out-of-sight, out-of-mind matter, and owners don’t pay their trailers much thought as long as they keep rolling down the road.

A trailer tire problem is the factor that most often interrupts those happy travels, and while such failures can’t be 100 percent avoided, there are steps you can take to ensure your best chances of travel success.

Just as true for your pickup truck tow vehicle, your trailer’s tires need to be balanced properly and aligned correctly to ensure a long tire lifespan, and of course, good tires contribute towards safe travels.

Most RV trailer owners don’t think about tire balance because they can’t feel any vibration problems being transmitted through the hitch to the tow vehicle — but that doesn’t mean they aren’t happening.

RV manufacturers have never made it a habit of balancing trailer tires from the factory, either, mainly because by industry tradition they haven’t had to. Balancing would also be an extra cost associated with each trailer.

Most drivers have had an experience with a family car tire that’s lost a balance weight. It doesn’t take much to set up a shimmying and shaking in that corner of the car — and imagine that times two, four, or six in a trailer. In addition, many RV manufacturers are installing low-cost tires manufactured overseas; bad balance will only aggravate the mediocre durability often displayed by these tires.

An out-of-balance tire experiences much-accelerated tread wear or tread separation that can lead to carcass failure and a possible premature blowout. The shaking also causes excessive wear on axle bearings, suspension components, spring shackles and equalizers. In addition, the vibrations are transmitted up to the trailer body where structural components are subjected to shaking that can cause damage in the long run.

The solution is easy. Stop by your local tire service center and have the tires spun balanced by a qualified technician. Have the technician keep track of how much weight is added to each tire and you may be surprised at how far off-balance your tires were. We pulled a couple of tires from a small single-axle trailer, had them balanced and found one needed 2-1/2 ounces and the other took 3-1/4 ounces. That’s more than enough to throw things out of whack.

Alignment is another point of contention with RV trailers. Bad alignment reveals itself as tires with uneven wear, such as inside or outside tread edges worn smooth while the tread center isn’t worn, or premature tire failure caused by the odd wear patterns. The trailer may also handle strangely and with less stability than it should.

Trailer tires need to be properly aligned for camber and toe-in, as well as the axles being parallel to each other and perpendicular to the hitch, but not all service shops are set up to perform these adjustments on trailers. It calls for some specialized tools and finding the right shop may require some investigation in your area.

We paid a visit to Kaiser Brake & Alignment in Eugene, Ore. (www.kaiserbrakealignment.com, 541-344-5887) — a shop with years of experience working on trailer alignments — for some insights on the process.

Kaiser parks the trailer on a standard alignment rack and hooks up the usual computerized equipment that provides detailed and instant feedback on the trailer’s alignment status. This allows the technician to make minute adjustments and have constant feedback on his progress.

Solid axle trailers with leaf springs must have the axles bent somewhat to alter toe-in and camber. This calls for some heavy hardware and the know-how to use it. Technician experience is a large factor.

Some higher-end trailers, such as Carriage, come fitted with hardware like a Mor/Ryde independent suspension system that includes built-in adjustment features. The technician checks the alignment, moves the mounts and installs shims as needed to bring things up to snuff.

Adjusting solid axles to be parallel and perpendicular to the hitch is a bit trickier. There’s some adjustment built into the axle-to-spring mount, but occasionally it’s necessary to torch the spring mounts from the frame and reposition them to make sure everything is squared up, as it should be.

Though it’s remotely possible that an RV frame can be built with bad alignment, more often it’s a matter of the driver hitting a large pothole, banging a curb or some other unfortunate driving event. If rapid or uneven tire wear and bad handling are unfortunate parts of your daily towing experience, then consider having an alignment and balance check. — Jeff Johnston, Motor Matters

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