Tread tips

From the October 2019 print edition

Tire management on the scale required for fleets demands careful planning, proper upkeep and effective communication with operators, with the reward adding up to significant cost savings.

“It’s a large operating cost for a fleet, typically second only to fuel,” says Keith Willcome, application engineer for Bridgestone Americas. “Taking care of those tires will really save fleets money in the
long run.”

Efficiencies can be found at every point in a tire’s lifecycle, from choosing and purchasing to ongoing maintenance and determining optimal pull points.

Select the right tire
“Whether a customer is happy with their tire through the life of the tire is really going to start with whether they’ve purchased the correct tire for their application,” Willcome says. “If it’s a passenger car and they need long life and low noise, they’re going to choose a different tire than if it’s an SUV where they need to do some mild off-road.”

Tire suppliers can recommend the best tires for varying uses. Chris Foster, manager of fleet management services for ARI, says that establishing a national account with a supplier partner that matches your fleet’s geographic footprint brings multiple benefits.

“Partnering with a national account vendor who provides coverage that aligns with your operating footprint allows you to take advantage of volume pricing and also ensures consistent pricing across the board, eliminating the need to monitor each individual transaction,” Foster says.

All of Quebec and most of British Columbia require drivers to use winter tires with the mountain-snowflake logo on the sidewall during colder months of the year. With two sets of tires to manage for every vehicle, this increases expenses for fleet operators. Vince Boldrini, Truckserve supervisor for ARI, says the new class of all-weather tire, a winter-rated tire that shows reduced wear in summer conditions, may be appropriate in certain situations.

“All-weather tires have improved significantly and in many applications there is no longer a need for snow tires,” he says. “Today, most fleet operators only opt for snow tires in extreme applications and in those jurisdictions that mandate their use.”

Willcome adds the type of vehicle and tire being considered can affect this decision. “The only exception I would say is on the (Firestone) Destination line (all-weather tires for SUVs and light trucks),” he says. “Those are all-terrain tires, so if a fleet customer (wants) something that’s going to be ultra-quiet on the highway, that’s the only application where I would not recommend those tires.”

Matthew White, director of tire service for the Tire Industry Association, suggests that if there’s any doubt of whether a tire type under consideration will work for an entire fleet, a smaller trial can reveal a great deal. “If I have any doubt, I’ll experiment and find out what’s best before I change the whole fleet,” he says. “You’d turn the whole fleet over for $1 million and it turns out that type of tire is not the right one.”

Ensure proper maintenance
Checking tire pressures on an ongoing basis helps to preserve their longevity. The vehicle manufacturer ratings for original equipment tires can be found inside the driver’s side door jamb, although White says that frequent use under higher load weights can necessitate varying from the listed pressures.
The more frequent the checks, the better, Willcome says.

“If a professional driver (is) going to be operating that vehicle every day, they should check it out visually every morning before they start their day,” he says. “But if that’s not practical, then at least a monthly PSI check would be recommended.”

White adds that, when equipped, tire pressure monitoring systems take the work out of observing tire pressures. These systems have been required in the US since 2007, so many vehicles ship to Canada with them equipped despite not being required here by law.

Tires should be examined as part of the vehicle’s regular maintenance schedule, and rotations should be performed at approximately every 10,000km. This, plus checking wheel alignment regularly, helps to encourage even tire wear. At these checks, tires should also be inspected for damage.

“Check with a penny or tread depth gauge to verify that treads are in good shape,” Willcome says. “Checking for sidewall damage or any other damage, cuts, blisters, bulges, things like that. If you do see anything, have that tire checked out by a professional.”

Know when to retire
Setting parameters around pull points reduces the potential for confusion or misuse by operators. The minimum tread depth that’s considered safe in ideal conditions is 2/32”, but Willcome explains that fleets may decide to pull tires earlier depending on their needs.

“Especially going into the winter season, they may pull at 4/32” or put new tires on in the fall,” he says. “That’s at the fleet’s discretion as to what works for them and what their drivers feel comfortable with.”
ARI’s experts recommend establishing a fleet-wide tire policy. This outlines expectations around which tires are to be purchased for a given asset, acceptable minimum tread depths, which vendors to use for purchases and maintenance, service cycles and other important information.