Cover Story: The Tire Guys

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


”With braking in the hills with the big freight, the valve core itself—the rubber—will actually melt,” he says. “So you’re out in the desert or the mountains using your brakes, building up heat, and now you’ve got a flat tire because your valve core melted out. Plastic valve caps will melt right off as well. So we use the metal high-temperature caps, and we have very few failures. The inflate-through caps are high-temperature and we use those on the trucks on the aluminum wheels where we can’t get at them.”


”If you don’t recondition your wheels, even if the outside looks great, a wheel that’s had two tires run on it is going to have the inside of it rusted, and the beads will be dirty,” he says. “There’s a point at which you need to send your wheels out to get them repainted and cleaned. We do a lot of that—we pay about $18 to $22, depending on the location, to powder coat the wheels.

“The other thing they do is they check for cracks around the holes. When you sandblast you can see the little spiral cracks that can get you in trouble. And they check the taper, they check the face of the wheel. There’s a point at which it’s too rusted, and they’re going to tell you to replace it. And they clean the inside of the wheel out—if you use a good lube and you inflate that tire correctly, you want to get it to come out eccentrically off the wheel, and if the wheel’s dirty, it doesn’t happen. And if there are little pieces of dirt, then you get slow leaks. We don’t have a problem with bead leaks; over the years I’ve seen a lot of fleets that have a lot bead leaks, because they’re using soap and water. They’re not using a good, high-quality lube.”


We all have our versions of multi-tasking; for Hair, it involves rubbing whatever tire happens to be within reach as he performs his other tasks.

“It’s so ingrained in me,” he says with a laugh. “That tire’s going to tell you a lot of things: if you feel sharpness, one way or the other, it’s going to be toe. If you feel irregular wear, you’ll have to determine whether it’s balanced.”

When Keen went from a 55 mile an hour speed limit to 65 miles an hour, the tires had a lot to say. “We went back to seeing a lot of erosion wear because of the higher speed,” he says. “The Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) book on tire wear is a big help with this: If you have five or more trucks and you don’t have that, you should.”

Even a tire guru, it seems, needs outside help now and then. When rubbing the tires doesn’t work, and the TMC guide has no answers, Hair relies on his tire dealers for help. “You’re going to have to challenge them every now and then, but if there’s a problem, they know what’s causing it,” he says.


While all of Keen Transport’s maintenance shops do their own tire repairs, the Carlisle, PA shop, with its nitrogen inflation system and tire machine, is unique in the amount of tools and equipment available for tire maintenance.

“Some people say that tire machines cost too much money, but what does one back injury cost you?” Hair asks. “There are people who like to do tire work, but they get into their 30s and 40s and their bodies just can’t take it anymore. You put a tire machine in the shop, and for the first 30 days you’re going to have to encourage everyone to use it. Everyone’s a tough guy... But with the tire machine I can change 40 tires a day, not get dirty, and still be able to function at the end of the day.”

It’s also important to Hair to have the proper tools for torquing lug nuts. He used to rely on 1-inch air guns in all his shops, but a few years ago he had a wheel-off problem that set off warning bells: “We had some wheel failures where wheels were coming off, and I though, ‘Damn, I know those tires are on tight,’” he says. “Our sin was, they were on too tight. We were overtorquing wheels, and the studs were failing.”

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