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What Today's Trucking Fleets Require from Tire Suppliers

January 16, 2012
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Trucking companies are in the business of hauling freight from point A to point B. They have a schedule to meet and they certainly don't want to miss their deadlines be­cause of tire-related vehicle downtime.
Fleets are educated end users and want to see real data generated by their own fleet before they make any serious changes to their tire programs. Tire dealers who can provide this information are more likely to earn the business.

Just-in-time delivery schedules make it critical that fleets have a first-class tire program. Fleets are not experts in tires. They want to work with their tire professionals, people who can help design and develop the optimum tire program when it comes to maximizing tire mileages, improving vehicle fuel economy, maximizing retreads and maintaining their tires.

Tire prices rose anywhere between 20% and 35% in 2011, depending on each specific tire make and model. Al­ready in 2012, there has been an announcement of a couple of large price increases for truck tires and retreads. Fleets’ vehicle maintenance departments understand how important their tire programs are to the overall success of their companies.

The first order of business is working with fleets to ensure that they are spec’ing the best tires for applications and specific axles: steer, drive, trailer. There is a wide range of options when choosing the proper tire design. Some fleets would prefer the deeper initial tread designs to maximize removal mileage, but the penalty is usually a drop in fuel economy. Other fleets try to make a balance between the initial tread depth and fuel economy.

Every tire manufacturer offers a line of “fuel-efficient” tires. With the average diesel price of $4 per gallon, even a 2% improvement in fuel efficiency can lead to a big number. A Class 8 vehicle in a line-haul operation averages about 6 miles/gallon. If fuel-efficient tires are specified with a 2% fuel improvement, the miles/gallon would increase to 6.12.

This does not sound like very much, until you calculate the number of gallons of fuel used in one year (assuming 100,000 miles). At 6.12 miles/gallon, the vehicle uses 16,340 gallons of diesel. At 6 miles/gallon, that same vehicle requires 16,667 gallons of diesel. The 2% fuel savings by spec’ing the fuel-efficient tires saves 327 gallons of fuel per year, and with $4/gallon for diesel fuel, that equates to $1,308 in annual fuel savings. A fleet with 100 trucks would save more than $130,000 per year in fuel. The fleet payback for the higher price associated with fuel-efficient tires would be very fast.

Fleets must understand they need a tire program that protects the tire casing so they can maximize the number of retreads. Many fleets are under the impression that to maximize removal mileage, you simply need to remove the steer tires at 4/32-inch remaining tread depth and the drive and trailer tires at 2/32-inch.

That is the absolute legal limit, but removing tires at those pull points will typically cause casing issues down the road. When tires are worn down, the casing becomes more prone to punctures, cuts, stones and stone-holding, which can lead to damaged casings. If the casing be­comes damaged, chances of a successful retread – and longer lifecycle – are greatly diminished.

An optimized tire program will have target tread depth pull points for the various tire wheel positions. Steer tires should be removed in the 6/32- to 8/32-inch range and then retreaded as a drive design. A steer tire in line-haul operation should be able to get in the 150,000- to 200,000-mile range, depending on application and vehicle configuration. The drive retread may get an additional 175,000-250,000 miles and should be removed in the 4/32- to 6/32-inch range. 

If the casing is in good condition and the tire was well-maintained, retreading a second time is a very good possibility, but as a trailer design. Now the tire can run out its life down to the legal limit of 2/32-inch.

Education is Key
Tire dealers also need to be working closely with fleets to train the mechanics and drivers on how to inspect tires during the morning vehicle walk-around. This process should include checking tire air pressures using a calibrated air pressure gauge, not a billy club. Looking at the tires for any signs of punctures in the tread area and/or sidewall damage should be standard operating procedure. Running your hand across the tread surface is a good opportunity to identify irregular wear.

The American Trucking Asso­ciations’ Tech­nology & Main­tenance Council publishes the bible when it comes to identifying tire wear conditions. This is an industry publication to which most tire companies have contributed. This book will aid in identifying the causes of specific tire irregular wear conditions and ways to rectify the problem. Is it alignment related? Is the problem due to running a tire with little or no air? Maybe the worn suspension components contributed to the condition.

You can order the Radial Tire Wear Conditions & Analysis Guide online at the ATA website – atabusinesssolutions.com. This book is a tool that can be used as a class in Truck Tires 101.

Putting on a tire class for a fleet’s drivers and mechanics is not a one-time opportunity for a tire dealership. This should be done on a regular basis because of the typically large turnover of drivers. The more these folks understand tires, the more it will help the fleet’s bottom line.

Making Changes
Fleets are very educated end users and want to see real data generated by their own fleet before they make any serious changes to their tire programs. Choosing a new tire make/model can have a major impact on a fleet. Work-ing with a fleet to design a good tire test is not easy and takes considerable time and effort. There is nothing worse than running a tire evaluation for two years and then discovering you can’t make a recommendation because half of the tires are lost, data was not recorded or tires were damaged – the list can go on and on.

Sample size is very important when running a test to determine if Tire A or Tire B is best for the fleet. The more uncontrollable fleet variables, the larger the sample size that is required.

In most fleets, there are many different vehicle specifications. The tractor is not typically married to the trailer, or the tires are removed from service and sent to the retreader. All of these issues need to be fully understood before simply putting Tire A on 25 vehicles and Tire B on 25 vehicles and hoping you will learn something from the evaluation.

Fleets need to understand the test process and have complete buy-in with their mechanics and drivers. The data required to generate a final conclusion must be well thought through.

Tire dealers who work closely on a day-to-day basis with their fleet customers hold the real keys to successful long-term business relationships.