Baywindow Bus Tire FAQ

by Richard Atwell
(c) Copyright 2006-2011

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Contents:

  1. Tire Specs
  2. Vehicle Guidelines
  3. 185R14 Bus Tires
  4. NLA Tires
  5. 1968 - 1970 Models
  6. Tire Reviews
  7. Tire Maintenance
  8. A Word About Spares
  9. 185R14 Snow Tires
  10. Larger Rims
  11. Larger Tires
  12. Tread & Sidewall Photos
  13. Do's and Dont's
  14. At the Tire Shop
  15. Tire Wear
  16. Ride Quality
  17. Cleaning Tips & Care
  18. Opinons & Advice
  19. My Tire Log
  20. General Information
  21. References

If you thought debates about oil were bad wait until you ask your favorite mailing list or forum about which tires to use!

The problem stems from the fact that the VW bus is a fairly tall, narrow and heavy vehicle compared to other VWs. It can also carry a lot more weight (they were designed as commercial vehicles after all). Where VW possibly erred was in choosing a 14" wheel rim while requiring an unusually high load rating for a tire this size.

Now it wasn't always this way: the earliest buses had 16" rims. In 1955 VW switched to a 15" rim and in 1965 the 14" rim became the standard. Those pre-68 splitwindow buses weighed about 2500 lbs which is comparable to a modern passenger car like a Honda Civic. However, the baywindow bus weighs 3300 lbs in Westfalia configuration and all models (bus, pickup, camper, etc) can weigh up to 5000 lbs gross vehicle weight.

VW selected a tire based on the need for a reinforced sidewall and a total of 6-8 plies. When they located a suitable tire through their OEMs it came with a specified load rating. Many people use the reverse logic to assume that a tire is suitable if the load rating is close to spec. However, it's eye opening to drive a bus with proper tires and discover that it is no longer micro-sensitive to the wind conditions and handles much better given its high center of gravity (even the gas tank is up high in the bus). It's a night and day difference and I'm speaking from experience.

Volvo was another manufacturer that handicapped its customers with a limited tire selection and like VW as the vehicles have aged and the std rim sizes have increased in size, the tire selection has dwindled even further. Not to say that the largest selection existed when our vehicles were new but they were easier to find, if not expensive, when purchased from the dealer (Vanagons also used these tires up until the last 1991 model which necessitated dealers stocking 185R14 tires for a several years after the baywindow was replaced).

Even the tire dealers are confused what tire to fit on your bus. Our vehicles are so old the computer systems lack the accurate data that used to exist in the printed catalogs (someone usually makes a mistake during initial data entry and it replicates everywhere). Some salesman won't believe you that a 185R14 tire exists because they are not expecting a metric designation and expect you to include the series (e.g. P185/80R14 or something similar). When you quote them a mfgr part# they are surprised to learn something new. Of course, they will more often than not try to sell you something in their catalog rather than turn you away (tire salesman are often paid on commission).

There is a lot of tire information on the web which I've collected on this page rather than try to reproduce it. Be sure to read it all before making up your mind so you can make an informed purchase for your bus.

All specs (photos) are from the 1978 Owner's Manual.


Tire Specs:

Why does this matter?

You are driving a bus (technically a van) not a passenger car yet the vast majority of 14" tires are meant for passenger cars.

Bentley says, "Select radial ply tires designated "reinforced" or-for Delivery Vans and Station Wagons-with the suffix "C". Other tires of identical size may have inadequate load-carrying capability". In the 30-40 years that have gone by this statement is as valid as ever.

On the stock 14" rims, only these two types of radial tires are suitable to carry the weight and provide good handling:

Remember that "C" after 185R14C means commercial tire vs. passenger tire. This is similar to the "LT" truck tire designation. LRC means load range C which is the carrying capacity. LRD is one up from C (greater load capacity at higher maximum psi).

So what's the basic difference between LRC and LRD? Besides construction, the inflation limit affects the load rating:

Reinforced (RF) means a passenger tire has been upgraded to carry a heavier load. This is typically done by adding more plies (e.g. 8 instead of 3-5) to the sidewall.

If you look at the specs you'll see 185SR14 but the SR does not mean sidewall reinforced. Years ago, tire speed was designated as part of the size so an H rated tire would have been 185HR14. Look for the word Reinforced stamped into the sidewall as the true indicator. Conversely, 94R as shown on the sidewall of a reinforced tire means 94 load index reinforced, not R speed rating.

