TORONTO, Ont. — What do big fleets know about tires that many smaller fleets have yet to figure out? It’s that retreading works. The money that can be saved through retreading is staggering, yet many small fleets and owner-operators are not yet on board with a retreading program.
To be fair, there are a few hurdles smaller fleets need to overcome before a program can work as smoothly as it might for a large fleet, but questions can be answered by working closely with a dealer. There’s also the lingering negative perception about retreads, and of course there’s the cost. It’s not hard to find a new tire from some offshore suppliers selling products for less than the price of a retread.
It’s difficult to get an exact count of the number of retreaded tires sold in Canada, but Gerard Antle, business development manager at Atlantic Oliver Retread, in Dieppe, N.B., says about 160,000 retreads are sold each year in Atlantic Canada alone. Colin Rafferty, a corporate account manager at KalTire in Vernon, B.C., says his nine retread dealers across Canada produce about 350,000 retreads a year. And there are many more dealers producing many more retreads not accounted for in those numbers. In 2015, Heavy Duty Trucking and Modern Tire Dealer magazines produced a report based on fleet surveys that showed U.S. fleets of 100 trucks or more buy twice as many retreaded tires as new tires.
The operational case for retreading is easy to make. The tires are no different than new versions. They don’t require additional care or attention, and their life expectancy is the same – depending on the tread type and wheel position. There are even a couple of advantages to retreads over new tires. For one, you can customize them. You can order premium treads for premium casings for something like a long-haul operation, or take an older casing and retread it for regional or local use. As the tire ages, the casing value remains in its ability to be “downgraded” to less-demanding service in later life.
“We can put any tread on any casing,” says John Rowland, director of retreading at Fountain Tire in Edmonton. “Our dealers carry an inventory of commonly used retreads, or you can order retreaded tires on your casings, or specify one of our casings with whichever tread you want.”
Larger fleets may have an advantage over small fleets in the ability to maintain tires over their life, which can help extend the life of the casing. Fleets with sophisticated tire programs and possibly automatic inflation systems installed on their trailers might be less likely to suffer casing damage due to under-inflation. They may also have a larger selection of tires in inventory, which might reduce the chances of installing mismatched sets of dual tires. Even small differences in tire diameter across duals will affect the tread wear on both tires.
“I think larger fleets are typically a bit more knowledgeable when it comes to tires, and they understand that there are enormous savings to be had with retreading [and a good maintenance program],” says Rafferty. “Some of the smaller fleets and independents may not have that knowledge quite so readily available. They spend much of their time driving their trucks or just running their businesses.”
Without a cradle-to-grave picture of how best to spend a tire budget, Rafferty says some fleets mistakenly believe a new low-cost tire is a better choice than a retread or premium tire.
How much do tires cost?
With the retail cost of a premium Tier 1 tire now around $600-$700, it’s easy to see why some buyers would be attracted to the new breed of offshore tires, which sometimes cost 1/3 the price of a premium tire. Nobody would argue that some of the higher-quality imports are good tires with casings suitable for retreading, but the lowest-tier tires are throwaways. Most retreaders won’t even consider them.
“The tendency can be to make purchasing decisions based on acquisition cost rather than lifecycle cost,” says Rafferty. “That’s false economy. If you buy a low-cost tire you typically get what you pay for. Those tires don’t last as long, and the casings aren’t conducive to retreading.”
For the small fleet and owner-operator, it can be a matter of buying what they can afford, but even here, retreaded tires can be a better value.
“I’ve seen imported tires selling for less than a good retreaded tire,” says Antle. “For $50 or $75 more I can get them into a tire with a premium tread that can be retreaded again at least once. That alone will lower their tire cost per mile and deliver better value than the imported tire.”
Retreads are a cost-effective alternative to the top-tier tires. In many cases, you’re buying a Tier 1 casing (Bridgestone, Goodyear, Michelin, etc.) and installing a tread made by the same manufacturer. Fountain Tire, for example, will take orders from fleets for specific casings and treads that will match the rest of the tires in the fleet.
For fleets well-versed in the science of tire management – understanding lifecycle costs and the necessity of proactive maintenance – retreads are a no-brainer. Others, possibly with a more seat-of-the-pants approach to tire management, may be hamstrung by age-old perceptions about retreads.
Today’s retreads are not your Uncle Floyd’s retreads.
“There are a lot of negative perceptions about retreaded tires, and I underscore perceptions,” says David Stevens, managing director of the Tire Retread and Repair Information Bureau (TRIB). “Each year we set up a display in our booth at the Mid-America Trucking Show with 10 tires, seven of which are retreads. Visitors are asked to determine which of the tires are new and which are retreads. This year just 13% were able to identify which tires were which. Over the years, the best ratio we have ever had was 17%. That speaks volumes on how participants view these tires.”
Stevens says they look first at the sidewall to see where the tire has been buffed and pre-cure tread has been applied. “They are surprised when they can’t find the seam between the casing and the tread. That’s an indication of the quality of the process the tire goes through,” he says.
“Negative perceptions are long held, and once you start probing a little deeper, I always find the negative perceptions stem from some experience they had 20 or 30 years ago. The inspection and manufacturing process has changed, of course. Today’s retread is much different from your father’s or your grandfather’s retread.”
If you’re buying from a reputable dealer or retreader, you’ll probably get a warranty. Advanced inspection processes allow the retreader to be confident in the product. In many cases you’ll get nearly the equivalent of a new tire for somewhere close to half the price – depending on factors like the make, model, and tread.
Big fleets already know that. That’s why they retread.
Get the most from your retread program
Former Goodyear engineer-turned-consultant Asa Sharp says the best way to extend the useful life of your casings is to retread virgin drive tires for trailer positions, and virgin trailer tires for drive positions.
Tires get old, like everything else. But for tires, calendar age isn’t as much of a concern as mile-based age. “A tire with 600,000 km on it is older than a tire with 400,000 km,” he says. “Tires experience fatigue cycling as they roll through the contact patch. On top of that, engine torque transfers through the sidewall of a drive tire, which also contributes to a tire’s aging process. After a year in service, which tires – drive or trailer – will be technically older?”
He recommends starting with premium drive and trailer tires with interchangeable casings. When the drive tire treads wear out, retread it for a trailer position, since those casings have been subject to torque transfer fatigue and are effectively “older” than the trailer casings. Then, take the trailer casings and recap them with drive treads.
“When you think about it, virgin trailer casings are still pretty fresh even after a few hundred thousand kilometers because they haven’t experienced torque,” Sharp says. “If it hasn’t been run underinflated, it’s now a prime casing for a drive tire. And chances are, even at three or four years of age, it has fewer miles on it than a drive tire of the same calendar age.”
Sharp points out that the right-outside trailer tires are often subject to curbing, but he says fleets can reasonably expect to pull at least six tires from any tandem-axle trailer and use them as drive tires in the next life – and possibly as a trailer tire again in its third life.
The million-mile retread
Who says retreads don’t last? At this year’s Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) meeting
and exhibition in Atlanta, Bridgestone showcased a commercial truck tire driven 1 million miles
(1.65 million km) by a customer using one Bridgestone casing and two Bandag retreads.
“Fleets are increasingly looking at ways to optimize their assets with strategies such as retreading,” says Eric Higgs, vice-president of commercial tire marketing, Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations. “Premium retreads, such as Bandag, perform comparable to premium new tires and provide a lower cost-per-mile solution over time.”
In general, Higgs says, fleets that use retreaded tires typically do a better job of proactively caring for their tire casings to ensure they can be retreaded. “Greater attention to good tire care practices helps to maximize performance and improve profitability.”
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