The country depends on trucking fleets to transport consumer products, food, and building materials from coast to coast. Operating such a fleet of trucks inevitably involves maintaining the tires on which every load rides. Without proper care and maintenance, the rubber tread wears down much more quickly than it should, forcing companies to purchase and replace tires at a growing cost. However, a little extra time and effort put into tire care protocols can yield big dividends in the end.
1. Keep Tires Properly Inflated
The single most important thing that you can do to ensure tires have a long life is to make sure they are inflated to the proper pressure. Tires are designed to operate optimally when the air pressure inside is at or near the prescribed internal pressure. If the pressure deviates from this value 10% in either direction, it can negatively affect the tire and its performance.
The first step in keeping tires properly inflated is making sure that they all have quality valve caps. In a commercial fleet, flow through valve caps can make routine inflation easier. Technicians can fill the tires without removing each and every cap, which can be especially helpful when filling hard to reach inner tires.
When tires do need filling, clean, dry air is best. Moist air can cause a premature breakdown of the rubber and steel rings on the inside of the tire. Since air compressors are usually used to fill tires with outdoor air, consider adding inline filters and dryers to clean the air and remove excess moisture before it reaches the tire.
2. Monitor Tire Maintenance
Keeping these larger trucks aligned is a much bigger job than adjusting the four wheels on a passenger vehicle. Proper alignment involves adjusting both the tractor and the trailer. If either one is off, it will influence the handling, ride, and tire wear on the rest of the vehicle.
As wear patterns are identified and adjustments made by fleet technicians, it is essential to keep good records of the maintenance. These records serve as a type of health history of each tire. Future servicing should take into account previous rotations, alignments, and adjustments. The best way to track information should be what works best for your fleet. If you don’t currently have a working system, you may want to explore tire tracking software available now. Tires can be tagged with a scannable barcode or RFID chip to make each one easily identifiable and trackable.
3. Driver Education
Studies have shown that aggressive driving behaviors are directly correlated with increased tire wear and significantly decrease tire longevity. Habits such as speeding, hard braking, fast cornering, and curbing can be costly if drivers in the fleet regularly engage in these behaviors. Without sitting in the truck with each driver, it can be difficult to know how pervasive the problem is. However, recent advances in technology can detect speeding, hard braking, or cornering. Fleet owners could use the same software that car insurance companies use to encourage safer driving. This software identifies individuals who may need further training to avoid excessive tire wear.
Analyzing scrap tires from your fleet can also be a powerful tool in identifying pervasive problems in your fleet. The wear pattern and reason for failure can tell a powerful story to a trained technician. From the worn-down tread, a tire expert may be able to tell whether the tires are being rotated often enough or whether drivers are braking too hard, causing flat spots to develop in the tread. These clues can lead to educational opportunities for drivers or fleet maintenance crews.
Another important part of educating truck drivers on how to drive for optimal tire preservation is to involve them in the process of caring for the truck and its tires. Have them participate in pre-trip inspections of their tractor, trailer, and tires. This routine may help them to visualize the problem, take ownership of their equipment, and identify potential issues before they lead to an emergency call on the road.
4. Buy the Right Tires
Even the right size tire is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Tires are often designed for specific uses. One tire may be great in the snow, while another is made to travel long distances. Yet another may be equipped with tread that maximizes fuel efficiency. The best tires for your fleet will likely reflect the driving conditions and distances that your drivers travel.
Another property to consider is whether or not the tire casing is designed with retreading in mind. Being able to retread each tire multiple times will not only save you money on tires, but will keep the rubber waste to a minimum. When your tires do reach the end of the road, find a rubber recycling plant that accepts large truck tires. While facilitating tire recycling may cost a little more on your end, you will be preventing environmental damage by seeing that the rubber gets used in productive ways.
5. Invest in Tire Telematics
Gone are the days when the only indication of a tire problem was a little light on the dash indicating low tire pressure. Tire telematics allows this information and much more to be communicated to fleet management. Every tire in the fleet can now be monitored from a single location, and you can keep tabs on much more than just tire pressure
With near 98% accuracy, these systems can track hub and tire temperature, individual wheel loads, bolt tension, miles traveled, and vibration. This information can allow drivers to make adjustments throughout their route. They can make changes to the suspension or the brakes to make the vehicle safer to drive. These systems can also alert drivers to a problem that may be brewing before they get stranded on the side of the road. While helpful to drivers now, this information will undoubtedly become even more useful as we move closer and closer to self-driving fleets.
With prices high, maintaining a fleet worth of tires is a tricky business. However, by combining simple maintenance steps with technological advances, you can extend the life of the tires on each vehicle. These measures, taken individually, may not feel like much, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly the savings accrue.