Tread carefully: Tire selection deserves your respect
November 11, 2012
November 11, 2012
Said it before, I’ll say it again: tires have to be the most complicated “basic” products you will find on a commercial truck.
Drivers quick to blame their tires for an accident or owner/operators keen to purchase cheap offshore tires to save a buck because “all tires are the same” would be wise to visit a tire plant or two. That’s what I’ve done over the past few months, first spending time at Bridgestone Commercial Solutions flagship tire plant in Warren, Tennessee this summer and most recently at Michelin’s US3 plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Having spent hours at such plants and seeing first hand the way they operate, I can tell you the sophistication and technology that goes into building a truck tire today – from the chemical compounds used and the design of the grooves or beads to the mechanics of the curing process and detail that goes into the testing and quality control procedures – is truly a marvel to behold.
Take for example, Michelin’s focus on quality control at its Spartanburg plant, birthplace of the X One, wide base tire: Tires are taken off the assembly, cut into four pieces, and up to 230 measurements taken to ensure the plant is producing tires true to specs. In this place every measuring implement right down to the most basic measuring tape and ruler on the plant floor must be tested to ensure it meets a national standard and labeled. This is the same company whose testing facility situated in nearby Laurens, South Carolina boasts of 28 miles of test surfaces from smooth asphalt and concrete to tar and gravel to good old fashioned construction site mud. And believe me, after spending time in the cab with some of their top test drivers, they put their products through hell to ensure they will deliver.
The attention to a tire’s complete lifecycle is also impressive. For example, Bridgestone’s Ecopia truck tire lineup is designed from the start to work with the company’s Bandag Fueltech retread solution. Using compounds specially engineered in the lab and paired with matching retread patterns, Bridgestone believes it has created a solution that provides low rolling resistance right from the new Ecopia tire through to the FuelTech retread while extending casing life.
Our annual national Tire Buying Trends survey shows that almost one third of owner/operators intend to optimize their tire costs in the future not by selecting better products or adopting preventive maintenance practices but rather by focusing on price alone. Thirty five percent tell us they have used cheap offshore tires from India or China, mostly at the drive and trailer positions. Yet they also tell us that not one these tires gets a passing grade when it comes to performance – the highest score is a measly 2.68 out of 5. Three quarters of O/Os don’t bother retreading those tires either. Low price is the main reason O/Os are placing cheap tires on their rigs.
I say, that’s awfully short-term thinking for a product that has such a large role to play in reducing fuel consumption and improving comfort and safety. So do your homework, speak with your dealer about intelligent tire solutions, and visit a reputable tire plant. It will open your eyes. I will have more on Michelin’s tire solutions and test drives using its wide base singles in your next issues of Truck News, Truck West and Fleet Executive and also on TMTV
With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics. All posts by Lou Smyrlis