Answers to 11 common questions about tires

With so many RVers gearing up for Memorial Weekend and summer travel season, it's a good time of year to talk about tires.

Although tire maintenance certainly isn't exciting or sexy, it's always important, and frequently misunderstood or misinterpreted. Here I've answered the most common questions I get about tire maintenance and safety.

1. Is a TPMS really worth it?


Aside from a brake controller (which is required by law), a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) is the most important safety equipment an RV owner can buy. 

Some Airstreamers tell me they check tire pressures before every trip and feel that is sufficient. While it's certainly good practice to check pressures prior to a trip, if it's the only thing you do it is absolutely insufficient for keeping your tires safe on the road.

If you only check pressures before you leave the driveway or campsite, all you know for sure is that the pressures were ok when you pulled out. You know absolutely nothing about tire pressures and temperatures while you are driving – and that's when this information really counts. 

As any seasoned RV traveler knows, a lot happens when you're towing. You can run over a nail or hit tire fragments any time. Or have a slow leak. Or even have a dragging brake that makes the tire's air pressure climb too high. 

A TPMS constantly monitors tire pressures and temperatures while you're driving, and alerts you if there is an indication if something is wrong so you can pull over and check things out. Without a monitor you are risking a flat or a blowout while you're driving. Not only is this dangerous, it can also cause serious and expensive damage to the body of your Airstream. 

Which TPMS do we use and recommend? TST, because it's the most reliable on the market. 

In the last few years, I've noticed some higher end Airstream models and certain premium RV brand models being delivered with a TPMS already installed. It's possible that someday all RVs will come standard with a TPMS. Until then, every RV owner should purchase one.

2. If I have a TPMS, should I buy an extra sensor for the spare tire?

I have one on mine and strongly recommend it. If I have a flat, I want to be sure the spare tire is ready to install, and that means it needs to be inflated to the right tire pressure.

3. Which tools do I need to change a tire?

Most importantly, you need tools to remove the lug nuts and a torque wrench to put them back on properly. If you are not familiar with how to use a torque wrench, we show you how in the short video below.

And, given how many people have been calling us lately with questions about this calibrated wrench, we also created this free download to explain the steps for proper use

In addition to the tools required to remove lug nuts and properly torque them after replacement, you also need a way to check tire pressure before you get back on the road. So that means you need either a tire pressure gauge or a TPMS.

If you have a dual axle trailer, you do not need a jack – only leveling blocks, which everyone already carries. But if you have a single axle trailer, you do need a jack. A bottle jack is a good choice, since it's small. (Your truck's jack probably won't work on the trailer.)

Finally, because flats often happen alongside busy roadways, you should also travel with a safety vest and/or warning triangles/reflectors. 

The easiest way to get all the right tools – including a quality torque wrench – is to purchase our AIR GEAR Tire Changing Kit. Everything comes in a padded storage bag, and we include instructions for changing an Airstream trailer tire too. 

4. Should I carry an air compressor?

Yes. It will save you driving around to find a gas station with an air pump when your tires are low.  

Late model Airstreams have inverters built in, so you can use a 120-volt AC (household power) air compressor. Portable ones are inexpensive, light, small, and come with convenient carry bags. Simply turn on the Airstream’s inverter and plug the air compressor into the outside power outlet with an extension cord. I recommend this approach if possible, because it will be much more effective at filling tires than a 12 volt DC (battery powered) air compressor.

There are many good brands out there and I don't have a specific recommendation, but this is the one we currently travel with. Look for them at auto parts stores, hardware stores, and general merchandise stores. 

5. How do I know my tires are safe?

Inspect them! 

Literally everything is riding on your tires, which is why you can't ignore their condition. You can leave your driveway with tires that look good only to find an embedded nail or a new crack on the sidewall at your first gas stop. 

That's why inspecting our tires is the most frequent thing I do: before every trip, at every gas station and rest stop, and every time we leave a campsite. 

I've written a lot about this topic and made this video showing how to inspect trailer tires. 

If you prefer having this information in hand when you travel, you'll find details about tire maintenance in The (Nearly) Complete Guide to Airstream Maintenance.

6. Do my trailer tires need regular rotation, or alignment checks?

Not in most cases.

You might want to rotate the tires (switching from the front position to the back position on a tandem-axle trailer) if you notice that the tires are wearing more quickly in the front or back. Rotating the tires will even out the wear, in this case.

Routine wheel alignments are not required for Airstream travel trailers. You only need to align the wheels if you notice unusual tire wear.

And in case you were not aware, in Airstreams, the wheels are aligned by bending the axles. This job has to be done in a service center – you can't just head over to Big O Tires.

7. Could packing too much/weighing too much cause damage to the tires or impact them? 

Definitely. Overloaded tires are very, very bad. If an overloaded tire blows, you can lose control and be seriously injured or worse.

