Here’s a situation that’s happened to perhaps countless campers. You’re cruising down a highway with your travel trailer in tow, then one of your camper’s tires blows. You think that it’s not a big deal because you have a spare, but when you get to your trailer you notice that you’re dealing with far more damage than a blown tire. Your camper now has cosmetic damage and if the blowout was bad enough, maybe you even have a hole in a wall or floor. Startup company Trailer Safety Technologies has what it calls the RV-De-Fender, and it seeks to keep tire blowouts contained.
This is a situation that I can relate to. Back in 2017, I was towing my parents’ Adirondack 31BH behind a Ford Expedition EL. As we neared our destination–a campground near the Indiana Beach amusement park in Monticello, Indiana–the GPS took us off of the interstate and onto some country roads. As it was around midnight, I traveled down these country roads locked at the speed limit, keeping my eyes peeled for wildlife. What I really should have been looking for was sudden changes in the road surface. The road went from a smooth pavement surface to a dirt road.
Suspecting danger up ahead, I slowed my roll from 55 mph down to a 25 mph crawl. I was right, and the smooth dirt road quickly began resembling the surface of the Moon. We quickly learned that 25 mph wasn’t slow enough when two of the trailer’s tires found a line of massive potholes in succession, producing such a crash and sound that we initially thought that something blew up. Well, I guess something did because one of the tires got absolutely obliterated. And it didn’t just take itself out, as it also put a hole in the camper’s already fragile siding while shearing off a part of the camper’s metal skirt. Some of the trailer’s underside also took damage. Thankfully, this didn’t ruin the trip. We mounted the spare tire, completed the drive, and insurance later paid for repairs. The only sign of past damage today is a miscolored plastic fender.
For Zack Patterson, Greg Bowen, and Todd Smith, this damage is just too much. A tire blowout shouldn’t sideline an RV for potentially months while you wait for parts that could cost thousands of dollars. They also believe that in the event of a particularly violent blowout, it shouldn’t ruin a family vacation with a camper that may not be usable because of the blowout. In 2021, Bowen created Trailer Safety Technologies with the goal of solving this, RVTravel reports.
Patterson, Bowen, and Smith say that they grew up in and around RVs, and all of them have experienced the frustration of dealing with RV tire blowouts. For them, tire blowouts meant not just ruining the fun of a trip, but missing out on family memories. The trio tried out existing tire blowout protection devices, but at the time they felt that none really gave an RV owner peace of mind about damage.
There are a number of products that lock a blown tire to a wheel or try to prevent a blowout in the first place. However, blowouts can still happen even with a protection device, and the blown tire can still cause damage. Trailer Safety Technologies says that the blowout below was an estimated $5,000 repair because tire debris punched through the trailer’s floor.
When the COVID-19 shutdowns occurred, Bowen decided to pull out drawings he made years prior and teamed up with Patterson and Smith to make the idea a reality. Their product wouldn’t prevent a blowout, but protect a camper from further damage caused by a blowout. But there was a problem, as it’s difficult to create a universal part. Patterson said: “We crawled under hundreds of trailers to find a way to mount a safety device that would protect the trailer after a tire blowout. We realized that there are a lot of different configurations under trailers with wiring, hydraulics, propane lines, shocks, and other obstacles, which caused problems for mounting our original design.”
Ultimately, they came up with a simple solution: a 14-gauge cold rolled steel fender that goes over each axle called the RV-De-Fender.
And since campers vary in design, the product mounts directly to the axles. Trailer Safety Technologies says the RV-De-Fender fits on the most common camper axles. It’s made to be easily installed by the RV owner, but the company wants to partner up with dealerships and RV mechanics to offer these right off of the showroom floor.
Some RV owners aren’t convinced that this is the solution that it’s touted to be. For example, RV owners on a forum question what happens if a chunk of the tire gets caught up in the device. Trailer Safety Technologies says that the RV-De-Fender has already gotten tested in the field in 24 blowout tests with multiple trailers and the product has contained blowouts to the steel fenders, keeping the rest of the trailer undamaged.
As of now, there are two versions available, one that fits 3,500-lb axles with 10-inch drum brakes and one that fits 5,000-lb to 7,000-lb axles with 12-inch drum brakes. The company has a patent on the design as of late 2022 and is working on a version for disc brakes as well as one for 8,000-lb axles. Trailer Safety Technologies says that the product will go on sale in the coming days. Targeted prices are $800 per axle. Of course, as these get out there, RV owners will get to see what they actually do. It seems like a promising idea!
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My experience pulling trailers has been that blowouts more often than not tend to come when tires have outlived their service life, which is five years, regardless of their appearance and whether they have been covered when stored. Most trailer tires are cheap. They should be replaced preemptively. Also, as has been noted, I do foresee problems pulling in the snow. I recognize that most people don’t pull these things in the snow, but as it turns out I pulled mine to a ski resort last year so it is a thing. That said, debris in the road could cause a blowout. I’m just not sure if $800 per axle is a price I’m willing to pay after I’ve taken the other correct precautions. That had better be some fairly heavy gauge steel.
