Which tire is best? Buyers have many price ranges to choose from. Cheaper up front may not be the best value in the long run. Photos: Jim Park

Which tire is best? Buyers have many price ranges to choose from. Cheaper up front may not be the best value in the long run. Photos: Jim Park

Everybody knows tires can eat up a big chunk of a fleet’s operating budget. Keeping costs in line isn’t impossible, but you have to work at it. And there’s one important thing to remember: You can’t simply copy another fleet’s approach in your own operation. There are just too many factors at play to make that work. Ambient temperatures, pavement condition, axle loads, exposure to damage and the skill and diligence (or lack thereof) of the maintenance department will determine how your tires wear and thus, how much they will cost you.

Here are three suggestions that can help you get a handle on tire costs and keep them under control.

Analyze your scrap tires

A good place to begin is where the previous tire left off. If something is robbing your tires of life, you need to find out what’s wrong. Analyzing every tire you take out of service is a bit like doing a post-mortem to determine the cause of death.

Gary Schroeder, director of commercial vehicle and OEM sales for Cooper Tire’s Roadmaster brand, suggests using the ATA Technology & Maintenance Council’s Radial Tire Conditions Analysis Guide as a resource.

“The guide provides photos of tire conditions for steer, drive and trailer tires, which are very helpful if you’re not an experienced scrap tire inspector,” he says. “It also outlines a list of possible causes for the condition, in addition to suggestions for what might need to be done to the vehicle and what to do in operations.”

If those conditions point to a maintenance- or service-related item, the tires will continue to hit the scrap tire pile until the problem is corrected.

Typical maintenance-related causes could be alignment, lack of adequate inflation, improperly matched tires, suspension issues or improper bearing adjustment. Once identified, these can be corrected.

Service-related conditions could include improper repairs, mounting damage with torn beads, and load/inflation issues. The age of the casings and the number of retreads also need to be looked at.

“If you find a condition that can’t be traced to a cause, your tire dealer or tire manufacturer should be brought in for help,” Schroeder says.

Scrap tire analysis also might reveal some recoverable dollars from possible warranty issues. If nothing else, if a host of service issues show up in the examination, you’ll know that your tire program needs rehabilitation. That could be a big money saver, too.

Retreading brings real value to the tire cost equation, provided your maintenance program is up to it.

Retreading brings real value to the tire cost equation, provided your maintenance program is up to it. 

Retread to maximize casing value

Retreading can extend casing life two, three or even four times, significantly lowering the life-cycle cost of the tire. While retread costs vary with the type of tread, the quality of the casing and the contract arrangement you have with the retreader, prices are roughly a third to half that of a new tire.

If you keep an eye on casing value, you’ll know that casings sold seem to fetch a fraction of what they are truly worth. You might get $90 to $125 for a good casing in a tight market, but retreading the casing gives you a “new” tire with a couple of hundred thousand miles of life – often several times. Which is more valuable?

“A casing is a terrible thing to waste, since at least 75% of the cost of a tire is in the casing,” says Ron Elliott, marketing and communications manager, Marangoni Tread North America.

Plus, there’s a significant environmental benefit to retreading. 

“Retreading a truck tire requires significantly less oil and 70% less energy to produce, contains 75% post-consumer material and keeps tires out of landfills,” says Matt Loos, director of truck and bus tire marketing at Bridgestone.

There are three key factors in a successful retreading program:

  • Start with new tires that have a good history of retreadability
  • Protect the value of the casing through good tire management
  • Maximize the casing usage through strategic deployment in less demanding applications.

According to Loos, it’s no coincidence that fleets that use retreaded tires successfully are good at tire management.

“Besides achieving the lowest cost per mile, retreading encourages fleets to better manage their tire assets overall,” he says. “In general, fleets that use retreaded tires often do a better job of protecting and caring for tire casings to ensure they can be retreaded. Greater attention to good tire care practices helps to improve wear-out performance and fuel economy for the fleet, and it can help reduce costly road calls.”

Proper inflation and regular inflation checks will keep all tires in service longer — including retreads. While several tire debris studies have disproven the notion that modern retreads suffer from failing more often than new tires, doubts linger.

