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What Are Retreaders Doing to Improve Fuel Efficiency?

December 11, 2006
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If trucks are kings of the road, then retreaded tires are their scepters.

The Tire Industry Association estimates that approximately 17.6 million retreaded truck tires were sold in North America in 2005, with total sales exceeding $3 billion. The majority of these were medium truck tires. That’s almost three-fourths of the entire medium/heavy truck tire market.

Just like new replacement or original equipment tires, retreaded tires – and their all-important casings – also need continuous maintenance if the fleet is going to realize improvements in fuel economy.

Consider the following:

• Retreaded truck tires represent an estimated savings of more than $2 billion annually for trucking companies in North America.

• The lowest possible cost per mile is achieved with a good tire management program that includes the use of quality retreads.

• Retreads are environmentally friendly. Tires are basically petrochemical products. According to Bandag, it takes 22 gallons of oil to manufacture one new truck tire. Most of the oil is found in the casing, which is reused in the retreading process. As a result, it takes only seven gallons of oil to produce a retread.

While there are no new retread compounds on the development tables, most companies continue to offer a variety of “fuel-saving” or “energy-saving” products for their customers.

It’s no secret, though, that in the retreading industry, they use the same recommendations to improve fuel efficiency as their new tire-manufacturing counterparts. Consistent with those guidelines is the mantra: “Constantly check inflation pressure!”

Scott Rhodes, director of commercial products for Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. and its Oliver Rubber group, says, “We have some fleet customers that have specific requirements regarding service that must be performed by our Cooper tire dealers and Oliver licensee retreaders. We convey the importance of overall tire maintenance through direct user training seminars and tire survey analysis activities.

“Together, we make sure the fleets pay close attention to the vehicles’ geometry, air pressure, air-pressure gauge replacement procedures, pull-point recommendations and many other maintenance practices that add to the tire and retread life cycle.”

What about retreaded tire maintenance recommendations? “Our recommendations are generally directed toward maximizing tire service life, thereby minimizing tire costs for the fleet,” says Rhodes. “Matching the tread designs to the vehicle applications, maintaining proper air pressure for the speed and loads carried and keeping vehicles aligned are areas that are very important in this regard, whether it’s a new or retreaded tire.

“Incidentally, those practices are also important for fuel economy. Using the wrong tread in a particular type of service, allowing retreads to run without the required amount of air pressure for a specific load or having a vehicle not properly aligned will each cause any tire to wear prematurely.”

And, he reminds, they will put a ding in any fuel savings efforts.

Rhodes offers other specific recommendations to help win the fuel economy war:

“Fleets must recognize that investment in good maintenance pays dividends,” Rhodes says. “We recommend that tire air pressure be checked regularly – weekly, bi-weekly or even monthly – and adjusted to match the loads carried most regularly.

“We also recommend the use of flow-through metal valve caps that allow tire service people to check air pressure without removing the valve cap. These devices protect the valve stem, while still allowing for additional air to be added or removed quite easily.

“Monthly air pressure checks and paying close attention to the vehicles’ geometry are the minimum a fleet should practice. We have seminars on this in which we train end-users and licensees in proper procedures and techniques. Any inflation check period longer than monthly allows for too much potential variance in air pressures.

“Air pressure gauges need also to be checked monthly and be regularly calibrated with a master gauge to maintain accuracy. These gauges do not last forever and need to be replaced periodically.”

Integrated Efforts

Harvey Brodsky, managing director of the Tire Retread Information Bureau (TRIB), offers a similar perspective to some of his members’ recommendations.

“Initial tire construction significantly influences retread tire fuel economy,” Brodsky says. “However, retread processing – such as the amount of original undertread left on the casing before retreading – also has a significant effect on retread tire fuel consumption.”

It’s ironic, but while more tread will generally increase removal mileage, the added rolling resistance hurts fuel economy. The rubber compound used can obviously have an impact on both original and retreaded tires.

