VIDEO: Blowout!

Posted In: Blog, Tires, Video

“When things go wrong, the adventure begins!”

Someone emailed me this expression. I’ve found it quite useful.

In the early days of our road tripping travels, my attitude was not quite so chipper. I recall a couple of Airstream-related temper tantrums. When our best laid plans took a turn for the worse, we shut off the video camera. (Usually this was in response to my wife, who invariably shouted, “Will you turn that thing off?!”)

Then one day it dawned upon me: when things go wrong, the adventure begins, and LIFE GETS INTERESTING. Travel, especially the RV form of travel, is a continuous exercise in problem solving. Sometimes the problems are expected, but occasionally you get tossed a spitball. So now we let the cameras roll.

You hear a lot of horror stories about tire blowouts. When a tire rapidly loses pressure, many vehicles become as unstable as Randy Quaid in an Amsterdam coffee shop. In a blowout situation, your first instinct may be to slam on the brakes — but this is NOT the best way to handle it. The industry standard advice is to SLIGHTLY ACCELERATE after suffering a tire blowout, in order to stabilize your vehicle and bring it under control. Then you slowly guide it to safety.

In our case, we BARELY FELT the tire blowout. The difference in handling was scarcely noticeable. How is this possible?

Maybe we were lucky. Or maybe, since our truck/Airstream rig consists of EIGHT tires, the failure of ONE tire was not as noticeable. One tire equals one cog in an eight-cog machine. We had a blown tire, but we kept on chugging down the road.

Note that this makes a good argument for owning a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS). Now I understand the full benefit of those systems. If we had a TPMS, we would have probably caught the change in tire pressure immediately and minimized the damage to our Airstream. I will likely invest in one of those systems before the camping season begins next summer.

Shortly after the tire failed, a fellow motorist flagged us down to alert us of the blowout. Thankfully, we were able to escape this situation with a minimum of damage to our Airstream. Most importantly, there was no human damage (other than the usual psychological trauma).

Our Airstream did suffer some battered metal trim. She also caught a sizable dent in the undercarriage. We’ll eventually repair the damage, filming the festivities for all.

As you see in the video, we chose to mount our full-size spare tire onto our Airstream. Since we have a twin axle unit, IN THEORY we could remove one of our wheels altogether and still travel safely down the road on three wheels. But I have never done so, and would only do so in an emergency.

With that said, we really don’t know what exactly caused the blowout. Tire blowouts can be caused by any number of reasons. Let’s rattle off a few.

1. Under-inflation.
Were the tires under-inflated? Not a chance, unless one suffered a leak due to a road hazard. The day before we departed on our big cross-country journey, I checked and properly inflated all tires. (The industry recommends you do this DAILY while on a road trip, and monthly when your rig is in storage.) In any event, the tire pressures were definitely not too low.

2. Over-inflation.
Were the tires over-inflated? Hmmmm. It’s a fair question. Without going too deep into the topic, suffice to say that Airstream recommends running the tires at 65 PSI. Yet the Goodyear Marathon tire sidewall states that 65 PSI is the maximum allowable pressure. Complicating matters further, Goodyear recommends running an EXTRA 10 pounds of PSI in these Special Trailer (ST) tires when traveling faster than 65 MPH.

The upshot is that our tires were inflated to the 65 PSI mark recommended by Airstream. Considering Goodyear’s recommendations, on paper these tires should not be over-inflated. But they were admittedly at the max.

3. Overloading.
Overloading your trailer is a recipe for tires going KABLOOEY. But our Airstream was not overloaded. We were carrying our usual sparse assortment of “Long Long Honeymoon” t-shirts, Cheez-its, and fine Kentucky bourbon. We’ve traveled over 50,000 miles with this load and our tires have never complained. We actually travel pretty light, once you look past my deep piles of video gear. The trailer was not overloaded.

4. Road hazard.
Another possibility is that the blowout was caused by a road hazard that caused the tire to lose pressure slowly until it blew out and fell apart.

We suffered the tire blowout on a particularly brutal stretch of I-10, traveling from Los Angeles to Phoenix. The highway itself was rough, uneven, and filled with a greater than usual amount of debris. It’s not inconceivable that we encountered a stray piece of sharp metal that punctured our unlucky tire. Lucky us.

5. Defective tire.
Finally, we must consider the possibility that our tire was defective. All of our tires were relatively young (less than two years old) so they should be well within requirements on age.

But these Goodyear Marathon ST (Special Trailer) tires have a not-so-good reputation. If you Google a few reviews of this tire, it becomes clear that there are many unhappy campers sporting Goodyear Marathon rubber. (Click here to browse a few funny / scary Goodyear Marathon reviews.) We’ve always had Goodyear Marathon tires on our Airstream, but I’m not convinced they are the best. They have simply been the most convenient and most readily available.

The tire technician noted that our old tire appeared to have some ”tread separation” — an indication that the tire itself had failed. Sorry Goodyear, but I think there’s a strong chance that one of these tires just crapped out.

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