If a tire size has P in front of the number is means it's a P-metric passenger tire. This is important because when passenger tires are fitted to vans/trucks they are only rated to carry 94% of the load vs. what the sidewall indicates. So, for example, a 1540 lbs load rated P-metric tire will only carry 1447 lbs. You would need to find a P-metric tire with a 1638 lbs capacity and this is almost impossible to locate in a passenger tire that is only meant for a 2600 lb. car.

Some tire manufacturers recommend exceeding the original rating by 10% for extra safety and even if you do find such a tire, its sidewall won't be stiff enough for the top heavy bus.


Vehicle Guidelines:

Buses can weigh 5000 lbs. Divide that roughly by 4 tires (there's a 47/53 weight ratio I'll ignore) and that's 1250 lbs per tire. Guess what happens during hard cornering when more weight shifts to one of the front tires? Did you exceed the load rating of your tire?

VW did not specify a particular min. load rating but from examining the original tires, the typical 185R14 reinf. tire inflated to 40psi had a 1540 lbs. load rating. When inflated to 30 psi, the load table for that tire says it can bear only 1310 lbs. Something to keep in mind when deciding whether or not you want a reinforced passenger tire (if one becomes available again). Personally, I would stick with 185R14C tires because in my opinion, the bus rides better and can carry more weight.

While you would think that tires are over engineered for safety, think about all the tire recalls and lawsuits that stem from underspec tires...

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185R14 Bus Tires (Available as of July '06):

Brand & Model Load Rating Max. Load Max. psi Diameter Tread Depth Category
Bridgestone 603V D 1855 lbs. 65 psi 25.7" 8.73mm Summer
Continental Vanco 8 D 1874 lbs. 65 psi 25.6" 7.93mm Summer
Cooper SRM II LT D 1875 lbs. n/a 25.5" 10.3mm All Season
Hankook RA08 D 1874 lbs. 65 psi 25.6" 11.5mm All Season
Michelin Agilis 61/81 D 1875 lbs. 65 psi n/a n/a All Season
Nokian NRC 2 D 1875 lbs. n/a 25.5" 10.5mm Summer
Vredestein Comtrac D 1875 lbs. n/a n/a n/a n/a
Yokohama Y356 D 1850 lbs. 65 psi. 25.7" 8.73mm Summer
Woosung SV-820 D 1875 lbs. 65 psi. n/a n/a n/a

As you can see these tires are virtually identical and mainly differ in cost and stock availability. Tire life, ride quality, road noise, etc vary from brand to brand and from person to person. Look closely at the specs and you'll notice that some tires have 45% deeper tread! If you search Type2.com's archives by brand name you'll find plenty of tire reviews.

Bus Depot has an excellent writeup on seasonal tires designations that you should read before you decide against All Season or Summer.


NLA Tires:

You may be buying tires for the first time in several years and wondering where you favorite models have gone to. If you loved...

The Vanco 8 is the OEM tire on the Eurovan. Where as the older Conti's were LRC 6PR tires, the Vanco is a beefier LRD 8PR tire.


1968 - 1970 Models:

Larry Edson and others have pointed out that 1968-70 models were originally fitted with 7.00-14 bias ply tires. This isn't the only difference: the rims were only 5" wide (5JKx14) instead of the the 5 1/2" wide rims (5.5J x 14) used from 71-79.

7.00-14 means 7" wide tread (which is close to 178mm) and 14 is the rim size. According to old literature, the bias ply tires were 26.22" +/- 0.24" (~26.0-26.4") in diameter. Subtracting 14" for the rim size to compute the sidewall ratio gives us a 178/87R14 tire. How's that for weird radial equivalent? But this diameter contradicts the standards of the era that specified an 82 or 92 series bias ply tire. Never mind...

If you fit 185R14 tires that were meant for a 5.5" wide rim onto a 5" wide rim you will bulge the tire but it won't change the diameter because it's the sidewall the flexes not the steel belts. However the contact width of the thread will change and the rule of thumb is that it will bulge 0.2" for every 0.5" decrease in rim width. In other words a 185R14 tire would lay 180mm of tread on the ground and this is very close to the original 7" tread of the bias ply tires. Some folks think wider tires are harder on the steering box. That's hard to dispute but who knows by how much? What's not clear is whether the improved 73-79 steering box was introduced to improve the original design or to deal with the wider radial tires introduced in 1971 or both.

