Why Getting the Right Wheel Matters

Essential Truck Camper Tire and Wheel Tips

I remember the day well. It was Friday, September 21, 2018, late afternoon. We were returning to our campsite in Flagstaff, Arizona after an eye appointment in the nearby town of Cottonwood. My eyes were still dilated from the exam, so the wifey was behind the wheel. We were traveling north on Highway 89, a few miles south of Sedona, when suddenly, a loud boom and roar was heard and the truck started to vibrate violently. “Looks like a blowout,” I said, as Karen started to slow down and pull over onto the right shoulder. “And there’s the tire,” she yelled, as her eyes caught some kind of movement out the passenger side window. She was right. Through my still blurry eyes, I was shocked to see one of our tires rolling and bouncing at high rate-of-speed in the scrub about 30 feet from the road.

After pulling over and engaging the emergency flashers, we jumped out to get a look. A quick survey revealed what had happened. Most of the passenger side rear wheel and tire was missing from the truck—it was gone—the outer part of the wheel was completely separated from the rest of the wheel. What we saw bouncing in the bush was the missing part of the wheel. “Crazy,” I said to myself as I let the gravity of the moment sink in.

I was proud of the wife. She handled the incident like a pro, but this was no ordinary blowout. This was far worse. The noise, vibration, and stress of this “blowout” would’ve freaked out some, but not Karen. Amid the noise and chaos, she did a terrific job maintaining control of the truck and camper and getting the rig safely pulled over to the side. She’s got nerves of steel, probably the result of raising four boys.

Getting the “tire” changed proved to be the biggest challenge of the entire ordeal. Due to the wheel failure, the jacking point was only a few inches from the surface of the road, making it impossible to get a standard bottle jack underneath to change the tire. Because of this we had to call a tow truck for help, which took a good five hours. More about that later. After the tow truck arrived, the rear of the truck had to be lifted with the truck’s hydraulic ramp so that a couple of jacks could be placed underneath the truck. Once that was done, changing the tire was easy and we were on our way within 30 minutes.

Scene of the wheel failure on Hwy 89 south of Sedona. Note the deep gouges in the shoulder from the fractured wheel and brake rotor.

Why Getting the Right Wheel Matters

So why did the rear passenger side wheel fail? Because the wheel was overloaded. We know how important load ratings are and preach it all of the time, so how could something like this happen? Because the wrong aftermarket wheels were put on the truck. We specifically ordered a KMC wheel with a load rating of 3,640 pounds, but this isn’t what we got. What we discovered after the incident is that the actual load rating of the 18-inch wheel on our truck was a lowly 2,500 pounds. According to a recent CAT scale visit, our rear axle, with the camper, weighs a good 6,120 pounds. That’s 1,100 pounds over the 5,000-pound load rating of the two wheels installed on the rear axle of our truck.

The outer part of the fractured KMC XD801 wheel.
View of the damaged brake rotor before replacement.

Most of us know how important tires are to the safety of your truck camper rig, but as you can see, the wheels are just as important. Overloading can result in either a catastrophic failure that not only can damage your truck and camper, but end your life. We were lucky our “blowout” didn’t result in something more serious to ourselves or someone else sharing the road with us (imagine what could’ve happened if this incident happened on a busy, multiple lane highway?). Besides the wheel, the only real damage that we suffered was a ruined brake rotor, a repair that set us back $259. Of course, we also had to buy a new set of Ion 134 wheels (model 134-8970MB 18×9) with a 3,640-pound load rating for $862. We eventually got a set of Cooper Discoverer AT3-XLT tires to go with those new wheels. Expensive repairs, yes! But it could’ve been much worse.

