Steer Axle Commercial Truck Tires

Steer Axle Tires

Aggressive preventative maintenance programs are crucial to protecting steer tire investments.

While every single tire position on a commercial tractor/trailer is important, the most watched tires on any rig reside on the steer axle. They are the first to touch the road when a driver pulls out of the yard, but more importantly they are the only tire that will eventually reach every axle positions.

And to do that, a modern steer axle tire has to be tough – inside and out – over hundreds of thousands of road miles. Once original removal miles are reached (and providing the casing is still sound), yesterday’s steer tire becomes today’s retreaded drive axle tire. The process continues as the worn retread evolves into a retreaded trailer axle tire.

Aside from the mechanical process, these two tires also heavily influence driver comfort and confidence, and can improve or drastically diminish driving performance and vehicle handling characteristics. That dynamic differentiates steer axle tires from all other tires on a commercial truck.

For commercial tire dealers, truly becoming your customer’s business partner means fully understanding the characteristics of these tires, what the customer expects and truly needs, what their tire lifecycle expectations are, and how they purchase these tires and required retreads.

“The fleet has to consider everything, with one of the most important aspects they look at being safety,” offers Rick Phillips, senior director of commercial and OTR sales at Yokohama Tire Corp. “If a drive tire or trailer tire fails, you can still control the vehicle. But, if a steer tire fails there could be major problems – especially if it fails at high speed or in a corner.”

Combating Irregular Wear

The steer tire is mounted on a free rolling axle and pivots on an axis to control vehicle direction, unlike all other tire positions. This creates multiple challenges for tire manufacturers, and impact fleets and drivers in adverse ways, notes Phillips. Irregular wear on any medium-truck tire is an absolute killer, and tiremakers and fleets are constantly battling irregular wear at the steer axle position, primarily due to misalignment, axle load, inflation pressure and other related forces.

The last thing a fleet wants is to lose a major tire investment before its entire life can be played out.

Trailer tires see higher levels of lateral abrasion than steer axle tires, and because of that they can more easily mitigate irregular wear, says a representative from Continental Tire the Americas’ commercial product management team. “Even in regional applications, the steer tire will experience less abrasion compared to other positions.”

To battle irregular wear due to improper inflation, dealers need to adopt an aggressive yard check program to regularly check both inflation and treadwear on all tires. And fleets need to insist drivers regularly check inflation pressures while on the road. Strict maintenance schedules and driver participation is important. In certain instances, fleets might turn to tire pressure monitoring systems to check air pressure. Some of these systems can automatically inflate steer axle tires (and drive axle units, as well) to the required pressure.

“The driver receives more feedback from the steer tire than from any other tire on the vehicle,” says Phillips. “A good driver can tell almost immediately if there is an issue with a steer tire.”

Becoming A Fleet Partner

“With steer tires, if they’re out of balance the driver will know before anybody else does,” states Kyle Johnson, chief information officer at Leonard’s Express Inc., a fleet that covers 48 U.S. states, as well as Quebec and Ontario provinces.

For fleets like Leonard’s Ex-press and even smaller fleets and owner-operators, when it comes to purchasing steer axle tires, performance is top of mind. Fleets measure performance in two ways – handling characteristics while driving (ride quality, traction, steering response, etc.), and total lifecycle cost in terms of removal mileage, retreadability and dependability.

“Unlike all the other tire positions, you get one chance with a steer tire. Safety is a huge issue. When I’m purchasing tires, price is usually at the bottom of the list,” relates Johnson, who uses telematics systems to measure Leonard’s Express’ tire performance and how different brands stack up against each other. Johnson expects this system to help him make wiser purchasing decisions.

Bigger transportation companies are investing in this type of technology, but there will always be a place for commercial tire dealers to help fleets and owner-operators make informed, data-driven purchasing decisions.

“Fleets are usually coming to you with a feeling that is either satisfactory or not,” says Continental’s spokesman. “As a dealer, you need to know that position. Your job is to understand that dissatisfaction and provide the proper solution. Not necessarily the solution proposed by the fleet.”

In order to understand the concern or problem, you have to listen. “The key is to learn as much about a customer’s application before you make any recommendations,” adds Continental.

But a fleet’s “gut instinct” must be turned into actionable data before a workable solution can be offered. A “gut response” doesn’t work these days. Continental suggests that commercial tire dealers work closely with suppliers and training sources to craft a solution for the fleet. Sometimes, that means fleet testing tire options. Sometimes it means anticipating needs that the fleet customer has yet to expect.

“For example: Is a fleet unconsciously moving from a regional to a longer distance operation without really recognizing the change? In that case, a fleet may request a new regional steer tire expecting a change in performance, but that would not be the best recommendation.”

By working as a business partner and understanding a fleet or owner-operator’s business, a commercial tire dealer can position itself as a resource and not just a equipment provider.

“The dealer that wins fleet’s business will be the one that looks beyond simple tire requests to the bigger picture always. Provide the best solution, and you will win the business in the long run,” concludes Continental.


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