Retreaded truck tires certainly aren’t everyone’s darling. Bring them up and you’ll often hear complaints ranging from alligators on the highway to lower life spans. Look at the data, however, and you’ll find retreads may not actually be the bad guy.
In fact, research done by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and other groups reveal that tire debris is just as likely to be coming from new tires as it is from retreads. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) has recently released a fleet survey showing that retreads are not only keeping up with brand new tires, but may sometimes even outlast them.
The ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council has been hard at work surveying fleets, as we recently reported in covering the fuel economy versus low-rolling-resistance (LRR) tire debate. The second portion of that survey was designed to address retread use.
The majority of survey respondents were linehaul and regional carriers operating 7 and 8 Class vehicles. Around half had 500 trucks or more and the other half less than 500.
The Tire Revival
The first thing that sticks out is that most fleets that use retread tires are opting to give the non-fuel-efficient variety a second life. The trend was to retread the majority of standard tires twice or more.
LRR and wide-base tires were far less likely to be revived. Of the wide-base tires that were, they were generally only retreaded once before being tossed into the muck.
Using retreads on drive axles varied depending on whether or not single or tandem axles were being used. One interesting result was that retreaded LRR and wide-base tires outlived their retreaded standard counterparts by a wide margin.
Trailer Position Matters
Another surprising result came from how tires faired relative to trailer position. Retreaded LRR and wide-base tires lasted longer than the standard retreads by as much as 20,000 miles, no small number.
Even more telling, the survey data compared life-miles from the trailer position as recorded with both original and retread tires. In these cases, the LRR and wide-base retreads lasted longer than even brand new virgin tires.
One of the theories explaining this surprising data set could be the extra care that goes into producing a retread tire. Since these tires are being rebuilt, more diligent maintenance and materials improvements could be contributing to the longer life span.
One of the first aspects of using retreads lies in using quality casings. A solid Tier 1 or 2 casing can go through several retreads. Putting tires through multiple retreads extends casing life and helps recover a measure of the initial cost.
As with any tire, ensuring proper inflation levels is important to maintaining the integrity of the casing. Under- or over-inflated tires are susceptible to internal damage. This type of damage can usually be spotted during a retreader’s intake inspection.
Try leaving an extra 32nd of an inch of rubber on the casing when you decide to retread. This helps act as an insurance policy against potential damage resulting from letting the rubber run too low.
The Future of Retreads
There has been a nearly 5 percent increase in retread production this year. Even so, retreaders are expecting the market to remain flat. While the hope is that with more trucks comes the need for more retreaders, the real problem is coming from overseas.
There are now more Tier 3 and Tier 4 tire imports flooding the market than ever before. This onslaught means that it’s becoming more difficult to find quality Tier 1 and Tier 2 casings. Since casing quality is vital to retreading, there is a smaller pool of tires out there eligible to be retreaded.
Fleets are going with a less expensive tire because they aren’t buying with cost-per-mile in mind. If carriers were to retread premium tires, they would see a far greater return than they would on an initial cheap tire purchase. Whether or not this will change minds on retreads remains to be seen.