RV trailers use different tires than cars and trucks, so they’re easy to confuse. So how do you find the best tires for your camper or RV trailer?
First, choose a tire with an “ST” designation in the size code, such as ST210/75R15. You can choose a radial or bias-ply tire depending on your driving style. Winter trailer tires are best for snowy weather, and all-season trailer tires are the best for traveling through multiple climates.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about choosing RV trailer tires. We’ll cover tire types, seasonal differences, rubber compounds, and other nuances that make a difference in handling and safety. Additionally, we’ll show you how to decode your trailer’s tire size and how to choose between car tires and special trailer tires.
We sourced the information used in this article from reputable tire guides and from experienced RV and trailer owners.
Are RV Tires Important?
RV tires are absolutely critical, whether you’re driving a motorhome or towing a camper trailer or toy hauler. Tires are one of the most important safety features you have and are also critical to preserve the ride and components of your RV trailer.
RV tires have a number of effects on your trailer. The most important is safety, as the right tires can keep your trailer stable and reduce the risk of a blowout. Another factor influenced by tires is ride comfort, as your trailer can affect both the RV itself and the vehicle towing it.
Good tires will keep your RV tracking straight and true and minimize wear on the axles and on your vehicle. Additionally, they can improve the efficiency of your RV and thus save you fuel and transmission wear.
RV Tire Rules and Requirements
RV tires have rules and regulations set forth by the Department of Transportation. The primary requirement is that RV tires have a tread depth of at least 2/32 of an inch for fixed wheels and 4/32 of an inch for steering tires. Owners of RV trailers don’t have to worry about steering tires, though their trailer tires should be kept at a minimum of 3/32 of an inch or greater.
This is because bald tires pose an obvious safety hazard on wet and dry roads. Bald tires can cause your trailer to hydroplane while your truck stays stable, which can cause you to jackknife—especially if you’re trying to slow down. Trailers don’t have as much stability as cars or trucks, so it’s especially important that they have good tires.
Types of RV Tires
Like car and truck tires, RV and trailer tires come in a wide range of shapes, sizes, and types. Trailer tires usually aren’t as advanced or flashy as car tires, but they still meet minimum tread and rubber compound requirements set forth by their designation. Here is a list of the most common RV trailer tire types and how they differ.
Bias Ply RV Trailer Tires
Bias-ply tires were once the standard for all vehicles but have since fallen out of favor for cars and pickup trucks. However, there’s still a large market for bias-ply trailers and tractor tires, as they provide a few key benefits for these types of vehicles.
Bias-ply tires get their strength from nylon reinforcement that runs along the center of the tread at a 35 to 45-degree angle. Bias-ply tires contain no metal, and they’re reinforced all the way around the bulge of the tire. As a result, they have very strong sidewalls and aren’t torn or punctured easily.
Bias-ply tires are rigid and generally easy to spot due to their flat “old school” tread surface. These tires are inexpensive, and they last a long time, which makes them ideal for use on utility trailers and RVs. Bias-ply tires also don’t shed a dangerous steel belt during a blowout, so their debris is safer.
Benefits of Bias Ply Trailer Tires
- Strong sidewalls
- Naturally straight-tracking
- Easy to repair
Drawbacks of Bias Ply Trailer Tires
- Less common than radials
- Less tread puncture resistance
- Too narrow for some applications
Radial RV Trailer Tires
Radial tires are the most common kind of tire in most applications. Since the 1980s, most tires sold in the United States have been radials. It’s very difficult to find a tire shop that will sell a bias-ply tire for a typical car or truck—except for classic cars going for an original look.
Radial tires use a steel band that runs along the inside of the contact surface, which gives the tire rigidity and puncture resistance. They’re strong and stable, and they have a good tread life as well. Radial tires are available in many more varieties than bias-ply tires, though at a marginally higher cost.
Radial tires are a popular choice for RV trailers these days, though some people find that they lack the stability and straight-tracking ability of bias-ply tires. That said, they’re generally considered safer for most applications, except when sidewalls need to be reinforced.
