As the Technology & Maintenance Council’s (TMC) Chair for the S.2 Tires and Wheels Future Truck Task Force, and Silver Spark Plug award winner, Walenga is well-connected with fleets across the country and their needs, and he says listening to them is one of the most important things he does.
“They want everything, and we’re trying to give them as much of everything as we can, and an on/off-highway tire is quite a balance: they take a whole lot more punishment,” Walenga says. “They want a drive tire, for example, that can go off-highway, won’t get bogged down in soft material—it will be able to dig itself out, won’t chip and cut up, and they won’t have to use different trucks, where they can get more highway mileage, but not give up what they could already do off the highway.”
On the other end, fleet officials need to find out exactly what kind of conditions their tires are going through, or costly mistakes can result.
“When you’re on that fine line of what’s off-highway and what’s not, some fleets will sometimes choose to use a highway tire because that’s a little less expensive, but they find that the cutting and chipping is so bad that sometimes they lose the casing,” Walenga says. “It doesn’t appear that the tire is worn out, but the cutting and chipping goes through the compound in a heartbeat, right down to the belts. You might not see it, but when you see tires in a scrap pile and start peeling away the rubber, you can see that, and that starts with wicking and moisture attacking belts, you have rust, you have a casing that’s fatigued or takes too much time and effort to buff all the rust out for a repair or retread and you lose the casings.
“So, it’s a tough choice when you’re on that fine line,” Walenga says. “‘Do I use a highway tire because it’s cheaper and just be real careful, or do I pay extra and use an on/off-highway tire and maybe give up some of my overall highway mileage, which is the bulk of the time I spend with the tire?’ Each fleet has to decide what is best for them on a cost per mile basic and where it fits into their application.”
Fleets also want a tire that will not only live on-highway more and still retain off-highway properties, Walenga says, but they’ll still be able to retread.
“Retreading is just as important in this environment, if not more, than with a highway tire, because these are expensive tires, you still have the casing that is still retreadable and repairable, so these guys want to retread and get more out of their investment in that steel radial casing,” he says. “They are going off-highway, and it’s not all simply some (rough) roads or some crushed rock or few cactus you’re running over; you’re running these tires in operations where there is so much debris, you get a lot of road hazards; the tires get enough holes poked in them where they just can’t be repaired or retreaded, so the life of these tires is a little shorter, but it’s much, much more brutal.”
While other companies have had some success with self-sealing tires, Walenga says Bridgestone officials have decided to steer clear.
“It does only cover the areas in the tread that would normally be repairable if you had a puncture,” he says. “The sealant does help in so much it keeps you going, because it seals it up. But, in talking to fleets, the downside is that they have so much faith in the technology that they don’t do a really good job at inspecting their tires, and a lot of the debris that punctures the tire stays in it. And when that happens over time, even though the air is not coming out and the tire is serviceable, you tend to wick more moisture into the tire; rust attacks it, you have tires that don’t retread, that need a lot of repairs to bring them up to re-treadabililty, and a lot of times there is too much damage.”
Walenga says while the sealant serves its purpose at the moment, if you can’t convince the user to still inspect the tire, they let it go and sometimes they end up losing the casing.