Fleets spend tons of money on tires – so much, in fact, that bad tire management can become a competitive handicap. Fleets with active tire management practices report fewer tire-related roadside service calls, more successful retread programs and overall lower cost-per-mile for tires, though that metric can be application dependent.
The S.2 Tire and Wheel Study Group of the American Trucking Associations’ Technology and Maintenance Council recently conducted a tire management survey, which produced some eye-opening statistics. Four fleets presented overviews of their tire management experiences at TMC’s recent annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., in a session called Benchmarking the Success of your Tire Program.
While these four diverse fleets were not necessarily part of the survey results, their insights will prove valuable for fleet managers who want to see where they stand and to improve their company’s competitive position relative to tire costs.
Moderator Al Cohn, the director of new market development at Pressure Systems International, introduced the participants and allowed each to present an overview of their tire operation before following up with specific questions for each of the fleets.
FedEx Ground; Pittsburgh, Penn.
Jim Ricapito, manager of vehicle maintenance
• Fleet: 33,240 single-axle trailers, 10,032 tandem trailers, 9,000 single axle converter dollies for a total 256,000 wheel positions. The company relies on independent contractors for power.
• FedEx Ground recaps all casings up to 6 years of age then downgrades them to switcher tractors, getting an average of two retreads per trailer tire and one per yard tractor.
• All new and recapped tires are SmartWay-certified, low-profile 22.5 duals. They tried wide-base singles but are now moving away from them.
• All tire work is subcontracted and no work is done on the property.
• There are automatic tire inflation systems on 28,000 single-axle 28-foot trailers and dollies.
• Tire pressure: 85 psi because the trailers run very light loads.
Major challenges: Getting consistent fleet inspections with tire conditions and pressure checks. FedEx Ground is currently looking for ways to improve the accuracy and frequency of tire inspections with data-driven solutions through onboard pressure monitoring and telematics.
Crete Carrier Corp.; Lincoln, Neb.
Kirk Altrichter, vice president of maintenance (and TMC general chairman)
• Fleet: 12,500 tandem trailers and 5,000 power units with 150,000 wheel position across three company divisions van, flat and refrigerated.
• Crete retreads an average of 2.5 times per tire up to 6 years of casing age.
• All new and retreaded tires are SmartWay-certified; 295/75R-22.5 is the predominant size.
• Tire pressure: 110 psi on steer tires, 100 psi on drive tires and 95 psi on trailer tires.
• Crete has a mounted inventory program and actively conducts scrap tire analysis.
Major challenges: Having enough time to evaluate tires between the time they are introduced and when they are withdrawn from the market. Tire inspections are difficult because the equipment isn’t in often enough. Crete lacks the ability to track casings from cradle to grave. They lose a lot of casings in over-the-road repairs so they lose twice – no casing value and loss of failure analysis.
South Shore Carriers; Sandusky, Ohio
Kevin Tomlinson, director of maintenance
• Fleet: 200 power units, 450 trailers, mostly flatdecks. Local/regional carrier with 240-mile average length-of-haul mostly loaded one way, return empty.
• South Shore retreads casings up to 7 years old. Steer tires are retreaded the first time for drive positions; drive tires are retreaded first time for drive position and second time for trailer position.
• The company runs spread-axle flatdecks, which are hard on tires because of the dragging that occurs in turns. That’s what makes retreading difficult.
• Wide-base single tires are retreaded once for drive positions.
• The company runs mostly 11R22.5 dual tires, though it recently purchased some used equipment on low-profile 22.5 tires, so it’s starting to move in that direction. Sixty power units are currently running 455-size wide-base single tires because of weight sensitivity. South Shore runs 100 psi in all tires except wide-base singles, which are 125 psi.
• Currently using automatic tire inflation on 50% of the fleet and installing on all new equipment.
Major challenges: Trying to get drivers to check tire pressure and condition during pre-and post trip inspections and avoid curbing the trailer tires. Exploring ways of lowering tire cost per mile.
