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RV Tire Safety: “I just had a tire failure for no reason”

“I just had a tire failure for no reason.” If you follow any RV forums you probably see a statement like this every few weeks. I can tell you that tires do not fail because of some RV-Magic. It comes down to actual Science.

Why do tires fail?

Simple question, but as with almost every question about tires, the answer is not a one-liner. This post isn’t short, but it really isn’t technical. I’m sure every reader will understand the concepts.

When looking at why tires fail, we need to first exclude the obvious damage caused by external objects, i.e., potholes, curbs, chunks of metal, glass or rock or other trash and junk on the road. Second, we’ll exclude broken valve bodies, leaky valve cores, valve gaskets, extension hoses, and cracked rims.

Structural failure

What’s left will be a structural failure. That would almost 100 percent of the time be either a detachment of different parts or components of a tire one from the other, OR a heat/fatigue failure in the mid-sidewall due to driving with extreme low inflation.

Most tires are made up of 20 to 30 different components such as different steels (belts and bead are not the same steel) and textiles such as nylon, polyester, rayon, and aramid. Then there are the various rubber components such as tread, sidewall, innerliner, steel skim, wedge, flippers, chafer, base tread, inserts, and other bits and pieces.

Each component is selected for different reasons and contributes both advantages and disadvantages to the total. Each component must “stick” to its neighbors, both in the uncured and cured state. The interface between two different components is weaker than the individual components, but it must hold together through millions of cycles over a 200-degrees F temperature range.

All would be just fine if a tire were made completely of inorganic materials such as metals, stone or even ceramics. There are numerous formulas for the strength and fatigue limits for these inorganic materials.

Organics’ strength has a time function

The issue with organics (wood, rubber or other materials made from oil such as plastics) is that their strength has a “T” or time function. If you build a bridge of stone, you can calculate the maximum load it can sustain and as long as the structure isn’t changed due to external damage, its strength will be the same the day it’s built and 50 years later. If I build a pressure vessel of steel and put 150 psi in it and it doesn’t fail, I would have every expectation for it to continue to hold that pressure for decades, again excluding external damage.

However, if I build a pressure vessel of organic materials (e.g., a tire) it might hold 150 psi the first day or maybe the first few days, but at some point it can fail. This principle is not something many engineers think of today because they don’t design bridges of wood. But 100 or 150 years ago, when wood was common in bridges, they learned that a bridge that was strong enough to hold a railroad train to drive across could fail if the train parked on the bridge.

I educated some fellow tire engineers about this “T” function when I proved, through lab experiments, that it was possible to fail a tire with high pressure above its stated max 18 days after it was initially inflated.

The other condition that affects and changes the “T” in the equation is temperature. Organics experience constant change (loss) in properties as the temperature increases. The rate of change (aging) doubles about every 18 degrees F of increase in temperature, so it’s not easy to calculate or predict the time it will take for an organic structure to fail unless you can control the temperature over time.

Bottom line

It’s a combination of temperature (heat) and time that causes tires to fail. A tire that spends its life in Flagstaff, Ariz., could probably last twice as long as a tire that spent its life in Phoenix, if all other operating conditions were identical. So even knowing the state where the RV was used isn’t sufficient.

As the owner of an RV, you can significantly affect one factor and that is the heat generated internal to the tire. When you run fast or overloaded or underinflated, you are running hotter. This means you are speeding up the rate of “aging” of your tires and can expect to see a tire fail before it wears out. You can also protect and shield your tires from the heat generated when in direct sunlight while your RV is parked. HERE you can read about an experiment I ran on the benefits of shielding your tires from sun exposure.

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.

 ##RVT1048

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Jim Anderson
2 months ago

Roger,
Quick Question
I have a 40 foot Class A diesel Pusher
About 40,000 miles on three year old tires.
The front tires are a different size then the rear tire are…
The front tires were wearing a little unevenly and I had it aligned last week..
The tire dealer said that I should rotate the front tires left side to the right side etc…
That will reverse the direction that the tires are rotating.
That kind of goes against all i’ve been taught over many years of operating big rigs and my RV.
Recently I talked to a tire rep at a RV show and he was saying changing the tires direction of rolling rotation is not a problem with today’s new tires.
Thanks in Advance,
Jim Anderson

Roger Marble
2 months ago
Reply to  Jim Anderson

Yes, the direction of rotation was an issue back in the 70’s with the introduction of radial construction. The tire industry has made lots of progress and improvements in both materials and in the process of assembling radial tires. You should have no problem with changing the direction of rotation. Don’t forget to have a complete inspection of all your tires once a year starting at year 5 based on the tire DOT date.

Crowman
2 months ago

Good information.

Roger Marble
2 months ago
Reply to  Crowman

Yes, the direction of rotation was an issue back in the 70’s with the introduction of radial construction. The tire industry has made lots of progress and improvements in both materials and in the process of assembling radial tires. You should have no problem with changing the direction of rotation. Don’t forget to have a complete inspection of all your tires once a year starting at year 5 based on the tire DOT date.

Roger Marble
2 months ago
Reply to  Crowman

Thanks.

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