Kevin Rohlwing

Lower prices, higher costs 

Years ago, a research firm conducted a study of passenger- and light-truck tire buyers and determined that consumers fell into one of three categories: brand, price or service. Brand buyers were obviously loyal to the name on the sidewall, while the only loyalty of price buyers was to the cheapest option. Service buyers basically took the recommendation of their mechanic, so brand and price were secondary. Regardless of the motive behind the purchasing decision, the influx of low-cost offshore tires has made an impact on the industry.

Of deserts and dandelions 

When natural rubber prices reached a 30-year high of $2.80/lb. in February 2011, tire manufacturers responded with an unprecedented string of price increases. Since most of the world’s supply is located in Southeast Asia, doomsday theorists predicted shortages that would remind people of the rationing that took place during World War II. Fortunately, a number of factors have stabilized the market, and natural rubber prices have leveled off.

Putting techs at risk 

Driver attitudes towards emergency road service have definitely changed since the introduction of Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA). In the past, most operators would limp to the next truck stop or rest area so they could get some time in the sleeper while they waited for the technician to fix the tire(s). But it seems like the increased attention on vehicle maintenance by enforcement officials has caused drivers to just pull over whenever they become aware of a tire problem.

Wheel-world problems 

Finding the inspiration for a monthly column can sometimes be a difficult task.  There are only so many things you can write about in the field of tires and wheels, which means coming up with an interesting and original topic each month becomes next to impossible as time goes on. With each issue, it’s my goal to inform and educate so readers are prepared to make better decisions that save money and, most importantly, improve safety. 

Feeling the need for speed 

When the National Maximum Speed Law was passed in 1974 as part of the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act, the primary purpose of the national 55 mph speed limit was to reduce gasoline consumption. By the late 1980s, Congress had raised the maximum speed limit to 65 mph and in 1995, the authority for establishing speed limits was returned to each individual state. Since then, maximum highway speeds have ranged from 55 to 85 mph.

Pay attention to trajectory 

A couple of years ago, I was involved in a hearing conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) pertaining to a fatality related to tire and wheel service. The deceased was an experienced tire technician who, for some unknown reason, attempted to correct the seating of multi-piece rim components while the tire was still inflated. His actions were in violation of OSHA regulations—and it cost him his life.

Finding the right cure 

If you are a regular reader of this column, then you undoubtedly know that I am a strong proponent of retreading. The technology and uniformity that goes into producing a modern retread is unparalleled in the history of tires—and it’s only going to keep improving. Despite the persistence from old-school trucking professionals that retreads are the cause of tire debris on the highways, the data proves that they are just as durable as their new-tire counterparts.

Torque soup 

I’ve had a front row seat for all of the major changes to the truck wheel installation process over the past three decades. By combining “good-and-tight” with anti-seize, technicians thought they had the solution for stud pilot wheel systems in the 1980s. When hub-piloted wheels started showing up in the ’90s, the good-and-tight process remained, but the cans of anti-seize went back in the cabinet because there were no frozen inner and outer cap nuts. For most people, torqued meant tight so everyone was happy.

Predictions for 2015 

In the spirit of countdowns, “best of” lists and resolutions (that rarely last) for the new year, I’m going out on a limb to make some predictions for the next 12 months. They will descend in order in keeping with the tradition of top 10 lists, but they are not ranked according to the likelihood of them happening or not happening. Which means there is definitely a lot of “blue sky” thinking associated with this list. So, from the home office in Nottingham, MD, here are my top 10 predictions for 2015:

Intelligent truck tires 

During a recent trip to Germany for the Tire Technology for Commercial Vehicles Conference, I had the pleasure of meeting several European tire professionals. As the only American in attendance, I spent a lot of networking time explaining how the North American market operates. One aspect that the Europeans had a hard time understanding was the fact that large U.S. fleets could control which components (and tires) are specified on new equipment.

Practice makes perfect 

Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of serving as a judge for the SuperTech competition at the fall meeting of the Technology & Maintenance Council. For those who are not familiar with the event, it is a gathering of the nation’s top diesel technicians who willingly subject themselves to rigorous testing over a couple of days to determine a Grand Champion. SuperTech is not for the faint of heart nor the shade tree mechanic. Just qualifying for the finals should be considered a victory.

Making tires a priority 

Efficiency experts are obsessed with the concept of restructuring. It doesn’t matter the subject, simply because they believe there is always a better way.  They are convinced that if you eliminate a position and divide the responsibilities between other positions, then the result will be a more effective operation.

Gator facts 

Even though the peak “gator” season is coming to end, the issue of tire debris on the side of the road is not going away.  When people find out I’m in the tire business, too many of them still want me to “do something about all of the retreads on the side of the road.” My typical response is that the tire debris they see on the highway is not a retread issue.  It’s more of an inflation pressure and heat problem that can cause any tire to come apart.

CSA and underinflation 

Without a doubt, the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program has changed the way commercial vehicles are operated by drivers, maintained by fleets, and inspected by vehicle enforcement officials.  And with government data that supports the positive impact it is having on reducing accidents and identifying carriers in need of intervention, the trucking industry can be certain it is here to stay.

Carbon black chaos 

When you think about the truck tire manufacturing process, the component most often thought of comes from small farms in Southeast Asia.  Natural rubber is well known to everyone in the trucking business after supply issues caused the price to skyrocket from $1.48/lb. in July 2010 to a record high of $2.80/lb. in February 2011.  This led to an unprecedented flurry of price increases as manufacturers attempted to offset rising raw material costs.  With prices currently under $1/lb.

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