How to Avoid or Repair a Flat Tire on Your RV or Trailer
Family adventures in your RV or with your trailer in tow can come to a screeching halt with just one flat tire. Now what? If you’re planning ahead and wondering what you’ll need to change a flat tire on your RV or trailer, we’ve put together some tips and a list of the items you’ll need in addition to the tire-changing tools you’ll need for your own vehicle.
We talked to some of our tire experts at Les Schwab Tire Center Headquarters who spend most of their summer weekends exploring their favorite places across Oregon in their RVs or with their trailers in tow. In fact, we even checked out some of the toolkits they carry in their RVs and trailers to see what they take along. Here’s what we found and what they recommend.
Start With the Spare
Your RV or trailer spare tire is one of the most important items you can carry when you travel. Without it, you may be waiting for roadside assistance or unhooking your rig and driving back into town to fix the trailer tire.
Before you head out, bring your spare RV or Trailer tire into the Les Schwab Tire Center near you. We’ll check it for cracks, separating tread, and other issues that could leave you stranded.
Les Schwab Tip: Be sure your spare is easily accessible. If it’s not mounted to the back of the RV or trailer, put it somewhere that is easy to access.
Visually Inspect Your RV and Trailer Tires at Every Stop
It’s tough to tell if your RV or trailer tire is on the verge of tire failure or a flat. Every time you stop for gas, bathroom breaks, or meals, check all the tires for wear, escaping air, and cracks. If you notice anything unusual, get to the nearest Les Schwab before it becomes a problem.
Les Schwab Tip: If your tire goes flat anywhere near one of our locations, we may be able to come to you during regular business hours. Give us a call.
Check the Tire Pressure
A lot of RV and trailer tire failures happen because of low tire pressure. With a simple gauge, an electric pump, or a trip to Les Schwab, you can help keep your tire pressure at an optimum level. Check out Using a Tire Pressure Gauge for more helpful advice.
Pack Extra Tools
Do you have all the right tools to change ALL of the tires on your RV or trailer? This list should help you get back on the road quickly if you ever need to change a flat tire.
- Leather Gloves to protect your hands. Our tire experts have changed thousands of flat tires and they list heavy gloves as a must-have. Any gloves are better than nothing, but they affirm that leather gloves are more durable when handling heavy, hot metal.
- Bottle Jack is a compact lifting device that comes in a variety of sizes and lifting capacities. Bring a piece of plywood with your bottle jack will help stabilize it and prevent it from sinking into the ground if the shoulder is soggy, the asphalt is hot, or if it’s otherwise unstable. You’ll be glad you have it if you find yourself with a blowout in a muddy patch of road.
- Long Handle Lug Wrench comes in a variety of sizes and is essential for loosening the lug nuts. You’ll also need sockets that fit the lugs on EVERY wheel. Remember to check the spare, too. Those lugs can often be a different size.
- Torque Wrench will help you tighten the lugs properly without damaging the wheel studs.<
- Socket Set and Cordless Impact Wrench and/or Gun to make some of the work easier. You’ll still need the lug wrench to loosen each lug and the torque wrench to tighten them properly.
- Bolt Cutter. Those who’ve been traveling by RV or hauling trailers for a while have changed a flat or two over the years. One thing they’ve learned to always carry is a bolt cutter to remove the steel cords from a tire that has failed and wrapped itself around the axle. Long handles can help reach where you need it.
- Reflectors or Flares don’t need to be expensive or heavy duty to help alert traffic and keep you safe. In addition to turning on your hazard lights, place one reflector close behind your RV or trailer and another 10-15 feet farther away. (Not Shown)
- Mat or Towel to protect your knees from the inevitable, unforgiving pavement and rocks. You’ll appreciate the protective layer to keep your clothes a little drier and cleaner when the road is hot and dirty in the summer or cold and icy in the winter. (not shown)
Other Tips for Getting Your RV or Trailer Ready for the Road
Before you head out, we’ve compiled our top 10 tips to get your RV or trailer ready for the road. As you’re planning your road trip, use this handy interactive essential road trip checklist to make sure you and your vehicle are prepared as possible.
