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How old is too old for RV tires?

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Tires are one of the most expensive parts of RVing. At least, it seems that way when it's time to buy new ones.

We would all like for our tires to last as long as possible but on the other hand, we don't want to drive on tires too long and risk having a blowout and damage our RV or even destroy it--and maybe destroy us too.

Three big questions

1. How long do RV tires last?

The generally accepted answer is five to seven years. I've quoted that number in almost all of my RVing books, but tires can last longer with the proper care and I'll talk about it later in the article.

It's easy to tell how old your tires are--just check the date code. The date code is the series of numbers that start with DOT as shown in the picture below. Sometimes it's on the inside of the tire and you may have to crawl under the RV to see it. The last four digits tell the week and year the tire was manufactured.

This tire was made in the 3rd week of 2013

2. How can you tell when tires need to be replaced?

The date code is just a rough idea of when you need to change your tires. A lot depends on how the tires have been taken care of. Tires can last a lot longer with proper care. The tires on my motorhome are seven and a half years old according to the date code. I've had my motorhome for five years. I'm was all set to spend $3,000+ and buy new tires today because I'm way past the seven-year generally recommended time.

This morning I drove my motorhome to a reputable tire dealer that I had been buying car tires from for over 10 years. The owner checked my tires over carefully and said that if it were his motorhome he wouldn't replace the tires for another year or longer. He said the tires didn't show any sign of dry rot. He was basically saying, "Don't spend $3,000 with me right now."

You need to replace your tires when the tread gets down to less than 1/8 of an inch or when cracks due to dry rot are more than 1/16 of an inch deep. Almost no RVer will wear out the tread of their tires (truckers do, but not RVers). What you have to worry about is dry rot. Below is a chart published by Michelin showing what is acceptable and what is suspect.

Michelin tire dry rot and aging chart

You might think I'm lucky since my tires still look good after more than seven years on the road. Maybe I am, but I helped my luck along by taking care of my tires in a way that most people don't bother doing and it's paying off with longer tire life. Below are the recommended ways to make RV tires last longer.

3. How can you make your tires last longer?

1. Keep tires properly inflated and rotated. (I didn't rotate my tires.)

2. Cover the tires when the vehicle is not in use.

3. Avoid prolonged exposure to high heat, extreme cold, and ultraviolet rays.

4. Keep tires clean, avoiding petroleum products, alcohol, and silicone. Note: Almost all commercial products that make your tires shine contain petroleum products.

Note: One other thing I do to help make my tires last longer (and for my peace of mind) is that I have a remote tire pressure and temperature monitoring system. With this system, I never run my tires with low air pressure and I would know immediately if there is a problem with one of the tires.

Proper cleaning of RV tires

Proper cleaning of tires is important to obtain the maximum years of service. Road oil will cause deterioration of rubber, and dirt buildup will hold contaminants next to the tire. A soft brush and mild car wash soap is the best way to clean tires.

If a dressing product is used on a sidewall, use extra care and caution. Tire dressings that contain petroleum products, alcohol, or silicones may cause premature aging and sidewall cracking.

Long-term storage

Note: These long-term storage rules also apply to when your RV is parked at one campground for more than a month.

When tires are in regular use, the heat generated during operation promotes longevity, as internal chemicals such as anti-ozone protectant waxes have the opportunity to warm up and protect the sidewall rubber.

When a tire is fitted to a wheel and put under load, but it is not regularly used, the tire does not have an opportunity to "exercise" and will prematurely age.

If a recreational vehicle is not driven regularly, care must be taken to preserve the remaining life of the tires. Best practices include:

1. Store the recreational vehicle in a cool, dry, sealed garage, away from electric generators or transformers. Do not store in an area where welding is performed, or in a garage that has frequently used electric motors. (These devices produce ozone which is very harmful to tires.)

2. Place a barrier between the tire and the storage surface. Suitable barriers include plastic, plywood, cardboard, or rubber floor mats.

3. Before storing the vehicles, thoroughly clean tires with soap and water.

4. If outdoors, cover tires to block direct sunlight and ultraviolet rays.

5. Inflate tires to the maximum inflation pressure indicated on the sidewall.

6. If long-term storage exceeds 3 months, consider taking the recreational vehicle for monthly highway drives (about one hour of operational time). Driving the vehicle will give the tires an opportunity to generate internal heat which will promote long life. Before removing the vehicle from long-term storage, thoroughly inspect each tire, and restore all tires to the proper inflation pressure.

Note: Most of the information (except for my personal input) came straight from the horse's mouth so to speak. You can find all of this information and more in the publication Michelin RV Tires at the link below:

Bottom line: In a nutshell, the two most important things you can do to help your RV tires last longer are:
#1. Use tire covers to block UV rays and
#2. Drive your RV for at least an hour once a month.

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