The Weakest Link
By: Mark J. Polk
When I was young, my friends and I would go tent camping at our favorite spot in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. It is where I learned the art of fly-fishing for trout, trapping muskrats and hunting whitetail deer. To this day just the thought of those camping trips bring back wonderful childhood memories. Not only are the memories good, the lessons I learned have lasted a life time.
My one friend’s father would go with us on many of our camping excursions. When he was young man he spent several years working for a logging company. We would load up in his old 4X4 truck armed with chainsaws, axes, wedges and logging chains and head out in search of fallen trees and logs that would later be used to build our spectacular bonfires. Each and every time we went out to do this he made us inspect the logging chains and cables before we would skid the logs out of the woods behind the truck. He told us to inspect where the hooks attached to the chains and inspect the chains length for the weakest link. I was shocked at the number of times we discovered a link that was cracked or broken. He explained what the results could be if a chain or cable broke under tension.
I have applied the weakest link lesson many times since then. During my time in the Army I was in charge of some very large maintenance operations. We would go on countless recovery missions to upright vehicles that rolled over, or to tow a sixty-ton M1 tank back to the maintenance facility. We would inspect and re-inspect the riggings, looking for the weakest link, before attempting to recover these vehicles. Since retiring from the military my passion has been with RV’s and once again I realized the importance of the weakest link lesson.
Every weight rating on an RV is based on the weakest link in the system. The tires on your RV are by far the most important and most neglected link in the system. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard people say that the tires on their RV were defective, or my tires only had 12,000 miles on them when I had a blowout. In the majority of cases the truth of the matter is that tire maintenance has been neglected. The only thing between your RV and the road surface is your tires and the air that is in them. This is the weakest link.
What are some of the leading causes of premature tire failure?
- Overloading the tires
- Under inflated tires
- Ozone and UV rays
- Age of the tires
- Rotating tires
What can be done to prevent premature tire failure?
- Overloading the tires on your RV is probably the number one leading cause of tire failure. Poor weight distribution and taking advantage of all of the storage space offered on today’s RV’s result in tire overloads. The only way to find out is to have the fully loaded vehicle weighted on platform scales. Load the vehicle with everything you plan to take on a trip including passengers, cargo, fuel, and full fresh water and propane tanks. If you tow something behind the RV and not exceed the GVWR, GAWR or GCWR, but you could be exceeding the tire ratings. This is why you MUST weight each axle end separately to determine if tire ratings are exceeded and if the loaded weight is properly distributed.
- Under inflated tires run a close second to overloading as one of the leading causes of tire failure. The load rating for a tire is only accurate if the tire is properly inflated. Under inflated tires cause extreme heat build up that leads to tire failure. The appearance of the tire looks normal but the internal damage is not visible and can fail at any time without warning. Tires can lose up to two pounds of air pressure per month. IF you don’t check your tires for three or four months they could be seriously under inflated. Ideally you should check tire inflation, and adjust if required, everyday that you move or drive your RV. If you can’t get into the habit of doing it on a daily basis you need to make it a point to check all tires when they are cold, meaning that you don’t drive or move the RV before checking inflation. Invest is an accurate inflation pressure gauge. Check all tires and adjust pressure according to the manufacturer’s recommendation. Do not exceed the maximum pressure ratings found on the tires sidewall. Never check inflation pressure when the tires are hot, you will get a higher-pressure reading and if you let some air out they will be under inflated when they are cold. If you have dual wheels you will want to add extension hoses to the valve stems to make the job of checking tire inflation easier. A word of caution, if you add extension hoses you must replace the rubber valve stems with all steel valve stems. The added weight of the extension hoses can cause rubber stems to leak air resulting in under inflation.
- Ozone in the air and UV rays from the sun shorten the life of your tires. It is not uncommon to see RV tires with low mileage and plenty of tread that are ruined by the damaging effects of ozone and UV rays. Ozone in the air causes tires to dry rot and deteriorated and UV rays from the sun make it happen quicker. This is especially true of the tires sidewall. Inspect your tires for checking or cracks in the sidewalls. If you notice any damage have them inspected by a professional. There are basically two ways to protect your tires from these elements. Keep them covered with covers that will block out the sunlight when not in use, or for long-term storage remove the tires and store them in a cool dry place away from the sunlight. I also recommend that you place something like a piece of wood between the ground and the tires. Be sure that whatever you use is larger than the footprint of the tire.
- The age of your tires is another factor that contributes to tire failure. I learned this lesson the hard way. I bought an early model Jeep CJ7 to tow behind our motor home. After completely restoring the vehicle we were ready to try it out. The tires that were on it looked to be in excellent condition. There were no signs of damage from the sun and the tread looked as though they were used very little. We towed the Jeep from North Carolina to Florida and from there to Colorado and back to North Carolina with no problems. Shortly after that we towed it to Pennsylvania. A couple hundred miles into the trip a front tire blew out damaging the inner fender, shock absorber and an area below the door. I replaced the tire with the spare and within another 100 miles the spare blew out resulting in more damage. After getting a new tire and going back to pick it up along side the interstate we took it to a tire store to have the remainder of tires replaced. The technician came in and explained that the tires were nine years old and even though they looked to be in good shape they could not handle the stress put on them. He also explained that all tires manufactured in the United States have a DOT number. The DOT number on my tires was on the inside sidewalls. The last three or four digits in the DOT number on my tires was on the inside sidewalls. The last three or four digits in the DOT number identify how old the tire is. Older tires used three digits. The first two identify the week of the year that the tire was built and the third identifies the year. Newer tires use four digits. Again the first two digits are the week of the year and the last two identify the year i.e. 3202 is the 32nd week of the year and 02 is the year 2002. If you question the age of your tires, especially on a used RV, and you can’t find the DOT number have them inspected by a qualified tire center.
- Have you ever owned a vehicle and neglected to have the tires rotated and one day you suddenly notice that the front tires are wore out but the rear tires look fine? I am sure that this thing has happened to most of us until we learned the valuable and expensive lesson of not rotating our tires. If one tire shows signs of wear faster than another tire it may be a signal that something other than normal tire wear is happening and you should have it checked. But if it is just normal tire wear you can even out the wear and extend the life of your tires by having the tires rotated on a regular basis. Talk toy our tire dealer about proper tire rotation intervals.
Tire failure can be extremely dangerous and can cause extensive damage to your RV. There are no guarantees, but by practicing good tire maintenance you can feel much safer and secure that the weakest link on your RV will do its job while you are out exploring this wonderful country we live in.