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RV Tire Safety: What is the “root cause” of a tire failure?

“Root cause” is the initiating condition or first cause. Someone having a temperature is not a root cause or proof of an infection, but is an indicator that there is probably an infection of some sort. A “blowout” is not considered the root cause of a tire failure—just the final condition.

In reality, tires fail for a relatively small number of root cause reasons that can be discovered, but it does require detailed and sometimes exhaustive investigation. By “root cause,” I mean the initiating feature or condition that eventually led to the failure. Too often people confuse the tire’s ending condition with the initiating or “root cause” reason for the tire to end up in the condition they are observing.

For the last few years of my 40-year career as a tire engineer, my primary job duty was to investigate failed tires that had conditions that were hard to understand or provided confusing and sometimes contradictory evidence as to the root cause for their condition. With that background, I have developed some guiding principles for the most likely reasons for tires to fail.

Guiding principles for most likely reasons for tires to fail

These are, in no special order:

  1. External Damage. These include punctures, cuts, impacts, wheel and valve failures, and similar conditions.
  2. Run Low Flex Failure. This is best described by the failure of the tire sidewall due to excessive flexing. The flexing is the result of operation when the tire is significantly under-inflated.
  3. Belt and Tread Separations. This is when the belts of a radial tire detach from the body or from each other and/or when the tread rubber detaches from the top belt.
  4. Manufacturing Defect. For the purpose of this discussion, this would be when components of a tire were not manufactured to the intended specification.

The “why’s” for some of these are obvious, such as the External Damage category. Others can be further traced to various contributory reasons.

Run Low Flex Failure

This is a more accurate description of what some incorrectly call a “blowout.” When a tire loses significant inflation air, they flex much more than the body cord can tolerate. Excess heat is generated which can, in extreme cases, result in the polyester actually melting. I showed examples of what this can look like link in THIS post. Polyester is used in most Passenger, ST type, and LT type tires. Steel body tires are used on most Class-A RVs, the steel can fatigue. I covered “Zipper” failures and steel fatigue in THIS post.

Belt and Tread Separations

Belt and tread separations occur primarily because the rubber around the belt cords or between the belt rubber and the tread rubber isn’t strong enough. Now, it can be weak for a variety of reasons. Some might be design, some might be manufacturing and some weakening can be caused by cumulative improper service conditions.

Now let’s talk about tires made by a reputable company, i.e., one that has tire stores and dealers with physical stores and sells tires that have a warranty of two or more years.

If this tire is subjected to thousands of miles of lower inflation or higher loading or operation at higher speeds or stored in full sunlight, it is reasonable to expect the strength of the belt and tread area rubber to lose a good portion of its strength primarily due to the increased operating temperature of the tire. If this tire is in service on a tandem axle trailer, then there is also increased Interply Shear, which can overload the belt area rubber. The combination of the above may result in a belt or tread separation.

Manufacturing Defect

Another possibility is a Manufacturing Defect. These usually occur in small numbers as tires are built in batches, so the substitution of the wrong type of rubber may cause tires to fail. It is important to understand that in almost all cases, this type of “defect” usually shows up in the early life of the tire. It is also very important to understand that, unlike some lawyers, engineers deal in facts and logic. Simply having a tire fail is not in itself proof of a defect but all too often that is the position that those in the legal profession seem to jump to. That approach may result in a nice payout to the lawyer, but will not result in product improvement as there has been no determination or identification of the actual initiating “defect.”

Design weakness

Finally, there is the possibility of a Design Weakness. Now, I do not believe that anyone is intentionally designing tires to fail. But this sometimes may occur when the performance goals of the manufacturer are limited to meet the bare minimum for strength and durability and the focus is primarily on low cost. There is no absolute way to identify these tires, but I do believe there are indicators when looking for tires that are made to a higher standard of quality and durability.

I would consider a tire company reputable if it had a chain of stores across the country. If the tires carry the name of the manufacturer and have a multi-year warranty (the longer the better), then they probably have higher durability requirements than those established by DOT.

For ST-type tires, I would look for tires with a Speed Symbol of “L” (75 mph) or faster. Now, a side point about speed. I did a POST a little while ago on the topic and strongly recommend you read it. I do not think I would recommend any tire for general use that does not have a speed rating molded on the sidewall. Few realize that ST tire load formula is based on a 65 mph max operation speed.

I do hope this post will help some to have a better understanding of what can contribute to tire failure and consider what you can do to lower the chances of having such a failure.

Posting pictures of tires with differet conditions and likely root cause

Over the next few weeks I will be posting pictures of tires with different conditions and I will identify what was discovered with a detailed inspection and identified as the most likely root cause. Just to whet your appetite here is a video showing at time 1:12 a tire that was initially suspected of having some “defect.” The physical evidence that proves what the root cause was can be seen in the video, if you look closely and understand what you are seeing.

If you think you know the answer, post it in the comments and the first 5 people to get the answer right with get their name published in my next post. Along with bragging rights.

Have a tire question? Ask Roger on his new RV Tires Forum here. It’s hosted by RVtravel.com and moderated by Roger. He’ll be happy to help you.

Read more from Roger Marble on his blog at RVtiresafety.net or on RVtravel.com.

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HempeeChick
8 months ago

I would like to say thank you for a quick basic lesson in tire failure. I used to work in the repair business. And I like the way you are able to explain the basics yet very important things the consumer needs to know. I would like to also add.. You get what you pay for with tires. The hot Arizona sun is also a issue here where I live. Just because a tire has tread and low miles on it. If it has been parked for a few years you tires might be dry and cracked. Very very unsafe for you and the others on the road.

Dennis G.
8 months ago

Tire failures (in my opinion) are generally caused by damage that happens to the tire. Over the last 39 years I have seen close to 300-400 failures. The most common failure was under-inflation damage. Some was very severe, and easy to see (on the inner sidewall). My neighbor had this failure recently. They said, “I had a blow out”. It took me a while to convince them the root cause of the failure. And,…that this root cause happened a while ago. It just happened to fail today, verses another day. But, it was going to fail eventually.

Mark W
8 months ago

I don’t know exactly what happened to this guy’s tire, many factors like under inflation, but, the one thing I noticed is no mention of having a tire pressure monitoring system.

These devices are not expensive, and, for the money a great investment. I have one on my Sprinter and it has a Bluetooth connection to all of the tires. I can visually see every tire on the vehicle, plus there’s a rapid loss of pressure alarm, so, if I start losing pressure quickly, I can take immediate action.

There’s many systems available on the market, but, I like my system from Truck System Technologies. This is all they do and give great personal service over the phone.

If you don’t have a tire pressure monitoring system, you’re really driving blind with no information.

Driving an RV is definitely not the same as driving your car.

Roger Marble
8 months ago

Well, it looks like Wayne C, Drew, and Richard Cairns win the “Bragging Rights” Yes the tire in the video did suffer a Run Low Sidewall Flex failure. You can review the details of my Autopsy in THIS post from my RVTireSafety.net blog: https://www.rvtiresafety.net/2020/11/claims-of-defective-tires-causing.html

Mike
8 months ago

It looks like Belton tread separation based on the pictures.

Richard Cairns
8 months ago

Ply separation due to excess heat caused by low air pressure or “Run Low Flex Failure.”

Steve K
8 months ago

Goodyear Tire Company recommends inflating trailer tires to maximum pressure stamped on sidewall to keep heat build up to a minimum.

Drew
8 months ago

I’m guessing the same- low inflation pressure.

Wayne C
8 months ago

Looks like “run low flex failure” to me. I’m guessing if it were belt separation the tread would no longer be attached.

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