If you are looking for a radial similarly sized in diameter to the original bias ply tire look for a close match to a tire with a diameter of 26.2" meant for a 5.5" wide rim. One such tire is the Continental Vanco 8 in size 195R14. When you mount this tire on the 5" rim the contact width will be 190mm and you end up with a slightly wider tire with the same diameter as the original 68-70 bias ply tire.

This tire sizing issue is one of the reasons that your speedo may be fast (it also means your engine is running faster) when running a 185R14 tire. But wait, what happens when the tread wears? Take a tire with 10/32" of tread and let it wear down to the legal limit of 2/32". That changes the diameter by 0.5" over the life of the tire. If the speedo was calibrated properly then it would be running too slow at first, just right and then too fast but overall it would average out. Keep in mind that the experience of many seems to indicate that the speedo ran just a little fast from the factory (must have been those metric miles :-).

Did VW actually do this? Does it matter since the tires all vary is size anyway? What if you throw tires away before they've worn down enough? The error margin is only 1-1.5% anyway. In my opinion, trying to "dial in" the speedo/odometer is either impossible or not worth the effort involved. It's not 100% accurate and was never meant to be.

So mounting a 185R14 tire to a 5" wide rim isn't so bad after all but the 195R14 tire is probably a better choice if you have a 68-70 bus with 5" rims.


Tire Reviews:


Tire Maintenance:

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A Word About Spares:

First, new spares must be swapped to the rear wheels on RWD vehicles like the bus otherwise you may lose traction in an emergency. You must also give a new tire about 300 miles to break in before it becomes really grippy.

Something else to keep in mind is that some tires are unidirectional. This means that you can't swap tires left, right, only front to back. What this means is that you should really carry two spares if you have these type of tires mounted not knowing which side will experience a blow out. See my comments below about tire wear regarding spares...it will make more sense to carry a 2nd spare.

Second, most people are not rotating their spare tires along with the other four tires. As a result the spare tends to sit in the bus/camper for many years practically unused. Tires over a certain age are not safe to use. I don't know what the limit is but the sidewalls bulge and the rubber cracks. I've read about a new looking (as they always are) 10 year old spare tires that was fit after a sudden flat and then subsequently failed 20 miles down the road. So it seems, even when protected from UV rays, rubber gets old.

If you have a 20 year old spare in your bus and that's all you've got to use when you get a flat, keep your speed down as a precaution until you can get your tire fixed.

While it may pain you to throw away an unworn tire, it will pain you more to have a 2nd breakdown and possibly cause damage to your wheel well when the tread decides to part ways with the rest of the tire.

So how can you tell how old the tire is?

sidewall markings

There is a Date of Manufacture (DOM) stamped into the sidewall. Look for the letters DOT which stand for Department of Transportation.

There will be a 10, 11 or 12 digit code appearing after the DOT label which also indicates the week and year the tire was manufactured, as well as other details. The first 2 characters designate the tire manufacturer and plant code. The third, fourth and fifth characters, are the tire size code. The last three or four numbers (4 numbers for years after 2000) show when the tire was manufactured and are often circled. The first two digits of the date code represent the week and the last 1 or 2 digits represent the year.

DOM

For example: 1603, would be the 16th week of 2003 (mid April). 019 would mean the 1st week of 1999.

If you cannot locate these markings, look on the backside of the tire. If there are no marking then you've got a tire (probably from Europe) so old it predates this marking standard!


185R14 Snow Tires:

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Larger Rims:

One solution to the tire selection problem (suitable load handling and stability) is to use a larger rim to begin with. Baywindow buses use a 5x112 rim (5 lug nuts, 112mm apart via standard measurement) but only a 14" steel rim was offered during production. Only a few companies embraced this pattern, namely Mercedes Benz, Audi and VW.

Before jumping for joy, keep in mind that the tire sidewall acts like a spring in the suspension. The shorter the sidewall the better the handling and crosswind stability will be but the comfort level will decrease because there is virtually no spring in the rim itself (more metal on a 15" rim vs. large flexible rubber sidewall on 14" rim).

Also understand that there is no power steering on any model year and as the tire gets wider the steering becomes harder. Who knows what stresses the steering box was originally designed for but it's something to keep in mind especially if you have the 68-72 bus because the steering box cannot be bought new.

vanalloy

To use a rim from another vehicle it must meet the following conditions:

The stock wheel offset is ET39. ET is German for Einpress Tiefe. and it's the measurement in mm from the rim center line to the mount where the brake drum or hub contacts.

