Travel trailers use special trailer or ST tires, which are different from the light truck or LT tires found in class A, B, and C RVs. Despite the differences in type, tires of all kinds need maintenance both when in use and during the off-season. How do you take care of your travel trailer tires?
Here’s how to keep travel trailer tires in good condition:
- Clean the tires during the active season
- Test air pressure regularly
- Rotate the tires
- Check the sidewalls
- Watch your weight distribution
- Know when to replace your tires
- Cover the tires for the off-season
- Store tires properly
In this guide to travel trailer tire maintenance, we’ll talk further on each point above so you can get the most time out of your ST tires. You won’t want to miss it, so make sure you keep reading!
8 Tips for Maintaining Travel Trailer Tires
Clean the Tires
Clean tires are happy tires. It’s not just that your ST tires will look better when they’re clean (and thus will your whole travel trailer), but clean tires don’t have brake dust and road salt that can begin to erode the rubber of the tires.
Ideally, you want to clean your travel trailer tires weekly. If you can’t swing that, then do it at least every other week, but no more seldom.
How do you clean travel trailer tires? Most of the time, it doesn’t require anything more than good, old-fashioned soap and water.
Park your travel trailer where all four tires are accessible. Fill a bucket with water and a couple of dollops of dish soap. When the water is sudsy and bubbly, you don’t need any more soap. The ratio that most travel trailer owners use is a gallon of water and a tablespoon of dish soap.
Dip a bristle brush into the bucket and begin scouring each tire. Yes, you will have to get down and dirty to clean your tires, so make sure you wear clothes that you don’t really care about. You might choose to lay down a tarp or an old blanket where you’ll work to spare your bones and joints.
Don’t only clean the ST tires, but the wheels as well so they look shiny and clean. If stubborn grime doesn’t want to come off the tires or wheels, don’t keep scrubbing and scouring. Instead, allow the soap to sit on the surface of the tire for several minutes. That should dislodge stuck-on surfaces.
When you’re finished cleaning, use a garden hose to rinse away the soap residue. If you really want to make your travel trailer shine (quite literally, in this case), then use paste wax or cream on the wheels. A waxing mitt will make the application smooth and easy.
Polish your tires using a soft microfiber cloth and voila, your travel trailer tires look as good as the day you bought the vehicle, maybe even better!
While you’re at it, you might as well give the rest of your trailer the same treatment, bathing it, drying it, and shining it with wax. Then be sure to take lots of photos of your sparkly-clean travel trailer before you head off on your next adventure.
Test Air Pressure Regularly
You’ve got everything packed up for your latest travel trailer road trip. Don’t leave quite yet, as you better test the travel trailer’s tire pressure!
It’s recommended you do this both before and after your road trips (including short voyages). Before the off-season begins as well as at the start of the active season, you should also test tire pressure.
Even if you’re not using your travel trailer all that much, monthly tire pressure tests will let you gauge the health of the tires.
When you test ST tire pressure, you’re measuring the pounds per square inch of pressure or PSI of the tires. You should always allow the tires to cool down before testing them or you’ll get inaccurate readings. Hot tires can increase the pressure between 10 and 15 PSI, which can cause you to take unnecessary action.
To test the tire pressure of your travel trailer, you can use a tire pressure gauge. Get started by removing the ST tire valve’s cap and attach the gauge. Stick gauges connect by their open end while digital gauges go over the valve press system’s valve end.
Next, push against the tire’s nozzle with the gauge until you don’t hear a hissing noise. Your tire pressure gauge will produce a reading.
For a 16-inch RV tire, the average pressure reading is between 35 and 80 PSI. Keep in mind that many factors can influence pressure reading.
Your gauge is one of them. Buying a cheap tire pressure gauge often leads to skewed results. No gauge is perfect, but it’s worth investing in a quality one as its readings will be more accurate.
The number of travel trailer axles, as well as the weight of the load on your trailer, can also impact the tire pressure. Fortunately, we’ll talk a little later about distributing weight on your travel trailer, so you’ll certainly want to check that out.
If the tire pressure is at about just where it should be, then you don’t have to do anything further right now. You can hit the road and test the tire pressure again when you’re back.
If the tire pressure is a little high, then we recommend releasing some air from the tires. If the tires are too full, the heat and friction of the road can warm up the air in the tires, expanding it until the tires explode. A flat tire will derail your road trip in a hurry!
For tires that are a little underinflated, you’ll want to pump them up with air. A portable air pump will come in handy for this job. Check your travel trailer owner’s manual for the recommended air pressure per tire. Fill the tires to that exact pressure level, or as close as you can get to exact.
You already know of the risks of driving on an overinflated tire, but an underinflated tire can be risky in its own way. Your tires have less grip, and their responsivity drastically drops as well. This can make braking and taking corners harder to do, putting you at a higher risk of an accident.
Rotate the Tires
Another great way to keep travel trailer tires in good condition is to rotate them. By rotating your tires, you ensure the wear and tear on each is more evenly distributed.
How do you rotate travel trailer tires? Well, you have five tire rotation patterns to select from, but not all will be applicable for ST tires.
The rearward cross pattern and X pattern are for vehicles with four-wheel or rear-wheel drive. The forward cross pattern is intended for vehicles with front-wheel drive.
