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Commercial Tires

Shrewd Investing

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Most experienced fleet managers and professional tire service providers appreciate the important role tires play in the overall operating cost equation for a trucking business. Much has been written and documented about the benefits of selecting the best tires for specific applications and vehicle configurations and then maintaining those tires to assure long service life.

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What new information then, one might ask, could make a significant impact in controlling tire program costs?

Sometimes it helps to take a fresh approach to a familiar situation, or at least view it from a different perspective. Tires are no exception. It’s not necessarily out-of-the-box thinking we’re talking about here, but looking at the same box from different perspectives.

For instance, consider viewing your customers’ tires like a stock portfolio, and think about ways you could improve their tire investments through smart asset management.

Current conditions make this approach especially attractive. We’re in the middle of an unusually heavy new-truck build period. Most industry analysts attribute this to the new restrictive (and likely expensive) diesel emissions standards scheduled to become effective in the fourth quarter of 2006, which will effectively increase the cost of 2007-model-year (and beyond) tractors.

Recent tabulations show a current 44% increase in Class 8 truck sales levels compared to just one year ago – the highest sales volume since mid-2000. This robust production is expected to hold, through at least mid-2006, provided that modest economic stability and growth continue.

One result of this new equipment influx is that older, less reliable and less efficient vehicles will be idled, traded or sold if their service is not required. Secondly, new tires have been improving in original treadlife and casing durability. Also, the retread industry in general is using improved materials and implementing more stringent processing and quality measures. As a result, tires are lasting longer in both their original tread and retread stages.

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A Tire’s Twilight Years

One inescapable fact, however, is that tires, just like all of us, eventually age. As tires move through their lifecycle, they will be less able to work as hard as they did in their prime.

There are at least three effects that conspire to “age” tires. First, there is fatigue cycling. Each time a tire rotates under load and deflects where its load is transferred to the road, rubber and other structural reinforcements in the tire are deformed and stressed. While tires are designed to endure many of these deflection cycles, each eventually takes a small toll. Excessive deflection due to overloading and/or underinflation accelerates this type of “aging.”

Secondly, time alone tends to age tires, since they are complex chemical composites of different rubber types and reinforcements. A typical over-the-road tire, for example, contains 12 to 14 different rubber compounds and as many as 43 individual component parts. This creates many interfaces that must be bonded together to endure the long-term fatigue cycling noted above. These interfaces can be weakened over time, especially when exposed to fuel, lubricants, road clearing solutions or other harsh chemicals containing solvents.

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In addition, exposure to some naturally occurring environmental elements, such as ozone, will attack the tire’s surface. If tires are not used regularly, such as with parked trailers, this chemical degradation is further accelerated.

Thirdly, torque transfer tends to age tires over time. While this is primarily a factor on drive-axle tires, remember that all of the forces necessary to steer, accelerate and brake the truck are transferred through the tires.

Gold Watch Time

With this in mind, it seems reasonable that truck operators should seriously consider not only which new tires to select, how to maintain them and how to retread them, but also how to retire tires gracefully and cost effectively from the fleet. The objective should be to keep the most productive, least-aged tires in service and use any opportunities – such as selling or trading scheduled vehicles, lowering service-demanding applications and sidelining or storing vehicles – to remove tires nearing the end of their useful service life.

Following are some good guidelines to use when tuning up a tire portfolio:

• Recognize that some drive tires age faster than others. Single-drive axles (vs. tandems) and higher-torque drivetrains tend to be more demanding. A tire that has experienced these conditions may be better suited to free-rolling service in its second or third treadlife.

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• Free-rolling tires (steer and trailer) should be considered prime candidates for drive-tire service on their first retreads. This also presents a good case for purchasing high-quality new tires for free-rolling positions to best ensure casing compatibility for retreading.

• Review shop and yard cleanliness procedures, taking special care to avoid tire contact with fuels, lubricants or other solvents.

• Maintain proper inflation pressures to avoid over deflection, resulting in high heat buildup in service. Inside dual-position tires should be especially targeted.

• All tires should be “exercised” periodically to help resist the harmful effects of ozone and oxidation from exposure to sunlight and normal atmospheric chemicals.

• If casing purchases are required, give preference to casings from known fleets with good tire maintenance practices.

• Establish a hierarchy – or preference listing – of tires to be placed on sale or traded, or develop a list of scrap vehicles that will exit the most aged tires first.

Just like the financial ones, truck tire portfolios should also be managed to retain the highest possible quality investments and exit those of least value. This presents an opportunity for professional tire service providers to counsel and advise customers on alternative options for planning “re-tire-ments.”

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Sales of both new and retreaded tires and a variety of service requirements may well result. It’s also likely that customer perceptions of your tire knowledge and professionalism will be significantly enhanced if you can present new cost-saving suggestions. The resulting dividends may be very worthwhile for your dealership as well as for your customer’s operation – a classic win-win situation!

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