Les Schwab Knows RV and Trailer Tires
Incorrect tightening of a replaced tire can cause damage, so swing by a Les Schwab and we’ll check it out for free. Your local Les Schwab carries the right tires, wheels, and accessories for your RV or trailer, plus we’re here to inspect your tires, including your spare, and offer helpful advice for your next outing. Stop by or schedule an appointment today.
How to Have a Happy, Safe Summer Road Trip
So you’re hitting the road for your favorite campsite, fishing hole, theme park or beach rental. Here are 17 summer driving reminders to keep you, your passengers and fellow travelers safer on highways and byways.
- Make sure your vehicle is safe and road-ready with this checklist.
- Buckle up every time.
- Put kids 13 and younger in the back seat. No exceptions.
- Inflate tires properly. Proper inflation is important for safety and can save you up to 9 cents per gallon through better fuel efficiency.
- If you’re hauling, use a safety chain for trailers and inspect your hitch whenever you stop.
- Check blind zones before backing up. Trucks, SUVs, RVs and vans are more likely than cars to be involved in backovers.
- Remember to add clearance for trailers, campers, bike racks and roof racks. It’s easy to forget your extra height or length.
- Add following distance. A fully loaded vehicle needs more stopping time.
- Add extra following distance for motorcycles. They can stop much quicker, in shorter distances.
- Slow down if there’s a sudden cloudburst to avoid hydroplaning.
- Never leave kids or animals in an unattended car, even with windows down or A/C on.
- Lock your vehicle when exiting.
- Don’t drive distracted. Don’t text or check your phone. Check out cell phone laws by state.
- Watch for pedestrians and cyclists on the shoulder. Warm weather means there are more sharing the road.
- Before driving, don’t take medications, alcohol or drugs that will impair you.
- Pull over if you get drowsy.
- If you get stranded without a roadside assistance policy, call an on-demand roadside service.
Trailer and Tire Do’s and Don’ts: Answers to Common Questions
Whether you’re towing a camper, a boat or a cargo trailer, whatever’s attached to your hitch needs the same attention your vehicle gets. If you’ve noticed uneven tire wear, your trailer is bouncing or you’re not sure what type of tire is best, here’s a quick FAQ.
1. Is It Okay for the Rear of My Truck to Sag When It’s Hitched to My Trailer?
You don’t want your tow vehicle to sag under the weight of your trailer. It means there’s not enough weight distributed to the front wheels of your truck or SUV and it will compromise your handling. You’ll also create uneven wear on all your tires, and they won’t last as long as they should.
If the trailer tongue isn’t within an inch or two of being level with the ground, you need to make some adjustments.
There are many approaches to fixing an unlevel tow issue, depending on your rig:
- Adjust your trailer mount up or down to get the proper rise or drop.
- Rearrange your load. You want about 10 to 15 percent of the fully loaded trailer’s weight placed on the trailer tongue. (Determine tongue weight, the weight a fully loaded trailer exerts downward on the hitch ball of the tow vehicle.)
- Add airbags to the suspension of your tow vehicle. This lifts up the rear and puts more weight on the front, evening out the load.
- Add helper springs to your tow vehicle.
- Use weight distribution hitches with spring bars.
2. Is It Okay to Mount Non-trailer Tires on My Travel Trailer or Should I Get Special Trailer Tires?
ST (Special Trailer) tires are a better choice. Non-trailer tires are made to carry people. ST tires are designed for carrying the heavy-duty load of travel and other trailers.
Structurally, STs have straight, solid ribs — the ribs being the circumferential bands of strong rubber separated by grooves. This makes them suited to bear heavier loads. They have about 10 percent more load capacity than light truck (LT) tires of the same size and 40 percent more than an equivalent passenger tire.
The stiffer sidewalls on ST tires improve stability and reduce swaying. These tires are usually narrower to fit standard trailer wheels. They’re designed with shallower grooves to improve fuel economy and help them run cooler, since hauling loads can generate a lot of tire heat.