“Proper tire pressure is one of the simplest aspects of daily truck upkeep, but it can have major short- and long-term effects on tire life and performance, fuel economy, and maintenance costs,” says Jon Intagliata, product manager of tire pressure monitoring systems at Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems. “Underinflation by 20% results in a 30% reduction in tire life. We see this across the industry. Nearly half of all emergency service road calls are tire related, and underinflation – along with excessive heat, which is an additional consequence of low tire pressure – is responsible for 90% of tire failures.”

You won’t get far with retreads if you buy lower-quality tires in the first place and then neglect them. If retreads get a bum rap, this may be part of the reason.

“Most casings are designed and manufactured to be highly repairable and retreadable to last more than one life,” Elliott says. “A proper tire management program will help ensure the very lowest total running cost.”

Compare tire cost to tire value

Belt design optimizes tread rigidity, which improves contact pressure and wear performance.

Belt design optimizes tread rigidity, which improves contact pressure and wear performance.

You could easily reduce your upfront tire costs by buying cheap tires, but that decision may come back to bite you.

On the other hand, price alone is not always a sure indicator of quality, says Cooper Tire’s Schroeder.

“Tires are far from a commodity item, and tire price points don’t always tell you the ‘life’ you should expect to get from them,” he says. “Just because you pay more for a tire doesn’t mean you will get higher mileage and more retreads.”

Schroeder believes that in order to get the most out of your tires, it is important to find a brand that provides long miles to removal, as well as one that takes into account the casing quality and belt package.

In today’s tire market, fleet managers can be tempted by the lure of low-priced tires over retreading higher quality value tires. According to Patrick Gunn, director of sales and marketing for commercial tires at Giti Tire (USA), “These budget tires are designed for single use, with poor retreadability, resulting in a shortened product lifecycle.”

Gunn suggests fleet managers do a head-to-head comparison of the tires they are considering, focusing on certain characteristics as well as the tire’s construction and the materials used to build the tire:

Footprint and ground contact pressure area: Rectangles are good, ovals bad. The closer to a rectangular shape the contact area is, the more durable the tire. If the contact area resembles an oval shape, the wear life is compromised due to different rolling circumferences across the tread width. A rectangular shaped contact patch has pressure distributed evenly for longer even wear.

Under-tread rubber depth: Seek an under-tread rubber depth that is deeper than most budget or inexpensive tires. Thick under-tread rubber promotes long tire life when the tread is worn out and protects the casing from damage, which enhances retreadability.

Belt layout: Belt design optimizes tread rigidity, which improves contact pressure (makes it more rectangular in shape) and wear performance. Uniform belt layouts provide higher mileage, fuel savings and positive environmental impact.

Bead construction: As a force and contact bearing point, the bead acts as support to pass force from tire to rim. Bead contact area with the rim edge has 10 times the pressure on the interface compared to other parts of the tire.

“Ask tire dealers and manufacturers for specifics on these tire attributes,” Gunn suggests. “Spending some additional time to separate tires with quality materials, construction and design from the inexpensive, lesser quality tires on the market will reduce your overall tire operating costs.”

One final note on lowering tire costs; it can be easy to step over a dollar to pick up a dime. Lloyd Hair, direct of maintenance at heavy-hauler Keen Transport of New Kingstown, Penn., will only run brand new tires on any load over 55 tons. Despite having a very advanced tire program, Hair says tire problems can be mission-crippling when you have to run daylight hours only under permit with those big loads.

“We just can’t afford to stop those trucks,” he says. “To lessen the chance of a problem, we run only new tires on those loads. It’s not that older tires or even retreads aren’t up to it, it’s really just managing risk.”

In such cases, scrimping a little on a tire, or pushing tires a little too far, could have some downstream consequences.

Ignoring tires when trying to save on maintenance almost never ends well, nor does having inexpert people servicing your tires and wheels. Some money-saving strategies are worth exploring, but going cheap almost never works.

About the author
Jim Park

Jim Park

Equipment Editor

A truck driver and owner-operator for 20 years before becoming a trucking journalist, Jim Park maintains his commercial driver’s license and brings a real-world perspective to Test Drives, as well as to features about equipment spec’ing and trends, maintenance and drivers. His On the Spot videos bring a new dimension to his trucking reporting. And he's the primary host of the HDT Talks Trucking videocast/podcast.

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