Van tires need to stick well. Hard braking will cause steering loss if the front tires skid. Not a single Vanagon has ABS braking. Many vans show up with tires that are over 10 years old, and the sidewalls are just cracked beyond belief. Many vans get little usage other than camping, and the tires commonly get old before they get worn out. We often see cracks so deep that chunks are starting to fly off. Age, heat, UV damage and environmental contaminants slowly degrade the rubber until it is unusable despite having good tread depth.
A Vanagon weighs up to 4000 lbs empty depending on the year and model, and up to 5500 lbs fully loaded. More than half that weight is on the rear tires. Vanagons require tires load rated to at least 1600 lbs, which corresponds to a tire load index of 97.
Eurovans are heavier, with most of the weight on the front tires. A GLS non-camper weighs in over 4400 lbs, and a Eurovan Camper tips the scales at over 5200 lbs. Both have a total gross vehicle weight rating of about 6000 lbs, meaning the Camper is only rated for a payload of about 760 lbs. Eurovans require tires load rated to at least 1874 lbs, which corresponds to a tire load index of 102.
The tire load index is the last number of the large embossed tire rating, such as: P195/60R14 97H. Note that the load index corresponds to the load capacity, which is also written on the tire in small print next to the maximum inflation pressure. The load capacity is directly related to the inflation pressure, since it is the amount of air that is actually holding up the vehicle. More pressure equals higher capacity. But if you fill your tires to the max, then drive around with the vehicle unloaded, you will wear out the center of the tires. Conversely, if you underinflate the tires for the load, you will wear out the edges and potentially overheat the tires. The air pressure determines the tire’s shape under load. The basic math is not too difficult. The heavier the van is, the more air pressure needed to get the tires shaped right and have the proper load capacity.
The reality of the vehicle weight and the tire load index or capacity is driven home by the fact that many drivers overload their vehicles for those vacation ventures. Please check out this page at Roadhaus.com that displays just a smattering of van drivers who weighed their vehicles. Most drivers had their vans within 10% of the vehicle’s rating. About one quarter of the drivers were well over the limit.
At Karmakanix, we have seen dozens of brands of van tires come and go as the vans get older. Recommendations on tires change every few months as manufacturers stop making tires for old cars. You cannot use regular car tires with lower load ratings on vans, they may very well blow out at high speeds and temperatures. Check the internet for pictures of Vans that blew out tires. Not pretty. Stay safe. Buy the correct tires.
Alignment is critical to minimize tire wear, and for good handling and road control. Four wheel alignment is needed on Vanagons and Eurovans about every 100,000 miles. Most vans we see have never had the rear alignment adjusted, ever.