Airstream RV Blog #73 – Tire Issues from Sean Michael on Vimeo.

In a little over a year of ownership, we’ve had three flat tires on our RV.

The first occurred in Myers Flat, California. We were camping in one of the prettiest private campgrounds in California’s redwood forests. Our tire died in the middle of the night. We woke up the next morning, and it was just…gone. It didn’t even leave a note. Thankfully, one nice feature of a towable trailer like an Airstream is that you can safely tow short distances even with one flat tire. There was a tire shop right outside our campground, and we were soon up and running.

The second flat tire was at least 98% my fault. After a long day of towing across the great American West, we exited the highway in Amarillo, Texas. But alas! In a memorable case of pilot error, my exit trajectory was sloppy. When making a sharp right turn, we clipped a curve. POOF! With a memorable bang, the new tire we’d purchased in Myers Flat met its sudden, sad demise. It was so young! We got the tire replaced, but the battered rim never forgave me.

Our third flat tire happened in Florida. We awoke one morning to discover that yet another tire had mysteriously expired. Apparently they tend to die of natural causes in the middle of the night. We towed our Airstream to a nearby tire shop and got it replaced.

So now, with our Good Sam’s Club card clutched tightly in hand, we are venturing back on the road. But not without a few fresh tire worries. We’re headed West with our spare rim back on the RV.

Our latest steel-belted drama involves a bizarre, uneven wear pattern. As you’ll see in the video, this tire is wearing out in a dangerous fashion. Naturally, it’s happening to the NEW tire we had mounted in Texas. Coincidence?

My suspicion is that clipping the curb last summer caused further damage to our Airstream than we realized. But I hope and pray that I’m wrong. Perhaps someone out there knows better.

And so, now I pose the $120 (mounted and balanced) question to you tire experts out there. What’s wrong with our tire? If you have any ideas, please let us know.


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  1. Thanks Lady, your husband was right! Check out my latest post for the latest details…

  2. Pingback: Okay, Tire Experts: Were You Right?

  3. Lady Quapp

    My husband is a RV tech and he said it is your axles. Get them checked.

  4. Just a brief update, everyone.

    We are presently in Colorado. We have a brand new spare tire on the problem axle. By the way, Airstreams use a torsion axle instead of a spring loaded axle. (I don’t claim to be any kind of axle expert, but am just relaying what I’ve learned.)

    Yes, we are back to thinking that the axle is bent. We spoke with Airstream, Inc. and they recommended a couple of shops that are well equipped to handle the repair job. One is in Montana; the other is in Arizona. It looks like we’ll be going the Arizona route, since that will suit our upcoming California travel plans.

    So after exploring Colorado for a few days, we’re headed south. I will let you know what happens when we reach the axle repair shop. Thanks to everyone for your helpful comments!

  5. Roger Marble

    If you are still having a problem getting the wheel alignement measured on the trailer there is a way to get an approximation with just 4 jackstands, some string and a tape measure for Toe and Tracking and with a digital level like this you can check the camber.

    Overall not as accurate as the laser in the store but a lot cheaper. I have used this on my race car and with some practice got real good results.

    Park the TT on a hard surface that is as level as you can find. Set 4 jackstands, one at each corner of the TT. I used jack stands because I had them and they were heavy enough to not fall over when i pulled the string tight.
    Run a string on each side from front to rear jackstand.
    The string needs to be about as far above the ground as the center of the axle stub cover is.
    Adjust the stands untill the distance between the front 2 stands is the same as the distance between the rear 2.
    Confirm that the distance from the center of axle cover (bearing cup) to the string is equal for all 4 wheels.
    To get all these points parallel will take some time and practice.
    Ideally you should be parallel to +/- 1/32 inch or better but you may need to settle for 1/16″

    Now with the tape measure measure the distance from the front of the wheel flange (the flat about 3/8″ inside to Outter most point of the wheel) to the string. Then measure from the same point on the wheel at the rear of the same wheel to the string.
    repeat for all 4 wheels.
    Don’t knock over the stands or trip on the string or you get to start over LOL

    If all 8 measurements are the same (to the 64th inch) then you have parallel axles and no toe-in or toe-out which is about what you would want. There may be some slight toe-in (string to wheel measurement is 1/64″ greater at the front of each wheel than at the rear of each wheel) but you would want to check the specs with the TT manufacturer.