Essential Truck Camper Wheel and Tire Tips

So what are the big take aways? What can we learn from this incident? Three immediately come to mind. First, make sure your tires are appropriately rated for the weight. For most of us with standard hard-side truck campers, that means having either Load Range E or F tires with a load rating of 3,640 pounds (10 ply, 80 psi) or 3,960 pounds (12 ply, 95 psi) respectively (half-ton trucks with small pop-ups can get away with Load Range D tires). For those who are hauling larger truck campers with multiple slide-outs, that usually means having Load Range H tires (16 ply) with 19.5-inch wheels. If you haven’t actually verified your tire load ratings, you need to do so. Better late than never.

CAT Scale Printout for our Ram 3500 and Northstar Laredo SC truck camper.
GVWR and Axle loading sticker for our 2013 Ram 3500 SRW.

Second, make sure your wheels are appropriately rated for the weight. Verify the load ratings of your aftermarket wheels with your sales rep before purchase and make sure the right wheels are put on your truck (ordering them online yourself and taking them to the tire shop might be an even better alternative). We bought our KMC wheels at Discount Tire, but this mix up could’ve happened at any tire shop. Make sure that your sales rep understands that you’ll be hauling a truck camper weighing thousands of pounds. Better yet, show him or her a CAT Scale printout showing the actual weight of your loaded rear axle (if you haven’t taken your rig to the scales, do it). Don’t take their word for it on the load rating, make sure that YOU see the load rating in black and white before you pay for them. Doing so will save you embarrassment, grief, or something worse. This is why getting the right wheel matters.

Third, conduct periodic inspections of not only your tires, but also your wheels. We faithfully inspected our tires each time we fueled up, but honestly these inspections didn’t involve the wheels as much. Problems can be detected early if your periodic inspections include the wheels also. Make this a part of your daily or weekly routine. If we had inspected our wheels more, we’re certain we would’ve discovered the cracks in the wheel before the wheel completed failed. Indeed, the other rear wheel that we had replaced had one crack in it so that one would’ve failed eventually too.

Brand new Ion 134-18 Wheels and Cooper Discoverer AT3-XLT tires.

Tow Truck Blues

So why did it take a whopping five hours to get a tow truck? USAA Roadside Service was great in getting a truck out within a couple of hours, but the local towing company refused to help us because they didn’t want to be liable for any damages that may have arisen from driving with a damaged brake rotor. The next truck, which came from Prescott, took another two hours, but that company didn’t want to help us out either because of the damaged wheel and because we had a camper on the back of the truck. This is something that USAA should’ve explained to the Prescott-based towing company, but didn’t. It took another hour for the next tow truck to arrive, which actually turned out to be the first tow truck that refused to help us. Before they would help us, we had to sign a form releasing them of any liability should we have an issue with the damaged rotor. This turned out to be a non-issue as the truck made it to nearby Sedona without any problems.

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About Mello Mike 446 Articles
Mello Mike is an Arizona native, author, and the founder of Truck Camper Adventure. He's been RV'ing since 2002, is a Jeep and truck camper enthusiast, and has restored several Airstream travel trailers. He currently drives a 2013 Ram 3500 4x4 pickup truck with a 2016 Northstar Laredo solar powered truck camper mounted on top. He enjoys football, music, hiking, travel, photography, and fishing. He retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004 as a CWO3 after 24 years, worked in project management until 2017, and now runs this website full-time. He also does some consulting and RV inspections on the side.

12 Comments

  1. I mount and balance my tires in my home shop so I get to look at the back of the wheels. I have found however that many OEM wheels do not have a rating on them. This becomes a problem when one buys an oem wheel that was listed for a 3500 truck but no weight info.

  2. Great article, and especially glad no one was injured with such a catastrophic failure. Kudo’s to Karen for being able to control the truck with only 3 wheels, too.

    My comment has more to do with the towing situation, than the actual tire failure. We have both our camper and truck insured with the same insurance company. Needing a tow on our truck last year with the camper mounted, the initial response from the insurance Co. was that we would have to dismount the camper prior to the tow! Not an option on the side of the road, with the jacks at home. Reminded the rep. that the camper was also insured, so that changed everything. Can’t imagine adding to the headache of needing a tow with the potential wrinkle of a dismount, or contacting a separate insurance provider. It is strange that the initial tow truck relented with the signing of a waiver. But that seems to be the state of things today.

