Interact, Review, Improve - Tire Review Magazine

Interact, Review, Improve

It's the best time to look back, review tire performance, and make recommendations for 2014.

November and December is the best time for commercial tire dealers to interact with trucking fleets to review what work­ed over the last year and what needs improvement in their tire programs going forward.
Tires continue to be a huge budget item and play a significant role in the success or failure of every trucking fleet.

Attending the recent annual SAE Commercial Vehicle Conference in Chicago, a speaker from one of the larger trucking fleets spoke about his fleet’s expenses. Drivers accounted for 38% of the budget followed by fuel at 32%. Tires were included as part of their equipment and maintenance expenditures, which was 26% of the total budget.

Next to fuel, tires are typically the highest maintenance cost for just about every fleet. When you see that almost a third of a fleet’s budget is tied into fuel, it is obvious why improving tire fuel economy is so critical and on top of their list when trying to reduce overall costs.

Sure fleets want to improve tire removal miles and maximize the number of retreads per casing, but improving vehicle fuel economy has the largest financial impact. Even a conservative 2% improvement in fuel economy can save millions of dollars for many large fleets. When reviewing the fleet’s tire program, tires and fuel economy should be at the top of your list if you want to get the full attention of the fleet manager.

Reviewing a fleet’s tire program begins with a serious tire survey. The survey is a lot more involved that taking a few tire pressure checks.

Here is what should be included in a comprehensive survey:
• Vehicle identification number
• Truck/trailer make/model and year
• Specific service vocation (linehaul, P&D, regional, on-/off-road)
• Tire make/model including retread
• Tire size and DOT number
• Cold tire air pressure
• Tire wear condition (default is even wear)
• Tread depth
• Any driver comments about handling, traction or specific tire issues
• Vehicle miles/gallon
• Scrap tire analysis

Of course it is not possible to survey every vehicle in the fleet, but this is where estimated statistics come into play.

According to the TMC, the Technology Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations, the magic number is 30. That’s the minimum sample size when it comes to surveys in order to make meaningful, statistically valid conclusions after you complete the survey analysis. So, you want to choose a large enough sample size of all the various combinations of vehicles, tires and service vocations.

Which Works Best
Let’s take a look into what we can learn by doing a comprehensive fleet survey. Steer Tire A may get great mileage with nice smooth, even wear on a 2012 model short wheel base vehicle running in regional service. That same Tire A mounted on a long wheel base 2011 model doing coast-to-coast runs may not be the best tire for the job. Steer Tire B may be the better overall choice in that scenario.

The results of your survey will clearly identify which tire performs the best – at meeting fleet criteria – when it comes to treadwear and wear conditions. This is very important data that the fleet will want to review.

Since vehicle fuel economy is so critical to a fleet’s bottom line, the fuel economy data is important to correlate to the tire make/model. With today’s telematics and information systems available to fleets, you will be surprised how easily a fleet can tell you what is the vehicle miles/gallon is when a tractor is hooked to a trailer and is making a run from New York to California.

New vs.Retread
Comparing new tire performance to retreads is also an important result of such a survey. In many cases, especially in the drive position, the retread will have less initial tread depth. It is best not to analyze the data by final removal miles, but treadwear measured in miles per 32-inch. That is the common denominator, and the results for retreads should be comparable to those of new tires.

Another major analysis from the survey is the type of wear pattern evident on the tread. The goal is always to have even wear, which will also aid in the fuel economy picture. A tire that has developed cupping, shoulder wear and alternate lug wear will certainly deliver poorer fuel economy compared to a tire with even wear – and potentially damage the retreadability of that tire.

When it comes to irregular and uneven wear, it is important to identify and correct the exact cause of those conditions.

Uneven wear will also lead to early tire removal miles. Many times you can correlate the irregular wear to alignment conditions such as toe, camber and thrust angle. Other times the tire wear can be attributed to underinflation, especially on those trailer tires that do not get the scrutiny that the steers and drives normally see.

Interviewing drivers about how the vehicle is performing under dry and wet conditions and loaded versus unloaded scenarios will also enhance your tire survey. This is especially useful for fleets that are running both standard dual tires and the ever increasingly popular super wides.

If the drivers’ overwhelming consensus is that super wide tire give a smoother feel and are delivering better vehicle fuel economy in the process, that is great information for the fleet to know. It is also possible that you may learn that Tire A is better or poorer than Tire B on wet roads with empty trailers. This is the type of data that can be generated with your survey results.

Utilizing the tire air pressure data may indicate a trend based on axle and wheel position. If outside dual tires have a higher average pressure than inside duals, this tells the fleets that the drivers and/or mechanics need to make the extra effort to start checking tire pressures on those inside tires – even if it means a little extra bending and extending the arms through the wheel hand holes.

The same goes for the tractor tire pressures versus the trailers. Many surveys indicate that the trailer tire pressures are clearly neglected which leads to early tire removals and reduced fuel economy.

Scrap Analysis

The last piece of the survey should include is scrap tire analysis. Every fleet maintains a pile of tires that have come out of service. The fleet with the best tire program will have a scrap pile of tires that have simply worn out below the legal tread depth limit of 4/32-inch for steers and 2/32-inch for all the other wheel positions. That’s the perfect scenario, but that almost never happens.

If the fleet is also running retreads, then you should not find many virgin casings in the pile. If there is significant tread remaining and the tire in the scrap tire pile, then a further analysis is required to determine why that tire was put out of service.

It is a common occurrence to find tire damage such as shoulder and sidewall impact breaks. This is usually preventable and the solution is for additional driver training and accountability.

If the goal of the fleet if to average 1.5 retreads per casing and the survey results show only 1.1 retreads per casing, then this is another opportunity for your dealership to work with the fleet to come up with a plan to improve their tire retreadability.

The bottom line is that every commercial dealer should be implementing annual fleet tire surveys with their customers to continue improving their business relationship through value-added services. The type of data generated and then analyzed can save the fleet significant dollars and make your dealership even more valuable.

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