Tyres on the wheels of a caravan may pose problems that are perhaps too easy to overlook. The tread, for instance, may look fine, yet the age and condition of the tyres might mean that they may blow at any time.
Why it’s important
If the tyres on your caravan fail, it may at best lead to expensive repairs and at worst prove extremely dangerous. Even if you are parked up and a tyre blows, the lurching caravan may cause serious – and expensive – structural damage, not to mention the fright for anyone inside it at the time; if you are hurtling down the motorway and a tyre fails, of course, the risk of personal injury to you or other road users is considerable.
Tyre safety is important, therefore, and it is also a matter of law. Did you know that the law relating to the tyres on your car also extends to the tyres on your caravan? This is the law that requires you to ensure that the tyres on your caravan and the vehicle towing it:
- are correctly inflated – in accordance with the manufacturer’s specifications relating to the load being carried;
- are free from cuts and other forms of damage; and
- have a tread that is at least 1.6 mm deep across the central three-quarters and around the entire circumference of the tyre.
The safety and legality of your tyres is also important as far as your insurance cover is concerned – if you fail to take reasonable care to ensure their safety and comply with the law, you may invalidate your cover.
Caravan tyres – function
Although the law refers in the same breath to the tyres on your car and those on any trailer, such as your caravan and although the tyres on your caravan may indeed be the same as those made for cars or light vans, they do quite different jobs:
- the tyres on your car play a vital role in transferring power to the road surface – there is no power delivered to the wheels of a caravan;
- the tyres on the towing vehicle must also grip the road, whatever the weather conditions – grip is important but perhaps less critical for the tyres of a caravan;
- tyres on a car need to cope with what may be quite strong cornering forces – forces rarely encountered by a caravan; and
- your car has a sophisticated suspension system with purpose-designed shock absorbers – by comparison, the suspension on a caravan is quite basic and the wheels and tyres therefore absorb many of the knocks and bumps of the road.
Although the different functions performed by the tyres on cars and caravans, it is still vitally important to ensure that they are inflated to the correct pressure for the type of wheel and the load being carried.
Caravan tyres – condition
All of this is relevant to perhaps the biggest difference of all when it comes to looking after your caravan tyres compared to those on your car.
When inspecting your car tyres, you may be looking for evidence of wear through the diminishing depth of tread; when making a similar inspection of your caravan tyres, the tread may appear perfectly sound for a good many years. This is because a caravan typically has a very low annual mileage – a handy guide to caravan wheels and tyres published by the Caravan Club, for example, estimates that the average touring caravan travels only about 2,000 miles a year (compare this to the 20,000 miles or so that you may be travelling in your car).
It might be tempting, therefore, to tell yourself that if the tread appears sufficient, your caravan tyres are perfectly serviceable. Appearances may be deceptive. In the case of caravans, the age and condition of the tyres may be more important than the depth of tread – rubber ages and may deteriorate more quickly when exposed to extremes of weather such as ice or scorching heat. The structural weaknesses in the rubber may be hidden.
Weaknesses due to ageing may be spotted by cracking of the sidewalls or the tyre carcass itself going out of shape – but often it may be practically impossible to detect any problems visually.
The practically invisible deterioration of your caravan tyres may be due to:
- the fact that you are not using it very often, so there is little in the way of wear and tear to indicate a need to replace them – ageing happens much more quickly on tyres that are rarely used, compared to those which are used frequently and regularly;
- once again, if there is no obvious sign of wear and tear, you may simply have forgotten when they were last replaced – if you plan to leave your caravan standing for any length of time, you might want to consider covering them (to protect them against freezing in winter or UV rays in the summertime), whilst also relieving some of the pressure on the tyres by jacking up the caravan; or
- you may have bought a second hand caravan, with no way of telling just how old the tyres might be.
Caravan tyres – age
That may be all very well, but if you have forgotten when the tyres were last bought or if you are buying your caravan second hand, how might you find out their age?
One way around this problem, of course, if there is any doubt about the continued safety of the tyres is simply to invest in new ones. The trouble is that few people may choose to make that investment if there is no outward sign of any problem.
Thanks to an article that appears on the Cover4Caravans website, there is a simple and straight forward way of determining the age of any tyres that were manufactured after the year 2000. In that year, manufacturers agreed to date stamp each tyre indicating both the year and the week in which it was made. If your tyres are more than 5 or 7 years old, it is recommended that you replace them.