Truck and trailer tires provide a wealth of data to a technician who knows how to interpret the information being presented. With more than 100 years of accumulated maintenance experience and hard science as a guide, a good technician examining a tire can discern a wide array of problems quickly, such as questionable driver behavior, alignment issues, worn components and improperly spec’d tires.
“It’s kind of like when you have a pair of shoes and you hurt your leg or break your toe, and you walk funny for a while,” says Tim Miller, marketing communications manager, commercial for Goodyear. “That usually causes your shoes to wear in an unusual way because you have to walk differently than normal.”
Tires are similar. “If there’s something wrong, if the alignment is off on the steer axle or drive axle, whether it’s a toe problem or a camber problem, or if it’s a drive axle misalignment problem, it’s going to show up in your tires.” An experienced technician can check the tires, identify the issue and take steps to correct it before another set of tires gets put on the vehicle and the same thing happens again.
When it comes to tire wear, drivers are a fleet’s first line of defense, says Doug Jones, Michelin’s customer engineering support manager for North America. All drivers should include a comprehensive tire examination in their pre- and post-trip inspections. During those inspections, they need to get “up close and personal,” Jones says, rubbing their hands on the tires to check for any feathering, cupping or diagonal wear.
There also might be a more personal reason for drivers to monitor tire wear, because tires can expose bad driving habits and their own poor tire care. Tires easily can indicate driver practices such as high-power or jackrabbit starts, brake skids or lack of regular inflation.
“If you have spec’d a tire improperly, you will quickly see an increased wear rate,” says Curtis Decker, commercial tire product development engineer for Continental. If a fleet has selected a tire that isn’t right for the application – such as a regional tire optimized against cutting and chips that is being used in a slow wearing application – tramline wear would be evident.
“Tires are getting more specialized all the time,” Miller says. “We now have tires that are best suited for high-scrub applications – a great example would be a school bus – that are constantly turning left and right, with lots of starts and stops. The tires go through a lot of scrubbing in all those tight turns.” Goodyear designs high-scrub tires with a tread compound that wears “as well as it can in that situation,” he says. “It’s going to resist the scrubbing. If you didn’t have that tire on, you’re probably going to burn your tires off pretty quickly because you have the wrong tire for the application.”
“Tires, like vehicles, have become very application-specific in recent years,” says Aaron Murphy, vice president, Double Coin. “Different patterns, sizes, designs and components of a tire offer the vehicle the best productivity and efficiency in a specific application. If mismatched, many times the tire, and sometimes the vehicle, will show the results.”
No matter how thorough a fleet’s inspection process, it’s not enough if drivers don’t act quickly to avert catastrophic tire damage when something unforeseen happens. If a truck has an air pressure monitoring system that warns of slow or sudden air pressure loss, the driver should pull over as soon as possible to prevent further tire damage – as well as potential damage to the truck or nearby cars. “If no PSI monitoring system is available, it is difficult for a trucker to do anything unless noise, vibration or altered performance is felt in the cab,” says William Estupinan, director of technical service in North and South America for GITI Tire.
The bottom line? Not taking the time to examine tires – or ignoring the problems the tires are identifying – not only increases tire acquisition and replacement costs but also allows vehicle issues to get out of hand and become safety issues.
“Tires represent a huge investment for fleets,” Jones says. For most fleets, tires are their third highest expense behind salary and fuel. “It’s just common sense for any fleet to invest the time to make sure that this asset is monitored and managed properly.”
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