If all four tires are the same size, then you can do the front to rear rotation, which is among the easiest tire rotation patterns. The side-to-side pattern is for when the tires are non-directional or sized differently.
Whenever you drive your travel trailer rig at least 3,000 miles and certainly no more than 5,000 miles, it’s time to rotate the tires. Make sure that in addition to your travel trailer tires that you’re also rotating the tires of your tow vehicle.
Check the Sidewalls
You’ve just pulled into your driveway after a long time away. It’s good to see home again. Before you leave your travel trailer by the wayside for a while, take the time to inspect the tire sidewalls.
You want to give the tires a spin (no, this isn’t quite the same as rotating the tires) so you can see each ST tire in its entirety.
Although these tires are stronger and thicker than regular car tires, they’re not invincible. You’re looking for any overt signs of damage, such as punctures from nails or chunks of tire missing.
Study the condition of the sidewalls as well. Are some of the tires being worn down more than the others and do the sidewalls look a little thin? Once you start rotating your tires, that should become a thing of the past.
Is the sidewall cracked? Then your tire is on borrowed time. We wouldn’t recommend driving on that tire for now. You could always get the tire patched, which can cost between $25 and $40 for everyday vehicles and could be more expensive for specialty tires like those for travel trailers or RVs.
You also want to check the tread wear indicators, which are an area of elevation along the tread pattern of your tires. The indicators might have a three-letter acronym, TWI, on them. This is short for Tread Wear Indicator. When that indicator is worn down, your tires have got to go!
Watch Your Weight Distribution
We talked earlier about how proper weight distribution onboard your travel trailer can maintain tire pressure reading accuracy. You’re helping your travel trailer in other ways too, such as lessening wear, allowing for brake control, and bettering your fuel economy.
The proper way to load a travel trailer for weight distribution is to put the lighter items towards the back of the vehicle and the heavier ones towards the front.
If yours is an open trailer, then you don’t want to stack small objects too high. If you’ve reached the trailer box side height, then don’t stack any higher than that. For those with closed travel trailers, you can stack your light objects higher, but again, not to excess.
Besides where you place your cargo, you also want to ensure that it stays in one place. Whether you have to use bungees, rope, or another security measure, you can’t have your gear sliding around. Then the weight distribution you worked so hard to achieve will be undone in an instant the moment you start towing your travel trailer.
The center of gravity of your trailer should be low. Now, the center of gravity might sound like a confusing aeronautics term, but it isn’t. In the world of RVs, your center of gravity refers to the distance between the front of the trailer’s floor to the balance point of the rear axle of your towing vehicle.
Know When to Replace Your Tires
One of the facets of maintaining your travel trailer tires is knowing when to say goodbye. We talked earlier about the tread wear indicator. When that indicator is practically gone, then you need to start shopping around for new ST tires.
Granted, this shouldn’t happen after a camping season or two. A set of RV tires can last anywhere from three to six years depending on the quality and how well you take care of them. Still, even if your tires seem like they’re in good shape, if it’s been six years, it’s for the best that you replace them.
Your travel trailer tires go through a lot. You don’t want to put unnecessary stress on them and cause them to pop or fail on you when you’re en route to your next destination.
You can rely on other signs besides those above to tell you when to replace your tires. Here’s a list:
- Bald or thin spots on the tires
- Flat areas
- Cuts or bulges
- Cracked valve stem (as this would prevent tire pressure inflation)
Cover the Tires for the Off-Season
For many travel trailer owners, before winter officially arrives on the calendar, the weather is already getting too cold to camp comfortably. You’ll start winterizing your travel trailer, and that includes preparing the tires for the cold winter ahead.
Many travel trailer owners buy covers for each tire. A single cover costs about $25, so for four, you’d pay upwards of $100. No, that’s not cheap, but it’s less expensive than having to replace your travel trailer tires prematurely.
We recommend measuring the size of your ST tires before you buy a cover so you can ensure it fits. Vinyl is a standard cover material, although other options are out there. For whichever material you choose, make sure that the tire covers are waterproof and UV-resistant.
There is a difference between a water-resistant cover and one that’s waterproof. Waterproof tire covers are weaved in such a way that water can’t get into the fabric. Water-resistant tire covers have a coating that allows water to slide right off without penetrating. The coating will fade away with time, leaving your tires unprotected from the elements.
UV resistance is crucial as well. Sun exposure can break down your rubber ST tires, eventually causing them to rot. They’d be useless at that point!
Store Tires Properly
Our last tip for maintaining travel trailer tires is this: store your tires correctly. Whether you have spare ST tires or you’re parking your travel trailer in a storage facility because it’s just that big, the tires need proper care over the next several months.
You should always keep tires in an environment that’s dry yet cool. If you can, put the tires on blocks so they’re not in direct contact with the ground.
In uninsulated spaces such as a garage or a warehouse where your travel trailer is parked, the ground temperature will very closely match the outdoor temperature. Your tires will be exposed to freezing cold temps all winter, which could lead to damage.
Keep the tires away from direct sun as well. You already know that the sunlight can rot the rubber of your ST tires. Even in the winter, the sun is stronger than you’d think!
A set of ST travel trailer tires can last you upwards of six years if you care for them well. From keeping the tires clean, rotating them for even wear, testing air pressure, and checking for sidewall damage, your current set of tires will get the royal treatment once you begin following these tips!