    Now to check Camber.
    Ideally you would have a straight piece of wood that will fit top to bottom of the side of the wheel and only touch the flat part of the flange just inside where the tire contacts the wheel. ( I can send a picture if you are interested)
    Place the digital level on the flat and you should get a reading at 0° +/- 1° or less.

    Once you get all your measurements I think the root cause of your alignment problem will become obvious.

  6. Gary Hauck

    I cannot say what the problem is unless I am there in person to look at the situation first hand. I just wanted to remind people about new tires. There was a national news broadcat last week, dont remember which NBC< CBS< ABC, which looked into new tire sales. Even though the tire was never used they had found several tires, Wallmart, Sears, etc that was 7 to 12 years old being sold as new.The newsman said to look on the tire, there will be a circle with numbers in it. IE 3298, this means the tire was manufactured the 32 week in the year 1998. I am not saying this is your problem but you may want to take a look.

  7. Lisa Roth

    Sean, hubby is still convinced you should check the spring on that side of the trailer. If you look under and see anything resembling a crack, that spring is broken and should be replaced. I thought that when Airstream looked at the axel that they would automatically check the springs too, but you know what they say about assuming! 🙂

    We would never put truck tires on our trailer. Trailer tires are made specifically to handle constant loads that a truck tire just isn’t made to handle. Roger was right on the mark saying you should be using ST rated tires. Why mess around with what is essentially your home for however long you’re traveling?

    Another point to consider when talking about tires – many tire shops do not carry ST rated tires – they need to be special ordered. The only exception we’ve found to date is with a Goodyear store. We stopped at one of those ‘we sell every brand’ tire stores (which we have no argument with, by the way, hubby used to work in one for about 10 years!), and hubby asked if they carried our size ST rated tire and did they have the capability to install it directly onto the trailer. They said they had to order it and would have it in by XX date and yes, they could install it. On XX date we called and they said the tire was in, so we towed our 29′ trailer to their shop. Hubby went in, they showed him the tire and it was NOT an ST rated tire but was a truck tire, which the manager said would work just fine on our trailer. We said, no thanks and went on our way.

    A lot of it depends on what you’re using your trailer for and what the weight is of that trailer (preferably on each wheel). If you are a full-timer, don’t mess with truck tires. If you are a weekender with a TT, eh, maybe? But if you have a toy hauler – no way!

    Good luck, Sean – keep us posted! There are some very good tire shops in Albuquerque who might be able to give you a hand.


  8. andrew

    Sean, have you taken a medium size level and put it on the tire to see if there is any difference from the others? I just have a hard time thinking the axle would be having trouble. Maybe replacing the bearings, races and hub will fix it. It sure would be worth a shot. If you haven’t checked the tire horizontally wtih a level, that might be a place to start. The races could have come out of place and the tire will still be firm and not wiggle but the ride position will be incorrect. Airstream should be able to replace a hub put the new bearings and races in. Might ask them to inspect the spindle while they have the hub off. With what we know about the curb incident I think this could be the problem.

  9. Rangerdave

    i sold and changed tires for way too long know what that is. it looks like at some given time your trailer was jacked up by a jack on the axle, (i have seen this way too many times). if this is done, usually your axle will get bent during that process. that will lead to some very wierd tire wear that will leave the best chasing the wind.


  10. Roger, thanks for sharing your expertise. With regard to the wheel being mounted at an angle, I am only relaying what we were told. The axle was examined and appeared to be true. But I have (unfortunate) news on that front…

    We are presently in Santa Fe, New Mexico — after towing our Airstream several hundred miles across Arkansas and Oklahoma. After examining the newly mounted tire, I’m sorry to report that it appears to be wearing in a similar pattern. In other words, you are correct — even with a properly mounted wheel, the tire appears to be wearing similarly, so we are back to thinking it’s the axle.

