Can tire balancing save fuel?
The people at IMI Products, developers of Equal and the new Equal Flexx tire balancing compounds believe it can. And to prove the point, they hosted a press day at their Chambersburg, Penn., offices so reporters could see the results for themselves.
The way IMI explains it, properly balanced tires require less energy to keep in motion, and dynamic balancing can help reduce vibration that contributes to rolling resistance. Balancing tires, they say, helps keep them in service longer and allows fleets to get every mile out of every 32nd of an inch of tread rubber. And that's the biggest contributor to fuel savings. Tires that wear more evenly and run out right down to the last 32nd (or some predetermined pull-point) are in the fuel economy sweet spot of the tire longer. This allows fleets to take greater advantage of the thinner more efficient tread for more miles before the tires need to be removed.
Of course, if all the tires on the truck wear truer right down to the end, not just the steer tires, all the tires can contribute to improved fuel efficiency.
"Fleets are looking for longer tire life and balancing is one way to deliver on that," said Derek Forney, associate product manager at IMI. "The added benefit with such a program is the improved fuel economy over the full life of the tire."
Forney described two major fleets' balancing programs that both led to greater tire life and improved fuel economy. One was Nussbaum of Hudson, Ill. Following a test involving several test and control vehicles that ran 140,000 miles over the same 1,400-mile route, Nussbaum saw a 20% improvement in tire life and a 3% fuel economy gain. The only difference between the test and control trucks was the test group had Equal balancing compound at all wheel positions including the trailer, while the control truck did not.
IMI estimates the total annual savings can be $5,500 compared to a one-time cost of $450 to add Equal Flexx to tires at all wheel position on a truck. That figure includes about 25% longer tire life and 3-5% in fuel savings.
But how does it drive?
Equal Flexx is the latest balancing product from IMI. It was announced in February, but the first orders are to begin shipping this month.
Flexx is a combination of balancing compound and vibration damper. It's a blend of material that has been in development for several years. Steve Ludwig, senior product development engineer at IMI, said they tested more than 50 individual materials and blends of material to arrive at the optimum performer.
"We were looking to see how the product felt to a driver as well as how it performed from a data standpoint," he said. "We had the truck fitted with wireless vibration sensors so we could see how the product was performing. The driver didn't know which of four test materials he had on the truck, but he chose Equal Flexx and our data backed up his subjective opinion."
Reporters saw the data point on the chart and heard from the drivers on how they felt about the product, but we also had a chance to experience it for ourselves.
On a pair of nearly identically spec'd trucks, one truck's tires were treated with Equal Flexx, the other's was not. After driving in the truck for about 20 minutes, the difference between the two was pretty obvious.
"We doubled the vibration damping characteristics compared with the original Equal product," said John Tak, IMI's director of marketing and product development. "Net, net, this product delivers 15% better performance than its predecessor. It delivers the lowest tire wear, the lowest rolling resistance due to reduced vibration, and the most fuel economy improvement potential. We can say that because we tested it."
IMI has loads of test data to share and even a few testimonials from the fleets that tested and proved the product. Give them a call or look them up online if you want to learn more about the fuel savings potential of all-position wheel balancing.