Sammy FairclothSee other Advice articles filed in ‘Base vehicle matters’ written by Sammy Faircloth
All road users have a legal obligation to ensure that their tyres are in excellent order and fit for purpose. The consequences of failing to comply could not only lead to a conviction, but, at worst, might be potentially fatal.
So before embarking on your next summer adventure, carry out some simple checks and act promptly if you discover any problems.
Motorhomes are usually fitted with commercial type tyres (C or CP). CP type tyres are designed to cope with higher loads, so are commonly used on 'vans. Make a note of the original tyres that were fitted to your motorhome and reorder the same specification. Do not replace your tyres with ones of a lower speed rating or load capacity.
If you tour in the winter months, it's advisable to fit winter tyres to cope with the weather. It might also be a legal requirement in some European countries, so check before you travel.
Every tyre has its own markings on the sidewall. These markings hold key information that will help you to understand the age of your tyre, the manufacturer's identity code, tyre size and more. Visit www.tyresafe.org for detailed analysis of these markings.
There is no exact science governing tyres' life expectancy, and the opinions of manufacturers differ. In practice, a tyre's service life is influenced by many factors, including temperature, humidity, load, speed, inflation, pressure, road damage and so on.
Generally, tyres are considered to have a life expectancy of no more than 10 years, according to the British Tyre Manufacturers' Association, although it is recommended to change them after five to seven years, particularly if the leisure vehicle has been left standing for any length of time.
The age of a tyre can be determined by a four-digit code on the sidewall, denoting the calendar week and year of manufacture. For example, the designation '3712' means the tyre was made in the 37th week of 2012.
When buying a new 'van, check the age of the tyres. Not all manufacturers fit tyres of the same age as the release date of the motorhome.
Motorhomes that are stored for winter or not used much are far more likely to see deterioration in their tyres, and at a more rapid pace, than those that are used regularly. The reason for this is that, while the 'van is stationary for long periods, a small section of tyre wall is talking all of the strain, and that causes long-term damage.
Eventually, the sidewalls start to crack or bubble. To prevent this, move the motorhome back and forth every month or so, to release the pressure on the tyre sidewall.
UV rays from the sun can cause tyre rubber to degrade, resulting in cracks and premature ageing. To avoid this, protect your tyres with a wheel cover or store the 'van under cover.
In old tyres that are little used, the rubber can harden, leading to surface crazing. Similar damage can be caused by overheating, from under inflation or overloading. Visit a weigh bridge to ensure you are within the MTPLM or maximum authorised mass.
This information is usually on a plate on the inside of the 'van door. This is the base vehicle manufacturer's legal maximum weight for the fully loaded motorhome.
Tyre treads are designed to offer good grip on wet roads, and the minimum depth should be 1.6mm to comply with regulations throughout Europe.
Place a 20p coin into the main tread groove of the tyre. If the outer band on the coin is obscured when inserted the tread is within the legal limit.
Erroneous tyre pressure readings can not only damage your tyre over time, but also adversely affect the handling of the leisure vehicle and ultimately cause tyre failure.
Pressures should be checked on a regular basis, when the tyres are cold - you will find the recommended setting in the base vehicle handbook. In addition, check the pressure settings recommended in the motorhome manufacturer's owner's manual.
There are various tyre pressure gauges on the market, from compact pencil gauges, to small, cheap digital gauges, and dial gauges that come in many sizes, but can be costly. An analogue tyre inflator, for example, from Halfords, will help you check and top up your tyres as needed.
While you are touring, you might consider TyrePal, Smart-Trailer, or a similar system that continuously monitors tyre pressures while you are driving.
The tyre sensors are easily locked onto the tyre valves, which in turn register with the monitor.
TyrePal's monitor will alert the driver visually and audibly if there is a puncture, low or high pressure, or overheating. Extra tyre sensors can be purchased, which is ideal for those who tow a car or trailer.
Most new motorhomes will be supplied with a spare wheel, usually positioned underneath the vehicle on a telescopic, tubular wheel carrier. However, some pre-owned 'vans might be missing their spare wheel.
It is advisable to carry a compatible spare wheel at all times, and to check the wheel carrier is serviced annually, because they can become rusty. The last thing you want is to discover that the wheel carrier is stuck and you can't retrieve your spare in an emergency.
In motorhomes, the accessibility of spare wheels varies a lot and they weigh far more than caravan spares. If you have any doubts about your strength to retrieve, inspect and replace an underfloor spare, have this done by a dealer or roadside assistance.
As a rule of thumb, it is considered wise to have the condition of your spare wheel routinely evaluated during the vehicle's service, but it's actually better to do this more often. You never know when you might need it.
The only things between you and the road are your tyres, so it makes sense to ensure that they are in the best condition, to guarantee your continued safety. Look after your tyres and they will look after you!