Here's a wheel offset example: the stock rim is 5.5" and the offset is ET39 and you want to put on a 6" ET 30 rim. This requires 3mm of extra clearance on the inside and 15mm of extra clearance on the outside assuming you fit a tire suitable for a 6" rim. See the calculator at the bottom of this section.

While a few aftermarket suppliers exist (e.g. Ronal), we are lucky enough that the Vanagon shares the same 5x112 mounting as well as the shape of the front grease cap and rear wheel 46mm castle nut. This virtually eliminates compatibility and fitment issues leaving the lip of the rear fender to deal with because the Vanagon has a much higher opening and it won't contact the edge of a tire that is wider than the stock 184R14 size. The Eurovan also uses the same bolt pattern but the offset is too deep and the rims are at least 16".

Several styles were fit to Vanagons and while these rims are getting harder to find as the Vanagon ages they are around at least as used rims. Many of the new rims are imported by several Vanagon vendors from South Africa where the Vanagon stayed in production until 2001. Opinion varies on which rims looks "good" on a Baywindow.

Once you find a wheel with suitable strength (at least 1800 lbs - factory alloys naturally qualify), you need to select a tire for it. There are two ideal sizes to ensure the speedometer doesn't change which I've outlined in this table. Differences from stock are shown in (parentheses).


Tire size Sidewall height Section width Overall diameter Circumference Revs per mile Actual speed (65mph)
185R14 5.97" 7.28" 25.94" 81.51" 801.85 65.2
215/65R15 5.50" (-0.47) 8.46" (1.18) 26" (0.6) 81.69" (0.18) 800 (-1.85) 65.15
215/60R16 5.08" (-0.89) 8.46" (1.18) 26.16" (0.22) 82.18" (0.67) 795.1 (-6.74) 65.55
Shorter is better Wider is better Close Close Close Very close!

Note: there is also a 251-601-027 6J x 14 ET 30 steel wheel for "winter use" but I cannot find a photo of it.

Happy Hunting!


Larger Tires:

What if you've found an even larger rim; let's say a 7.5" rim from a Mercedes Benz or Audi with the correct bolt pattern? Now you need to figure out what's the maximum tire size you can use.

As the tire becomes wider will eventually have to adjust the steering stops to prevent the tire from rubbing on the tie-rods. This is an easy change but it will increase your turning radius. The bigger problem using wider tires is clearance at the rear.

There is about 265mm of clearance between the spring plate and the lip of the rear wheel arch where the sidewall will contact first. Let's round it down to 260mm (10 1/4") for safe measure to keep the sidewall markings from rubbing.

When using another rim you have to work with the offset you are given unless you use spacers or mill the mounting surface of the rim.

Here's what going to happen when you mount it vs. factory 5.5" ET39 rim (these are my estimates since I haven't mounted a bare rim and measured the exact distances).

5.5" ET39 factory rim: 
- 58mm of clearance from rim to spring plate - 58mm of clearance from rim to lip of wheel arch

When you move up to the 7.5" rim then you will lose clearance (let's pick two other rim offsets but perhaps not the extremes):

	- 7.5" (new size) - 5.5" (factory size) = 2.0" = 50mm (close enough)
	- Half of the extra rim width (25mm) will be to the left of the offset and the other half to the right.

	- ET35-ET39: -4mm difference, towards plate (lose 25-4 = 21mm), towards lip (extend 25+4 = 29mm)
	- ET45-ET39: +6mm difference towards plate (lose 25+6 = 31mm), towards lip (extend 25-6 = 19mm)

Notice the that smaller ET offsets than factory subtract and larger offsets add. This translates to these measurements depending on the offset:

7.5" ET35 Mercedes Benz rim: 
- 58-21 = 37mm of clearance from rim to spring plate - 58-29 = 29mm of clearance from rim to lip of rear wheel arch 7.5" ET45 Mercedes Benz rim:
- 58-31 = 27mm of clearance from rim to spring plate - 58-19 = 39mm of clearance from rim to lip of rear wheel arch

All we care about is the smaller of the two clearance values because that's where the tire will rub first. Note how varying the offset can create the least clearance on either side. We will work from 27mm which is the smaller of the two numbers for either of these two wheel offsets assuming we plan to fit the ET45 7.5" rim.

To figure out the rim center line, add the clearance to 1/2 of the rim size which is 3.75" (95mm).

So, 27mm of clearance from rim to lip of wheel arch + 95mm = 122mm.