    Our next step? We’ll try to find someone here in New Mexico with experience in trailer axles. :

    Thanks, everyone. Stay tuned!

  11. Don

    Yes, and it could be a bent wheel as well, hope and pray for that it is only that!!


  12. Roger Marble

    Well Sean, I am a Tire Engineer with over 38 years experience in Design and Testing of passenger, light truck, heavy truck and even race tires for Indy cars. I also have done over 5,000 Forensic examination ( think CSI ) of tires at the end of their life or that someone thought “failed”. While you have not provided a lot of information on the tires that had problems and without actually seeing the tires I can only make some educated observations. One thing that is consistent is that when people have a problem they always seem to start off by saying “What’s wrong with the tire”

    On your first tire there really isn’t enough information to even make a guess.

    In my opinion the second “flat tire” was the result of what is commonly called an impact break. This can occur to any brand, size or construction given the right combination of load, inflation, speed, size, shape and angle of attack when the driver steers the vehicle over a piece of rock or into a pot hole or into a curb. Sometimes the tire will suffer an immediate air loss and sometimes it holds air for a few minutes, hours or even days under the right conditions before it ultimately looses air because the reinforcement was cut or broken during the impact. If interested I can send you soe pictures of various examples, some with rim damage and some without obvious rim damage.

    The third tire with the inside shoulder worn off is in all probability the result of a bent axle or a damaged axle mount. Others have suggested Negative Camber which I think is a reasonable possibility. You say the axle was checked out. Was a four wheel alignment done on the trailer measuring Toe and Camber? I would think that for a tandem axle trailer both Toe and Camber for all four positions should be about 0°. Lisa had a good comment on the spring mounts. Did you confirm the axle hadn’t moved on the spring?
    There is a very small chance the belt or tread was assembled off center but it would take an autopsy to confirm this possibility.

    General comments.
    Charles was correct in asking if you are applying ST “Special Trailer” tires (H78-14 ST for example) if those were what Airstream recommends or did you or a previous owner switch the less expensive P-metric ( P215/75R15 for example ?
    All the comments on proper inflation for the real load were on the money. You have checked the individual load on each position haven’t you?
    Tire sealant ( Fix-A-Flat brand or similar) The use of this type of a product is at best only a TEMPORARY solution to vehicle mobility. Its use can make it difficult or impossible to properly repair some tread punctures. It may VOID any tire warrantee. The ONLY approved repair is made after a tire is de-mounted, inspected by a trained tech and then a combination of patch and plug uses. This is the ONLY proper tire repair according to Department of Transportation and ALL the major tire manufacturing companies.
    TPMS. I just bought my first new RV in March (Coachmen Freelander 2130QB) and installed a 6 position system. Even though I set my inflation at the start of every trip I still can check both pressure and temperature of all 6 tires at any time.

    Your latest theory about the wheel being put on at an angle presents some problems if you do a sanity check. The tire wore one side of the tread all the way around the tire. If the wheel was not mounted correctly they one point of the tire would have had negative camber while 180 degrees away it would have had positive camber which would cause the other side of the tread to wear at that location.

  13. Brad, thanks for your tip. After our experience, I am a little skeptical about trailer tires also! In all of this time, we’ve had nary a problem from the tire on our pickup truck.

    As of this typing, I have good news on the tire front. It came as a surprise to me, and proably will to you also.

    Our friends at Airstream of Arkansas checked the wheel to see if it was true. It was.

    Then they checked the AXLE, measuring to determine if it was bent. It WASN’T!

    They looked at our recent new tire wear (the spare), to see if it was strange. It wasn’t, either. The spare seems to be wearing normally.

    So here’s the latest theory. We think that the aluminum wheel was mounted incorrectly with an impact wrench. That is, we think the tire mechanic mounted the wheel in a sloppy fashion, such that it was positioned at a slight angle. Thus, the tire wore excessively on the interior as shown in the video.