From my observation, trailer tires all seem to be cheap crap. If I had a trailer, I’d probably swap in some heavy duty tires you get on vans with a sufficient load rating… something like these tires that fit on a Mercedes Sprinter 3500 with a much higher load rating than the tires that came with your trailer:
Or these that fit on a Sprinter 2500 with a bit of a lower load rating, but still much higher than stock
And in spite of the higher load rating and being decent brands, they’re not much more expensive than the el cheapo trailer tires.
The ideal circumstance would be having a tow vehicle with the same size tires as the trailer… so you can rotate out the trailer tires with the tow vehicle.
Hmmm… how much can a Sprinter tow… (checked website)… the passenger versions of the Sprinter seem to top out at 5000lbs. However if you get the Sprinter 4500 crew van with dual rear wheels, then it goes up to 7500lbs.
The real problem is cheap RV companies putting the cheapest tire they can on the RVs.
Tires that barely have a weight rating for the unloaded camper, much less when loaded.
This and tires made by here today/gone tomorrow Chinese companies…..Hard to do a recall when the company is “out of business”
So TowStar tires exist for a couple years and then bankrupt but come back as StarTow tires for a couple years. Rinse and repeat.
Goodyear now has a decent trailer tire made in the states……the Endurance line of tires….but they were not immune. for may years, their Marathon trailer tires were made in China and known to be subpar blowout specials….
Buy a quality trailer tire with steel belts. Get one that leaves you running at 80-85% of its load capacity not right at the limit. This may mean going up a load index on the tire….say from a E to an F rated tire. Also, make sure your wheels can handle the weight rating and air pressure. Check tire pressures each travel day on cold tires…….replace the tires between 5 and 7 years and begin a through inspection of the tires at year 5. This is where you should invest your money to prevent tire issues and blowouts.
I had quality tires put on my 5th wheel RV as a part of the deal before I purchased.
A bit of advice from a 25 year RVing veteran.
If the point is to protect the trailer, why not just put a steel shield on the underside of the trailer itself? I know this would be a custom item, but it should be simple to accomplish for less than half the price.
I realize these guys went with the axle attachment so this could be a universal product. If I were a dealer with a semi-competent repair shop, I’d offer these for $2000 installed, or offer the trailer floor installed solution for $1200. Assuming the fender area is somewhat standardized on the brands they sell, every install after the first is going to be quicker, easier and more profitable.
$800/axle for $10 of sheet metal (plus installation fees I assume) is going to severely limit their sales.
if they sold them for the price of a pair of tires per axle (i.e. $200) they would sell probably 10x as many and make a lot more money.
a quick look on Amazon shows you can buy blanks that pretty much replicate these for <$100/pair and all you need to do is drill a few mounting holes to install them: https://www.amazon.com/HECASA-Single-Trailer-Fenders-Fender/dp/B08NFRJ9Z1
or a pair of double axle fenders for $200. again, all you need to do is screw them to the inside of your existing plastic fenderwells.
I just posted a few minutes ago and jumped to your next article about the Burro travel trailers. The photo of the Burro is from the mid-1970 and it has white wall passenger car tires on it. That was pretty common back then.
I had a tire blow on a 27′ travel trailer once. It was my first trailer after 2 slide in campers and a class A. I was young and dumb as I really didn’t check the tires on the used trailer I bought. It had passenger car tires on it and I am pretty sure they were the original tires from the Aristocrat factory. Never ever use passenger car tires on a travel trailer! But, this was back in 1976 and people weren’t as well educated about RVs as we are now. My blow out didn’t cause any damage, but it did happen at a bad time. Afternoon rush hour traffic on an elevated downtown freeway in Portland. I lucked out finding a place to pull over and put the spare on. I bought 5 trailer tires the next morning.
Trailer tires are much more heavy duty than automobile tires. They have more cords and much stronger sidewalls to fight against swaying.
Exiting the interstate on a road trip with a friend, we passed a Camping World. My friend mentioned she was pondering getting a trailer for camping journeys with her family. I promptly told her about the abysmal build quality on most RV/trailer products, and how they fail. All useful info I learned by reading Mercedes’ articles. Hopefully it’ll lead my friend to taking a really really hard look at any trailer she might buy in the future.
The problem with camper tires is that campers get used twice or three times a year, and the general public are morons. “They’ve got lots of tread left!”
There’s only a couple thousand miles on them!!”
Tires are good for 7ish years. Period. The tires ony boat trailer only have maybe 500 miles on them but they were bought in 2015. It’ll get new ones before it gets pulled to the ramp this year.
Only 14ga? So a hair over 1/16″ thick? Basically, any time the tire blows, you also need to replace one of these from damage?