When we double that number we get the maximum tire tread width or 244mm. Rounding to the nearest tire size would be 245mm (9 1/2") which is pushing the limits of clearance so in my opinion it would be prudent to use a 235 tire.

The typical tire size for a 7.5" rim is 235 or 245. What about a smaller tire? A 215 tire is probably the smallest tire you can safely fit on a 7.5" rim but it will depend on the tire make/model and series (sidewall height).

There is a popular aftermarket rim for Vanagons that looks like a Mercedes Rim from the early 90s if at appeals to your tastes. It's 15x7 ET23. See GVW-8540 at GoWesty.


Tire Tread & Sidewall Photos:

I collect photos of tires to aid as a buyers guide for currently available tires. It also serves to record the details of each tire in the event a similar tire from the same manufacturer comes around in future.

Click to view all the tire photos...


Do's and Dont's:

DO DONT
  1. Get a $15 "gorilla" 19mm lug wrench for the lug nuts. Those 4-arm tire irons are very hard to use at the side of the road and guessing the correct torque is even harder.
  2. Get a VW scissor jack from Bus Depot. The factory jack is unstable and was replaced on Brazil models by a more stable scissor version.
  3. Carry a spare tire and keep it inflated to rear tire pressure and adjust for the front when you need to replace a front flat.
  4. Always replace the valve stems when you replace tires because the rubber they are made from is not long lasting. They also tend to crack from age and bending during refilling.
  5. Rotate your tires every 3-6,000 miles (5-10k km). Sooner is better than later because the front and rear suspensions have very different geometries. but whatever interval you initially choose, repeat for future rotations.
  6. Follow the tire rotation guidelines in Bentley. Treat your tires as if they are unidirectional tires.
  7. Rebalance your tires when you rotate them. As tires wear, age and change so does the balance.
  8. Besides keeping tires properly inflated, use a valve stem cap with a rubber seal inside.
  9. Get snow tires if you get snow for a few weeks each year where you live. Otherwise it's best to take the other bus (public transit :-). Summer tires (which most of us have) fare poorly in snow. The average M+S tire isn't much better as evidenced when I ended up in the ditch with my beetle.
  1. Don't pay to have someone fill your tires with Nitrogen. This is the latest FAD and there is little benefit. Of course, it doesn't hurt the tires either because air is already 78% nitrogen to begin with. If you've filled your tires with service station air, there is probably a lot of moisture and compressor oil in your tires already so there is little benefit unless the tires are dismounted, cleaned and remounted with a non-water based rim lubricant. Remember tires wear out on the OUTSIDE first and at any rate Ozone is far worse for the outside tire than air is to the inside.
  2. Don't ignore the tread wear indicator (TWI) on the sidewall/tread. When the thread is worn down to the legal limit of 2/32" (1.6mm) you better hope that you don't need to stop suddenly in the rain because the stopping distance will probably be double that of a tire with 10/32" (8mm) of tread.
  3. Don't inflate tires to spec unless they are stone cold. After a short drive the pressure will increase by 3 psi so inflating to spec will leave them under-inflated the next morning.
  4. Don't let sidewall cracks go unnoticed. This is the weakest section of the tire ply-wise.

Note: I slightly over-inflate my spare tire to compensate for any slow leakage while is sits in the storage box in my westy. It's easy to forget that it's there sometimes and when you need it you may find it under-inflated.


At the Tire Shop:

Buses are atypical and taking them anywhere in the aftermarket service industry is always a pain. Here are some tips to make it go easier for you:

I recommend using a large chain that offers free rotation and balancing. This is a service that is getting more expensive all the time at smaller shops as the big chains eat into their business.

If you have problems with a tire such as noise or handling mention this to the salesman AFTER you request a rebalancing. The reason for this is because they are in business to sell you tires and have little time for anything else. The salesmen always inspect your tires to check the tread level and the date of manufacture to pressure you for a sale. If they determine that your tires don't need to be replaced they will want to get you out of the shop asap so they can sell tires to someone else. This is the nature of the business and the trade-off when using a large chain. Be firm with your requests.

Inspecting the tire by hand mainly reveals major tire damage and sometimes flat spots. Only when the wheel has been spun up on the balancing machine will they be able to see how the tire has changed shape from uneven wear.

From this point you are in the better position to decide whether or not to replace a worn tire and so is the tire tech.

Whenever you get a flat repaired be sure to ask them if they will use a flat patch only or a patch with plug (better). Also make them mark the location of the tire weights on the tire if they are not going to rebalance the tire afterwards although a rebalance is best because tires change shape and balance as they wear.


