AT ONE POINT OR ANOTHER, it’s almost inevitable that cracks will strike the sidewall of your RV tires, often like a nest of little snakes swimming toward the tire’s shoulder. Sometimes they turn up as flakes near the rim less than an eighth of an inch in size. Sometimes they curl the entire way around the tire, seemingly overnight. You call it cracking. Tire people call it stress.
If you think about it, trailer tires endure enormous stresses — harsh UV rays, significant loads, hot roads, and sitting parked for several months at a time. Yes, not being driven is actually a stress for trailer tires, but more on that in a moment. The biggest culprit when it comes to sidewall weathering is the weather: exposure to the sun, air and even the high levels of ozone that result from smog and generators.
These days, rubber compounds contain anti-aging ingredients to help your tires stand up against the elements, but surface cracks are really a sign that, over time, your tire has been doing its job in the face of the sun.
Typically these cracks appear on the sidewall in the section near the shoulder where tires flex the most. Once you spot cracking, you might be wondering, ‘Is this normal? Is it safe to drive on them, or do they need to be replaced?’
As for whether or not it’s normal, that depends on many factors, including the model, how the tires were stored, and where they’ve been (tires in hot climates tend to be more affected by weather cracking). While weather cracking is common, especially as trailer tires age, there are ways to stall these signs of tire aging—and safe ways to handle them once they do appear.
Depending on use, most manufacturers give trailer tires a lifespan of about five years, so if your tires are nearing this age when you start to see cracking, it’s probably best to simply thank your tires for having done their duty and replace them.
If you see severe cracking that’s exposing the belting, they need to be inspected immediately and should not be driven on. If your tires are still quite young and cracking is light, have a professional inspect the tires to see if it’s safe for you to carry on with them. It’s also worth looking into your manufacturer’s warranty for weather cracking, usually about four years from the date of purchase, and some will go by manufacture date if the receipt is long gone.
It’s never worth risking getting tire trouble on the road, so replacing your tires is a small price to pay for the joy of RVing and a bit of peace of mind.
Once you do replace your tires, how can you help prevent weather cracking?
Check the air pressure in your tires. Maintaining correct air pressure will allow your tires to dissipate heat while in use and reduce the stress on them. Getting your tires out on the road will also go a long way toward getting those anti-aging ingredients in the rubber working. When your RV or trailer is parked, try to lighten the load and store them out of the elements. Last, even though everyone loves a slick, shiny tire, try to avoid using certain tire cleaners or petroleum-based products that in fact strip away your tire’s anti-oxidants and ozone protection.
A few weeks ahead of every trip, be sure to inspect your tires for signs of weather cracking so you’ve got plenty of time to make sure your tires are up for the job.