    While I’m relieved the news is not worse, I’m obviously slightly annoyed that human carelessness is to blame! From now on I’m going to wqtchover the tire guys, especially if they are weilding impact wrenches.

    Kristy and I have towed another 500 miles on the new tire; so far, so good. We will continue to tow as we head towards Colorado (in Texas tonight). I will report if we see anything strange happening.

    A big THANKS to everyone who has replied!

  14. Brad Sears (Geezer34nh)

    Whoops, that wear is on the inside neg camber. Gulp my face is red.

  15. Brad Sears (Geezer34nh)

    Sean, first thanks for the sympathy note on my mother passing. Now, here is where I insert my foot well into my mouth and then place my neck on the chopping block. I gave up years ago on trailer tires and went to LT or light truck tires on my trailers. My tire problems dissappeared. The last TT that we hauled was also an Airstream very much like yours but a 1975 model. My car trailer that we drag now has had LT’s on it since the origional tires began failing with low miles. But you will need the axle repaired as there is very much positive camber on that wheel. Bending may work if done cold. Do not allow anyone to heat and then bend the axle!. Good luck, Brad.

  16. Bob McCrady

    One more comment on tires….for those who carry a spare tire, ALWAYS check it’s pressure when you check your main tires. Back in my rookie RV days, I needed the spare only to find it flat. The spare is an insurance policy, so check it often.

  17. The TPMS sounds very nice. I will definitely investigate getting one.

    We towed a couple hundred miles today in the direction of the Airstream dealer. I agree that it’s unlikely they’ll be able to repair the axle, simply because that’s not their specialty. I know they can replace it, but I’d hate to buy a new axle if the original can be repaired.

  18. I would not tow a trailer without a tire pressure monitoring system. We use and sell the PressurePro system but any TPMS is better than none. The PressurePro system has sensors that just simply screw onto the end of the valve stems with a monitor on the dash that plugs into a cigarette lighter socket. It allows me to accurately check all 12 tires on my motorhome and trailer in about 20 seconds even while driving down the road. I’m guessing you have a bent axle. I doubt that the Airstream dealer is going to be able to fix it. As others suggest take it to someone that can align the axle.Good luck and let us know what you find out.

  19. Andy Sentgeorge

    I don’t read any mention of a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) in any of the posts. Does anyone out there use one for their rv? I am about to buy 4 new tires for my 5th wheel and am considering a TPMS for them. Anyone with experience and the pros/cons of the various types available?

  20. thanks Andrew… We’re planning to run on the spare for the next day or so. We may end up sacrificing another tire before this saga reaches it’s conclusion. I’m also hoping that we can keep our original axle. Swapping the axle sounds like a big job…

  21. andrew

    Sean, my friend had a similar issue with his boat trailer. It was wearing the tires funny. He had left the plug in and it filled up with rain water. He forgot to drain it before he left for the lake and it bent the axle from being over loaded.
    The dealer replaced the axle for him and now its fine. Hopefully yours is just out of alignment and not bent.
    As many miles as you put on your trailer and bumps it has seen sooner or later somethings got to give.
    You will be back on the road in no time!

  22. Gary, we carry around a can of fix-a-flat for use in case of emergency. Basically we apply a can (or two) of the stuff to the flat before towing to a tire shop. I’ve heard different opinions about towing on a flat, but truckers have told me it’s okay so long as you go very slow and straight to the shop.

    That said, I think next time we’ll just call Good Sam. 🙂

    As for Richie, woah! Your tire woes put ours in perspective. It’s pretty amazing to learn your axle was incorrectly installed. I guess anything can happen. Hopefully that’s not the culprit here.

  23. Richie

    We had major tire problems last year. In 2,000 miles the tires actually wore out. After another 2,000 miles they wore out again. This was on a brand new 2007 travel trailer. The problem was that one axle was actually put in upside down. Check from the rear and look underneath and see that the axles bend slightly upward when the trailer is not loaded. One of ours bent downwards and was the problem. No problems after it was fixed. They paid for all sets of tires and the axle as it was under warranty.

