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.
"You have to buy new no matter what because without new tires, you won't have the casings to retread," says Walenga. "You do make retreadability one of the items on your checklist when buying a tire. You need to assess the durability of casing rather than price."
Jones says, "Fleets need to decide whether or not they are going to include retreads in their tire maintenance program. If they decide to use retreads, they should first find a reputable retreader and establish a casing policy. Fleet maintenance managers also need to establish a 'Pull Point' to remove tires from service to be rotated, retreaded, or replaced. The turnaround time on retreads will vary by dealer—it takes approximately two to three days to get retreads done so they need to allow time for that service."
"A good retreader analyzes what the fleet is doing and can recommend a tire design and tread design specific to your needs," says Brodsky. "New tires can run $175 to $350 or more. Having tires retreaded can save at least 50 percent of the cost of a new tire."
Brodsky says fleets with medium-duty vehicles often can retread the tire more than once. Smaller trucks do a lot of turning, curbing, and city driving and tires wear out quicker, but the tire does not have the time to "age out." When the second tread wears out, the casing still might be young and healthy.
Tire Industry Association (TIA), based in Bowie, MD, provides training to tire dealers and commercial fleet operators.
Chris Bell, director of training for TIA says, "A lot of fleets do not do tire service but have to remove tires for other maintenance items, therefore, they need to be trained. OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.177 says that anyone who handles an inflated truck tire must be trained according to a bulleted list of specific items."
She adds that OSHA doesn't say you have to have TIA training to be compliant and that some companies have developed their own training program to meet the standard, but Bell says that TIA has built its training programs specifically around this OSHA regulation.
Jones says that depending upon the size of the fleet, it's a good idea to have at least one person trained as an instructor. "A tire buster's position is usually an entry level position with high turnover," he says. "Having someone on staff that is trained and current will help with training new employees."
THREE MAGIC WORDS
According to everyone interviewed, the three magic words in tire care are air pressure maintenance.
"Air pressure maintenance is the key," says Walenga. "Tires require the right air pressure and maintenance of that pressure. It takes a long time to realize the value of proper air pressure maintenance, but only a few weeks to experience the effects of poor air pressure maintenance."
Air pressure maintenance in a lot of shops is very poor, according to Jones. "When a vehicle comes in for whatever reason," she says, "it is a good opportunity to check the tire air pressure."
Brodsky echoes this sentiment. "Almost 100 percent of those fleets of medium-duty vehicles are home every night so there is a golden opportunity to look at those tires every morning. Check the air pressure when the tire is cold, once a week at the very least, using an accurate truck tire gauge and not by kicking or thumping the tire," he says. "If you do this, you may as well thump the hood of your truck to determine if you need oil."
According to Brodsky, a tire that is driven with 20 percent or more under-inflation is considered to be a "run flat." A properly inflated tire, on average, will have a savings of about five percent on fuel over a tire that is not inflated properly.
"We also like to have technicians do the 'dirty hand' test," says Brodsky. "Once a week, run a hand across the tire and you will be amazed by how many problems can be resolved before they begin."
A fleet's air pressure management efforts can be enhanced by automatic inflation monitoring systems, according to Lee Fleishman, marketing director for Fleet Specialties, Co.
A pressure monitoring system such as Fleet Specialties' Tire Sentry can improve useful tire life, maximizing return on tire investment, says Fleishman. "Tire pressure monitoring systems reduce the likelihood of blowouts on the road caused by undetected pressure loss," he explains. "They can reduce road service calls and costly vehicle downtime. And the government advises that the U.S. could save some 4.2 million gallons of fuel every day just by keeping tires properly inflated."
THINK IT OUT
"A tire maintenance program needs to be well thought out, in written form, well-communicated—everybody understands it—and it's got to have follow up, someone to monitor the program," Jones says. "I've been at some fleets that say they've got a good program and then the tire buster will have a different story."
Walenga offers that a fleet is missing out if they are only going to tire dealer for purchases, and not for added services. "Dealers know this industry and can help fleet managers assess what is best for the fleet," he says.
TIA has an admirable goal of developing training for every type of tire. Bell says the message is that training is important for tire technicians—for safety, for company image, for their customers, and for regulation compliance.
"It's a miracle what tires do," says Anderson. "They are manufactured so well that people take them for granted."
Reason enough to develop and implement an effective tire maintenance program.
For more on the City of Phoenix's tire program, go to www.fleetmag.com