Truck wheel appearance matters

The condition of a commercial vehicle’s wheels says a lot about the condition of the vehicle itself. Rust-streaked steel wheels often signal poor maintenance practices, while a shiny finish points to a truck that is well cared for.

In order to maintain a shiny appearance, proper maintenance and frequent washing is required. Keeping wheels clean and in good condition also helps drivers to identify potential problems when conducting pre-trip inspections.

Unfortunately, when it comes to commercial vehicle wheels, wheel separations continue to be a major topic of discussion. It’s an issue that won’t go away.

An ongoing issue

Wheel separations continue to be a problem in Ontario, despite enforcement crackdowns and stiff penalties for offenders. But the good news is this year is on pace to be the lowest year for wheel separations in at least the last five years, assuming there isn’t a spike in the fall.

“We are entering our winter months where a lot of tires get changed,” said Chris Davies, a transportation enforcement officer with the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. He said the department will run Operation Wheel Check inspections from November to February, to place a special emphasis on the problem.

Bob Nichols, spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, said “Wheel separations from commercial vehicles are typically caused by improper tightening/installation of wheel fasteners, poor maintenance, drivers failing to conduct the prescribed vehicle inspection, and defective parts.”

But Davies noted new technologies are helping enforcement officers catch overheated wheels before a separation occurs. Infrared technology has been introduced at four working truck inspection stations.

“We are finding it in our routine operations,” Davies said.

Ontario has some of the toughest wheel separation legislation in North America, including absolute liability and penalties as high as $50,000.

Brandon Uzarek, field engineer with Accuride, suggested fleets employ best practices supplied by wheel manufacturers and the Technology & Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations.

“Wheel-offs occur when basic maintenance steps are missed,” he said. “Make sure to conduct a retorque at five to 100 miles after installation, then again at 10,000 miles or regular service intervals. Make sure the wheels, hubs, drums, studs, and nuts are in good condition. Mounting surfaces need to be flat. Clean any dirt, debris and corrosion off of mounting surfaces.”

(Photo: iStock)

In pursuit of lighter weight

One trend that has been driving wheel development in recent years, is the pursuit of lower weight. But with leading wheel suppliers now producing standard aluminum wheels that weigh in at as little as 40 lbs, the law of diminishing returns comes into play and now the challenge is to focus on durability.

“When you start talking about lightweighting, you save 0.5% or 0.6% of fuel per 1,000 lbs weight reduction,” said Uzarek. “Going from Accuride’s lightest steel wheel of 65 lbs down to the 42644 at 40 lbs would save 450 lbs or approximately 0.2% of fuel.”

Since the fuel savings are now meager, more attention is being paid to durability.

“We’re very cautious to test to the same standards we were testing to, to maintain that durability of the wheel,” Uzarek said of lightweight wheels. “A lot of fleets have stopped asking about lightweighting. Now their concern is uptime.”

Alcoa Dura-Black Wheels
(Photo: Alcoa)

Keeping them looking good

Whether spec’ing steel or aluminum wheels, proper maintenance is key to keeping them in good condition. Especially in Canada where harsh road chemicals are used to combat snow and ice.

“Wash steel and aluminum wheels with high-pressure water and a mild soap solution to remove dirt and debris,” Uzarek advised. “Dry the wheels with a clean cotton or microfiber towel.”

He added, “Non-coated aluminum wheels may need to be polished to maintain their shine. Steel wheels may need to be re-coated to prevent rust. Don’t use abrasives on coated aluminum wheels.”

Wash wheels as frequently as is practical, depending on application. Uzarek suggested washing wheels on a cement truck daily, while linehaul wheels can be washed less frequently.

“It just depends on the vocation and how you want your wheels to look.”

There are also customers demanding a greater variety of customizations, including blacked-out, matte finish wheels.

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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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