Tire War: 7 Tips to Keep Your Rubber on the Road Longer

By Jim Park

Tire wear is not the problem. It’s usually a symptom of some other problem, such as poor suspension condition, misalignment, bad driving habits, improper tire spec’ing, etc. Simply removing a bad tire and throwing on a new one is consigning that second tire to an early grave, too.

Frankly, if you are buying premium, name-brand tires, the likelihood of getting a “bad” tire is minimal. Tire makers use highly automated manufacturing processes to ­prevent such occurrences. If your tires aren’t living up to expectations, it’s probably your truck or your driver — or your own neglect — that’s killing them.

Here are seven tips to help get the best ­possible life from your tires, including multiple retreads.

1 The Right Tire for the Job

Given the variety of tread and casing designs and rubber compounds available today, choosing the right tire for the job ought to be easy. You can spec for any number of factors, such as durability, fuel efficiency, or tread life. But there are conflicts even in those three ­factors. A more fuel-efficient on-highway tire may give you a shorter life cycle because of shallower tread depth and compounding. Traction could be an issue too. A traction tire with deeper tread will last longer but may not deliver the fuel economy benefits.

Tires built for regional work can withstand more curbing and scrubbing, and may have deeper treads and thicker sidewalls. They’ll perform well on short hauls with more turning and docking, but will wear more quickly on the highway. Get the picture?

Quality tires perform best in their intended application, so understand what it is you want from a tire, and spec accordingly. The amount of highway, off-road, and city driving you do should inform your tire spec.

2 Proper Inflation

While there is still debate over the cost effectiveness of tire ­pressure monitoring systems and automatic tire inflation ­systems, there’s no debate over the value of proper tire inflation. It saves fuel, saves tires, and saves money.

Proper inflation allows the tire casing to support the weight of the load. The sidewalls of an under-inflated tire are stressed due to excessive flexing and are prone to premature, sometimes ­catastrophic failure. Excessive casing temperature will also weaken the rubber compounds that keep the casing and the tread together — this applies doubly for retreaded tires. Tire service companies tell us under-inflation is number-one underlying cause for roadside tire service.

On top of that, soft tires exhibit poor rolling resistance characteristics. Poor rolling resistance means less-than-optimum fuel economy.
The alternative to technology here is grunt work — get someone down on his knees checking tire pressures on a regular basis. Since drivers will not do it, and skilled technicians’ time is too valuable, you need either a tire guy or a service provider to maintain tire pressure. Sure that costs money, but so does doing nothing. The question is which costs less over the life of the tire?

3 Alignment & Balance

Few fleets actually balance tires and do regular alignments. Proof of the need for both service items lies no farther away than your own scrap pile.

“Carefully examine your take-offs and you’ll see specific wear patterns,” advises Guy Walenga, Bridgestone’s Director, Engineering, Commercial Products and Technologies. “If you see tires that have tread on them, but it’s worn irregularly, you’ll know you have a problem. You now need to identify the trucks those tires came from and fix what’s causing the wear.”

Classic symptoms of an out-of-balance condition are cupping and scalloping. By the time irregular wear patterns show up, the tire may be beyond redemption. Balancing it after the fact may slow the wear, but you can’t stop it.

Balancing a tire when it’s first mounted using weights is a good way to send it into service, but other sources of evolving wear, such as poor suspension components or bad alignment, can chew off bits of the tire changing its balance points. Balancing compounds such as beads, powders, and liquids (but not golf balls) have proven effective in minimizing long-term tire wear. Use only approved and recognized materials.

The need for alignment is often judged on its ROI. Do you spend a few hundred bucks every year to possibly save a tire costing roughly the same? Again, go back to the scrap pile, or take a walk through the yard and look for alignment related tire wear. This includes feathered wear, high-to-low left-to-right wear, and shoulder wear on steer tires.

When sourcing an alignment service, choose one that will correct the problem rather than just resetting the truck back to OEM specs.

