Three Ways to Get the Maximum Miles Out of Your Tires

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Can you get 400,000+ miles out of your tires?

In Three Top Ways to Preserve Tire Life in the March 2014 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking, Jim Park writes about a retired maintenance specialist who accomplished this feat regularly.

Ron Szapacs, former maintenance specialist for Air Products and Chemicals, admits the goal is too ambitious for some applications but says in long-haul situations and in the service of maintenance-focused owner-operators, tires can get close to the half-million miles mark before being retired. He says there are three keys to making that happen:

1. Identity the Proper Inflation Level and Keep it There

Consult your manufacturer Load & Inflation tables to help determine precisely where your pressure should be. And it is important to settle on a precise number. The practice of over-inflating just a tad to boost gas mileage and hedge against tire damage, according to the experts interviewed in Parks’ article, does neither.

In fact, most tires function best inflated only to the L&I minimums, which allows tires to maintain a larger area of contact with the road and reduces impact damage. Herman Miller, president of HJM Fleet Maintenance, says higher pressure may produce some “small increase in fuel economy, but I could never quantify it.”

And tires that are at higher pressure “are too hard to function the way they were designed to function – that is, having enough give in the casing to absorb impacts like pot holes and road debris, having the optimum footprint or contact patch.” he says.

2. Maintain Alignment, Balance and Keep an Eye Out for Other Mechanical Threats

The way your tires are wearing can tell you a lot about your truck’s overall condition, Park explains in Extend Tire Life: Learn How to Tell When Your Trucks are Killing Your Tires.

Suspension, steering, wheel mounting studs, bearings, alignment, balance, shock absorbers – problems in all these areas will show up in tire wear.

The American Trucking Association’s “Radial Tire Wear Conditions and Causes: A Guide to Wear Pattern Analysis” offers detailed categories to identify wear and track back to possible causes.

One of the most common culprits is running a truck out of alignment, a problem that can cost up to a third or more of a tire’s life expectancy, according to Mike McCoy, national accounts sales manager at Beeline. “If you’re seeing irregular wear, don’t wait until the tires are destroyed. A $200 alignment could repay itself several times over in reduced steer and drive tire wear.”

Balancing is also as “maintenance tough sell,” according to Park, especially since with new tires it’s rarely a problem anymore. “But what about hubs and brake drums that might be out of balance, or worn hub pilots that could cause an out-of-round condition with wheel or tire?” he asks. Plus, a new tire that starts out balanced can be knocked out of balance in as little as a month.

He recommends dynamic balancing compounds or balancing rings to help maintain balance, even where wear is already irregular.

3. Retread

Important as proper inflation and maintenance are for extending the life of your tires, nothing beats retreading to maximize your tire investment. According to Modern Tire Dealer magazine, a retread is about $140 less than the average price of a new replacement tire.

And, Park points out, “when you factor in as many as two retreads on a single casing, you’re tripling the value of that casing – but effectively getting three times the mileage from it.”

Bill Sweatman, president and CEO of Marangoni Tread North America says that using modern retread technologies from initial to final inspection is key. He says it’s important to commit to using a system that “makes the retread decisions or you and your tires based on optimizing total cost of ownership.” Do those two things and he says post-retread performance can actually be superior to original new tire life.

Why Owner-Operators Need a Truck Maintenance Plan

guy working on truck

That truck you drive every day isn’t just a tool. It’s an asset that can make your business more successful if you treat it well. A regular oil change for example, removes iron particles from your engine. “Having iron particles in your oil is like having sandpaper in your engine: It’ll wear out parts quickly,” says engine repair shop owner Bruce Mallinson.

To Satisfy Regulations

If the idea of sandpaper on your engine parts isn’t enough to make you uncomfortable, the fact that the government can take you off the road if your maintenance isn’t done and documented may motivate you some more.

Getting your authority means you’re also getting a DOT number, which means you’re on the FMCSA’s radar for a new-entrant safety audit. Sometime between your sixth and eighteenth month of operation, you’ll be subject to a thorough once-over by the Feds, according to Thomas Bray, Editor, J.J. Keller & Associates.

In “How Safety Audits Apply to New Owner-Operators,” Bray explains that the audit includes a check of six factors, including driver(s), operational, hazardous materials, accidents, general – and vehicle. The vehicle factor requires that the carrier be able to show a program for systematic inspections, maintenance, and repairs, and records of annual inspection requirement compliance.

If you’re operating more than one truck, the auditor will also check your driver vehicle inspection reports (DVIRs) and will request inspection, maintenance, and repair records for every truck.

To Save Money and be a More Reliable Carrier for Your Customers

But if all you’re doing is satisfying regulations, you’re leaving a lot of money on the table, says Mel Kirk, vice president of maintenance operations for Ryder Systems. “You’re not running an effective preventive maintenance program if you see it only as an exercise mandated by the law,” Kirk says in this article on avoiding common maintenance mistakes. Maintenance should be seen as an exercise to assess the vehicle’s condition and resolve any issues before they create more expensive problems in the future.

The danger in putting off preventative maintenance is that it gets to be a habit, according to Bob Merrill, operation analyst for W.W. Williams. And every time it gets put off, the risk of breakdowns increase. Your maintenance plan should set standard intervals for component maintenance and include frequent checks so that breakdowns are eliminated. If you can do that, the program pays for itself, Merrill says.

Merrill’s sentiment is echoed in this article “How Much Should You Put Away for Maintenance?” by Bill McClusky, a 23-year veteran of the trucking industry. “Preventative maintenance can be expensive, but neglect is even more costly. Systematic PM saves you money in the long run by reducing the chances of equipment failure on the road and reducing time lost to repairs,” he says.

Again, “systematic” is a key concept and it’s easier to have the discipline to be systematic when you have funds available specifically for maintenance. The question then is how much to set aside to take care of your truck. McClusky recommends that for a new truck, you earmark five cents per mile. For older trucks, save more – a four-year-old truck or one with more than 600,000 miles needs 10 cents for every mile.

Once your maintenance costs reach the 13 or 14 cents per mile threshold, it’s probably a good time to look into investing in a new truck. Check out Team Run Smart’s “Upgrade vs Rebuild: When’s the Right Time to Invest in a New Truck?” to see a payment and maintenance cost analysis.

As another preventative tactic, establish an account with a truck rental company, which should reduce the time needed to get a substitute truck in case your truck needs major repairs. You’ll be able to keep your commitments to your customers, keep working and earning income, and reduce your stress level as well.