The RV Shop

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Exploding Trailer Tires

We were traveling back to Wallowa via Interstate 84 last Thursday when one of our trailer tires literally blew up. We were traveling at 57mph (according to Tom Tom GPS) when it happened. As you can see in the photo the tire skin ripped the aluminum skirt of our Montana fifth wheel from the front tire all the way to the slide. It also destroyed the fender skirts and bent the steel reinforcements just above the tire.
We had only traveled about 70 miles when it happened. Fortunately we were right next to the entrance to a large turn out that the truckers use in winter to install tire chains and the rest of the year to simply pull off the highway for various reasons.

It was a really hot day averaging over 100 degrees at the time the tire exploded. I checked the tire pressure on the remaining tires and found them at 89 to 91 lbs psi. They also appeared bulged like the skins were separating. They weren't but they looked that way. You can also see that I have my jack and spare tire out ready to begin changing the tire.

This image does a really good job of showing what the tire looked like when we stopped.

We had just passed a state highway incident response vehicle when the tire blew. They actually saw it happen. They also stopped and picked up the debris from the roadway and brought it to us in the event we would need it for insurance purposes. As it turns out our insurance company, GMAC, does not replace tires so that part didn't matter. They do cover the trailer however as a comprehensive claim.

I went ahead and changed the tire myself as I carry all the tools I need with me for just such occasions. I have the Good Sam Road Care insurance that would take care of it but I didn't want to wait. We were only about 20 miles west of Hood River, Oregon and I thought it would be best for us to simply go to the local Les Schwab Tire Center and get a new tire. I don't like traveling without a spare. Our tire had popped at about 10:30am and by noon we had a new one in place and were on the road again. The only thing that happened here was that the spare tire carrier under my trailer wouldn't work when the technician attempted to lower the cable and re-hang the spare for me. I learned later that he had stripped the gears by using his air wrench on it. I'll be contacting the store in Hood River about that.

My rig is pretty heavy in that it normally weighs 11,500 lbs combined axle weight. This doesn't include what is on the truck, only what is on the trailer axles. The tires specify 80 lbs as the maximum "cold" pressure. I had checked my tires before leaving in the morning and they were actually at 76 to 76.5 lbs. I decided not to add the additional four pounds per tire as I knew it would be abnormally hot. Tires normally increase pressure as they heat up and this can be from 10 to 20 lbs psi or more. They are designed to handle this so I normally don't change my air pressure after I set out. I thought that my tires were withing acceptable pressure range, and I still do since the repair shop only put in 75 lbs.

I wanted to have Curt's RV Repair in Island City, near LaGrande, Or. give me a cost estimate to repair the trailer damage, but I realized that I could not get to his shop before he went home. We decided to spend the night at the Wild Horse Casino RV Park. It's at the base of the Blue Mountains near Pendleton and has reasonable rates at $26.00 dollars per night. We would need electric power for the air conditioner so could not boon dock as we sometimes do. We would also be able to pull our rig up Cabbage Hill in the cool morning air which would be a little easier on the transmission than if I tried it after pulling for several hours and then hit that hill in the heat.

In the morning I discovered that I had another tire problem. both tires on the opposite side of the trailer from the one that blew up were totally flat. They are behind the hose in the picture. I was trying to show the poor sewer hook up for another blog in this image and didn't even notice the tire problem when I shot the image.

I attempted to pump these tires up with my compressor but could not bring them up to more than about 63 lbs. I discovered that the front tire now had a puncture at the outside edge of the tread and the rear one seemed to be leaking around the valve stem. I carry a tire repair kit for such times and I put a plug in the front tire. It helped but didn't totally stop the leak. (first time that happened!) I pumped the rear one as much as I could and then hit the road for the Les Shwab Tire Center in Pendleton. This time I bought three more tires replacing all the original remaining tires that came with the trailer. I should note that both tire centers only put 75 lbs pressure in my tires to "leave me some room" due to the extreme heat.

Damage to the bottom front corner of the slide caused by the exploding tire as the tread ripped off.

This tire had less than 7,000 miles on it when it burst, and had only been on the trailer 15 months. It had been the spare that came with the trailer until I had to put it on the ground in April of 2008.

I always feel the rim temperature of all the tires with my hand when we stop for breaks. This gives me an idea if a brake is dragging or a bearing is dry. These were all warm but not hot. I felt the tire treads this time and found that all the tires on the trailer felt much warmer than the ones on the truck. Later when I had the new tire on, it was significantly cooler feeling than the original tires as well.

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