For years, recommendations for truck tire maintenance centered around inflation checks, visual checks for abnormalities, vehicle alignment, and industry standardized work procedures during mounting, dismounting, and other service operations.
These core practices are necessary for safety, cost control and for minimizing downtime or unscheduled tire maintenance. There are many other important truck tire issues that, for lack of a better distinction, might be grouped as tire care considerations. These are especially important in times of fluctuating equipment use, thin margins and erratic trade cycles, since lack of proper tire care can result in significant dollar loss.
Detailed tire inspection, proper cleaning and tire storage are among the most important considerations. Visual inspections can pay big dividends. Subtle wear patterns, minor sidewall or tread cracking can sometimes relate to a-non-optimum tire type for a particular service condition.
Some fleets that once defined tire selection by simple steer, drive and trail tire choices now find costs creeping upward. Recently, I worked with one large truckload carrier that concluded that its business had evolved into three distinctively different tire requirements. Changing from simple and proven tire selection to a more complex, vocation-specific tire program significantly lowered its lowered operating costs.
Tire cleaning is often influenced by opinion rather than fact. Shined and glossy truck tires may look nice on a show vehicle, but do nothing to enhance performance or prolong tire life. Accumulated dirt alone does not harm tires, although it is very important that solvent-containing materials not be allowed to build up on rubber surfaces. Tire manufacturers recommend periodic cleaning with plain soap and water.
Treads tend to be self-cleaning from road contact, and sidewall rubber compounds are designed with anti-oxidants and anti-ozonants embedded throughout. Normal flexing allows these protective chemicals to continuously migrate to the surface for protection, minimizing cracking, crazing and other forms of weather checking.
To assure long casing life, exercise (flex) the tires by driving the vehicle periodically. Vehicles parked due to freight downturns or excess rolling stock inventory are especially vulnerable to sidewall deterioration and should be driven every several months. This also changes the tire footprint to a different spot when the vehicle is parked again. The sidewall just above the contact patch is most susceptible to cracking during periods of inactivity.
If show-like appearance is desired, a surface blackening treatment like those applied by some quality retread operations is suggested. Never steam clean tires, since high pressures and temperatures can permanently damage radial truck tires, rendering them unserviceable.
Tire storage is another tricky issue. Tires should be stored to minimize interior moisture accumulation. Cool, dry, dark storage areas are preferred. Unmounted tires should be protected from the weather, kept indoors and away from open shop doors to avoid exposure to direct sunlight. Keep them at a distance from all ozone sources, such as electric motors, welding equipment, fans and mercury vapor light fixtures. Solvents must not come in contact with stored tires. If tires are stacked horizontally in a column, it’s a good idea to place a pallet under the bottom tire and not stack more than six to eight tires.
Mounted tires should be kept inflated to recommended pressures and be positioned to minimize exposure to direct sunlight and ultraviolet rays. Ideally, position trucks/trailers, which are to be parked for long periods East-West, so that the most direct sunlight does not contact the tire sidewalls. Never park vehicles close to generators, welding equipment, or other ozone sources.
Concrete or clean dirt surfaces are preferred, since asphalt surfaces may contain petroleum components that will damage tires over time. If asphalt surfaces are unavoidable, especially for long-term storage, tire manufacturers recommend placing a barrier plywood, plastic or cardboard between the tire and surface.
Proper tire care can help conserve precious operating cost dollars. For more information, ask your tire specialist and/or visit and the Rubber Manufacturers Association Web site at: www.rma.org.