You run a savvy trucking company. After all, you wouldn’t have gotten this far if you didn’t know how to run your fleet right. So, when it comes to making big company purchases, you conduct your due diligence, you consider every option, and then you act decisively. But how much attention do you pay to your tires? From their design and manufacturing to getting the most out of your tires on the road – there is a lot to consider. That’s why we’re spending a couple of posts talking about this most important topic.
The Increasing Importance of Proper Tire Design
Today’s commercial truck tires are nothing like the tires of old. They are more akin to rolling pieces of sophistication and modern computing. They are how your freight gets from one place to another. They carry the payload on a tractor and trailer, so the importance of their construction and casing cannot be understated.
Unless your tires are carrying airplane payloads, commercial truck tires have arguably the toughest job in the tire business. Heavy-duty Class 8 truck tires must be sturdy and built to last. Trucking companies must choose tire providers that put a lot of research, time, and energy into ensuring their tires perform safely and productively. From a productivity standpoint, since tires are the second highest operating cost after fuel, proper attention must be paid to them. Assessing miles to removal and fuel economy, all while keeping good prices in mind, can help keep trucks on the road and fleets turning a profit.
You may be asking yourself, how is a tire a rolling computer? What actually makes tires so high-tech? On the surface, they’re black and round and look pretty much the same across the board. Except they are anything but. Commercial truck tire manufacturers primarily use natural rubber for heat resistance and durability. Truck tires all use carbon black to some degree as a primary ingredient in the final product.
Obviously, there are some tire brands that have been around forever. Others may be less known and from foreign countries. It is up to your fleet manager and others in your operation to ensure you get the right product for your particular needs. Like with any product, you have varying degrees of quality and expectations. When you are evaluating tires for your equipment, consider that there are up to four tiers of quality and pricing. And for the most part, much like almost anything else in life, you get what you pay for.
Tire Tiers, Explained
Let’s dig into the different tiers in the tire world. The lower the tier, typically the lower the performance. You’ll get fewer miles out of it before you must replace it, for example. A tier 4 tire might show up sporadically in the U.S. market for example, then disappear. Consider that there are also a lot of tire makers, both domestic and foreign, playing in the tier 4 space.
There are hundreds of different brands of drive tires listed on the SmartWay website. And most of them are being sold in the lowest possible tier. Typically, the buyers of these tires are looking for rubber to put on the road – not high mileage, retread ability or other metrics. They want something quick and cheap that can get them going in a hurry.
These low-priced, low-tier options and casings typically don’t hold up to multiple retreads. Moving up to tier 1 and 2 tires will yield a dramatic improvement over tier 4 and 3 varieties. These tires give you long miles to removal, better fuel economy, and can handle going through multiple retreads. You may spend more on these tires, but they will hold up better for you and your fleet in the long run.
One of the best ways to assess the durability and tire manufacturer’s warranty. If the warranty is pretty threadbare, then you can probably expect the tire to be as well. A tire manufacturer knows better than anyone else how its tires will perform. They will not warranty their tire outside of the capability they know it to have. You need to look for an industry-leading warranty program and don’t be afraid to pay a little extra for it.
Evaluating Commercial Tires Versus Passenger Vehicle Tires
When comparing commercial tires to passenger vehicle tires, it’s important to first examine composition. Commercial truck tire manufacturers primarily use natural rubber for heat resistance and durability. In comparison, the automotive tires you drive generally consist of more synthetic rubber than natural rubber. Synthetic rubber meets certain performance requirements while ensuring low cost and easy mass production.
There are certainly big differences between the tire types, which provides interesting challenges for technicians and engineers designing and working on them. Consumers on the road, driving the family or other passengers look for specific handling, low road noise, and mileage in the 40,000-to-80,000-mile range. That works for casual urban driving and the occasional interstate road trip.
Conversely, commercial truck tires need all those things, but there is one crucial factor that means more to them than passenger tires. And that’s casing integrity. Some inspired North American trucking companies with rock-solid tire maintenance practices, can get to nearly half-a-million miles on drive tires.
What about high-performance sporting tires? Obviously, consumers driving sports cars are looking for high performance tires. And what is most important to them? Excellent traction and iron grip braking. It is critical that the tire thread grip the road like a claw. But you cannot have your cake and eat it too. Sacrifices will need to be made in other areas, such as mileage. Some fleets, especially in Canada, look for tires that have better traction, to handle snow and ice conditions. They too will give up fuel economy for specific performance, but that’s not always the case.
How Operation Type Impacts Tire Usage
Trucking companies operating long haul and regional routes have different needs. When it comes to long haul and regional operations, each poses different challenges and that’s why wear (miles to removal) can drastically differ. Tires are designed to balance performance with utility. Did you know that the first and last miles you put onto a tire wear it out faster than the 400 miles in between?
That’s right. Stopping, starting, and turning your tires wears away your trad and causes irregular wear patterns more than anything else. As a result, it is up to tire engineers and designers to figure out a way to prevent those everyday actions from causing too much irregular wear. It is not inordinately difficult to construct a tire that can go straight, turn, stop, and reverse without losing casing integrity or causing irregular wear. But to get the top performance you have to offset the forces that eat up a tire or cause it to come out of service due to irregular wear. This is where tire technicians, OEMs, and fleet managers put their thinking hats on every day. How to best optimize tire price, quality, and usage against lifetime value, warranty, and performance.
But those aren’t the only factors beguiling tire OEMs and end users. For example, there are numerous wheel positions to examine depending on the vehicle, application, route, and other factors. There are big differences between steer tires, drive tires, trailer tires, and other tire types.
Is There a Universal Tire?
Steer tires are considered the most important as they typically carry maximum loads and are very sensitive to tire pressure. And they’re constantly turning and moving and undergo a tremendous amount of wear and tear. Steer tires are also most susceptible to alignment issues. That’s why there is no such thing as a universal tire. Different tire types have different safety margins. You cannot build a one-size-fits-all tire.
In the end, it is up to trucking companies, tire technicians, engineers, and everyone else up and down the tire supply chain to ensure you’re using the right tires for the job at the right time. We hope you’ve enjoyed this first installment of our two-part series looking at one of the most important parts of operating a trucking company: the rubber that hits the road. Join us next time for our final installment, Part II, where we dig even deeper into the world of commercial tires.