By Greg Illes
A while back I drove a boat-on-trailer 100 miles at night to the Sacramento River Delta area. We camped overnight to get an early start the next day on the water. Imagine my surprise when I awoke the next morning to find one trailer tire completely shredded on a badly battered rim. The tire had gone flat behind my tow vehicle and I never felt it or noticed it. In early 2013, the same thing happened to a friend with a cargo trailer (see photo).
My brother-in-law won’t invest in a TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system). He pays his house insurance, he pays his auto and RV insurance, he even pays for “umbrella” insurance — but he won’t pay for equipment for watching his tire pressures. Why? Because he’s never had a problem. He checks his RV and toad tires before a trip, and occasionally while en route. The fact that any tire can pick up a nail going out the driveway doesn’t bother him — but it does bother me. If it bothers you, a TPMS is an excellent choice.
If you decide to invest in a TPMS, you’ll spend $300 or so and hopefully you will never make “real” use of it. Which is to say, you’ll see the display, observe that your tires are at desired pressure and temperature range(s), and roll on down the highway with beatific peace-of-mind. However, if the TPMS ever encounters an opportunity to “earn its keep,” you will be saved a miserable tire-destroying roadside flat, or worse, a blowout experience.
If you are able to be informed as to when any tire pressure is decaying, you can proactively exit the roadway and undertake a remedial exercise (find the problem and fix it). However, if the first thing you know about a tire problem is that it’s flat/blown-out and thumping the heck out of your RV, you are likely to be dealing with a more insidious issue, including major damage to your coach body and chassis.
Now, let’s add to this equation the presence of a towed vehicle (trailer or toad), which has its own set of tires and pressures. The toad is way back behind the RV and any tire failure there is virtually undetectable by the RV driver (you know how I know this). A typical RV-and-toad, on-highway combination has 10 tires that can misbehave. Other than the front tires on the RV, the rest of the tires have failure modes that are generally undetectable by the driver of the RV.
Yes, a TPMS will occasionally issue a false alarm. For me, this hasn’t been a big deal, and in fact it familiarizes me with what to do in the real event. It also makes real the possibility of a tire failure and the need to monitor pressures.
There are a variety of TPMS systems available, including sponsors of this website. You can choose the physical style and user interface which you find most suitable.
Greg Illes is a retired systems engineer who loves thinking up RV upgrades and modifications. When he’s not working on his motorhome, he’s traveling in it. You can follow his blog at www.divver-city.com/blog.