Bandag has been in the retreading business for more than 45 years and distributes its products through Bandag Alliance, its integrated dealer network that includes more than 1,600 sales and service locations in North America.

Bandag’s Don Schauer says that his company offers specific, on-request training to its network, but, in general, follows the industry guidelines – with inflation topping the checklist.

While a fleet must weigh the product for the application, in general, using a ribbed tread design will provide better fuel savings than a traction design, he says.

But, to punctuate the importance of proper tire maintenance, Schauer cites as an example the Northeast Region Fleet of Allied Waste that covers an eight-state area in the New England area.

Using a focused tire maintenance plan with the cooperation of Allied corporate, Allied maintenance personnel, drivers, a large number of different Bandag dealers and Bandag corporate representatives, the groups developed “best practices standards” that are shared throughout their network.

These best practices include specifications for tire rotation, pull points and matching of tires running in dual configurations.

Schauer said that all Allied drivers have been presented with air gauges and are required to complete a daily vehicle condition report, including air pressure checks on all tires. He adds that “all of the drivers’ air pressure gauges are regularly calibrated to a master gauge at each location.”

As a follow up, Bandag field representatives provide drivers with training in such areas as air pressure checks and understanding the difference between checking air pressure when tires are hot in contrast to cold pressure checks.

Allied’s Northeast Regional Maintenance Manager Larry Allen agrees with Bandag’s approach.

“Those Best Practices Tire Standards are a comprehensive approach to addressing one of the larger items in any fleet’s operational budget,” Allen says. Something as simple as proper air pressure maintenance can yield you the largest returns.”

Inflation Alternatives

Lest anyone think that retreaders aren’t thinking about fuel-savings alternatives, all they have to do is look at a company like Fargo, N.D.-based Branick Industries Inc. Although not in the retreading business per se, Branick manufactures nitrogen generators.

At a cost of between $8 and $20 per truck tire, Branick says it can conservatively double a typical casing’s life of two to three retreadings by filling it with nitrogen instead of air.

“We have a customer in South Africa, Aberdare Cables, that has been recapping tires five or six times by using nitrogen inflation, where previously it was only getting three recaps per casing,” says Branick President Brian Brasch.

“We are trying to be conservative for the marketplace, so we are only quoting that (with nitrogen) you can maintain proper tire inflation three to four times longer.”

Even giant Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire (BFNAT) discusses the benefits of nitrogen. In a recent issue of its Real Answers magazine (trucktires.com), it writes: “While both nitrogen and oxygen can permeate rubber, nitrogen does it much more slowly. It might take six months to lose 2 psi with nitrogen, compared to just a month with air, even when valves and beads seal properly and there are no punctures. And, nitrogen is far less reactive. It doesn’t cause rust and corrosion on steel or aluminum, and it doesn’t degrade rubber.”

Branick adds that using nitrogen would help in the battle with maintaining correct inflation in tires – new or retreaded. “Inflation is the topic on everyone’s mind – especially with the rising cost of fuel,” he says. “If you spend less time in maintenance, that increases the time spent hauling goods – and making more money.”

Michelin is neutral on the subject of using nitrogen in retreaded tires. “We have not been able to validate claims of nitrogen begin as effective as clean, dry air,” said Doug Jones, customer engineering support manager for Michelin North America. “We believe, however, that it’s very important to have moisture traps in the equipment that is used to fill up tires.”

Easy Steps to Take

TRIB’s Brodsky summarizes the retreading industry’s challenges: “Truckers who get in the habit of checking their tires on a regular schedule will experience far fewer tire failures and, as an added benefit, will find that their tires last longer and their fuel costs will decline.”

Fleets looking to deflate fuel costs can follow seven easy steps, says Brodsky:

1) Use tire air equalizers to spot underinflation more easily.

2) Maintain proper inflation; heat is a tire’s worst enemy.

3) For better retreadability, pull tires by 6/32nds.

4) Duals must be matched in size! (Refer to your tire manufacturer’s truck tire service data.)

