How to Boost Tire Life for Your Whole Fleet
When it comes to vehicle maintenance, tires represent about 20% of total expenses. Tires are one of the top three O&M cost items for general trucking firms but the number-one cost item for sanitation and refuse fleets.
As with any other element, tracking actual performance, even if that tracking results in bad news, is essential to ensuring maximum tire life. Roger Stansbie, national field engineering manager of Continental General Tire Inc.’s Commercial Division in Charlotte, NC, explains, "There are several different measurements that can be used to track tire performance, but the most important ones are inflation pressure, wheel alignment, and tread-wear rate. Keeping a constant check of tire pressure and alignment allow for better casing durability and tread wear."
He notes that besides actual loss of tire life, other costs of a failed tire include downtime, mounting, dismounting, and driver satisfaction. "To track the total cost of a tire would mean following it from cradle to grave, keeping detailed records of every time that tire was involved in a situation that cost the fleet money. Fleets should always look for alternative ways to improve tire monitoring. Some areas to focus on when choosing a monitoring system include ease of use, ease of capturing data, and accuracy of information."
He points out that striving to be complacent with your tire monitoring system means being passed by the competition that has a better or more effective way of doing the same thing. "And if the competition is doing a better job of monitoring than you, then it’s likely you are spending more money than they are, which directly relates to the cost of your services and your end profit."
Stansbie—as well as others contacted—agrees that driver care makes a difference in tire life. "Drivers who take better care of their vehicles and tires do make a difference. Drivers can improve casing life, thus saving the fleet money by avoiding curbs and potholes and by maintaining proper alignment and correct air pressure. By tracking tires and the vehicles that they are on, fleets can get a feel for which drivers are taking care of the equipment they are running. Initiating a rewards program is a good way to get drivers to pay more attention to detail."
When asked whether to use retreads or originals, Stansbie replies, "Monitoring a retread is handled the same way as monitoring a new tire. If a fleet determines that retreading is too high, then more time should be spent on tracking new tires to find an optimum tire for that fleet."
Improving the Program
"Waste-hauling fleets, like other fleets, are becoming much more sophisticated, even more interested in retreading their fleets’ tires," notes Don Schauer, manager of fleet communications for Bandag in Muscatine, IA. As an expert in the industry since 1976, Schauer emphasizes that a good tire management program begins when the user works with the supplier. "The sophisticated fleet manager sees his tires as a resource. He understands that when the original tread is worn off his modern radial, he’s only realized 30 percent of his tire investment."
Schauer also agrees that a savvy fleet manager will find the best tire for his particular operation. "Factors such as whether they’re frontloaders, rearloaders, or sideloaders as well as geography involved make a difference. You need to work with tire suppliers who are knowledgeable about your operation. Don’t just buy tires; develop a business relationship with those suppliers. Together you can work out a winning tire management program whether you’re using retreads or originals."
Schauer points out that any tire problems should be resolved as quickly as possible. "When you need to repair the tire, don’t just stick in a string plug. If you do that, you’ll get moisture, which will rust the steel belt and consign the tire to an early trip to the scrap heap."
He acknowledges that vigilant drivers are essential. "Drivers can also play a role in reducing dollars spent for tires, especially during pickups when tires hit the curb. A lot of tires have even been destroyed by a rounded curb. A good driver also is vigilant when traveling the hostile environment of the solid waste disposal site. That driver will have fewer injuries because he’s watching what he’s doing and discovering hazards before they have a chance to damage the tire."
Schauer declares that a good failed-tire analysis (FTA) program is a powerful tool for the fleet’s tire manager. "If you have a good FTA, you know what’s causing your injuries. For example, a concrete hauler in Indianapolis had the foresight to predict where his trucks were having so many injuries, so he recommended a change in the route. His vehicles then avoided rebar and other hazards in that particular site."
Tire Sealers Help Make Flats History
How small can a company be when it doesn’t have to worry about tires? Dennis Jones, owner of the new company Pro Star Waste in Livingston, TX, has just one truck, but he has a program in place to ensure maximum tire life on his retreads. "Even with just one truck, tire maintenance is important. After all, if it rolls it wants to go flat."
Jones notes he first got into the business 40 years ago when, as a 13-year-old, he rode inside the family waste-collection truck, tipping over the cans thrown up by his father and throwing down the empties. "We were in the business before tubeless, and we didn’t make the change to tubeless until forced to. Tubeless tires are more easily penetrated than bias tires are, and flats are more of a problem."
