If stretching your tire budget means buying cheaper tires, you may be cheating yourself. You'll get more tires for less money — and that looks good up front — but does that theory hold up after six months or a year?
There are some applications, such as refuse and some high-scrub or severe service situations, where paying top dollar for a top quality tire makes no sense. The tires get chewed off at such a high rate that even the build quality of a top tire sometimes won't save it.
For most fleets, however, quality trumps price over time — provided you're prepared to protect your investment, and manage it to get maximum return. You stretch your budget by minimizing unplanned tire events while striving for maximum casing life, and thus minimum cost per mile.
Right from the Start
You wouldn't put a drive tire on a steer position, or a regional steer tire on a long-haul truck. Tires and retreads come in a dizzying array of tread patterns and compounds optimized for a certain job. Getting the right tire for the job will improve your odds of getting the best life from the tire.
How effective your management program appears on the balance sheet depends on how comprehensive a tire maintenance program you already have. If you're lax in maintaining tire pressure, any system you buy will produce amazing results.
“The worse a guy is at maintaining his tires, the bigger return he's going to see,” says Matt Wilson, business unit manager for controls at Hen-drickson. “If all his tires are running 20% to 30% underinflated consistently, he'll see tremendous results at first with a tire inflation system. On the other hand, a fleet that is very good at maintaining tires won't see as big a return because they are already at or close to the proper pressure.”
Proper inflation for the load is documented to improve both tire life and fuel economy, so there's a double payback there. But tires don't always stay properly inflated, and they have a habit of going flat at the most inopportune times.
Tire pressure monitoring and automatic inflation systems can add value to the tire management plan with very little upfront cost, and they keep paying back long after you have made your return on investment. According to Al Cohn of Pressure Systems International, manufacturers of the Meritor Tire Inflation System, most users will see a payback within 12 months.
“Initially, if the system saves two tires, it's paid for itself. But four or five years out, if it's still saving a couple of tires per year per trailer, you're money ahead.”
Since inflation systems are not widely available for power units, a tire pressure monitoring system can help prevent tire damage from run-flat conditions or outright tire failure by alerting the driver to a problem.
Telematics now allow low-pressure condition notifications to be distributed through the system, so action can be taken to save the tire by someone other than the driver.
“TPMS 2.0 is a fleet-focused concept where data obtained from the tires is sent immediately to the fleet so a manager can make the maintenance call, instructing the driver how to proceed,” says Peggy Fisher, president of TireStamp.
In addition to the practical aspects of minimizing underinflated tires, some TPMS systems provide an operational history of the tire, which can be used to demonstrate due diligence in tire maintenance, points out Phil Zaroor, president of Advantage PressurePro. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's CSA program also requires fleets to keep records of tire service and proof of repairs.
“The data tracking capabilities of certain systems can help in this regard as well,” Zaroor says.