    Glad it all worked out!

  3. Yep, Mike shows his door sticker with the 11,700 lb GVWR. Thats pretty impressive. My old ’03 2500 Ram is only 9000lb with a 6000 RAWR. Sadly not all rims are marked with weight ratings, probably few are actually. I replaced the painted steel Tradesman rims on my 2500 with a low mileage set of OEM alloy wheels off a ’09 SRW 3500, so my tires are the limiting factor. Pondering a Bigfoot 25C9.4 I have found advertised, but will be right at the truck’s max I figure.
    At least your rotors are not difficult to remove. The rotors on the DRW axle bolt onto the inboard side of the hub, meaning you have to remove the axle shaft, and the hub from the spindle, to get to the bolts that hold the rotor on, then impact them out.

  4. Oh, no! In my long tenure with 4WD’s and truck campers, I’ve seen this playout over and over. One culprit is as you described: wrong load rating. It’s metal stamped, or should be, on the inside rim. Another culprit is cast aluminum. It may offer some bling, but bling doesn’t buy you much if you are out on a rocky road with 6K pounds on that axle. Forged aluminum is much stronger than cast. My go-round with cast aluminum was with a pair of 12 inch wide x 16 inch super single wheels (load rating 3600 pounds) carrying variously 5800 pounds on the rear axle. The 35 inch AT3 tires had a load rating of 3860 pounds, so well under the weight they were bearing. Besides being too wide for jeep trails, they started to collect dings and chunk removal over time making them even weaker. Luckily I had no near catastrophe as you did, but replaced all the TC wheels with heavy, tried and true steel wheels. My Stockton Wheel custom made super single, 10 inch wide steel wheels have 1/2 inch plate center hubs with no cutouts making them stupid strong. The only thing i notice is the unsprung weight upon acceleration: it’s a bit slower on the uptake. About the woe with getting the axle up: I used to carry a 4K pound scissor jack that would fold down to 3 inches just for occasions like yours and for bending out fenders for wheel clearance that happened by passing rocks or vehicles and did actually use it. I think after your experience I’ll start taking it again, especially if we do the Bradshaw Trail. jefe

  5. Mike, Good article and thanks for sharing this experience. I have a very similar rig with a 2018 Ram 3500 SB,CC, SRW, Diesel and a 2019 NorthStar Adventurer. I went outside to immediately look at my tire rating, which to my relief was a load range E. But is there an easy was to find out the load rating of the wheel?
    Note to Don above: I think you are mixing up Pay Load capacity with GVWR. The 11,180 lbs. Mike has listed on the scale sheet is the total weight of the truck and camper. I would expect Mike’s GVWR is somewhere around 12,000 lbs. Payload capacity is around 4000 lbs. This is what mine is which is very similar to Mike’s.

    • Thanks, Cheese. That’s exactly right. The GVWR of our Ram 3500 SRW truck is 11,700 pounds (payload 3,809 pounds). As for your wheels, if they’re OEM you’ll be fine because they have to be rated for the GVWR of your truck. If you’re over your GVWR/Payload and you got new wheels, then you should be able to find that out by getting the model and size. You should also be able to find that out by looking at the inside of the wheel, is should be stamped.

  6. I took note of the weight at 11,000+ lbs. Not sure on the make/model of truck, but it appears it is a SRW. I don’t know of any SRW’s that can carry 11k of weight. That is pushing it way beyond its limits. Given that many trucks with TC’s are over the door jamb numbers. But what I know is that the margin of safety etc that is built into these trucks is significant. My best guess is it around 25% of the payload number…this serves as protection from lawsuits. Had this owner had a dually it certainly would have helped, but it does go to show you how good a brake rotor is in this situation.

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