Choosing The Right Tires For Towing A Trailer

Next on the pre-tow checklist is to make sure that the tires on your tow vehicle and trailer meet manufacturer recommendations and match the appropriate application. Choosing the right tires for towing a trailer is critical in proper towing performance and in keeping you and your cargo safe.

Here are some things to consider when purchasing tires:

The Right Tires For Towing A Trailer

There are a few different classifications used to discuss a tire’s ability to hold air pressure and carry weight. Load range is a classification that is represented by a letter (B, C, D, E, ect.) which gives you an idea of how tough and durable the tire is, how much air the tire can hold, and how much weight it can carry.

Higher load ranges means that the tire can carry heavier loads.  As the alphabet ascends, so does the amount of weight the tire can carry.

It is also important to consider the speeds at which the tire is rated for. Most C-E rated tires are only rated for a maximum speed of 65 MPH.  If you expect to exceed this speed then you run the risk of blowing a tire.

So, if you plan on traveling faster than 65 MPH, look into tires that are rated at a higher speed (this also ensures that you are able to keep up with interstate speeds if your tow vehicle and trailer permit).

Most common is the load range E tires which are specifically designed for long distance travels with a decent amount of cargo. These tires offer a comfortable ride under the stress of heavy loads and are designed to take on multiple driving scenarios (city streets, highways, and off-road conditions).

Load carrying capacity is the next classification to consider. The goal for choosing the right tire is to match the tire’s load-carrying capacity (LCC) to your vehicle, with hauling/towing in mind. Three things to keep in mind are: the LCC of a tire is determined by its operating temperature, higher speed means more heat and therefore a lower LCC.  

Weight also increases heat and decreases LCC. Load index indicates how much weight a tire can carry and indicates the load carrying capacity when the tire is inflated to the maximum pressure. Both the load range and load index can be found on the tire’s sidewall.

Another thing to consider is your gross axle weight rating (GAWR) which is the maximum allowable weight that can be placed on a single axle and is determined by the manufacturer. This can be found usually on the label inside the door frame near where the door latches.

Both the front and rear axles have individual GAWR’s and the total load on each axle should not exceed the listed GAWR. Your GAWR includes the weight of your vehicle, passengers, cargo and tongue weight, all being distributed between both axles. Trailers also have their own separate GAWR and the same rules apply that the GAWR should never be exceeded.

To determine your gross axle weight (GAW), you will need to find a local scale. You will need to have your trailer hooked up and pull only the front tires of your tow vehicle onto the scale to determine the front GAW. For the rear GAW, pull the entire tow vehicle with trailer attached onto the scale (only all 4 tires of the tow vehicle should be on the scale). Then subtract the front GAW from that amount to determine the rear GAW.

With that, requirements for your tow vehicle tires are different than those for your trailer tires.

For your tow vehicle, a smooth ride and traction are of utmost importance. Comfort of a vehicle is achieved by having tires that have a soft sidewall that flex under normal driving conditions and traction is necessary for acceleration, turning and braking. Although P (Passenger) tires give you the most comfort while driving and are generally more fuel efficient,  LT (Light Truck) tires are designed for heavy towing and feature heavier body plies, bigger beads, more tread depth and an overall heavy-duty design made for higher inflation pressures for heavier loads. They may ride a bit harsher than P tires when the truck is empty or lightly loaded but are definitely better for heavy loads and towing.

Trailer tires, on the other hand, do not need to have a flexible sidewall because load range and inflation pressure are most important. In fact, sidewall flexing on trailer tires is a cause of increased trailer sway (along with proper tongue weight and a balanced trailer load).

ST (Special Trailer) tires are good tires to put on your trailer due to their engineered design for heavier loads and higher inflation pressures. Due to the stiff sidewalls and higher inflation pressure, ST tires can help further reduce trailer sway.

It is important to consider all of these factors when towing to ensure a safe trip. Tires are a major factor and it is important to find the right ones for your towing situation. Once you find those tires, you will need to inspect them regularly for potential air loss, sidewall cracks, irregular wear and tear and other signs of damage.

Trailer tires do not last as long as we would like them to and realistically will need to be replaced every 2-3 years. Sometimes the tires won’t show any signs of wear or damage and still have plenty of tread left but will still need to be replaced.

Also, be aware of your gross vehicle weight rating and your gross trailer weight so that you do not overload. Overloading means extra weight which means extra heat, extra wear and could lead to tire failure. Tire pressure needs to be checked and maintained as temperature impacts air pressure and underinflation can wear on the tires and can also lead to tire failure.

Blowing a tire while driving, in general, is never fun but blowing a tire while towing is even more frustrating and sometimes flat out scary. It puts you, your passengers, and those around you at risk.

I remember spending a whole afternoon at a Discount Tire in Phoenix, Arizona in the middle of the summer due to a blowout where the tread had whipped up and damaged the side of our fifth-wheel (luckily only cosmetic).

The memory of my mom and sisters sitting outside, grumpy and sweating like crazy, my dad angry about the money he’s spending on not one new tire but 6 new tires (also sweating), and my teenage self, anxious to get to our destination (sweating as well) will be forever burned in my memory.

Although tire issues are not always avoidable, if you make sure to have correct tires for your application and regularly maintain those tires, you are less likely to have a tire malfunction.

Save yourself the blood, sweat (literally), and tears and add this to your pre-tow checklist and I promise you’ll be glad that you did!


Author: Ashley Lee