Tire Wear:

Getting your tires to wear evenly is challenge. Road surfaces, driving habits, tire compounds and construction, wheel alignment, maintenance all conspire to make it less than likely you'll see full mileage from your tires. Some tires have a flat contour which is essential to long life otherwise the tire tends to wear out in the middle first.

When no inflation or alignment problems exist, the front tires like to wear slightly more unevenly on the edges because of all the turning they do. The caster built into the wheel geometry angles the tire to make it easier to turn.

The rear tires like to wear out first in the middle because they can't turn and have a higher inflation spec than the front tires but the rear wheels also have 1/2 degree of negative camber. This is a VW trait and even more noticeable on older bugs with the swing axle rear suspension. This increases the wear on the inside of the tire as well. There is also some toe-in on rear wheel drive vehicles to help the chassis go straight.

Also keep in mind that the tire tread is not flat but curved. On when the weight of the vehicle is directly on top of the contact patch will you think the are is square but its shape is closer to a rounded rectangle.

Tires must be regularly rotated to even out the wear and the owner's manual recommends inspecting them every 2,000 miles which is good advice. Uneven wear is almost unavoidable because of the way the car is designed and it would be too costly to manufacture 4 different tires.

What to look for:

gauge

When the surface of the tire is smooth, differences in the tread depth can be attributed to the inflation pressure. You need a depth gauge to do this quickly and accurately. The tiny gauges that work best are sometimes hard to find but only cost a few dollars. Only when the tire is excessively worn will you notice bald sections in the middle or the edges and then it's too late. Look for wear on both edges of the tread (underinflation) and center wear (overinflation).

Because of the nature of the front/rear alignment, figuring out inflation issues is more complicated until the tire has worn enough to display common wear patterns. You basically need to measure and record a brand new tire before use and keep measuring at inspection time.

So what can you do? Most people simply look at or measure the tread depth in one spot to see what condition the tires are in. There are subtle changes going on as you rack up the miles so you should measure the tread in at least 4 locations (90 deg. from each other as you rotate the tire). Wear on the tires can be felt by hand and should be checked when you rotate your tires. It's probably too often to check every time you check the tire pressures so somewhere in between would be a happy medium.

Here's how to do it:

If you were to rotate your tires on the axle and look down the tread instead of across it you might see how the surface of the tire is no longer a smooth curve. This change in tire shape affects the alignment, the handling and the ride quality and can't easily be seen from the hubcap point of view.

To inspect the wear level of the tire, straighten and group your fingers then slide them over the edge of the tread just above the sidewall. Now slide them the other direction. Feel a difference? If you do, this is called feather edge wear and it means the edge of the tire has changed shape from a true circle to a series of "sawtoothed" edges that rise in the direction the tire rotates. This is caused by incorrect toe. Be sure to check both sides, not just the outside.

The sawtooth pattern is the main reason you shouldn't swap radial tires left to right. If you did, the edge would be hitting the road first and this results in a bumpier ride.

Of course some radials are only designed to rotate one way and they are marked as such on the sidewall. When this is the case you should carry two spares mounted oppositely. Spares are supposed to be rotated with your regular tires to even out there wear and prevent your spare from age rot. If you follow my advice, keep two spares, only swap on the same side and mark the spares L/R you will increase your overall mileage. At least this has been my experience.

Now run your hand across the tread of the tire from inside to outside. Does it feel smooth or can you feel the sawtooth edges? This feeling is caused by excessive camber and in extreme cases the tire will wear away on the edge.

These alignment problems will continue to wear the tires and the next set you buy and the next. These are serious alignment problems that need to be corrected asap if you would like to reduce your tire cost and improve your ride and handling. While tire balance and the suspension can influence tire wear, they are easy to test and eliminate as unknowns because they have unique wear patterns.

Here are some tread measurements I took to illustrate wear:

Location Inside Middle Outside Comments
Rear right 7/32" 4/32" 8/32" normal rear camber wear at inner edge
Front right 7/32" 5/32" 4/32" severe camber wear on outer tread
Front left 7/32" 4/32" 7/32" some feather wear on outside (felt)
Rear left 7/32" 4/32" 8/32" mild camber wear on tread (felt), normal rear camber wear at inner edge

The middle tread depth is what counts when trying to determine the remaining tire life. If the middle tread depth is even on all four tire then you know that the inflation is close to ideal. If 10/32" is the starting tread depth and 2/32" is the legal (safe) limit then these tires only have 25% [or 2/(10-2)] of their tread left.

