Designing the proper tire maintenance program for the unique demands placed on medium-duty vehicle tires goes a long way towards improving safety for vehicle operators, resource management, and overall ROI for fleet operations.
"We have a category that we call 'Trucking fleets who don't know they're trucking fleets,'" says Harvey Brodsky, managing director of the Tire Retread Information Bureau (TRIB). "These fleets consider their trucks a cost of doing business. What they really should do is to operate their fleet as a profit center—think of it as a separate entity. This will help them to track and pay attention to costs."
"Every fleet needs to have a written maintenance policy that addresses tires," says Doug Jones, Michelin's customer engineering support manager for North America. "If they have a tire maintenance program, they can increase the longevity of their tires and improve profitability. Key to the maintenance program is to make sure the fleet is running the best tire for the application. Fleets often do not investigate the best tire for their application before deciding which tires to buy."
Guy Walenga, engineering manager, North American Commercial Products at Bridgestone/Firestone, says a fleet's tire supplier can help design a tire maintenance program. "You interview with the fleet and find out what they have, what they need, proper pressure checking, proper balancing, what types of retreads to use, what types of repairs are suitable, a lot of technical issues." He says the data is compiled, the correct tires and wheels are determined, and in the end, a maintenance book customized to the fleet is developed for the shop. He adds, "Some may take critical items and put them on a laminated chart for the wall as a ready reference."
To get a handle on what a tire maintenance program needs, managers need to gather data. It's vital to calculate what has been spent in the past on tires, retreads, and assorted services. And, don't be afraid to ask those in the tire industry for help.
When Jim Anderson first began as the tire maintenance program supervisor for the City of Phoenix, AZ, in 1993, he needed to determine exactly what was happening with their program.
"We did a needs and cost assessment on what tire maintenance services were costing us and we found they were way out of bounds," remembers Anderson. He says his biggest surprise was that his technicians were scrapping good, repairable casings.
"The first thing I did was contact Bridgestone for a tire scrap analysis," he says. "We managed about 10,000 tires plus 7,000 retreads per year. The City of Phoenix had a fleet of anything from hand trucks and bikes to scrapers and wheel dozers with tire sizes from 1.75-26s (bike tire) to 3.50 x 6 up to 37.25 X 35s."
The City of Phoenix had a zero-base budget, which is a process that does not use the previous year's budget or expenses in setting a new budget and where every expense must be justified. "My budget ran about $2.5 million a year for tire acquisitions as well as labor and services and I had approximately 5,000 to 6,000 vehicles. Our territory covered between 500 and 600 square miles and we had four major facilities, two satellite offices at the landfills, and seven police substations where we maintained police cars," says Anderson.
He adds, "Most of our tire changing machines were about 20 years old and so we began a tire equipment replacement program. We tried to modernize the program by buying new machines for major facilities. The plan was to replace those every five years and then move the older machines to other facilities. We got 10 years out of our major purchases. Using this rotation system to get the best and most use out of the equipment, we were pretty much current within five years."
TRIB's Brodsky says the only cost that matters is life cycle cost, not the up front cost. "You have to know what tires are costing or you're running blind," he says. "It makes me shake my head when a fleet doesn't keep records.