Newbies in particular should pay careful attention to this matter. Here are the main points to understand:

First, look at the Federal Certification Label on the front driver's side of your Airstream to find out its Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). This is the maximum amount the trailer can safely weigh when fully loaded with cargo. 

Next, weigh your Airstream. Take it to a truck stop and have it weighed with and without your tow vehicle. Or find an Escapees Club SmartWeigh location. Designed specifically for RVers, SmartWeigh is an excellent program that gives you a lot of good data.

Third, get educated about weight distribution, which is an even bigger issue than the weight of the trailer when it comes to how tires can become overloaded and create a severely unsafe condition while you are driving.

Although not specifically related to tires, weight distribution is an adjacent topic because it deals with towing safety, so I always feel compelled to educate people about it's importance. Here's a detailed blog I wrote on this topic. Too many Airstream and other brand RV owners don't know enough about and that's unfortunate because lack of understanding causes poor hitching up and poor hitching up can result in loss of control and a serious accident.

8. How do I know when it's time to get new tires? 

There are two general ways to answer this question:

  • When the treads are worn below 3/32", show cracks or damage, or have uneven wear
  • When the tires are beyond the manufacturer's expiration date or mileage recommendation

Getting new tires on an Airstream travel trailer isn't exactly like getting new tires for your car or truck. We wrote this detailed blog that covers 7 things you need to do, including making sure you note the location of the TPMS sensors, checking the condition of the spare, and staying on site during installation. 

9. What tire pressure should I set my tires to?

This is a topic that upsets many people, and I've never really figured out why. So I'm always cautious about how I answer this question. 

When in doubt about tire pressure, the maximum "cold" pressure stated by the manufacturer is the best way to go. There is no harm in running the maximum pressure, but there is potential harm in running the minimum.

Some people prefer to run lower tire pressure to have a softer ride. That's ok, but only if you follow Goodyear's "Load/Inflation Information" table, which is published online, and monitor your tire pressures closely—because there will be little room for error if you start losing pressure. 

If you don't want to take the time to weigh your trailer or look at the load inflation tables, we recommend running at maximum manufacturer pressure. Doing so gives you margin in case you start losing pressure. 

If you're looking for a more detailed answer to this question, I wrote this blog on the topic. Some readers may find a few of the comments amusing.

10. How do I change an Airstream trailer tire?

You can watch me explain it step by step in this video I made this with my friend and fellow Airstreamer Laura quite a few years ago. Except for my hairstyle, everything in it is still current.

If you prefer written instructions, we include them, with photos, in the AIR GEAR Tire Changing Kit.

    11. Someone told me that I should... [insert some piece of advice here]. Is that true?


    But don't follow any advice at face value without checking facts and multiple resources first. Sadly, I've seen many Airstreamers follow campfire lore to their own detriment. Here's one of those examples, related to tires:

    While on a 60-day caravan across Quebec in a 34-foot Airstream Classic, a close friend had to replace a tire on the road. One of the older, experienced Airstreamers told him it was because he was running too much pressure, and recommended my friend lower his tire pressure to 35 psi.

    Believing the advice to be sage, and not wanting another flat, my friend lowered his tire pressure to 35 psi – and had two more blowouts on the caravan. The advice cost him two tires in 60 days (and luckily not anything more harmful than that).

    The moral of this story is: Don't blindly trust the advice of someone just because they have been Airstreaming for more years than you have. Check multiple sources and look at manufacturer recommendations. This well-intentioned suggestion was based on nothing scientific or factual, only what worked for the other guy. Save yourself the expensive lesson my friend learned – verify facts and proceed with caution. 



      Brian Powers

      Brian Powers

      Thanks for the article. I absolutely agree with you that TPMS is an absolute must, so much that this should be the first item you buy and install before traveling. Also I have played around with tire pressure, started with the recommendation of 80lbs and down to 60, and noticed very minor tire degradation on the outer side of the tread. I am now traveling at 78lbs and all has been good. However, regardless of what you chose to do, alway inspect the tires, before traveling, at gas stations and really anytime you pull over including your Campsite stop. I have found nails and screws in my Airstream tires and also in my Tow Vehicle. Early enough to wart off and flats and blowouts. Again, thanks for the article.



      Nicely done
      I’m very happy that there wasn’t any ST/LT recommendations
      Sadly though, the pics are of the new LT tires Airstream has moved ahead with recently. Follow the money, they got a better price point on the Michelin and forgo the safety of the ST tire design.

      Rich Luhr

      Rich Luhr

      Charlie, thanks for the comment. Just FYI, I chose the Michelin Defender LTX 235/75R15 tires installed—they weren’t original equipment on my Airstream. The Michelin tires have a much deeper tread, last longer, and ride softer than the original Goodyear Endurance ST tires). I’ve been running Michelin LTX tires for over a decade now and in my opinion they are FAR superior to any ST type tire I’ve tested.

      For more, see my blog from August 2015:

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