Batesville Logistics Inc.; Batesville, Ind.
Randy Obermeyer, terminal manager
• Fleet: 82 tandem tractors, 311 pup trailers, 117 53-foot trailers running low-profile 22.5 low-rolling-resistance dual tires. Very few wide-base singles in fleet. Not weight sensitive.
• Tires are retreaded up to 5 years of age with no more than two repairs (with no shoulder or section repairs) for drives, and casing up to 6 years of age for trailers with a maximum of two shoulder and one section repairs. The fleet runs all tires down to DOT minimum of 4/32 tread depth.
• Inflation pressures are 100 psi in the steer, dolly and trailer positions, 95 psi in the drive tires.
• Currently testing automatic inflation systems on 24 new pup trailers.
Major challenges: Trying to get drivers to participate in tire maintenance, with regular gauged pressure checks and condition reports.
Each of these four fleets has different priorities and strategies for improving tire life and lowering costs. FedEx Ground, for example, is experimenting with tire pressure.
“We have been at 85 psi on all tires for 10 years now,” Ricapito said. “We’re now trying to see if wear improves or worsens at 95 psi. We’re also testing steer tires on our dollies rather than trailer tires.”
At Crete Carriers, the ongoing struggle is early detection of wear and conditions that could cause problems out on the road.
“We try to identify irregular wear before it becomes serious enough to cause permanent damage to a tire and we try to stay on top of inflation pressure so it does not result in an on-road failure,” Altrichter said. “Also, for the past six or seven years we have been trying to make sure we have the right tire at the right wheel position.”
At Batesville, Obermeyer is looking to get the best possible mileage out of his fuel-efficient tires.
“Right now, I’m looking at a few different scenarios such as running only original tires on drives and retreads on the trailers or vice versa,” he said.
“We are also looking at casing value and whether we’re better off retreading or selling off our tires as used.”
Tomlinson has perhaps the largest challenges to overcome, with South Shore’s full load out and empty back scenario. Also, spread-axle trailers just eat tires, he said.
“I wish there was some easy, inexpensive way to dump tire pressure when we’re empty and then re-inflate to adjust for the load,” Tomlinson said. “I’m also trying a new retread that was designed just for spread-axle trailers. It’s working well so far. On the tractors, we’re aggressive with monitoring tread depth and wear. I rotate the tires frequently. If I’m not getting 300,000 miles on a set of drive tires, I’m doing something wrong.”
And finally, two issues that most fleets grapple with regularly, alignment and drivers. None of the four sample fleets do regular alignments on tractors, but they do watch closely for truck-induced premature wear. Each said they will do an alignment when the situation demands. Crete’s Altrichter said his trailers are aligned once a year.
“We tried aligning tractors on an annual or semi-annual basis but found that to be counter-productive,” he said. “We watch for wear issues and then get to the root of the problem. There is a value in aligning the trailers annually.”
“There are two schools of thought on driver involvement,” noted moderator Cohn. “One says get the driver involved as an early warning system. Other fleets say, ‘Forget it, I don’t want my drivers touching anything.’”
If the fleet responses are indicative, most drivers just won’t get involved.
“We do tire training with our drivers annually and our trucks are equipped with calibrated gauges, but it’s still a struggle to get the inspections done,” Obermeyer said. “Drivers are supposed to check their tires as part of the pre- and post-trip inspection with a gauge. You have to stay on top of them. It’s a hard sell.”
Altrichter said his drivers tend to pay more attention to the tractors than the trailers, so the automatic tire inflation system is hooked into the telematics system to notify fleet managers of airing events on trailers.
In South Shore’s case, drivers are expected to check the tires during pre- and post-trip inspections.
“I’m sure that the post-trip inspection never happens, the pre-trip only slightly more often,” Tomlinson said. “ATIS helps a lot on the trailers, but we still need our drivers to keep a close eye on things. When I started in trucking, checking tires was part of the job.