  24. Gary Mots

    Without doing a bunch of stuff, start simple and basic.

    Are the tires your having the trouble with all happing on the same wheel(rim)?

    Maybe thats the rim that hit the curb, and maybe without noticing you have done that before, Have the rim checked, make sure it is not bent from hitting the curb.

    Also, I would never drive anywhere on a flat tire, no mater if the tire ship is 100 yards away, My opinion is to change the tire as soon as you are aware that it is flat before driving on it.

    The above is the cheapest and easyest fix before you spend a lot of money doing the above items mentioned, however they are valid and good ansewers to your problem.

    Really enjoy your blogs, keep them comming.

  25. Wow! I’m blown away by the breadth and depth of responses. Thanks, everyone. 🙂

    I do have some news to report. Tonight, after packing our Airstream, we once again lifted the problem rim off the ground. We checked whether the bearings were faulty.

    The good news is that the bearings are not faulty — the wheel is steady.

    The bad news is … that the bearings are not faulty! This leads me to believe, as many of you do, that the axle is to blame.

    Tomorrow morning I’m going to make some phone calls, and see who in our area can check the axle. We’ve been planning to take it to an Airstream dealer, but said dealership is about a 7-hour tow away from our home.

    I’m not certain the dealership even has the capability of repairing this issue. If that’s the case, we may be better off seeing the fellow Ken recommends.

    Richard, I agree that age is often an issue. I think in the case of our tires that “died in the middle of the night,” age was the culprit.

    Anyway, a hearty THANK YOU to everyone for taking the time to reply. I will keep you posted with regard to what happens!

  26. Richard Roder

    I have had tires go when they have had good tread left. The following is perhaps something that should be shared on your RV-Net comments. Take a look and see if this makes sense to you.

    ABC report on the “shelf life” of tires…

    WHen I had trouble with my tires it was not because of wearing badly, allignment or balance. It was AGE! All tires I had trouble with were more than 5 years old.

  27. Charles

    In addition to Mike Seffen’s comments do what I did when my Dealer provided tires started wearing. Take the total weight of the trailer, divide the four tires into that amount and each tire should be reated to carry that much weight. dealers tend to put the least amount of tire on the trailer. Also make sure you are buying an ST rated tire. Special Trailer,,means it runs fine in straight lines, but does not squirm like a passenger tire. Passenger tires do not belong on a trailer.
    good luck

  28. Mike Seffen

    Howdy !

    let’s take this by the numbers – so to speak.

    First. The cause of most tire failure is improper inflation. Heat build up happens from under inflated tires, and that causes over pressure, infusion of air into the layers of the belt and tire wraps of rubber and will make a good tire go pop. This brings up the old question of “When do you check your tire pressure?”. When the tire is cold!

    Making tires is still as much art as it is method. if you take two tires made the same day in the same plant out of the same mold they will be different. What this means is that as tire number 1 rolls down the road it will heat differently from the 2nd tire. Bottom line, if you check the pressure of these tires after they have been warmed up a bit they will have different pressures and if you try to make them the same you’ll wind up over inflating one of them.

    Number 2 is simple – to much weight ! Tires are designed to carry only so much weight and not that many of us actually weigh our trailer – or any type of RV – to see if we are overloaded. Now this means not only the gross weight but also the side to side weight. The next time you go to a major RV show or perhaps a “Safety Circus” put on by your local law enforcement have your rig weighed for the total weight and then the side to side weight. I’ll bet that you will be amazed at the difference in the side to side weights.

    the 3rd major reason tires go boom is damage done to the tire that you can’t see at the time of the damage. (Huh??) Let me ask you this, have you ever watched a trailer being backed into a parking slot? If you look you will see that the tire will squirm, twist and all but come off of the rim !

    The reason is that almost all tires used in the RV industry are belted radials. The belt tries to keep going in a straight line while the trailer is being pushed at an angle. This tears the belt-welt which is what helps hold the belt going around the tire in place. You can’t see it because it’s under the rubber tread but the damage has been done. Now it’s not a case of “will the tire blow?” but of “When” that tire will throw the belt off the tire casing.