Non-trailer tires have lots of voids and deeper grooves on the tread to evacuate water quickly for better traction. The ribs are often jagged and separated by grooves.
3. My Trailer Is Bouncing When Underway. What’s the Problem?
Any trailer hauled without its load will bounce. Boat trailers, for example, are made with stiff, solid axles with loose springs, which causes them to jump a lot when not weighed down.
If your trailer still bounces while loaded, there could be other issues that need attention:
- Your tires aren’t properly inflated.
- Your tow vehicle’s shocks are worn or aren’t designed for the load. (You’ll feel bouncing that continues after going over a bump).
- You need to shift the weight inside the trailer.
- The trailer is overloaded and the suspension could be damaged.
- One of the trailer axles might be damaged.
- You’re not towing level (see question 1).
4. What’s Causing Uneven Wear on My Trailer Tires?
Generally, trailer tires don’t wear evenly: It’s just physics. When a tandem axle trailer with four tires takes a tight turn, the inside tires will “slide” a bit rather than roll, because they have significantly less distance to travel. Over time, this scuffs off tiny parts of the tread, creating odd wear patterns.
That said, rapid or significantly uneven trailer tire wear can be caused by:
- Riding with the wrong tire pressure.
- Exceeding your tires’ load capacity.
- Trailer misalignment or bent wheels from hitting curbs, potholes or debris.
- Not towing level, which puts more weight and strain on one axle.
- Uneven load management instead of spreading weight evenly to all wheels/tires.
If all four tires are wearing heavily on the inside, the trailer is probably overloaded.
Trailer axles are built with a slight upward curve in the middle. When the trailer is unloaded, the tops of the tires lean slightly outward (toed-out, or duck-footed). When they are carrying the weight of whatever’s loaded, the axles straighten to a flat position and the tires come to a straight up-and-down position.
When the load is too heavy, the axle bows downward in the middle, causing the tires to roll pigeon-toed (more on the inside shoulder of the tires). That’s not the normal contact patch for tires, and you’ll see pronounced wear there.
Another possibility is the axle has been flipped over (the bow in the axle that is supposed to be pointed up is actually pointed down).
If only one tire is wearing faster on the inside, you may have a bent suspension part, like a spindle. This can cause one tire to skid rather than roll smoothly down the road, creating heat and friction that wears out the rubber.
If you see faster wear on the outer tread, this may be a case of an under-loaded trailer: The trailer weight is too light to straighten out the axle. Or, outer tread wear on just one side may be a symptom of a worn suspension component.
If you notice tire cupping — a bulge on one area of the tire — the belts or plies inside (the strong cords of steel and nylon that give the tire its strength) are failing. It can be caused by tires that haven’t been properly balanced, wheel bearing problems, bad alignment or something worn out in your suspension. It can also result from excessive heat caused by going over the speed rating of your tires.
Tires on a trailer parked for a long time can develop flattened spots in the area that contacts the ground. To prevent this, simply move your trailer regularly.
Find out how to keep your trailer tires in the best condition possible in our post, 8 Great Ways to Get the Most from Your Trailer Tires.
10 Steps to Get Your RV or Trailer Ready for the Road
When your spring and summertime recreation revolves around an RV or trailer, there’s a certain amount of maintenance to be done before you hit the highways and back-country roads. We can help you simplify those chores with 10 easy steps that start at your local Les Schwab.
At Les Schwab
We’ll Check Your Tires: Depending on where and how you store your vehicle in the winter, tire condition can degrade due to sun and weather exposure. Even parking in one spot too long can cause flat spots on your tires. The Les Schwab experts will look at your overall tire condition, checking for cracks around the valve stems, top-off your tire pressure, and show you how much life is left on your RV or trailer tires. If you need new tires, you’ll be in the right place.
Les Schwab Tip: proper tire pressure helps reduce the chance of tire failure.
We’ll Check Your Brakes and Suspension: Our experts will take a good look at your brakes and shocks and make recommendations to help keep you and your family safe all summer long.
