Can you control the uncontrollable?

When looking at your fleet, what do you know for sure? You know there will be service calls, and you know there will be unforeseen expenses.

Properly maintaining your fleet is essential to moving your company toward profitability. So when there are opportunities to minimize an “uncontrollable,” such as tire maintenance, you ought to take it.

Over the years, nitrogen tire inflation has been talked about, touted, researched and challenged. As more fleets have started to use nitrogen in tires, the real-life success stories have become more accessible. With fuel costs and tire prices rising, nitrogen inflation has again sparked the interest of the fleet industry.

Pressure Migration

So, what do we know about nitrogen? We know that it is slower to migrate out of a tire than air. Sure, at what rate may be subjective, but due to the larger molecule size, this is a fact. Under the same circumstances, a tire filled with nitrogen will have slower inflation pressure loss rates (IPLR) than a tire filled with air.

What we can assume here is that the longer your tire holds its proper tire pressure, the longer you will see the benefits of a properly inflated tire, which include extended tire life, lower fuel costs, and ultimately, less downtime due to tire issues.

The various consequences of under-inflated tires are well known: excessive wear, larger temperature fluctuations and higher rolling resistance, all of which can result in downtime costs.

Many say you can get the same results inflating with air and having a tire maintenance program. The big question is: How many fleets actually stick to a tire maintenance program?

The answer is: not many. Most fleets have good intentions, but more often than not too many other details become the priority.

With nitrogen, tire checks are still necessary, but due to holding a tire pressure longer, you can expect to see a decrease in service labor, service time, decreased top-off needs and other service-related issues due to blowouts. With so many areas of your business that could be affected, nitrogen inflation is definitely worth considering.

Documented Results

A well-known study, Effects of Nitrogen Tire Inflation on Canadian Long-Haul Trucking, was presented in March 2007. It was a government-funded, double blind study performed with a Canadian trucking company, Transport Canada.

The fleet “showed a 3.3 percent improvement in fuel efficiency when comparing a driver-based tire maintenance program with a third-party tire maintenance program,” the study said. The fleet “found a further improvement attributable to nitrogen tire inflation of 3.8 percent and an impressive 6.1 percent when comparing nitrogen inflation with a driver-based tire maintenance program.”

Just because your tires are filled with nitrogen doesn’t mean the condition of your tires will automatically change. And just because you have nitrogen in the tire, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll decrease your fuel costs.

The key is that your tire will hold its proper tire pressure longer, which is why you can expect to see benefits such as longer lasting tires - possibly adding three to four retreads to the original tire, tires that run cooler more often - for longer tire life, and a decrease in fuel costs.

Downtime is a dirty word in any transportation industry. A few years ago a company out of Greenville, MI, was determined to get a handle on its fuel use and downtime issues. It documented its experience when switching their fleet of over-the-road trucks to nitrogen.

Pete Larsen, the president of Larsen Trucking, at the time wrote: “In the first four months of 2006, our on-road tire repair expenses calculated by tire failure were $5,126.72 per month. In the same period for the first six months of 2007 [using nitrogen], the on-road tire repair expenses were $929.95 per month - an 82 percent reduction.”

This result can’t be expected for every fleet, but it is one company’s example of how nitrogen fit its need to control some costs that had, at one time, seemed uncontrollable.

Another benefit to nitrogen is that it is a dry, inert gas. This may be obvious, but it is worth pointing out that removing oxygen from a tire means less damage to inner liners, steel belts and rims due to oxidation and condensation.

Big Names

Some big names in the industry are already running on nitrogen-filled tires, including Wal-Mart and Safeway, because they have justified the return on investment in nitrogen tire inflation.

Wal-Mart recently reported that it is 60 percent of the way to doubling its shipping efficiency by 2015. Included in its sustainability program is nitrogen-filled tires for its entire North American fleet. Elizabeth Fret-heim, director of strategy and sustainability for Wal-Mart’s fleet operations stated: “We are rolling out a program to do nitrogen filling of tires that will help reduce rolling resistance.”

With big names like Wal-Mart and Safeway already using it, it is safe to say that nitrogen inflation is here to stay. So now, it becomes a race to see who will take advantage of the benefits sooner rather than later.

Stacey Majkrzak is marketing manager for Branick Industries, based in Fargo, ND. Since its founding in 1917, Branick has been an industry leader in tire service and repair equipment, tire inflation equipment and nitrogen systems. Today, Branick is leading the industry into a greener tomorrow by focusing on fuel conservation, and helping customers reduce their carbon footprint. With multiple manufacturing locations in the U.S., Branick Industries is committed to main-taining the well-earned reputation for quality, service, innovation and value.