    The 4th reason is an abused tire. This is when it is hit on a curb, speed bumps at a high rate of speed or big rocks or chuck holes. Some times a misaligned axle can cause tread damage, but it is very easy to see miss-worn tread to identify the cause and in any case, this is not normally the cause of complete failure unless the tire was almost sideways.

    Now the 5th reason, a bad tire. This happens mostly with off-brands. for example I put four SuperStone Trdial Track LT235/85R16 tires from Sam’s Club on one of my trucks.two years ago. This truck is a Ford F-350 Dually loaded with my 10.5-Ft Silver Streak camper. All weights are way below max for the truck and tires and I only put about 3,700 miles on it going to do seminars at the Rally in Bend OR. and back. The truck was parked and the tires covered when I got back. I planned to take it on a trip a few months back and when I pulled the cover off of the tire the belt was blown open at the top of the tire ! this happened while it was parked ! So yes, bad tires happen – these came from China and will be the last ones I will ever buy !!

    Am I a tire engineer? nope, but I have worked with several doing testing of RV’s and suspension systems in the industry and these ranking come directly out of their books.

    Hope this helps a bit !!

    The Old ranger

  29. Casey Balvert

    Without getting a close look at the tire it is hard to know for sure. Too much negative camber caused by damaged suspension or axle is the likely culprit. There may also be a toe out issue as well and probably a combination of the two. A thorough inspection of the axle and suspension is what you need. The axle is usually brought into alignment be bending the axle although some trailer suspensions actually are capable of being adjusted similar to that of a car. Regardless, you need a knowlegable person to look at it.

  30. Lisa Roth

    Hi Sean,

    My husband suggests that you may want to check the main spring. Look between the two U bolts and make sure the spring isn’t cracked. If you can see a crack, it is broken. Secondly, check the wheel bearings, as a loose wheel bearing will cause the camber to be off, which could explain the inside tire wear. If neither of these is the problem, then you probably want to do as Ken and Bill suggested and have the axel checked out. As a side note, you may want to do an internet search for problems with certain brand name tires. Especially the ones the RV industry likes to put on TTs and motorhomes.

    Good luck and happy travels!

    Lisa and Jerry

  31. Ken McLemore

    I am thoroughly enjoying the blog this summer. As for the tire problem, it appears that you have bent the axle or axle stub (end) causing a serious alignment issue. Now your everyday tire and front end alignment shop won’t be of much help. You should try to find someone (larger metro area) who specializes in trailer axle alignment. My guy is an 18-wheeler pro. First you have to establish which axle is out of spec and by how much. This is generally done now by a laser alignment machine. The rework of the axle stub could be as simple as bending the wayward stub slightly to realign it or replacement (cutting & welding) of the stub itself. Either way, don’t leave this up to someone who is not experienced. I found my guy in Jackson, MS and he’s tops. I take my rig yearly just to make sure all is well. Good luck. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you want to discuss this in depth. I’ve had experience with bent axles with a cargo trailer and a Holiday Rambler 34 ft TT.


  32. Jimmie Ellison

    Sorry to hear bout your tire malfuntions, quite simply a problem caused by mis-alighment, easy fixed, harder to pay for and comon as snow in Alaska where ice and heavy traffic distrorys roads every day.

  33. Thanks Bill — that’s my fear! I concur that the problem is probably the axle. I have no idea what’s involved with repairing this sort of thing.

    We’re planning to visit an Airstream dealer later this week. Hopefully they can help us get the issues sorted…

  34. Bill Shuster

    Not a “tire Expert” but had a similar condition on my trailer after a trip over 14 miles of pot holes and rocks going into Chaco National Monument in New Mexico. Took 3 days to find someone in Taos who could and did fix the axle. we drove and used the trailer 2 more years with no more tire problems.

    Get your trailer to a Axel specialist, pronto. It appears that you have an axle out of alignment or possibly bent. There is probably nothing wrong with the tires you are using but with the axle.
    [email protected]