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Commercial Tires

Trailer Axle Tires

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trailertiresVital to any fleet’s tire portfolio are trailer axle tires, the workhorses that carry the weight of a tractor-trailer’s cargo.

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Recommending the right tire for the application and being the go-to resource for fleets when it comes to questions of retreading, maintenance and market trends will put tire dealers a step ahead in the eyes of their fleet customers.

Here’s an update on all things trailer tires to get your shop up to speed in this segment.

Aside from carrying the trailer’s load and maintaining stability, trailer axle tires also provide traction and stopping ability.

Typically constructed, the tires often feature the same casing as their steer or drive counterparts, but with different tread elements, according to Rick Phillips, vice president of sales for Yokohama Tire Corp. Trailer tires typically have shallower treads, with newer designs centered around fuel efficiency, he notes, adding that tiremakers must engineer products that “combine a shallow, fuel-efficient tread and provide reasonable traction and resist irregular wear as much as possible.”

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“Trailer tires play an important role in fuel efficiency by contributing about 40% of the tires’ contribution to a truck’s overall miles-per-gallon,” says Brian Buckham, general manager of product marketing for Goodyear’s commercial tire division.

He adds that when designing truck tires, regardless of wheel position, it’s important for the casing to be retreadable and to find the ideal balance between low rolling resistance, traction and tread wear – referred to as “the performance triangle.”

“In the past, when one benefit – such as low rolling resistance – was optimized, the remaining benefits of the performance triangle were reduced,” Buckham explains. “This dynamic is less prevalent these days. We are constantly developing technologies and designs to minimize performance trade-offs in our trailer, steer and drive tires, so fleets can enjoy optimal all-around performance.”

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Prosser Carnegie, head of brand management for Continental Tire the Americas’ commercial tire division, notes that in general, trailer tires still employ four-belt construction in order to maintain casing durability and resist stone penetration.

“There are several different trailer configurations that require different types of tires to ensure adequate performance,” he explains. “Traditional trailer configurations utilize tires that are designed to optimize rolling resistance and mileage as these are the two main performances that drive this axle position.

“When looking at spread axle trailers – three-axle trailers and the like – we have a trailer position that undergoes significantly more lateral force that can produce high amounts of abrasion on the shoulder. So, trailer tires for this application need to be engineered to have a high resistance to this type of wear, while still delivering high fuel efficiency and mileage.”

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Fleets and Maintenance

Tire dealers who stress the importance of trailer tire maintenance – and offer concrete solutions – will impress fleets.

“The trailer tire is the last tire on the vehicle and is farthest away from the driver, so it generally gets the least attention,” says Yokohama’s Phillips. “Because they are typically the most neglected on the vehicle in terms of maintenance, trailer tires account for the majority of tire failures on the road.”

In addition, most trailers are not permanently matched with specific tractors, according to Goodyear’s Buckham. Trailers often are dropped at warehouses to wait for unloading and re-loading, while tractors pick up other loaded trailers that are ready to go – creating an atmosphere in which drivers don’t pay enough attention to trailer tires.

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“Driver perception plays a role, too,” he adds. “Steer and drive axle tires are generally more expensive than trailer tires, and in some people’s eyes are a ‘more important’ investment and worthy of more attention. But trailer tires are every bit as important as their steer and drive axle counterparts. Without them, long-haul cargo cannot be hauled.”

“Also making maintenance challenging is the fact that many applications have trailers that experience diminishing loads during use – meaning the trailer can begin the day with a fully loaded trailer and come back empty,” adds Conti’s Carnegie.

In terms of recommendations and solutions, Phillips says 90% of trailer tire maintenance is investing the time to ensure inflation pressures and tractor/trailer alignment are correct.

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Maintenance programs always should involve checking the condition of trailer tires before leaving the yard, according to Carnegie, who adds that tracking the tires and recording the data is key to having a running history.

Looking Ahead

Truck tire technology for all positions, including trailer tires, will continue to follow the path of fuel efficiency. Dealers who stay up to speed on the latest offerings with low rolling resistance will be able to provide valuable information to their fleet customers.

“Fuel prices have fluctuated over the last 10 years, but we are at a stage where fuel will always be the main expense for fleets,” Carnegie says. “This drives the industry as a whole to address this concern and deliver solutions that will optimize the fleets’ costs by offsetting or providing means to reduce their expenses.”

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“Total cost per mile is always the prevailing factor,” notes Phillips. “This is achieved with increased original miles, better fuel efficiency, and dependable casings with excellent retreadability.”

In the longer-term, Carnegie adds the market will begin to transition to “smart” transportation – from autonomously driven trucks to intelligent vehicle and traffic systems – which will translate to all aspects of the industry.

“Tires and retreads in all axle positions will have to adapt to the trends created from these developments,” he says. “We will see more intelligent transport systems requiring high amounts of data and ‘smart’ components to deliver the needed information. It is not unrealistic to envision tires in the future that will automatically adapt to the road surface conditions, loading, etc., on the fly to deliver optimal overall performance.

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“We have to ensure that we have our finger on the pulse of what drives the industry moving forward and make sure that our products provide the needed performance that will be demanded.”

In a similar fashion, tire dealers need to keep up with the changing needs of their fleet accounts, as well as new developments from tiremakers.

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