Then 18 years ago, when he headed Red Diamond Disposal in Conroe, TX, Jones discovered the value of liquid tire sealers. "I’ve always been cautious about spending my money on additional products, but tire sealants have made a big difference in my rate of flats. Now it takes a bolt or something else bigger to cause a flat. Sure, it costs 30 to 40 dollars to pump one of these tires full of sealer, but if I have to call in a repair truck, it will cost me more than 40 dollars. Besides, a driver waiting a couple of hours for a road truck isn’t a happy camper."
And this independent operator knows part of the waste industry challenge is keeping good drivers. "That takes good wages, good benefits, and good tires."
Thanks to sealants, as well as driver daily care and weekly mechanic vigilance, Jones reports his earlier fleet averaged four recaps per casing. "We’ve gotten as many as seven caps on one casing. When we change tires, though, we have to warn the mechanic to beware of any nails because there’ll be 10 to 15 nails sticking inside."
He also advises, "Anytime you take a valve core out of a tire, throw it away and replace it with a new one. Also make sure that every stem has a cap—not only to fulfill the law but to reduce the chance of valve-stem leakage. A leaking valve core will take air out of a tire as fast as a nail will."
Reflecting on the practice of tire sealant and driver and mechanic vigilance, Jones comments, "Our flats have really and truly dropped to nothing; we get phenomenal tire life. "Drivers also watch tread life on a daily basis, and that tire is completely serviced once a week. We pull our tires as soon as they reach recommended minimum treat. The chances of a good, clean retread is better because the recapper has more rubber to work with."
When asked about minimizing curb injuries, he responds, "There are obviously tight places where that can’t be helped, but we make sure we spend the time training our drivers how to avoid curbs. You don’t turn a new driver loose on a 160,000-dollar truck if they don’t know what they’re doing. Also, those who tend to hit curbs because they’re a bit careless don’t do it for me very long."
What the Big Firms Do
As with other maintenance programs, the larger the fleet, the larger the savings when correct practices are employed. A prime example is the care given to all 30,000 vehicles and 5,000 pieces of heavy equipment used by Waste Management Inc. (based in Houston, TX), which has an annual tire budget of about $120 million. "Every extra day we get out of a tire drives our life cycle process," declares Rick Fitzpatrick, technical maintenance manager.
"You must have a consistent maintenance process. You have to know your operation, and in order to have the best tire performance, you have to take care of the basics. This includes such things as consistent air-pressure maintenance process, consistent measuring to standards. Everything has to be measured to performance standards. You need to attend to rotation as well as match duals on tire size, tread type, and inflation pressure."
Fitzpatrick notes that once the basics are being consistently executed, the operator should maintain specific data records on what else is to be measured. "You need to set a baseline for any continuous improvement. For example, with an operation such as ours, which has multiple types of equipment, that information includes the nature of the vehicle, whether it’s a front-end loader, rear-end, rolloff, sideloader, or recycling truck."
Fitzpatrick adds that even if the company is small, the Truck Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Association in Arlington, VA, is an excellent source for data. "It prints an annual recommended practices book. One of the latest articles is ‘How to Run an Evaluation.’ You really have to stay on top of the recommended practices, even when there are just five or six trucks in your fleet."
Yet some evaluations are not possible with a small fleet. For example, he says that it takes a minimum of eight vehicles to evaluate tread designs and other factors. "If tread designs are of two different types, such as a lug versus a rib tread, the lug is 8/32 deeper than the rib, and you can’t put the two types on the same vehicle. If you do, you can cause damage to the vehicle. Two major problems with tires are improper size matching and inconsistent tire pressure. Five pounds can make a 1.5-inch difference in a tire’s rolling radius. In effect, you’re dragging the underinflated tire." And size mismatching can set up the same situation.
Further, tires of improper size or diameter can affect vehicle life. "Drive axle tires should have no more than a 4/32 difference in tread depth across the axle. If you’re turning your fleet every three years, that’s not such a problem. But for those who keep their vehicles eight to 10 years like we do, that difference can eat up a rear end," Fitzpatrick points out.
Another important point is to deal with a strong servicing dealer, regardless of the dealer size. "Quality service includes meeting delivery schedules, turnaround time, quality air pressure, or fleet checks. It’s things like providing value-added services that help reduce fleet costs. We’re always looking for people we can partner with who will help us reduce costs. We don’t expect them to do it free either, because people only stay in business if they make a profit." Quality value-added services are a win/win situation for the fleet and the supplier.
One example is the air-up program that Fred Reinders, Waste Management’s maintenance manager in Louisville, KY, has worked out with his supplier. "We’re running 220 vehicles in the Louisville area. We have 35 to 40 shop repairs a week and six tire road calls, which we handle in-house. Before we had the air-up program, though, we had three to four road calls per day."