Getting the wheels aligned:

If after reading Bentley you think adjusting the alignment is complicated, try finding an alignment shop that's VW friendly? That can be tough. All of the adjustments can be done at home assuming you have an accurate angle gauge, two special special tools and a level surface (shims) but for most owners this is far too involved.

One last word on inflation: setting the front tires to max psi will cause the steering to become very light and ruin the traction. There is a fine balance to be achieved and since the max psi written on the tire doesn't always match Bentley (especially LRD tires which are not even mentioned) you have to figure out what's best after starting with the specs.


Ride Quality:

Why do new tires feel so good? Because they are round (really round compared to the tires that have gone 20,000 miles on your bus). It's also because the rubber is softer. As the tire ages the rubber becomes harder and the ride harsher.

For everyone who likes a particular brand of tire, you'll find someone who doesn't. When taking advice on what to buy, remember that any new tire is 10x better than an old one so be sure to ask how many miles have been covered so you get past that "new tire euphoria" (IMHO worthless feedback).

Shocks and tires have the most effect on ride quality. Although some tires produce more road noise than others, the suspension determines how the bus drives. I recommend oil filled shocks over the KYB gas filled ones. If you need firmer handling, get a sway bar instead of making the shocks firm because a front sway bar won't affect the suspension until the body rolls which keeps the ride comfortable.

Handling (as much a we can be concerned with in a bus) is a function of the tires because they are responsible for grip. Handling will be terrible if the front tires are unevenly worn (rotate them to the back) or if the pressure is wrong. After the tire, the shocks are responsible for keeping the tires planted on the ground. Quick lane changes with a set of Koni shocks makes handling improvements apparent.

I've found that KYB shocks are stiff and may accelerate tire wear. This is because the wheel starts to hop on the surface as it loses grip even though it's only a fraction of a mm. Further, these problems telegraph into the front end and wear out those parts as well. I'm not saying you need to wear a kidney belt like a motorcross rider from all this vibration but the oil filled shocks are a better choice in my opinion.

Many people also seem to be driving on worn out or replacement seats. There are many ways to deal with replacement but in my opinion the best thing to do is the replace the original horse hair padding with the "horse hair" coconut fiber seat pads from Wolfsburg West. For all the quirkiness of the VW, the seat padding was perfectly engineered for long hours of driving. Your butt will thank you.


Cleaning Tips & Care:

Tires:

Wheels:


Opinions & Advice:

OK, so now you know why you shouldn't buy one of those tires with a "P" in front of the size.

I'm not sure why VW selected both a sidewall reinforced (RF) passenger tire and a commercial tire. Maybe it was because VW had fit so many RF tires to other models (beetle, etc). This thinking carried over into the Vanagons which were even heavier than the bus and I suspect it had something to do with the rubber compounds available at the time and VW elected for a smooth ride compared to when they need to support the average load requirements of the commercials (pickups, delivery vans, etc).

Bentley lists which bus models got which kind of tire...In my opinion the commercial tires are now better suited to all bus models whether they are carrying 8 passengers, a pickup bed full of materials or your family and their camping gear. Look at the Bentley recommendations I quoted and it's obvious that if you plan to carry loads/people use the 185R14C tires (which are easier to find anyway). Many tire engineers recommend the "C" tire when fitted to campers.

The main problem with the 185SR14 reinforced (RF) tires is that they have the lowest load rating and the lowest maximum inflation pressures which limits their performance. They also tend to have low tread life expectancy like low cost passenger tires but the ride quality was excellent.

If your tires start to make odd noises, something is wrong. Quite often the noise is bearing, brake or CV joint related. To isolate the noise, swap the tires left-right. If you are unlucky and several tires are going bad at once this trick won't work. Noise is usually from the plies shifting within the tire. If you wait long enough the tread may separate from the rest of the tire. It could also indicate an alignment problem that will damage the next tire you mount.


My Tire Log:

1978-1989 (Set 1)
Michelin
X
Made in Belgium
185R14 6PR
Load 1540 lbs at 40 psi
Reinforced Radial
Load Index 94
Speed Rating ?

