Tires represent one of a fleet’s largest operating costs, so having an effective tire management program is essential. But that doesn’t mean it has to be overly complex. Even small fleets without a dedicated “tire guy” can put in place a simple, but effective, tire management program.
Mark it on the calendar
Mike Buck, president of MCB Consulting, is a fan of using a calendar, and his consulting firm has helped several fleets reduce tire costs by implementing one. Most tire manufacturers offer tire calendars that can be installed on tractors and trailers.
“It can be used to manage your tires if you can’t afford air inflation systems and you can’t thoroughly inspect every tire in every yard every day,” Buck explained.
Every time a unit’s tires are given a thorough visual inspection – inflation, tread depth, wear patterns – the day of the month is written into that month’s square (ie. a 3 would be placed in the November box to indicate an inspection was done Nov. 3).
“It’s located right by the grab handle and everybody walking the lane visually knows those tires were checked on the third,” Buck explained. “Long story short, now you have calendars on your entire fleet.”
Buck noted even good tires lose two to four psi per month, just due to temperature fluctuations. He said thorough tire inspections should be done every 60 days.
“It’s not a perfect system, but it’s better than having to try to inspect every tire every day,” he said.
Tire calendars also make it easier to get drivers involved in tire maintenance, as they can tell at a glance when their tires were last inspected.
“It takes a little bit to get started, but I’ve implemented a tire calendar in numerous companies and it really turned their tire program around,” he said.
Create a manual
Fleets of all sizes should also produce a tire manual, which can help keep tire vendors accountable. It can be as long as 25 pages and should include information such as tread depths, when tires should be pulled, recap spec’s, wheel finishing information, etc.
“There’s no gray area, it’s right there in that tire manual in black and white,” said Buck. He said vendors should sign off on the tire manual and agree to follow the policies contained within, rather than using their own discretion when it comes to replacing tires.
“We review the document with vendors and they’re going to sign off on it – if not, we get a new tire vendor,” Buck said. “If you don’t have those things in black and white, they may recap a tire that’s 10 years old and has had four repairs. That’s what the tire manual is all about, holding them accountable to your exact spec’s.”
Buck also recommends having a simple two-page, laminated tire guide in the shop that mechanics can reference when making tire decisions in the shop. It should include details such as inflation pressures, and the tread depth at which tires should be pulled.
The most effective way to reduce tire-related roadside service calls is to monitor inflation pressures – and not only with the thump of a hammer.
“It has to be part of normal business. If a unit comes into the shop for anything, check the tires,” said Taki Darakos, vice-president of maintenance for Transervice.
“We have master gauges in our shops and air gauges that can be calibrated. On occasion, we have found that our vendors’ gauges can be out of calibration. You could end up with a fleet where air pressures are consistent, but maybe over- or underinflated.”
Buck agreed. “You have to have a master gauge and mechanics have to check it a minimum of once weekly. It should be calibrated once a quarter and it has to be dead on.”
Both insisted thumping the tires with a hammer is not an adequate way to determine if their inflation pressure is on spec’.
“Lots of folks say they can (tell),” said Darakos. “If a unit is severely underinflated, maybe you will notice, but the experts will tell you that it’s not good enough to just thump a tire and I trust them.”
Buck put this theory to the test. He did a tire blitz with one fleet he worked with, and challenged tire experts to identify tires at 80, 90, 100, and 110 psi using only a hammer. He even offered $25 to anyone who could identify each tire using the thump test.
“I never lost a dime,” he said. “Not one of them could tell the difference between psi and these were tire guys who’ve been doing tires all their lives.”
Inspect your scraps
Before discarding scrap tires, inspect them with your tire vendor to identify possible causes of premature failure, advised Darakos.
“Do a monthly scrap audit with your dealer,” he suggested. “There are a lot of lessons learned from looking at tires pulled off, set aside for disposal or to be retreaded. In some cases, you can pick up warranty dollars or maybe identify an issue. This helps the relationship and also allows you to see what is really going on with the fleet. It should be done monthly so that the piles of tires do not get too high.”