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Commercial Tires

When Simple Choices Just Aren’t Enough

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Selecting the best truck tires – or, more specifically, matching tires to expected service conditions – has traditionally been accomplished by following a few simple guidelines.

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The three main service categories suggested by nearly all tire manufacturers have been:

1. high speed line haul

2. metro and pickup/delivery

3. mixed on-off road service

Among the primary distinctions are tread rubber compounds that emphasize long treadwea, resistance to irregular wear, scuff wear resistance in high frequency/severity turn service, and chip/chunk/stone-drilling resistance. A number of technology advances in the commercial tire industry, along with changes in the organization of modern trucking routings, will likely make tire choices more complex and financially important in the near future.

New generations of improved (re: lower) rolling resistance tires are now widely available. Advances in polymer science, rubber compound additives and processing/mixing technology are the basic building blocks of these more energy efficient designs.

Of course, new technology often comes with a price tag, but since tire rolling resistance represents a significant portion of the total truck fuel economy equation, especially at steady-state slow to moderate speeds, the payback can be short in many service conditions. Consider that the length of truckload hauls has continued to shorten over the past several years and that the traditional distinction between “long haul” and “regional” has become blurred.

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Quantifying the influence that low rolling resistance tires can have on overall fuel economy will depend on accurately describing service conditions – speeds, acceleration/braking cycles, equipment configurations, loads, route congestion, driver training, total miles traveled, and other variables.

This sounds daunting, but knowledgeable vehicle and tire engineers can provide useful tire selection advice, as long as fleets provide accurate details of these conditions. New fuel-efficient tires may be cost effective for some, but not for others. Remember that proper inflation maintenance helps all tires maintain low rolling resistance. New lower rolling resistance treads are becoming available for retreads, but driver training, or lack of it, can still trump the effects of many fuel efficient components, including tires.

Another trend is the evolution of a new (fourth) service classification, a combination local delivery and regional high-speed service. Tim Miller of Goodyear’s commercial tire division believes this is a rapidly growing application that will continue to expand.

The idea is to maximize high speed treadlife, resisting the onset of irregular wear, while still providing high scuff wear resistance in frequent and severe wheel cut angles typical of city delivery operation, all with better fuel economy than has been typical of older metro service tires. Deep treads, solid shoulder ribs, buttressed sidewalls and complex tread components having two or three different compounds are typical features of these new generation hybrid tires. Properly matched to service conditions, these tires may offer longer wear, better casing durability and reduced casing injury rates, and even better fuel economy, resulting in lower operating costs.

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Another recent development is self-sealing tires that can maintain inflation integrity and therefore remain in service with punctures up to approximately 1/4- inch in diameter. This is achieved by including a gel-like sealant in the tire casing interior at the time of new tire manufacture. Fewer roadside flats and more casings preserved for retreading are major cost advantages.

This is especially applicable for mixed on-off road services such as wastehaul, and for trailer tires that typically receive less inflation maintenance and fewer visual damage inspections than steer or drive axle tires. Cost benefit analyses for these tires will vary for long haul versus domiciled fleets, availability of service providers en route, financial and goodwill effects of delayed deliveries, and normal tire inspection frequencies.

Whether or not any of these niche targeted tire can help reduce operating costs and headaches will require detailed cost-benefit analysis. Because of the variables involved, especially in the case of fuel economy and casing conservation, considerable experience and tire industry technical assistance is desirable. Simple decisions may not always be in your best interest.

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