Have you seen the price of truck tires lately? Can we talk about tire maintenance? Forget the pennies; these days we can safely say a dollar saved is a dollar earned.
The extra cost involved in upping your tire maintenance game is nothing compared to the savings: longer tire life, fewer roadside service calls, less downtime, and better safety scores.
Last October, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance conducted nearly 60,000 inspections across three days. During that time, 23.1% of commercial vehicles met the out-of-service criteria with 18.5% due to tire violations.
Had CVSA inspectors not taken those tires and trucks out of service first, they likely would have wound up sidelined elsewhere — probably stranded at roadside waiting on a tire service truck, or worse.
Maintenance-Free is a Myth
While many truck components can be made more or less maintenance-free, tires aren’t among them. Tires, per se, don’t require a lot of maintenance, but managing and monitoring inflation pressure is critical.
Judith Monte, vice president, customer experience and marketing, Aperia Technologies, says data her company has collected indicates tires operating at the recommended inflation pressure can see an increase of up to 20% in tire life compared to their underinflated counterparts.
And that’s not all.
“One of our fleet customers, Dave Veronin, president of Migway Inc., cites a 95% reduction in downtime since deploying our Halo inflation system across his fleet of tractors and trailers,” she says. “Our clients regularly cite a 1-3% fuel economy improvement as well as a 10-20% tire life improvement after deploying the Halo Tire Inflator.”
While Halo deserves some of the credit, her data highlights the fact that active monitoring of tire pressure goes a long way toward improving tire life and fuel economy.
Continental recommends referring to the tire manufacturer’s load/inflation tables to determine the proper pressure settings based on the load carried.
“Air pressure will vary depending on wheel position and load,” says Alison Bowker, marketing and communications manager, Commercial Vehicle Tires – U.S. “Fleets should pay special attention to their steer tires, as their pressure requirements are usually significantly higher than 100 psi.”
Bowker also notes that weather and seasonal temperature fluctuation can affect tire pressure. As the temperature rises, the air pressure in a tire will rise. As the temperature goes down, air pressure will fall.
“There is also natural air pressure loss of about 1-3 psi per month,” she adds.
While automatic tire inflation and tire pressure monitoring can speed pre-trip inspections, drivers should be trained on the impact of inadequate inflation pressure and the art of visually inspecting tires. While most TPMS and ATIS suppliers offer in-cab displays and even apps for monitoring tire condition, if the sidewall is sliced nearly open, or the tread has separated from the casing, that tire is not long for this world.
“Encourage drivers to inspect their tires regularly and report any anomalies promptly,” Monte says.
Scrap Tire Analysis
That pile of scrap tires at the back of your yard holds clues about your fleet’s maintenance shortcomings. Tires don’t just self-destruct. If they aren’t living up to your expectations, something might be killing them.
“Regular reviews of the scrap pile can help to determine if there are patterns as to why issues are occurring before the expected end-life of a tire,” says Joe Hughes, urban product category manager, Michelin North America. “A proper and detailed look at damaged tires can prevent further issues and keep tires from coming out of service early.”
Wear patterns and various tire conditions can point directly to the source of the problem, Hughes says.
“If bead damage is occurring, reviewing mounting practices and procedures could explain the cause,” he says. “With excessive run-flats, fleets should review drivers pre-trip inspections and tire repair maintenance records to ensure proper procedures are being followed.”
And if fleets see odd wear patterns on tires removed from service early, they should take steps to determine the cause of that wear. Hughes suggests having the vehicle’s alignment checked if irregular wear patterns are present.
Vehicle alignment can play a critical role in affecting tire wear, and it can directly impact the number of miles you can put on your tires before removal.
Poor vehicle alignment can cause one side of the tire to wear faster than the other. By avoiding irregular wear, drivers can maximize the life of every tire, benefit from cost savings, and reduce their overall tire waste.
“For commercial trucks, the impact of vehicle alignment is largely dependent on the type of route taken by the vehicle,” says Robert Hamby, director of commercial product strategy, Bridgestone Americas. “For example, long-haul trucks that consistently move in one direction with low scrub would experience higher levels of irregular wear than a last-mile delivery vehicle that operates with more stops, starts, and turns. In either case, irregular wear still shortens the life of the tire, just at different speeds.”
One major culprit of tire wear that often goes undiagnosed is toe-in or toe-out misalignment, or alignment issues on trailer axles. A steer tire is the best place to start when diagnosing alignment issues because it shows the irregular wear most strongly, Bowker advises.
Misalignment leaves tell-tale signs on tires. Resolve the source of the problem at the first sign of irregular wear patterns and you’ll likely save the tire. Tire rotation is recommended for each wheel position as well, Bowker says.
Tire Management Technology
Integrating a tire management platform and an appropriate suite of tools can improve the efficiency of tire maintenance. Solutions range from TPMS systems that track and report tire pressure and temperature, to drive-over reader devices used in the yard that provide automated inspections of tire pressure and tread depth.
“Fleets that build and utilize tire management platforms with trusted partners can focus more on their fleet management and business operations,” says Johnny McIntosh, senior director of commercial services, Goodyear North America. “Tire management partners can provide actionable and insightful information to get the most out of a platform.”
It’s all about gathering insight into the secret lives of tires and using that data to streamline the maintenance process. Knowing which tires need attention now, and which can afford to wait, gives fleet managers that much more control over their operation.
The cost of replacement tires and the drag on driver morale of downtime is forcing fleets to be more proactive with tire maintenance. Fleets simply can’t afford to put tire problems off until tomorrow.