Reinders reports that the service costs $30/hour and it takes the supplier’s tire expert three hours a night to check a quarter of the fleet, giving each vehicle a thorough tire check once every four operating days. "We get back three times that money just in saved casings and reduced road calls." He adds that when the technician was unable to check tires two evenings in a row, road calls that week shot up to 11. On one occasion the technician also discovered loose lug nuts, avoiding yet another road call. Remarks Fitzpatrick, "Tires are dirty, ugly, no fun, expensive, and tedious to deal with, but everything you do to care for that tire improves the bottom line. You can’t afford to bypass the basics. If you do, you leave your money on the table; you stumble over dollars to pick up pennies."
Can tire care be a waste of time? Fitzpatrick doesn’t think so. "For example, a regular crisscross rotation program helps reduce any uneven wear. You’re moving tires from faster-wearing positions to slower ones. Right-rear inside and outside tires are typically the fastest-wearing drive tires, while the fastest-wearing steer tire is the left front. So by crisscrossing, you give each tire a chance to ‘rest’ from being in the fastest-wear position."
Technician and driver education is another important part of tire life. "Today, it’s difficult finding good, qualified drivers," he states. "The same is true for qualified technicians. So the companies that have a better training process for their technicians and drivers will be better off than other companies. The eye of the driver makes a difference. He is an integral part of a tire-longevity success story. If that driver is jumping curbs, using improper pre- and post-trip checks, etc., a lot of tire abuse happens. In some cases, the abuse is not the driver’s fault. He might not have control over the stop or pick-up situation and might have to deliberately drive over the curb. Yet the cautious driver knows there is a difference in easing over a curb and hitting it at 10 to 15 miles per hour." Concerning new tires, Fitzpatrick says, "When we buy a brand-new tire, we’re buying the casing. We want maximum wear in the original tread, but we’re buying the casing. Tire casings are an asset not on a company’s books. When looking for return on investment [ROI], buying a tire is no different than when buying a brand-new vehicle. ROI is absolutely essential; it goes right to the bottom line. That’s why the recap life of a particular-type casing is part of our tire-buying strategy."
Total Tire Maintenance
Because Waste Management operates in conjunction with more than 400 landfill sites, it makes sense to see how well headquarters directives are utilized and how well a particular branch of the business is doing in corralling tire costs. Vincent Fortuna, in the company’s Houston office, emphasizes, "If you have a truly effective tire-management process at your facility, you will make all the decisions for that tire through its life. When you make a decision for a tire, it saves you money. When a tire makes a decision for you, it costs you money."
Speaking from 38 years’ experience in tire management, Fortuna states, "The tire cost is not the cost of the tires you put on, it’s the cost of unused rubber that you take off. For example, if you have problems with curbing, underinflation, or missed nail holes, you can turn a routine problem into a catastrophe. If your tread life is based on 30 days of service and you take the tread off in only 19 days, somehow you’ve taken 11 days of unused rubber away from your truck. That’s tire cost. You have to expect tires to wear out; that’s the cost of doing this kind of business. But where excessive tire costs come in is when they’re not delivering maximum tread or casing life."
Fortuna notes that Waste Management’s Total Tire Maintenance program gives them 90 days with a drive tire and 120 days with a steer tire. "In our business, extending the casing life is absolutely critical. A recap is only half the price of a new tire. We have to get more than three retreads per casing; the industry average is about two." He adds that a recently completed 10-month pilot project in Atlanta moved the casing average closer to the four-retread mark.
"With that same project where we were averaging 65 road failures a week for some 500 vehicles, we reduced that to six a month. We caught the problem in the yard, not on the road. A failure on the highway is about 250 dollars to handle, while in-yard repairs are about 100 dollars, so every problem caught in time is a net savings of 150 dollars." Even better, vigilance helps ensure that a company provides better customer service and has improved fleet utilization and improved driver morale. Nobody likes flats.
Another factor for success is to continue assessing the tire market. "We take everybody’s product, whether a new OEM [original equipment manufacturer] tire or a retread. What we’re looking for is how to continually improve our tire-care process and get our tires to run for one more day. Reduced tire costs is not a destination, it’s a continuous journey."
Fortuna agrees that driver care is a major factor in tire-care success. "The good driver avoids all hazards, including curbs or locking up the brakes. He’s also less likely to let the vehicle wander and more precise about the actual movement of the vehicle. Last of all, he’ll continually check his tires. Before he gets back in the cab he’ll take two minutes to conduct something as simple and kicking and checking rebound." Waste Management tires are routinely gauged twice a day: once before leaving the yard in the morning and again when they’re parked for the day. "A tire that’s 10 pounds low is considered flat and needs to be removed.