“The OEM specification is a manufacturing tolerance,” says Mike McCoy, National/Special Accounts Manager at Bee Line. “If I was a fleet owner, I wouldn’t be satisfied with someone setting my alignment to within OE tolerance.”

McCoy points to camber as an example. Some OE specifications allow for as much as 7/16 of a degree positive or negative. “TMC’s RP 642 calls for less than one-quarter of a degree,” he says.

Balance and alignment are both dynamic conditions. They change over the life of the tire, so don’t expect the set-it-and-forget-it approach to work with balance or alignment.

4 Installation

Seating a tire properly on a wheel, and then mounting the wheel properly on the hub is not as easy as it looks. If it looks simple, it’s not being done right.

First, the wheel must be checked for damage and incongruities. Warpage can cause lateral run-out, bent flanges can cause radial run-out, and bad bead seats can cause pressure loss.

All tires have a thin ring embossed near the bead seat used to verify concentric mounting. The distance between the ring and the wheel should be the same all the way around; if not, remount the tire.

Getting the wheel mounted concentrically on the hub is just as tricky. First, the mounting surfaces of the hub and the wheel must be brushed clean and free of loose material. Don’t rely on the hub pilots to center the wheel on the hub. Manufacturing tolerances are too wide.

Several clever solutions exist to help in this exercise. stud spacing sleeves that fit over the studs will center the wheel more precisely than the hub pilots.

Some are reusable, some are designed to be left in place. The stud spacers will center the wheel more precisely than the hub pilots will. In some cases, the gap between the wheel and the pilot could as much as the thickness of a business card. That would cause a radial run-out condition.

And here’s the important part: Check for concentric mounting with a run-out gauge, or an object placed near the tire sidewall and tread face. Even a sixteenth of an inch out will affect tire wear. Sure, it’s a pain in the posterior, but it will improve tire life. Outsourcing could be the answer.

5 Tire Inspection & Wear Analysis

All tires look good the day you install them. But a driver could run over a piece of metal on the roadway in the very next hour, and cut the sidewall. Regular and frequent inspections can save a casing or prevent a service-call-inducing blowout.

Irregular tire wear won’t show up immediately, but it won’t take long. At the first sign of some unexpected wear, remove the tire and fix the problem before installing another tire.

If your tire people are not experts in tire wear, ­consult someone who is. A valuable source of information is the Technology and Maintenance Council’s (TMC) Re­commended Practice RP 219 – Radial Tire Wear Conditions and Causes: a Guide to Wear Pattern Analysis.

Remember, tire wear is often a symptom of some other problem. And when it comes to alignment, steer tire wear can often be the fault of the drive axles.

6 Retreading

The single most effective way to lower your lifecycle tire costs is retreading.

On-highway operators can retread twice, perhaps three times, effectively doubling or tripling the life of the casing. Some vocational operators can retread a half-dozen times or more. Call it maximizing return on your tire investment.

All of the same tire management strategies you’d apply to virgin casings apply to retreads, with an emphasis on inflation pressure checks.

7 Tire Management

The key to a successful tire program is the ability to track them. Fleets can compare brands vs. tread design vs. wheel position and learn which tire performs best in particular situations.

While larger fleets can take full advantage of the sophisticated tire management software on the market today, smaller fleets may have a hard time justifying the cost. Most tire manufacturers have web-based tire tracking programs, such as Bridgestone Bandag Tire Solutions’ Tire Life Cycle Cost Calculator, or Goodyear’s TVTRACK and TireValuCalc.

Several TPMS providers also include tracking software with their product that helps owners track pressure and temperature history.
A low-tech but effective option, and a good place to start if this is new to you, is TMC’s RP 208. It’s designed to track and analyze tire durability and operating costs. It’s paper and pencil, but it works.

“Tires should be viewed as a system. It’s tread and compounding, the casing, maintenance practices, and tracking to determine what works best,” says Tim Miller, Goodyear’s commercial tire marketing communications manager. “When your job is to stay profitable through low cost-per-mile and tires are a [significant] operating cost, it’s imperative to track your numbers. It’s the only way to a solid bottom line.”

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