Apart from the periodic petrol station pump-up, few people pay serious attention to their tyres but it’s a hard lesson learned when a tyre blows. Given that your tyres are what keeps you in contact with the road, it can have unpleasant results.
Camper trailer tyres are more likely to experience full blow outs than vehicle tyres, since slight issues on trailer tyres are harder to feel when driving, as opposed to tow-vehicle tyres where you’ll more easily notice effects on handling, shuddering and such. Unlike tow-vehicle tyres, which are subject to more use and faster wear from handling turns and facilitating acceleration, trailer tyres lose their tread slowly. The main concerns are age-related failure and excess loading. Since camper trailers often spread weight between two tyres on a single axle it’s necessary to fit rubber with a high load rating – just like other parts of your vehicle, tyres are only designed to carry up to a certain weight.
It’s recommended that you have your tyres professionally inspected five years after fitting them, and then each year after that; this will address issues that you’re unable to detect yourself. If they’re kept in good condition, they may last up to 10 years but should not be used any longer than that. Tyres will degrade faster in warm, humid climates, when they’re exposed to sunlight, and a number of other factors. Ozone emitted from electrical motors – such as those in air compressors and fridges – will speed up degradation, as will oil-based tyre shines. Using nitrogen to inflate tyres will reduce the negative effects of oxygen and rotating them every 10,000 kilometres or so will help distribute wear more evenly.
Every camper trailer tower should know how to change a tyre. Jacking up a trailer is different to jacking up a car, so check your manufacturer’s guidelines for recommended jacking points. Put chocks on opposing wheels, stay connected to your tow vehicle and have both handbrakes activated. It's easier to loosen the wheel nuts before the tyre has left the ground. Punctures can be plugged using a simple plugging kit when you're on the go. You just remove any foreign objects, clean the area and lubricate the puncture, then insert a plugging tool, trim the excess and release the plug. You'll need an air compressor to inflate the tyre once the plug has been set in place. This should only be done as a temporary measure and should be professionally repaired or replaced as soon as possible. If you're heading offroad it's a good idea to carry a couple of spares if possible.
When you hit rocks, loose dirt or sandy terrain you'll get much better traction by letting a bit of air out of your tyres. Doing so increases the amount of rubber in contact with the ground at any one time. On stony tracks it may help to reduce pressure by six to eight psi, dusty desert tracks may have you around 25psi, while on sand you'll want to be somewhere in the 14-20.
It all depends on how loose the surface and how heavy your load. If you get bogged, you can drop the pressure even further and may be able to drive out. It can be risky to drop the pressure too low, but since your trailer tyres are passive and are simply rolling as they're pulled, they can be reduced even further without the risk of being torn off the rim or breaking a bead; you may wish to go as low as 12-15psi. Remember that the lower the pressure, the more carefully you'll need to corner. Lowering your tyre pressure doesn't just make it easier for you to drive on loose, sandy surfaces, it also reduces the damage you inflict on the track. Don't forget to inflate back to your tyre's recommended pressures when you return to the black-top. Make sure you have a pressure gauge and compressor on any trip that will take you off the bitumen.
There’s a selection of commercially available products that enable four-wheel drivers to easily deflate tyres to desired pressures. These deflators generally feature an analogue or digital gauge, attached to a fitting that screws onto the valve, enabling the controlled release of air. The ARB E-Z Deflator is a favourite among off-roaders, thanks to its method of fully removing the valve core, which makes the process quicker and easier.
You’ll need to carry an air compressor to inflate tyres before you head back onto the bitumen, which will be powered by your vehicle’s 12V electrical supply. Prices vary depending on quality and durability (ranging from around $100 to $1,000).
The first thing to note is that you need a compressor which can pump small volumes of air at high pressure. This means your compressor may have a low flow rate, and will take time to do the job, so it will need to be balanced out by a sufficient duty cycle. Duty cycle indicates the length of time the compressor can run, and how long it will need to rest before it can be run again (it assumes the compressor is pumping 100psi with an ambient temperature of 22°C). Duty cycles are expressed as percentages, which indicate what portion of the entire running and cooling cycle the pump may be kept working.