This is a combination true-life story, safety message and question for the experts:
We just got back from vacation pulling our fifth wheel camper (pretend this is about a flatbed hauling a tractor from now on). Had some issues but I have to start the story a bit earlier. It really starts in 1999 or so, when the trailer tires were made (it's a MY1999 camper). Life has been good, I've repacked the wheel bearings a couple of times and generally kept up with maintenance and upkeep.
Fast forward to 2006, a couple of months ago. I noticed one tire was worn badly so planned a replacement. Not long after that observation, the tire blew on it's own, sitting in the driveway! Took the tire in and had it changed. No biggie, right. Checked the others for similar wear and found all were fine.
The trip up north went well, we spent a week in the Mackinaw area of Michigan. The day before our return I did a walk around and found the tire on the other end of the same axle was worn funny, but across the tread not around the curcumference. I decided it would be OK, particularly with a good spare on board.
Headed out the next morning (yesterday). About a half hour into the trip we have a flat. It was startling, but never felt dangerous or anything. I was sure it was the oddly worn tire but it was the drivers side. Saw some dust/dirt in the passenger mirror so I thought maybe I've got two flats. That would not be good. Got pulled over and found just the one flat. The oddly worn tire was fine. Changed to the spare (hats off to the Michigan State police, the officer stopped and offered assistance. Didn't really need any but he stuck around with his lights on to alert the traffic on the two lane road).
Drove to the next town for a new tire and I'm already thinking that it's sun damage as that side of the camper faces south on our parking pad. Same side as the initial driveway flat. Nice guy at the tire store says trailer tires don't normally last more than five years if they're stored outside. I take that advice with a grain of salt as he's there to sell tires.
So we're back on the road and I actually offer a wager to my sons as to when the next flat will be. Not a half an hour later, BANG... flap... flap...flap...
So this time it is the oddly worn tire, not surprising at all to me. Change this one in record time and nose around underneath. Low and behold, there is a propane manifold and lines directly behind the tire and a chunk of tire has struck the copper line. Kinked it over but no leak that I can detect. I do want to keep the propane on as we have pasties in the freezer! I question the design standards of the RV industry and note that the battery is forward of the front tire on this side with no shielding either.
On to the next town where we get not one, but two new tires so we have none of the original road tires on the ground. Other than the stress of the unknown for the rest of the trip, it is uneventful.
So there's the true life story. The safety message is to replace those trailer tires before they go bad but the big question is how do you know when they're going bad?