Your Battery Might Need a Charge: The Les Schwab team will look over your battery for corrosion, clean it, and charge it if necessary. Our FREE battery and charging system test includes a visual inspection and look at the overall health of the battery.
We’ll Check Your Bearings: Even if your tires look good, your wheel bearings might need to be serviced. If your bearings fail, it can leave you stranded on the side of the highway. If you haven’t had this done in a while, the Les Schwab team can help you repack or replace them.
Don’t Forget the Spare: Even if you never use your spare, hot and cold weather can cause your tire to degrade and become unusable. It will even lose pressure over time. Our team will check your spare so that a flat tire doesn’t derail your adventures.
Les Schwab Tip: Sometimes, spare tire mounting hardware is different from what is used on the wheels of your RV or trailer. Be sure you’re carrying the right tools for the job.
Check the Fluids (RV) and Structure: Start up the engine and let it idle for a bit to get the fluids moving around. Now, check beneath the vehicle for engine leaks, such as oil and other fluids. On both RVs and trailers, check the outside for cracks, rust, and other damage. Repair as needed. You’ll also want to check for rodent damage to wires and hoses.
Check and Clean the Pipes: If you used antifreeze to protect the water system, drain it completely. Then, flush the plumbing with clean water by adding fresh water to the holding tank, turning on the water pump, and opening up every faucet. Make sure the water cycles through the ice maker, outdoor shower, and water heater.
To sanitize the plumbing, use a chlorine-free water system cleanser or one-quarter cup household bleach for every 15 gallons of water. Close all the drains and put drain plugs in place. Then pour the cleanser or bleach into the fresh water tank and fill with water. Turn on the water pump and run water through all hot and cold faucets until you detect the cleanser, turn off the faucets and pump, then let it sit in the system for 12 hours. Drain, refill with water and drain again until all the remaining bleach or cleanser are flushed.
Try the AC, Heater, Hot Water Heater, Stove, and Fridge: Refer to your owner’s manual as you check to make sure everything is working. If your fridge or other appliances run on both electric and propane, try them both ways. If something isn’t working, check the gas connections or breaker switch.
Check the Awning and Pull-Outs: This is a great time to repair any holes or tears in your awning. Check to make sure the pull outs can fully extend. Add lubrication or hydraulic fluid as needed to keep them moving smoothly.
Turn on the Lights, Check Indicators, and Safety Equipment: Make sure your headlights (RV), tail light, indicators, and other safety equipment are working. This includes smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, emergency road kits, and first aid packs.
Start Your Adventures at Les Schwab
Before you go anywhere in your RV or hitch up your trailer for a weekend away, swing by your local Les Schwab. Our pros will help make sure you get to where you’re going with a quick check of the tires, brakes, and battery on your vehicle as well as your RV and trailer.
8 Great Ways to Get the Most from Your Trailer Tires
Maintaining trailer tires isn’t always the same as what you do for passenger vehicle tires. Here are the basics on getting the longest tire life, figuring out your load range, making sure you’ve got your trailer weight calculated right and preventing tire failure.
1. Maintain the Right Trailer Tire Pressure.
Running ST (Special Trailer) tires under-inflated is a sure way to quickly wear them out and invite tire failure. Keeping them at the full PSI (pounds per square inch) pressure is key for longevity, load-carrying ability, cool running and best fuel economy.
You can’t tell if trailer tires are properly inflated by eyeballing them. An under-inflated ST tire may not sag like a passenger vehicle’s because it’s built with a stiffer sidewall. Trailer tires can look fully inflated and be far below the safe PSI.
Find the proper tire pressure by looking at your tire sidewall. (The right tire pressure for passenger vehicle tires is found on the placard inside the driver's side door.) Look for the small notation Max. Load followed by a PSI number (80 in the example below).
Trailer tire pressure should always be checked when the tire is cold, ideally before being driven that day. Driving generates heat and heat generates pressure, which will throw off your measurement. Here’s how to do it yourself.