5) Align axles when mounting tires.

6) Use premium radials on spread axles.

7) Match your retreads to your new tires. If a new tire tread pattern delivers fuel savings, a similar retread pattern will likely do the same.

Five Things Drivers Can Do to Improve Tire Life

1) Maintain proper tire inflation pressure. This is the number-one maintenance issue facing fleets today, regardless of the season. Underinflation leads to increased tire deflection, which leads to increased heat. Heat is a tire’s worst enemy. Low inflation leads to reduced tire miles, reduced retreadability, poor fuel economy and even an increase in the number of punctures. Check your tires at least weekly with a calibrated air pressure gauge.

2) Fingertip diagnostics. Running your hand across the tread surface can identify alignment-related wear conditions. For example, if you run your hand across the tread surface, and you feel a ‘stepped’ wear pattern (i.e., not smooth), you probably have a vehicle toe-in or toe-out condition. Catching alignment wear conditions early will allow the truck to be corrected so the tire can still achieve high removal miles.

3) Visual tire inspection. Look for signs of sidewall damage and tread-area punctures.

4) Train drivers and mechanics in Tires 101 maintenance basics. Work with your tire professional, who can conduct seminars on basic tire maintenance. Once drivers understand that tires are the highest fleet cost next to fuel, tires become a lot more important. Anything you can do to protect that investment is critical.

5) Don’t exceed tread depth standards. Depending on your specific service vocation, make sure your fleet does not exceed removal tread depth standards. If your trucks are used for off-road service highway, you may be best served to make sure you have enough remaining rubber before retreading to ‘insulate’ the casing against stone damage and drilling.

Source: Goodyear Commercial Tire Systems

Goals Are Great, But Savings Come With a Tangible Plan

Tires – a fleet’s second-highest operating cost – play an important role in fuel efficiency. The problem is that no fleet will manage its tire assets purely on the basis of fuel efficiency, and nor should it.

Still, there are many tire-related things fleets can do to have a positive bottom-line impact on fuel costs. All it takes is a plan and firm execution. Without a written policy and established goals, a fleet has nothing realistic to measure and manage against.

Typically, fleets institute tire programs to meet one of four goals: minimize lifecycle costs (measured as cost per mile over a tire’s complete life), minimize tire-related downtime, maximize durability under specific service conditions or maximize fuel efficiency. Fleets can logically tackle multiple goals, like improving lifecycle costs and minimizing downtime. Based on the type of operation, though, some fleets can only focus on one specific tire goal.

The key, say experts, is to have a program that meets specific needs. For instance, a liquid bulk hauler with ever-changing irregular loads shouldn’t focus on improving fuel efficiency over tire durability or minimizing downtime. A long-haul fleet, though, can make fuel efficiency a priority, along with the others.

Goal in place, the next step is to create a specific, written tire policy that will guide every aspect of specifying, purchasing and, most importantly, maintaining a fleet’s tires. Detail what tires – by brand, tread design, etc. – will be purchased for each axle position, as well as the purchasing process. That’s the easy part.

With regard to the maintenance aspect, the policy should be rather expansive and should include, say experts, established air pressures by axle and vehicle application, loads carried by vehicles, frequency of and methods of tire inspections, pull points for new and retreaded tires, guidelines for the number of retreads expected for tires, detailed tire recordkeeping and data management, age specifications, repair policies and procedures, out-of-service criteria, etc.

The policy should be as comprehensive as possible but remain flexible so that in-line changes can be made easily to improve processes or enhance tire life.

The next aspect is training. Your fleet’s goals and tire policies must be understood by everyone involved – from the purchasing manager to the servicing tire dealer. And, don’t forget the people who have the most direct influence on fuel efficiency and tire costs – drivers.

Submit a Comment   Legacy Comments
avatar   Efried   star   2/8/2010   2:23 PM

great tips- certification helps to get quality high in environmental fleet management.

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