Basics of Fleet Tire Maintenance Will Keep Customers Truckin’
Even in these booming economic times, when the trucking industry appears to be spending more money on new equipment and tires, truck fleets are still looking to squeeze every penny out of their tire investments.
A good truck fleet will buy the best tires they can afford, and look to retread the resulting casings at least two times, according to the experts.
As is often the case, however, fleets themselves are their own worse enemy. When it comes to even the most basic tire maintenance the best way to preserve the total lifecycle of a truck tire ®” many fleets fall flat.
Getting commercial fleets to agree on the best ways to save money and get the most value out of their tires can be difficult, to say the least. Each fleet has a different opinion and idea on what they need to do. Some of these are short term operating decisions that directly or indirectly impact the tires, potentially costing them in the long run.
Starting to Pay Attention
But lately, there has been a trend toward a more tire-friendly style of maintenance. After decades of hearing the same refrain from tire manufacturers, dealers and retreaders, fleets are starting to recognize that there are established, proven and often simple ®” ways to provide maximum tire life and value.
"Do the preventive maintenance. Don’t wait till the tire goes down and it turns into a $500 call. Take the nail out and fix the problem," said Pete Gerry, owner of Orange, Mass.-based Pete’s Tire Barns. "Fleets are starting to understand that you need to do preventive maintenance on the front end. They need to pull the hardware and check the air pressure. We’re getting more fleets that are saying they can’t afford the downtime."
Fleets are finally realizing that they can spend a little now or a lot later. And dealers can become active partners in developing tire maintenance programs for their fleet customers.
"The biggest thing that we see done right or wrong is an air pressure program. Or lack thereof," said Louis Cheek, the north Georgia marketing manager of Snyder Tire. "There are a lot of companies that don’t check air pressure enough.
"The trick is keeping the air up. You’re going to run over nails and bolts. That is going to happen. But any tire is going to leak air anyway," he added. And it’s especially vital to keep air pressure matched within five pounds on drive and trailer axle duals to avoid placing too much strain on one tire.
The air pressure in the tire is just as critical as the fuel that’s in the tractor. If air pressure gets overlooked, then a fleet is just overlooking extra dollars that can be saved.
"Whether you run on retreads or new tires, if you don’t keep air pressure up you’re wasting money because that’s where roll-time costs come into play," said Cheek.
"We have a customer right now that is installing air lines at their fuel island. They never cared about air pressure until they realized the cost involved. They’ve already cut their road costs down quite a bit."
Limiting Irregular Wear
Another excellent practice for a fleet is to make sure the tires are properly balanced. While it sounds like something that would automatically be done, proper tire balancing doesn’t always happen.
"How come, if we buy a $50 replacement tire for a $10,000 car, we make sure to balance it?" asked Gerry. "But when a fleet buys a $300 truck tire for $100,000 trucks and doesn’t balance them, they wonder why they end up uneven wear?
"In this age of spin balancers, why are we continuing to shake the truck apart and get uneven wear? Why isn’t it general practice to balance the tire? The OEMs balance the tire at the factory, but the replacement market doesn’t always balance."
Gerry also strongly recommends actively monitoring the age and condition of the tires and casings. Just because the casing holds air doesn’t mean it’s still serviceable and able to provide a long-lasting retread.
"Fleets used to tell us to retread a tire because they had run it before and it was still holding air," Gerry said. "Now they’re telling us that if the tire isn’t going to run out, don’t retread it and they’ll get a new one. They don’t want a tire that will fail.
"If there is any chance that a retread tire will fail, the fleets don’t want it. They want the retread failure rate to be no different than that of a new tire."
Part of the problem in making sure a fleet’s tires are well maintained is the downtime involved. For most, preventative maintenance downtime is a double-edged sword. Fleets don’t want any downtime because they don’t make any money standing still. But if the equipment isn’t taken care of, downtime is bound to occur.
Dealers can help lessen downtime by working with their fleet customers to make sure problems can be identified and fixed quickly. And if all that can be done right in the yard, all the better.
"Our salesmen use fleet survey kit," said Cheek. "We can go through a yard quickly, type in all the information about the trucks and then print report showing a summary of the fleet.
"It’s a sound way to get the exact condition of a fleet. Things like air pressure, tread depth, tire condition and casing type can all be monitored. And, you’ll get an immediate report so you can get the work done right away."
Many tire manufacturers and retreading system suppliers offer fleet maintenance record keeping software programs, which can provide highly detailed tracking reports on tire condition, expected tire life, new and retreaded tire inventory, and total tire cost/value.
Get Good Gauges
When doing preventive maintenance on tires, be sure that your monitoring equipment pressure gauges, tread depth gauges and so forth ®” is functioning properly. Many times a faulty gauge can lead to tire failure on the road.
And though they are archaic, many small fleets and owner operators still use the good old "tire thumper" to check air pressure. These mini-baseball bats are still sold in many truckstops, and many drivers still swear by them. But dealers need to do all they can to steer their fleets away from this highly inaccurate method of testing air pressure.
Buying and maintaining quality pressure gauges is also a big issue with Gerry. "With a bad gauge, the service man will sometimes keep adding air. He’ll put 150 pounds into the tire when it only needs 100. Sometimes the fleet guys are letting air out and then we come along and put air back it."
Establish Workable Goals
Just how extensive a truck tire maintenance program each fleet needs is something that only the fleets can decide for themselves. They’re the ones that suffer from any downtime. But it’s up to their servicing tire dealer to help them eliminate any margin for error.
"Our goal is to take our customers out of the tire business," said Cheek. "We want them to worry about transporting products. But they have to do their part to cut down the road failure.
"Fleets don’t want to check air pressure. They don’t want to take time to set up a maintenance program. A lot of good fleet maintenance is based in education. A good product is one thing, but if the fleet doesn’t take care of the assets, it won’t matter," he said.