2. Figure Out the Maximum Load for Your Trailer Tires.
It’s really important not to overload trailer tires. Overloading tires can cause premature wear and increase the risk of tire failure.
The “Max. Load” information stamped on the sidewall indicates a tire’s load capacity when it’s inflated to the proper PSI. In the example, this tire can handle a maximum 2,830 pounds when it's inflated to 80 PSI and used in a “single” application: one tire on each side of the axle.
Note: Some trailer tires are also marked with a “Max. Load Dual” number. This comes into play when two tires are mounted on both sides of the axle (four trailer tires total), a “dual” application, or dually, which is an unusual application. In the above example, each tire’s load capacity is reduced by 13 percent to 2,470 pounds when it’s used as a dually. This assures that if one of the dual tires fails, the remaining tires can keep the trailer stable until you come to a stop.
Be aware: If your tire pressure is lower than what’s recommended, the tire’s carrying capacity will be lower, too.
3. Determine the Actual Weight of Your Trailer.
You just need to get tires that can support the trailer weight listed on the placard on your trailer or in your owner’s manual ... right?
Not quite. That weight figure doesn’t include all the cargo your trailer will be carrying. Get an actual weight by visiting a truck stop, feed store or gravel supply store when you’re fully loaded, including full water and propane tanks.
4. Get the Right Trailer Tire Size.
Refer to the trailer placard or your owner’s manual. Either will tell you the manufacturer’s recommendation. (Trailers have a federal certification/VIN label generally located on the forward half of the driver’s side of the unit. Some trailer sizes also have a separate vehicle placard located there that describes tire and loading information.)
Or you can look at the tire sidewall sizing information. Then be sure to check with a tire professional before you buy to make sure what you have in mind is the right fit for the loads you’re hauling and roads you’re traveling.
5. Have Tires Inspected Yearly.
Travel trailer and boat trailer tires sit for long stretches in one spot. The contact area of the tire that bears all the trailer weight while it’s parked can get weakened when a trailer isn’t moved for weeks on end. You should have your tires and bearings inspected every year by a tire professional.
6. Get a Spare Tire.
Carrying a spare for your trailer may just save your day or vacation. Boat trailer and travel trailer tires are often specialty tires that aren’t always readily available in places where you’re recreating.
A spare tire means you’ll have an hour or so of hassle changing a tire if you get a flat, versus missing a day or more of vacation, or having to leave your trailer loaded with gear to go in search of an open tire shop.
Money-saving tip: When you replace your full set of trailer tires, consider keeping the one that’s got the least wear to use as a spare, so long as a tire professional inspects the tire and confirms it is suitable.
7. Don’t Mix and Match Radial and Bias-ply Tires on a Travel Trailer.
The trailer’s certification label or owner’s manual may give you advice on which type of tire construction is best. Some of your choice depends on the type of trailer you have and the kind of travel you’re doing.
Radial tires run cooler so on longer trips they don’t wear as fast. They’re also less prone to developing flat spots when a trailer is parked in one place for weeks at a time.
Bias-ply tires have stiffer sidewalls, which can reduce trailer sway.
Whatever your choice, don’t mix-and-match tire types or sizes. Go with all radials or all bias tires.
8. Extend Tread Life Through Simple Maintenance.
- Visually inspect your tires before each trip.
- Check tire pressure before you use your trailer, and every morning when the tires are cold during long trips. Keep your tires inflated to the maximum PSI branded on the sidewall.
- When you’re storing your trailer for the off-season, use tire covers to protect them from early wear. Park in a cool, dry place.
- Keep caps on tire air valve stems, to keep debris and moisture out.
- If you notice excessive, uneven trailer tire wear, get a tire professional to assess what’s going on and determine if there’s a fix.
- Don’t assume that replacing tires with a set that has a higher load capacity will fix uneven wear problems. You’ll likely have the same problem with the new set if there’s something wrong with the trailer alignment, suspension or axles.
Come on by your local Les Schwab Tires store and we’ll be glad to help.