If your BlackBerry or iPhone suddenly quit working, would you just chuck it and buy another one without first figuring out what killed it? Then why do the same with your tires?
Every day, thousands of tires come off trucks and are heaped into scrap piles without careful analysis. Fleets can reduce tire costs and improve miles-to-removal if they know why tires are coming off early — and tires do tell tales of what killed them.
For example, a tire with serious feather wear, often attributed to poor alignment, may be telling you that you have a chassis or steering system alignment problem. Simply removing the tire without identifying the truck and the wheel position it came from almost guarantees that the next tire installed there will experience the same problem.
In a less obvious example, a tire with serious flat-spotting, usually indicative of a prolonged skid, may be a warning that the anti-lock braking system on the truck it came from is not working. It could also mean that the driver may have pulled away with a frozen or seized brake. In either case, not checking to see where the tire came from and why the condition arose is a costly mistake.
“Tires talk to you,” says Darry Stuart, president of DWS Fleet Management Service. “They just happen to do it in sign language. If you can look at every tire that comes off a truck on a daily basis, you’ll start to see what’s hurting the tires, and you can then take steps to correct the problem and improve your return on investment.”
According to Paul Crehan, director of product marketing for Michelin Americas Truck Tires, all tires coming out of service should be evaluated for damage and tracked. He says the out-of-service evaluation serves two functions: It can help with future tire selection questions relative to position, application and service life, and it can identify underlying problems with the current tire selection or perhaps the truck itself.
“This analysis could point to application, pressure, vehicle alignment as well as many other issues that might be shortening tire life,” he says.
“Irregular wear, flat spotting, bead damage, sidewall damage, improper mounting, improper pressure, numerous nail punctures and tire life can all tell a specific story in scrap analysis, which in turn can tell the fleet manager a lot of things,” he explains. “Perhaps the techs aren’t taking the time to ensure the tires are mounted properly, or drivers aren’t doing thorough inspections. Or maybe tire selection may not be suitable for the conditions in which it’s operating.”
Some tires will naturally come out of service due to age and natural causes. But a disproportionate number of tires coming out of service for similar reasons tell a story. Therefore, written records are an essential part of the process to capture the data.
Norberto Flores, marketing manager, Goodyear Commercial Tire Systems, recommends creating a spreadsheet to keep the tire data in one place and for easy comparison. The spreadsheet can be as elaborate or simple as necessary. Identifying the wheel position as well as the unit number and its application will provide a better picture of the service the tire saw.
The final entry for each tire on the spreadsheet should be details about its condition at removal time, such as the reason for removal.
The telltale signs
Fleets without a resident tire expert should seek help from their tire supplier. Expert insight in analyzing scrap tires can be very useful. Flores suggests a couple of people tackle the job.
“It’s much more efficient to have at least one person move the tires around and another to write down data,” he says. “Make sure everyone involved wears appropriate clothes and leather gloves to protect their hands against cuts and scrapes.”
Flores recommends having at least one large awl available for digging into cuts, nail holes and loose belts. Other useful tools include long-nose pliers, flashlights, tire crayons and tread depth gauges.
Be on the lookout for unusual tread wear patterns and for tires suffering damage that is obviously not related to a puncture or an impact.
“Issues like irregular wear can offer glimpses into a fleet’s tire maintenance practices,” Crehan says. “For example, too many tires with big differences between the wear on one side of the tread compared to the other could indicate that alignment issues are not being addressed, or tire inflation check practices are not what they should be.”
Were you to notice, for example, an excessive number of RRO trailer tires with sidewall damage, it might be time for a talk with the drivers. Some RRO damage is inevitable, but willful neglect should not be tolerated.
“If there is a lot of damage, it is crucial to determine the source of the damage,” Crehan says.
Key to the evaluation are tire manufacturer, tire design, tire size, ply rating, age, number of retreads, casing condition, tread depth, load distribution and alignment. If the problem is accurately diagnosed, changes and new practices can be implemented to correct the issue.
The most common scrap tire conditions include run flat, air infiltration, pinch shock, impact damage and fatigue related damage.
The American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council’s Radial Tire Conditions Analysis Guide can be a huge help when trying to determine why tires fail. Not only does it have tons of useful photos for comparison, it also includes probable causes for the conditions shown. It’s available for purchase on the TMC website.
“A scrap tire analysis should be able to help tell a fleet what is working and what isn’t,” says Flores. “Scrap tire analysis can also help fleets choose tires with the right tread designs for their applications. In the transportation business, knowledge is power, and there is a tremendous amount of knowledge sitting in a scrap tire pile.”