Truck tires lead multiple lives. They can begin life in a drive or steer position, then slowly work their way backwards on a tractor-trailer after three or even four retreads, until the casing finally wears out.
The trick is managing those lives in a way that allows a fleet to get the most out of its tires in terms of both tread mileage and maximum retread lives. That can be hard to do, given the staffing limitations and technician shortages most fleets deal with today. And that’s not to mention that tires can be difficult to track accurately even under the most favorable circumstances.
But 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, according to Derek Babcock, distribution development, Michelin North America. A well-managed program can save a fleet in many ways, including more profit, with fewer CSA violations, less downtime, and fewer unplanned expenses.
“A total tire management strategy should be part of every fleet’s operation,” Babcock says. “Having a strategy encompassing fleet equipment inventory, tire selection, tracking, preventative maintenance, expected casing life, pressure and tread data, loads carried, miles achieved from tires and retreads, inspection frequency, removal timeline, casing management, scrap tire analysis, end-of-life inspection, data analysis, retread guidelines, inventory of automatic inflation devices, driver training, and budget review should all be part of the overall strategy.”
The benefits fleets gain from a total life cycle tire management plan are significant, adds Brett Wilkie, senior director, fleet services, for Fleet Advantage, a fleet management consulting firm based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He says when it comes to operating heavy-duty trucks, tires are one of the most important yet costly aspects to maintain.
“Tire management strategies such as proper tire utilization and monetarization can save millions to a fleet’s bottom line,” he notes. “More specifically, effective maintenance and repair practices combined with appropriate lifecycle strategies also reduce costs significantly.”
The overall goal of a tire management strategy, according to Wilkie, is determining total cost of ownership for the tires in your fleet. “Tires, tubes, liners and valves make up to 43% of the top maintenance and repair costs to operate a truck,” he says. “But proper utilization of tires can help manage these costs contributing to tire management as an overall strategy for reducing costs.”
And there are more benefits beyond controlling and reducing operating costs. Once you have a solid understanding of your tire TCO, you can make more educated decisions concerning new tire purchases, since you’ll have a solid baseline of operational data in hand to compare performance figures to.
Dedication and compliance
In essence, a good tire life cycle program is an exercise in record-keeping, Babcock explains. Using records systematically can allow fleets to make solid operational, maintenance and purchasing decisions with confidence. “Good record-keeping allows for the true and total cost of the operation to be calculated beyond the initial purchase price of the tires,” Babcock stresses. “Records should be commensurate with the size and complexity of the fleet, not be based on recollection and opinion.”
Some fleets opt to use an established service network, which offers a comprehensive and consistent set of tire management solutions and tools to help fleets improve their tire program operations. This information is available via a single point of internet access for the fleet. The data can be integrated with the fleet’s asset maintenance system for a more efficient and effective total tire management program. And these services can be a boon for fleets already struggling with a shortage of technicians.
If you’d prefer to keep your tire life cost program in-house, Babcock says such programs aren’t hard to implement, but they do require rigorous dedication and compliance from your employees in order to be successful. To begin with, he suggests establishing a tire maintenance policy that stipulates and records the following data points:
- Established pressure data
- Loads carried by vehicles
- Frequency of tire inspections
- Removal timelines for retreads, as well as the number of retreads expected
- Expected life of the tire casing within the fleet
- Inspection of failed or end-of-life tires
A key point, Babcock adds, is to be consistent on data collection at all of your maintenance locations to ensure accurate data – not only in how often it’s done, but also in terms of what information is tracked and how it is entered into the system.
Performance expectations need to be realistic and take into consideration all aspects of the operations, Babcock cautions. If a fleet runs both long-haul and regional applications, for instance, the expectations must be different for each segment of the operation. Fleets with multiple locations in different regions may need to adjust their expectations for differing conditions.
If any aspect of performance is new to the fleet, they should start with any initial data they have, establish a baseline, and then build on the information.
Keep in mind that total tire management as a business strategy is directly tied to the life cycle of the truck, Wilkie adds. He says newer trucks equate to lower overall costs, with fuel-mileage improvements and variable maintenance cost reduction as the hard cost savings. “However,” he notes, “in addition to these cost savings resulting from a shortened lifecycle, there are many additional benefits specific to [maintenance and repair] and tires that can impact a fleet’s operations and bottom line that reap even more savings.”
At its core, a total tire life cycle program is about identifying the best practices at a fleet and determining potential areas of improvement. As your program ramps up and becomes familiar to your technicians, Wilkie suggests taking advantage of other tire management technologies, such as tire pressure monitoring and automatic inflation, to bolster your tire data and subsequent operational tweaks.
One of the biggest advantages to having actionable tire data on hand is reducing the number of breakdowns caused by premature tire failures. “Fleets can leverage data obtained through proper tire failure analysis to minimize the strains of breakdowns and roadside service, which often results in further service to match tread type and size as needed,” he says.
Additionally, recent advances in telematics now allow the integration of ATIS and TPMS technologies into real-time data streams, which alert fleet managers and maintenance departments of potential issues that need to be remedied.
Implementing a management program with an emphasis on the total life of truck tires can seem daunting. But once the program is in place and operating properly, the abundance of data it can provide fleet managers can transform a fleet from the bottom line up.