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Change? Analyze total tire cost first

There is considerable pressure within many trucking firms to examine all significant expenses with an eye to cost reduction.

There is considerable pressure within many trucking firms to examine all significant expenses with an eye to cost reduction. Tire prices have escalated significantly, with some manufacturers announcing five or more increases in the past three years –– and increases are expected in the next several months. 

Historically, popular radial truck tires have been more expensive. Savvy fleets have long used life-cycle cost-per-mile analysis as a method to select the best performing tire brands and models for their service conditions and equipment types. Low initial costs, however, can be quite tempting in these trying times. Achieving short term savings should be analyzed thoroughly to avoid operational headaches and additional expenses. A basic review of the major variables that impact overall tire costs is in order.
Initial treadwear, or life expectancy of the original tread, is often cited as an important performance criterion. A related consideration is how sensitive the tire is to variations in alignment, road surfaces and seasonal requirements. Ideally, tires should not require “precision” alignment beyond your shop or service provider’s ability, rotation to different wheel or axle locations to achieve full wearout, or early removal in fall or winter seasons due to marginal traction. In short, reliable and trouble-free treadwear should be the goal. 

Casing durability/retreadability is usually tied for first or second as the most important characteristic. A quality retread program is essential to nearly all trucking operations today, with more retreads than new tires sold in the North American market. The lower cost of retreads (approximately half of new tire cost) and exclusion from the new tire excise tax are essential components of tire cost control. Retreading allows using these less valuable, older tires on wheel positions that are more vulnerable to security concerns and damage. For example, it is well documented that the right side outside trailer tires are the most damage prone positions on typical 18-wheelers. Casing durability for these positions would include sidewall scuff resistance as well as the more traditional bead area and belt edge heat-/fatigue resistance performance. Another fleet consideration should be retread compatibility in terms of tread widths, retread process type and dual mating to minimize inventory and service concerns. Casing durability may even be a consideration for residual value in the event that they will be sold due to having excess used/worn tire inventory or to maximize trade-in value on equipment being sold. Some used truck buyers may prefer retreads on virgin major-brand casings to new second or third tier new tires. It is reasonable to expect 750,000 miles or more on top quality radial casings that are well maintained in linehaul service. 

Another important consideration is the availability of, and a good working relationship with, a supportive tire supplier/servicing dealer. Mutual trust, purchasing power to allow competitive pricing from supplying tire manufacturers, billing and payment accuracy, and adequate inventory to address unexpected short-term needs are typical considerations. Warranty coverage and execution are also important. While some lesser known and new tire brands may offer liberal warranties, the procedures to receive credits should be researched. As with most warranties, the best ones tend to be the ones you never have to use.

Other tire performance variables such as traction, stability, noise, even fuel economy are important, but are generally very competitive among the major tire brands. As such, many users tend to treat them as “manage by exception” qualities — no complaints equal no problems. These qualities should not, however, be assumed for unknown brands or types.

Keep the tried-and-true yardsticks of tire program cost-per-mile in place, especially when tempted or pushed to pursue low initial cost. New players may be welcome, but surprises aren’t.  
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