Miles covered: 37,000
Factory tires ($8,000 ;-)

A great tire by all accounts (no issues according to Dad). Two more of these tires (M+S variation) were studded for the heavy snows and long winters of the BC Interior. The snow tires were retired after 20 years storage for safety concerns (no ozone storage bags were used and I doubt that would have helped for such a long storage period). If you are storing tires, ask your tire store for those yellow bags they receive tires in. Store then in the dark below 25C (77F) and avoid the use of fluorescent lights.

Factory tires worn out and recycled.
1990-1995 (Set 2)
Defiance
Maverick LTR
Made in Canada
LT195/75R14 M+S
1435 lbs at 50 psi
Load Range C
Load Index 93
Speed Rating N

Miles covered: 18,000+
Purchased at Sears Automotive

Dad put these on the vehicle to save some money because Continentals were expensive. I have the purchase date filed somewhere and I can guess at the mileage by subtracting but most importantly the tires failed before the tread wear was significant. Because the vehicle spent so much time sitting in the driveway in one spot, the belts separated. This wasn't noticed immediately until the wheel alignment went wonky. At one point, the alignment was so bad that the bus could turn a circle in the parking lot without having to hold the steering wheel! When the tire tread was closely examined a large palm-sized bubble was visible where the belts had separated. For cost reasons, the two front tires were replaced only. Wind buffeting was a problem with these tires on the rear.

Given that the previous tire set sat in the driveway for an even longer period, this partially shows that the passenger/truck tire construction can't take the weight of the bus. Something to think about.

Front Mavericks recycled. Rears went 22,000 miles and retired in 2002.

1996-2001 (Set 3)
Continental
Contrans
Made in Great Britain
185R14 6PR
1610 lbs at 55 psi
Load Range C
Load Index 93/97
Speed Rating Q

Miles covered: 5,000
Purchased at VW Dealer in Coquitlam, BC for $$$

Al ideal bus tire from all accounts except price. The receipt is around someplace (I think Dad paid for these during one of my road trips.

The two front tires were removed for use as spares (I have 6 factory rims). You'd never know these tires were old by looking at them but they are old and I plan to retire them for safety reasons because they are 10 years old now.
2002-2005 (Set 4)
Continental
Contact CR21
Made in Sweden
185R14
1540 lbs at 40psi
Reinforced Radial
Load Index 94
Speed Rating R

Miles covered: 16,000

Ideal pressure:
Front 30
Rear 37
Ordered from through Discount Tire ($54/tire + $32 shipping + mounting)

This tire was the OE replacement for the original reinforced (RF) factory tire. Very attractive sidewall (if that matters to you).

I am noticing more wear on the outside edge of the front tires even though they are only inflated to 30 psi. At 14k miles, the driver's side tire started to make "belt-noises". At 16k miles passenger side tire is now making the same noises which swapping the first tire proved wasn't bearing/front-end noises. Tie-rods were aligned professionally just after installation but tire has also deformed because handling/alignment is not correct and problems move with the tire position. Some CR21's have been reported to have tread separation issues. In my opinion this was a defective tire and removed from the market after several production runs.

Replaced because both front tires are experiencing the same symptoms reported to exist before a blowout. Based on the thread depth I conservatively estimated the tire life at 25,000 miles although according to a printout from Tire Rack I saved from 2002 tread life was rated at 50,000 miles. I don't trust the info 100% because they listed the UTQG for tread at 200 when it should by 280 as written on the tire.

Running the rear tires at 40psi increases the wear in the middle. This is a pity because otherwise I feel this was a very good tire.

2006-present (Set 5)
Nokian
NRC 2
Made in Finland
185R14
1875 lbs at 65psi
Load Range D
Load Index 100/102
Speed Rating S

Ordered online from Nokian vendor and drop shipped from Nokian warehouse in TN.

This tire and the company really impressed me on paper so I'm trying it as an experiment. Based on the specs alone, it's top tier. Sidewall is nice looking and the patented tread wear indicator in the tread is really cool (tread numbers in mm that disappear). Apparently this tire is very well regarded by Eurovan camper conversion owners who have had less than steller results from their OE Continental tires.

Opinions on this tire? Ask me in a couple of years...Recommended tire pressures? Ask me in a few hundred miles.

Available tire sizes for NRC 2 and High Res photo of NRC2.

Nokian

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History:

Dedicated to Ray Nemo the Bus Captain (and bus tire connoisseur).

7/05/06 - Created
7/09/06 - Added tire log
7/13/06 - Added more advice
7/19/06 - Added Vanagon Alloys
7/25/06 - Added my sidewall photos
9/05/11 - Fixed broken photos, added translate button, updated adsense