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Commercial Tires

Mighty Mites: Don’t Slack Off When it Comes to Tires for Small Commercial Trucks

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Light duty trucks may well be the ultimate multi-purpose vehicles. Normally defined as trucks with GVW ratings up to 10,000 lbs., this breed of commercial vehicle can include trucks up into Class 3 and 4 offerings.

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Most of these trucks are designed primarily for personal use such as suburban utility, trailer towing and weekend home project carryalls. These vehicles are primarily about appearance, styling and comfort/convenience, all suited to the suburban truck owner.

But some of these trucks are used by commercial fleets in a wide array of service applications that can benefit from the selection of performance enhancing components. Such as tires.

The first two questions to be answered by a tire dealer considering these vehicles should be, “What tasks are these trucks being asked to perform?” and “Where will the trucks reside?” With both questions, special attention should be given to geography, road conditions and driver habits.

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Nearly all Class 1 through 4 trucks are originally equipped with recreational vehicle-type tires derived from passenger car tire roots. Car-like ride comfort, sidewall and tread styling and low initial cost are properties typically emphasized. These OE units generally have polyester fabric sidewall/body plies (vs. steel for heavier duty commercial service) and are not specifically designed for multiple retreading.

They are, in fact, more like larger versions of passenger car type tires than lesser versions of more robust medium truck tires, which emphasize lifecycle cost effectiveness – from original miles through multiple retreadings.

Fortunately, most of the major truck tire manufacturers offer commercial tires in smaller sizes and load ranges to fit the Class 3 and 4 vehicles. These may or may not be available to fleets as OE, depending on the number of units being purchased and the ability to navigate the “special order” system and costs required. Most fleets, though, much prefer more robust tires on these trucks, especially if they are being used for local P&D or fleet support services.

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Matching Rubber

Since many of these trucks are all-wheel drive, matched tires – size, load range and tread type – will be required on all positions. However, two-wheel drive vehicles can benefit from rib-type tread patterns on free rolling wheel positions. Rib-type treads generally afford longer wear, less irregular wear, lower noise and vibration levels, and extended removal mileages.

Note that even if the OE tires are used, simple circumferential rib designs are preferred over the more aggressive all-season RV-type tread designs having segmented shoulders. Traction treads are normally the best choice for drive axle positions, especially if the vehicle is lightly loaded and/or will be used in harsh environments like snow, mud, or on/off road conditions.

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Another traction consideration for these trucks is that relatively narrow treads are preferred for optimum snow traction. You’ll see this on typical pickups used for plowing. The higher unit tread pressure produces more penetration in soft surfaces and, therefore, more forward traction and lateral stability than allowed by the wider tires sometimes fitted to these vehicles.

If commercial service tires are fitted as replacements for the light duty OE tires, care should be taken to assure that the wheel type, size and load/inflation rating are sufficient for the new tires, which sometimes are rated for higher inflation pressures and may require a different rim width.

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Finally, also use a valve assembly rated for the maximum tire pressure shown on the sidewall. Passenger-type rubber snap-in valves should generally not be used for inflations above 40 psi, although special rubber/metal combination valves may be rated higher. Clamp-in all-metal valves are readily available for nearly all wheel types.

Keep in mind, too, that many alloy light truck wheels are cast vs. forged. Forged wheels are preferred for heavier applications because they are generally stronger and more ductile (they will bend to some extent when impacted severely) than cast. But they usually require special O-ring sealing valves.

All of these issues can be addressed with confidence, so long as you have accurate information available. A complete fleet vehicle survey and discussions with the fleet manager will clear up most of the required information. Most tire and wheel manufacturers are also available for consultation. You just need to ask!

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