Welcome to the second and final installment of our two-part QuickTSI blog series examining truck tires. Because, after all, your entire operation runs on your fleet’s tires. The question is, are you paying enough attention, whether in procurement or maintenance, to your tires? Probably not. But that’s where we come in. We’ve got the expert wisdom for you and your technicians to ensure your tires stay in tip-top shape for many years to come. They should long outlast their warranty, but that also depends a lot on how well you take care of them.
How Have Tires Changed Over the Years
Much like so much else in life and trucking equipment, tires have changed a great deal over the last decade or so. In the 20th century, the width of a steer tire was approximately 8-1/2 inches. Today? 9-inches. But what does that extra half-inch mean in practicality? Well, this simple design change has in turn allowed for a bigger footprint to spread the weight around the rolling portion of the tire. And new compounds have made that tread roll easier over the road. Less friction means better gas mileage and longer tire and tread life. Tire manufacturers continue to try to out-innovate each other, creating the best tire for the best set of circumstances, depending on the trucking company and use-case scenarios.
Commercial tires have been changing by leaps and bounds over the years. Compounds continue to change, and the mixes keep improving. Engineers and chemists are constantly shifting a slight amount of this and a little bit of that to make just the right blend for performance, average lifecycle, and wear and tear. The use of new raw materials and formulations allows tire designers to expand performance so that improvements can be made in rolling resistance while maintaining, or enhancing, treadwear, traction, and so much more.
And still, there is something else to consider. Another component in continued tire quality improvement is in the manufacturing process. Every tire OEM does it a little differently, but each manufacturing method has a lot to do with how long the tires last and how well they perform under constant use. To be considered a top tire manufacturer, you can’t just offer what you refer to as top-tier tires and then call it a day. Building a brand reputation in the trucking industry simply requires more.
Why is Uniformity So Important
Tires coming off the line need to be uniform. They need to match every spec and benchmark and spec they are advertised with. And that means the specs and tolerances are very tight. For top tire brands, if the tires don’t meet spec, they’re rejected. And that is a reputation that will follow a brand.
It’s hard to escape a failure like that. But what gives top-tier tire manufacturers the edge? OEMs that know what they are doing generally use x-ray and uniformity machines to inspect every tire that rolls down the line. And they can do so with a precision that wasn’t possible before modern technology revolutionized so many industries. Manufacturing commercial tires has come a long way. These improvements mean tires from the leading brands have better uniformity, which translates to longer, more even wear.
There is a lot of technology built into today’s commercial tires. Never have they been more fuel efficient, nor have they lasted as long. But that can all mean nothing if the tire is not uniform and as a result does not spin true. Truckers going out on routes with improper tires, tires with uneven wear, or tires that are not properly balanced, is a dangerous and misguided idea.
Tire uniformity is something truckers don’t think much about. A non-uniform tire can cause vibrations, pulls, and can create noise, which can transmit into the truck through the steering wheel, seats, doors, and dash.
What’s more, non-uniformity can create a high level of runout and lead to irregular tire wear patterns like spot wear, out-of-round, and erratic wear. For a fleet manager, that’s the pain point in a tire program. Irregular wear erodes the tire’s ability to perform, and when a tire doesn’t run right, fleets look for another that will.
How Do OEMs Gauge Uniformity?
Once a tire has been installed over a rim, you’ve got several important factors to consider. There are other issues related to mounting and balancing. These factors include the vehicle’s condition and even how that vehicle is driven. The type of route a truck driver runs can have a significant impact on the wear and tear of the tires on that vehicle. That’s why we want every tire that comes off the assembly line to meet exacting standards. Anything less and you could have an accident on the road, which is the last thing anyone wants.
The primary causes of non-uniformity in a tire include irregularities in geometry, stiffness, and mass, which are defined through a set of measured forces or parameters accepted by major global tire and car makers. These parameters include radial force variation, lateral force variation, conicity, radial run-out, lateral runout, and balance. Tire makers worldwide employ uniformity measurement to identify impacts to the ride and handling performance to ensure customer satisfaction.
Long-haul steer tires are historically the most difficult to wear evenly. Plus, since they’re front-andcenter you feel and see any irregularities more so than any other wheel position. Inflation pressure checks and vehicle alignment are a few of the key things fleets can control — but the uniformity of the tires plays a key role in how evenly the tires wear. When tires aren’t manufactured uniformly, there are extra forces put on the tire that make it hop and wobble. This can lead to irregular wear patterns and reduce the overall mileage you get out of the tire. You’ll likely have to retread early.
Top Tire Considerations for Long-Haul Truckers
When it comes to commercial tires for long-haul, the typical question a tire salesman gets is “how many miles will these tires go? And how much do they cost?” When the answer is given, the customer does some quick math to figure out if the new tires being considered, will be a better solution. But is that the right way of looking at it? Does tire savings really come into play in the long-haul segments? Absolutely! You need to be evaluating fuel efficiency above all factors other than safety. If you’re buying strictly on mileage and price, you aren’t buying the proper tires for your application.
That’s why it is so important for fleet managers and procurement specialists to compare different tires and their rolling resistance. It should not be too hard to have a tire dealer or salesperson run the calculation for you. That way you can see if choosing that tire will negatively impact fuel economy. Depending on the spread in rolling resistance, fuel savings alone can help offset the cost of your tires. Enough fuel savings even pay for a complete set of tires if you really jumped in fuel economy.
After figuring out fuel economy, consider at looking at projected miles to removal and the casing value of the tire, otherwise known as its “retreadability.” Then, ask about the price of the tire. Calculate all those numbers to see where you’re at, and you’ll then be making an informed decision on what tires are right for your operation. This way you’ll be making a direct comparison.
Commercial Motor Vehicle Tires Never Stop Evolving
Improving fuel efficiency in tires comes primarily in tread compounding, but tread design, casings, and sidewalls come into play too. OEM chemists are constantly testing new compounds and how they can impact rolling resistance. From silica to polymers and carbon black – almost any element is at play. There are main ingredients, but it is how you combine those ingredients, along with other chemicals, that makes the tire special or unique.
When it comes to designing tires, while fuel efficiency gets the most attention when designing tires for long-haul, in the end, it is all a delicate balancing act. Why? Because overall performance still needs to be there. You can’t sacrifice tread life, durability, casing life, or traction for some other fleeting tire-related consideration. Fuel efficiency can get you the biggest return, but you must factor in miles to removal and retreadability. Then, price can be the determining factor.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our two-part series looking at tires and their importance to just about any fleet, no matter the size or application. Just remember that your entire business spins around your tires, so take extra care when procuring and maintaining them!