I mean, better than $5000 repairs for the RV, but still $400 per side plus the tire itself?
Maybe RV and camper folks should start treating their tires better? I can’t count the amount of them that I see sitting in one place for an entire year. That’s what’s damaging tires. You get them off the ground so they aren’t flat spotting and you’re going to get more life from them.
People, and especially RV makers, need to stop putting cheap ass tires on trailers.
– Buy quality tires, with a reasonable amount of margin on the weight capacity. The better tires also don’t get damaged as easily by road hazards.
– check the tire pressure once per driving day and inspect for visible damage.
– know and respect the speed rating of the tire. Many trailer tires are rated in the 60-65mph range.
– make sure your bearings aren’t overheating and cooking the tires.
– replace them every 5 years, regardless of mileage.
Do the above, and the risk of a blowout is near zero.
My camper takes 4.8×8 tires, try finding one of those with a highway speed rating that isn’t made by some weird Chinese brand nobody’s ever heard of
Yep, the struggle is real for smaller trailers. For the 15″ tires on my camper the only choices were Chinese made. I picked radials made by a company with HQ in the States. They’ve been fine so far with 3k miles on them.
If you buy a new camper, step one is to replace those Shanghai Suicide Specials with legitimate quality tires. I run Michelins on mine. I’ve never had a tire related issue. If given a choice, I wouldn’t even consider a camper that doesn’t use a relatively common tire size.
$800 per axle? For additional protection against an event that is otherwise covered by RV insurance? It’s an obvious product, but it makes no sense at all to me. You should just buy a little better RV insurance coverage if this is something that truly concerns you.
RV tires shouldn’t be blowing out any more frequently than other motor vehicle tires. Maintain them and they won’t. In my extended family, I can only think of one time a trailer lost a tire, and that was from a piece of metal on the highway.
I suspect some of the issue comes from how people use campers. If you leave it sitting for several months without considering how that will affect the tires, they will be in worse shape. If you don’t think much about tire age, you’ll be shocked when they have plenty of tread but are garbage. And if you load up the camper with all the comforts without looking at the weight, you’ll add additional stress. Combine that with a tendency for some of these trailers to have smaller, cheaper tires than they should and you do have a significant risk of blowout.
But, yeah, prevention and insurance are probably better than adding expensive (and heavy) protection.
Age is the big factor, trailer tires very rarely wear out from mileage, so a lot of owners don’t bother to replace them and there’s a lot of trailers running around with really ancient rubber that has good treads but terrible everything else
I can see the appeal in this. Even if insurance is footing the bill, you can be stuck for potentially months without a usable camper. The Adirondack sat at the dealership for roughly three months before the repair was carried out. And that was 2017, before all of the parts shortages of today. Last year, both the Adirondack and its replacement (a Heartland M33) were sidelined for most of the year as they sat, waiting for parts.
You are correct that RV tires shouldn’t blow more often than other vehicle tires. But hey, stuff happens! I could see this selling well to full-timers; the kinds of folks who live in their campers.
Know people who had a blowout on their first trip with a new trailer, into the shop for 14 months and they got ZERO compensation for it- the tires were five years old too
I’m not buying new tires just because they’re 15 years old! Look at all the tread they have left!
The people worried to the point of spending $1600 on these probably keep an eye on their tires anyway.
At this price I’d think these are going to be mostly installed by dealers at the time of a trailer sale as an option, or installed by default before a customer asks for them. When they balk at the price, the dealer can tell them about potential expensive damage and about how horrible and slow their repair department is.
John Kraman says “Never trust a badge”. I say “Never trust a GPS”.
Yeah, and also there are GPS models for RVs specifically where you punch in your rig size so you don’t end up on these kinds of roads.
It’s basically a heavy duty fender liner so I assume it will work, but it adds weight and cost, which are two things most RVers are allergic to. I guess it’s nice that it exists for people who want to beef up their fender liners without having something custom fabricated though.
It also won’t work on my small trailer, but then most designs don’t go with a zero clearance policy between the tire and stock fender liners so that’s probably not the norm. 😉
Would be fun to use in the snow
Should be fine, just don’t stop.
of course, the solution that should be in place from the start is fender liners that aren’t made from reject tupperware on RV’s.
Yeah, it’s pretty sad how we end up buying things to solve problems introduced by cheap manufacturing. It’s almost always more expensive to buy cheap stuff, and that is all they offer too often.
Before clicking on the link I wondered if Sam Vimes was going to get the credit he deserved.
I strive to never disrespect Vimes or Pratchett that way.
This isn’t a problem caused by cheap manufacturing, it’s a problem caused by cheap assed owners who don’t understand that tires age out regardless of use or mileage.
It’s both. Blowouts could be prevented by proper tire maintenance, but when/if one occurs, it would cause less damage to the trailer with a little stronger materials at the fenders.