Flexible Benefit Plan - Tire Review Magazine

Flexible Benefit Plan

The concept of limiting the availability of commercial tire tread designs or model types has always been appealing to most fleets, large and small. However, decades have passed since it has been either practical or economical to apply a single tire type to all wheel positions.

Nearly all fleets specify specialized tread designs for different axle positions. Simplicity – in terms of an axle-specific tire selection for each of the steer, drive and trail axles – minimizes confusion and misapplication, and reduces inventories and tire banks.

It also avoids the inevitable, and often unwanted, amateur and sometimes harmful comparisons of competitive tires by drivers or others not directly involved in the management and maintenance functions of trucking companies.

Today, most medium- and large-size fleets standardize their tires to the extent of having one preferred brand and defined tread type for each axle position, and backup selections when short supply, over-the-road purchases or other extenuating circumstances require them.

Trend to Specialization

Historically, optional or additional tire selections have solved specific operational problems in some specialized highway-use vocational service conditions. For example, deep-tread winter tires with low net-to-gross (open) tread designs have allowed trucks to operate, without chains, on snow-covered roads in northern and mountainous regions.

Seasonal-use tires, such as special winter tread designs, although much less popular than in past years, are still applied in certain northern areas. And, special mixed-service tires allow logging trucks to perform double duty on unpaved terrain as well as on high-speed paved highway runs, without resorting to chains or tire changes.

However, advances in drive train technology and electronics – active traction control and selective differential locking, for instance – have converged on the tire portion of traction requirements for such seemingly diverse service conditions.

Tire dealers and fleet maintenance managers, in some cases, have not adjusted tire selections to the capabilities of these technologies, and may be “over tiring” their vehicles.

Vocational Considerations

Keeping these tire usage patterns in mind, consider another industry trend that has impacted tire selection. Contract or dedicated carrier service represents an increasing important segment of many trucking businesses.

Package delivery service is an extreme example of this trend. These, and similar vocations, are usually highly repeatable, with consistent routings and freight types, and are often regionally based. Many are locally domiciled and organized around pre-determined delivery routes or, at least, have consistent pick-up and drop-off locations.

Specialized equipment configurations can often lower the overall cost of such operations. Different axle or gear ratios and varied engine power settings can now be specified for hilly vs. flat terrain or for low-speed vs. high-speed routes.

Some fast-food delivery fleets have replaced their long wheelbase straight trucks or tandem axle tractor-trailer combinations with single-axle tractors and pup trailers. These have many advantages, including reduced off-tracking (which means reduced tire damage from curbing) and a smaller turning radius for easier operation in restricted space. Single-axle tractors also require less driver maneuverability expertise.

Highly reliable, electronically controlled refrigeration units have made multiple trailer combinations feasible for some routes, where one trailer is dropped once the delivery area is reached, then picked up after the first trailer is unloaded.

It is important for dealers to keep pace with their fleet customers’ equipment changes and recommend the right tire for these applications.

Service Conditions

Tire manufacturers realize that certain geographic regions can significantly affect overall tire wear rates, even if various other service conditions – loads, speeds and topography (level vs. hilly) – are constant.

The primary explanation for this is a difference in the abrasiveness of road-paving aggregate used in the local asphalt and concrete road mixes. Many roads in Florida, where paved surfaces are reinforced with ocean-dredged or quarried shells with sharp, fractured edges, are extreme examples of road mixes that cause fast wear.

In most truck applications, such fast wear overrides any tendency to develop irregular wear. Tires with closed or high net-to-gross tread patterns can usually reduce fleet operating costs.

The bottom line: If you operate a program of inflexible tire brand and model standardization, you may be saddling your customers with added tire costs. Of course, this depends on the specifics of the equipment and service conditions you encounter.

Considering Alternatives

Here are some guidelines that will help determine if you should consider alternative tire applications for specific vehicles in your customers’ operations:

• Are certain vehicles reliably dedicated to service conditions that vary from the fleet norm? Speeds, loads, length of haul and availability for local servicing are primary considerations. For example, service and lube trucks may benefit from being fitted with different tires than those on construction trucks operating on-site or hauling to or from the site.

• With dedicated service vehicles, is there a significant increase in the frequency and/or severity of steer-axle wheel cut compared to the fleet norm? Often, twisting and turning creates extra side scuffing that may make the selection of metro service tires with high tread volume more cost effective. Also, drive tires with open shoulder designs usually last longer and result in reduced turning radii compared to closed-shoulder, fuel-efficient highway drive tires in high frequency and/or severe turning service. This is especially true on tandem drive-axle configurations.

• If your customers operate dedicated service trucks with wide-spread drive- or trailer-axle tandems that must make frequent tight turns, consider trailer axle tires with narrower treads, and possibly with rounded shoulders. Taller tire profiles often outperform low profiles in these conditions.

• Trucks operating primarily on hilly terrain or on highly abrasive road-surface conditions may benefit from special wear-resistant tires that trade a small amount of fuel efficiency for greater returns due to longer treadwear.

• Vehicles with a significant number of start/stop cycles, compared to the fleet norm, may benefit from drive tires (both new and retreads) with different tread patterns than those used for normal highway service. School buses driven in urban areas would be an extreme example.

While tire standardization remains a noble quest for virtually all fleet operations, there are niche applications where tire selection different from your “standard” tire recommendations may offer cost-saving alternatives for customers.

Tire company field engineers are good sources of more detailed information on this subject and should be consulted before committing to any large volume changes or departures from your customers’ baseline programs. This expertise, together with an impressive array of new and updated truck tire types, can provide you with an opportunity to better serve your customers and build long-lasting, trusted relationships.

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