The family vacation. It happens every year, usually in the summer when the kids are out of school. Load up the family car, pack the kids in the backseat and drive cross country. Maybe see the Grand Canyon or Mt. Rushmore.
Use to be people traveled in a station wagon. Bulky and lacking in personality, that was replaced with the minivan. The SUV followed, adding style and the ability to go more places. But all of these choices required finding lodging for the night – not always easy.
Enter the recreational vehicle.
A mobile home with enough room for the kids, the dog and all their belongings, the RV provides thousands the ability to travel to the farthest points and still be "at home."
But an RV is still a moving vehicle, and that means it runs on tires – sometimes neglected, often underinflated and usually overloaded tires. And much like the oven or the television inside the RV, its tires will eventually need servicing – especially with the amount of miles and terrain covered.
However, miles aren’t the only measuring stick for RV tires. Load, weight distribution, weather conditions and even storage conditions can affect tire life. This is where a smart tire dealer can step in and garner more profits.
Finding the Business
Finding RV tire business can be tricky. Much like with motorcycle owners, RV owners have a tendency to return to their vehicle’s dealer for all types of service needs – including tires. Tire dealers have to be ready to break down barriers and win over new business.
First things first when attacking RV business. A dealer has to be prepared to handle this type of business. Let’s face it, RV’s are bigger than the typical vehicle a dealer typically sees. Dealer’s need the means to deal with such a large vehicle – in height and length – and the expertise to know what they’re doing.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have an RV dealer in your market. Maybe you could strike an alliance that sees the dealer shuttle business your way.
But as in any other segment, tire dealers need to let potential customers know they are there and waiting to serve. Advertise, run specials, do whatever it takes to get and hold RV tire business. It may just be the one thing that distinguishes you from your competition.
An overloaded RV is probably the most common malady when it comes to the vehicle and its tires. Besides tire and wheel problems, an overloaded RV can suffer from brake, drivetrain and wheel bearing failure. Not to mention, a heavier vehicle is harder to stop, handle and burns fuel faster.
"RVs, in general, are grossly overloaded, as owners/users stuff them with things for vacations and trips – often well more than they need, probably because they don’t feel limited in storage space," said Randy Clark, vice president of marketing for Michelin Americas Truck Tires. "RV tires are made to handle the vehicle weight and a reasonable load. But owners don’t always consider the tires, or the load rating, when packing.
"Not only is overloading bad on the tires but can cause vehicle handling problems because of weight distribution."
Because many owners don’t know – or don’t care – if their RV is overloaded, it’s up to the dealer to give them the facts. Granted, the tire dealer isn’t going to be around when the RV is packed and ready to go, but they can provide the correct weight recommendations and offer pointers on how to distribute that weight throughout the vehicle.
In the Tire Industry Safety Council booklet Recreational Vehicle Tire Care and Safety Guide, five RV weight-related terms every dealer should know are listed – terms a dealer should also share with the owner. First is the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), which is the maximum total weight, fully loaded, the vehicle’s chassis can handle. Second is the Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) that says how much weight each axle can handle.
The Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) represents the max allowable total loaded weight rating of the RV and anything it is towing. Gross Axle Weight (GAW), for single axle RVs, is the actual weight of a fully loaded vehicle carried by a single axle.
Perhaps most importantly is the Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) or the actual weight of a fully loaded RV. This weight must not exceed the GVWR.
It also wouldn’t hurt to know of a few local places the RV could go be weighed and how much it would cost.
All Pumped Up
Like all tires, RV tires must be kept properly inflated. However, given the nature of the RV, they are often far from home, let alone any form of tire shop. Not only should the dealer make sure the customer’s tires are inflated properly, they should also show the owner when and how to check inflation levels.
The RMA recommends an RV’s tires should be checked once a month for proper inflation when the vehicle is idle. They should also be checked before and after each trip, and the morning of each driving day while on the trip.
While every type of vehicle owner should know how to check their own air pressure, with the type of driving RV owners do, it is critical that they know how to perform regular pressure checks.
Dealers should make sure RV owners have a quality truck tire air gauge – even going so far as to provide one if it will help win business. Show the customer how to check the pressure levels, especially on an RV with dual axles. Explain why a tire should be measured "cold," but also explain how a tire can be measured "hot."
Install pressure-sealing valve caps and consider removing wheel covers that would hinder an owner from checking air pressure. Make it as easy as possible for them to check air pressure regularly.
Offer Tire Storage
One way to make money on RV tires is to store them. Some dealers store winter tires for customers, why not RV tires?
RVs aren’t in use a large percentage of the time. In fact, for the 350-odd days an RV sits idle, its tires suffer more damage than if it was run more heavily. Proper tire storage can ensure their longevity and performance.
RV tires need a clean, cool, dry and dark place. The ideal location would be void of weather elements – especially sun – yet well ventilated with circulating air. They should also be kept out of direct contact with the storage surface.
If possible, the tires should be stored at the bottom of a stack to help keep their shape. They should also be stacked whitewall-to-whitewall to avoid staining. And, with any other tires in storage, RV tires should remain inflated to proper levels.
Because of where RVs are designed to travel, a tire dealer cannot keep track of all the safety and service elements involved with the vehicle. Many times a dealer needs to be more of a teacher to the RV owner, as they are the ones who would be stuck in the middle of nowhere should a tire fail.
Much like dealing with a passenger car or SUV owner, if you provide the right kind of service and advice that helps maintain not only the tires but the RV itself, you can realize an untapped profit center pay dividends.