"In the waste industry, retreads are the tires that make us money," observes Fortuna. "If you manage your tire care so you get more than three retreads per casing, you find you have a tire operating cost you can live with."
Technology to the Rescue
Technology also helps make the life of a waste hauler easier and less stressful. Two examples come from the Dana Corporation of Toledo, OH, the leading supplier of axles, brakes, and driveshafts for trucks. The Dana Spicer Tire Monitor System alerts the operator to low tire pressure via a warning lamp in the instrument panel. The system uses valve-stem–mounted sensors in each wheel and tire assembly so the driver knows which tire has the problem. Cost of the system is $800-$1,000.
Gary Schultz, Dana’s product manager for tire systems, states, "When operating in a soft or sandy landfill, vehicles frequently get stuck and drivers often damage drivelines trying to extract them. Although some fleets have invested in all-wheel drive, most rely on the tracked heavy equipment at the landfill to pull them out or get them through, causing time delays and further adding to the potential for damage. By reducing tire pressure at the landfill, mobility can be greatly enhanced while eliminating the wheel spin and power hop that add to maintenance costs."
He explains that the Spicer Tire Pressure Control System allows an operator to change tire pressures from the cab while moving. Although new to the solid waste industry, this technology is catching on in other off-road segments, including concrete, construction, and logging.
"Truck tires are designed to operate on the highway at sidewall deflections of around 10 percent," explains Schultz. "When operating off-road and limiting speeds, deflections in the range of 20 percent greatly increase vehicle performance, making it possible to even outperform all-wheel drive, yet with far less weight and with lower vehicle height." He indicates that dropping from 90 psi to 45 or 50 psi takes less than three minutes, with reinflation taking eight to 12 minutes for a 10-tire vehicle. "Since all pressure changes are done while the vehicle is operating, no additional time is necessary." The systems are a bit pricey at the present, but expect the cost to come down as use expands. OEM option prices vary widely, from less than $9,000 to almost $20,000, so shopping around makes sense.
Transfer Station Tire Needs
Unfortunately, the same environment that can destroy a waste-hauler tire can do the same with front-end loaders and skid-steer loaders. "Problems with tires at transfer stations include spinning, puncturing, and sidewall tearing," points out Greg Pickering, Brawler product manager at Maine Industrial Tires Ltd. (ITL). Speaking from the ITL plant in Mississauga, ON, Pickering reports a simple solution: solid rubber. "Solid rubber tires have no air. They cannot be punctured; you cannot tear the sidewall.
"The Brawler solid rubber will cost about twice that of the typical L5 pneumatic tire yet will last about three times as long." He notes that solid rubber is not for highway use but ideal when operating speeds are under 10 mph. "With a solid rubber tire, you can run a spike through one side of the tire and out the other and it won’t destroy the tire."
Spinning woes are eliminated by adding deep treads into the tire—which is not possible with its pneumatic counterpart—or by selecting a rubber compound that is more tailored to transfer station needs yet that also finds traction on improved surfaces. "The benefits of solid rubber are no flats or repair costs, no 24-hour-service requirements, and elimination of tire downtime."
Pickering reports that an adaptable, removable disk makes it possible to move his company’s solid tire from one machine to another, thus helping to tighten inventory needs. Further, transfer stations can anticipate yearly tire expenses, focusing more on the task at hand rather than spending time worrying about the loader tires involved.
Back to the Basics
While technology and sophisticated maintenance recordkeeping systems can help increase tire life, the goal still gets back to keeping that tire properly inflated. "Air pressure is the number-one problem related to tires," reminds Al Cohn, marketing manager of commercial systems engineering for Goodyear in Akron, OH. "Air is what holds the load."
After citing the woes of underinflation mentioned by others, says Cohn, "Inflation checks should be with a calibrated gauge, not a 39-cent plastic one. After all, if your tire’s underinflated 20 percent, mileage will decrease 16 percent. Accurate readings are a must."
He also notes that 80% of truck fleets use retreads as part of their cost-saving strategy. But whether the tire is new or a retread, there is still a need to rotate and balance those tires, to keep the vehicle in alignment, and to check all tires daily. "Waste fleets tend to have a lot of damage on tires because of curbs and landfills. Daily visual checks should suffice, but pressure should be checked at least weekly instead of monthly, as with highway fleets."
Cohn sums up the strategy mentioned by fleet operators and manufacturers alike: "If you catch problems early, you’ll be way ahead of the game as far as reducing your tire costs."
Author's Bio: Journalist Joseph Lynn Tilton specializes in land and building issues.