Benefits of Radial Trailer Tires
- More common
- Strong steel belt reinforcement
- Long tread life
- More varieties to choose from
- Disperses heat better than bias-ply
- Available in wider sizes
Drawbacks of Radial Tires
- More difficult to repair than bias-ply tires
- Slightly more expensive
- Dangerous during blowouts—may cause trailer damage
- Weaker sidewalls
Do RV Trailers Use Solid Tires?
Suggesting a solid tire for an RV trailer will probably elicit a “yikes” from anyone working at a tire shop. Solid tires are often conflated with trailer tires, as solid tires are often used in construction and utility vehicles. However, they’re hardly ever used on camper or RV trailers and would probably shake it to pieces.
Do RV Trailers Need Inner Tubes?
At one point, inner tubes were used in almost every trailer or utility vehicle. They’re still used for many tractors, as they provide some flex to an otherwise solid tire. They’re also part of a more durable tire system, which is necessary on heavy vehicles. However, inner tubes can be an absolute hassle and increase costs significantly.
Modern RV trailers don’t use inner tubes. The kinds of tires used on conventional RV trailers are the same kind as the tires we use on cars and trucks. You probably won’t encounter an RV with an inner tube unless it’s a custom conversion or an all-original vintage trailer.
How to Choose RV Trailer Tires for Your Climate
Climate plays a big part in proper tire selection, especially in cold weather. It’s better to use a cold-weather tire in hot weather than a hot weather tire in cold weather. Thus, people who live or travel in northern states need to be more careful when selecting tires for their RV trailers.
RV Trailer Tires for Cold Weather
Special RV trailer tires are required for cold weather. Like cars and trucks, winter trailer tires can make all the difference when it comes to icy road safety. But why do trailers need special tires for cold weather? It’s not all about snow and ice—winter tires have special rubber composition which is designed to remain supple in cold temperatures.
Summer tires, which are great for warm weather, harden easily when it’s cold. This reduces contact surface (as the tires can’t flex) and harms traction when it’s most important. Winter tires on your truck are likely more critical than on your trailer, but a combination of both can keep you in control of the vehicle and trailer in the worst conditions.
Studded winter tires are chosen by some, especially in icy conditions. But studded tires have notable downsides, as they’re not allowed in some states and during some seasons. Studless winter tires are a better choice, especially if you travel south a lot. Plus, studded tires are more critical on your tow vehicle than the trailer itself.
RV Tires for Warm and Wet Weather
Wet, warmer weather is easier to deal with than wet, cold weather. You can use standard trailer tires in most warm climates, as the vast majority of trailer tires are designed to shed water through tread voids. However, a good all-season trailer tire can improve traction and stability, along with reducing the risk of hydroplaning.
RV Tires for Dry Pavement
Bias-ply tires work quite well on dry pavement, and they provide the handling and stability that you need for long-distance travel. Radials work well too—sometimes better—but your choice is less critical in fair conditions. The best trailer tires for dry pavement are summer tires, as they provide the best and quietest ride quality.
How to Choose a Tire for Your RV
Choosing tires for your RV trailer is pretty easy once you understand the differences between common tires. If you live in cold weather, a radial winter trailer tire is the best choice. For warmer climates or dirt roads, bias-ply summer tires are a proven and affordable option. The list goes on. You will have to understand tire sizes and be sure to get the right designation.
RV Trailer Tire Designation
Trailer tires are denoted by an “ST” at the beginning of the size code. Trailers must use ST tires, like car tires either won’t fit or won’t ride properly. Here’s an example of the difference between car tire and trailer tire designations.
RV Trailer Tire Sizes
Let’s say we’re looking for a radial tire that’s 210 mm wide, has an aspect ratio of 75%, and fits on a 15” rim. The trailer designation would be ST210/75R15, whereas the car or truck designation would be LT210/75R15 or P210/75R15. The ST stands for “special trailer,” whereas LT stands for “light truck” (like a dual-rear-wheel box truck) and P stands for “passenger” for cars and vans.
About THE AUTHOR
I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.Read More About Charles Redding