Tires are tires, right? Not when they’re RV tires! They may look the same from the outside (yep, they’re black, rubber, and round), but there are some critical differences. Depending on your exact needs, they may have different tread patterns, and they may also be made from different materials.
Make no mistake, selecting RV tires is serious business. There’s even a code to follow to help you make the best choices. Let’s take a lowdown look at “where the rubber meets the road,” and why it’s such an important issue. Read on!
Do RVs Need Special Tires?
If you have tires you love on your car or truck, you may think they’re perfect for your RV, too. Well, not so fast. Tires for RV trailers are different because they have different jobs to do. They typically have thicker, stronger sidewalls, so they can bear more weight. And, if you think about it, trailer tires aren’t doing any steering, so they have another kind of tread.
That doesn’t mean there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to RV tires. Different sizes of trailers call for tires with different specs, and so do the various kinds of motorhomes. Let’s learn what to look for in terms of size and weight ratings, and speed ratings.
RV Trailer Tire Types
You’ll find a series of letters and numbers along a tire’s sidewall, including those that list the recommended air pressure. This is that code we mentioned, and it’s not exactly secret, but it may seem a bit cryptic.
We’ll talk more about it shortly, but know that this string of letters and numbers sometimes starts with a P. That means a tire is for “passenger” vehicles like cars, smaller trucks, and SUVs – but not RV trailers. For fifth wheel and travel trailer tires, look for these two designations instead:
Light Truck (LT) Tires
These are more rugged than tires designed for passenger vehicles, so they’re definitely a step up. The LT on the side means “light truck,” a classification that includes some trucks, vans, and SUVs. They’re not the best choice for RV trailers, but they’re not the worst.
Many people use them for RV trailers without problems. They’re popular because they’re widely available and somewhat reasonably priced. Their tread pattern has crisscrossing grooves for traction in all directions.
Special Trailer (ST) Tires
An ST tire, short for “special trailer,” is a better choice, especially for larger RV trailers. These tires can handle extremely heavy loads over a longer period.
To accomplish this, tires meant for trailers have even stiffer, heavily reinforced sidewalls. They also have simpler tread patterns designed for keeping the trailer moving forward rather than for traction or stability. These longitudinal grooves in the tires help greatly reduce trailer sway.
Pro Tip: If you discover your RV tires have been slashed, Here’s What to Do.
Motorized RV Tire Types
Compared to trailers, there’s nothing particularly special about tires for motorhomes. They are the same kinds used on cars, trucks, and buses.
Small RVs (Class B) – Use Automotive Tires
Built on a van chassis, these are the smallest of all motorized RVs. When shopping for tires, choose passenger vehicle tires rated for 6,000 to 8,000 lbs.
Midsized RVs (Class C) – Use Light Truck Tires
Class C motorhomes can vary in size from around 20′ to about 30′. You’ll want LT tires that can handle 10,000 lbs to 12,000 lbs.
Large RVs (Class A) – Use Semi Truck or Bus Tires
These are the largest of all motorhomes. They’re built on either a bus or semi-truck chassis, so that’s the kind of tires you need. They can support 15,000 lbs to 30,000 lbs.
Pro Tip: RV tires aren’t cheap, so you’re probably wondering How Long Do RV Tires Last? We took a closer look to ensure your investment is worth your while!
Radial Tires vs. Bias Tires for RVs
Whether they’re for trailers or motorhomes, tires are a lot more than just pieces of rubber filled with air. They have other materials, such as steel or nylon, woven into them to give them more strength and durability. There are two types, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Radial Tires Pros and Cons
Also called radial-ply tires, these have strengthening fibers that run across the tires at a 90-degree angle. They sometimes have steel belts for even more reinforcement. Radial tires grip the pavement firmly, and they tend to have softer sidewalls. This feature provides more cushion, but it also means they can’t support as much weight. Radial tires are usually more expensive, too.
Bias Tires Pros and Cons
These tires have ply cords that run diagonally, usually on a 30-degree to 45-degree bias. They may also have fiberglass belts for additional strength.
Bias tires were the standard for many years before radial tires grew in popularity. Their solid construction means they can support much weight, but the downside is a rougher ride. Because they’re less flexible, they tend to get hot due to more friction. However, they are less expensive than radial tires. Bias-ply are far less common today and rarely seen on passenger vehicles.
Choosing the Right RV Tires
There are a few more important factors you need to know when selecting RV tires. This is where you may indeed have to crack the code we’ve mentioned. We’re talking about the different markings on the sidewall that list a tire’s specs. It can be confusing because some of the numbers refer to inches and others are millimeters.
When replacing tires, make sure their specs follow the manufacturer’s recommendations in these critical areas.
The first number you see is the tire’s width (in millimeters). Next is the tire’s aspect ratio, which is the percentage of the sidewall height in relation to its width. The next number in the series is the diameter of the rim, in inches.
Tire Load Rating
The number after the rim diameter is the one for the load index. This two-digit number is the tire’s maximum load rating. You’ll have to cross-reference with a load rating chart to determine the maximum number of lbs that’s safe.
Tire Speed Rating
After the load index number, you’ll see a letter representing the tire’s speed rating. This is a letter that correlates, on a separate conversion chart, with the tire’s maximum allowable speed. It’s based on the weight being within safe limits, too.
Weather and Road Conditions
This is another important factor based on your particular camping lifestyle. Where are you going, and when? Whether you do lots of off-road traveling will influence the kind of tread you need. The same goes if you’re going to be driving in hot, dry climates or where conditions are cold and wet.
Pro Tip: Protecting your tires is key to long term use. We took a closer look at if Your RV Really Needs Tire Covers.
Avoid Buying the Wrong Tire Type for Your Camper
The RV lifestyle can be expensive, so it’s tempting to cut corners financially wherever possible. We can tell you from experience that skimping on RV tires isn’t the wisest move. For safety and performance, it’s best not to go with any old tires. And just because they’re more expensive doesn’t mean they’re the right set of tires for your particular rig.
Take some time to look carefully at the numbers, and don’t be afraid to ask for guidance from a professional. Do plenty of research and proceed cautiously when choosing the right tires for your RV. A bad decision can literally lead to a disaster on the road.
Looking for some tire recommendations for your travel trailer or fifth wheel? Here are our top picks: The Best Trailer Tires for Your RV
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