Cover Story: The Tire Guys

When the rubber hits the road at Keen Transport, it really hits the road.


“We have a master gauge,” says Hair, “and every 30 to 45 days, Linus (Sweger, tire manager) goes to the technicians and has them check their gauges against the master gauge, and if they’re two pounds or more off, they’re history.”

THE SCRAP PILE

When Hair really wants to know what’s going on with his tires, he spends some time at the scrap tire pile.

“That’s where it all starts,” he says. “If you start seeing you have a lot of impact breaks—and you can get your dealer in to look at them—you’ve got a problem”

Hair recalls that about 10 years ago the fleet was running its tires with a little extra pressure, and was plagued with impact breaks from tires hitting potholes and curbs. “The tire dealer guy asked what pressure we were running and we said 115-110, and he said, ’You really need to come down to 105,’” Hair recalls. “So we had to find a happy medium—now we do heavy haul where you’re loaded on the way out and empty on the way back, you’ve got to have enough air to handle the weight, but you’re looking for the optimum. So, we studied that and tried going down as low as 95, but that didn’t work so now we’re back at 105.”

Drivers can provide almost as much information as the scrap pile, says Hair. “You’ve got to listen to the drivers. If you write them off, you’re going to miss an important piece.

“That’s the first lesson I learned: listen to ride quality complaints,” he says. “It’s a diagnostic tool. If the truck isn’t handling correctly, you’re not getting optimum tire wear. If it’s going left or right it’s an alignment issue, that takes more energy.”

MORE AND MORE TIRE TIPS

Spend a morning talking with Hair, and he’ll rattle off more tire care tips than you can shake a stick at. After all, he’s been the tire guru at Keen Transport ever since he started with the company in 1971 and realized that no one was paying much attention to the rubber. To put it in air pressure terms, Hair saw a vacuum and he filled it.

The result is a lifetime of expertise on just about any tire topic you can think of:

CHEAP TIRES—

“A lot of guys are still buying what I call ‘the deal of the day,’” Hair says. “The dealer’s got 10 tires, and you only need eight, and it’s a name you don’t recognize.

“But those inexpensive tires are never going to give you the lowest running cost,” he goes on. “There’s always something else that equates into that. The drivers aren’t going to be real happy with those tires. They say it costs $8,000 to $10,000 to put a driver in the seat of a truck—you’re going to irritate him over a couple hundred dollars of tires? That’s not a good business decision.”

NITROGEN INFLATION—

”Nitrogen inflation helps us maintain more consistent pressure,” he explains. “Also, we have trailers that might sit in a yard for a week til it’s ready for the next load. That trailer’s sitting and working, sitting and working, and nitrogen helps us keep up the optimum inflation pressure longer.

“I inflated some tires—18/5s—on Thanksgiving, to 110, and I checked them at the end of March, they were 105,” he recalls.

PRESSURE MONITORING SYSTEMS—

“We spec’ PSI new on the trailers,” he says. “The trucks, we’re looking at some technologies, but they’re just not there yet. There’s one that has an LED on the valve stem that flashes when the tire’s low and catches the guy’s eye. I think when that’s priced right we’ll go for that.

“PSI inflates the tires and gives you a warning light. With permit loads you can only run daylight hours and you have to have a police escort. PSI keeps the tire inflated, so you’re not going to irritate that trooper.

“When a tire does blow, and you’ve got a permit, those permits cost money, and you have an optimum time that that permit’s good. You want to be out of that state when you should. So you don’t want to have breakdowns when you’re hauling loads at all. At the end of the day with PSI, the tire is still inflatable.

“It’s not a free system, though,” he says. “You do have to maintain PSI: while it’s in the shop you have to check the hoses, soak them down and check them, make sure there are no leaks.”

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