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.
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.
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.
On Oct. 2, 2013, a three-car accident involving a church bus, an SUV and a tractor-trailer on Interstate 40 outside Knoxville, TN, tragically claimed the lives of eight people and injured 12. The media immediately reported that it was the result of a blown steer tire, so the tire and transportation industries braced for another potential public relations and/or regulatory nightmare. Speculation ran rampant as a few “experts” tried to place all of the blame on the tire or the bus driver and basically guessed what caused this tragedy.
A lot of people in the trucking industry have issues with symmetry when it comes to tires. They believe that all of the tires on the vehicle must be identically matched. The steer tires must have the same tread design as the tires on the drive and trailer axles. With the appearance of perfect uniformity, this policy of matched tires is considered by many to be the best approach, which potentially yields the best results.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of SmartWay, a public-private initiative from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the national supply chain. According to the EPA, SmartWay partners have saved 120.7 million barrels of oil (resulting in $16.8 billion in fuel savings) and 51.6 million tons of carbon dioxide over the past decade. They are impressive figures until you consider that the United States consumes about 19 million barrels of oil a day (which means we’ve saved less than a week’s worth
Based on what I’ve seen over the past decade, the whole green movement is just getting started. One of the popular new buzzwords is sustainable, which basically means the resource in question is not exploited to the point where it can no longer reproduce and survive. Natural rubber could definitely be considered on the list of sustainable products because there is a finite lifespan to each tree, and it takes several years for a new planting to yield any product.
In July of 1988, President Ronald Reagan was giving a speech to the Future Farmers of America when he jokingly referred to the nine most terrifying words in the English language, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” As if the demands on the trucking industry have not been enough with Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA), another federal agency has proposed new regulations that invoke the spirit of Reagan.
With growing competition in the truck tire and retread industry, fleets have more choices than ever when selecting the rubber that meets the road. From name brands that have been around for decades to newcomers that are utilizing the advances in technology, the overall performance and value has never been better. That being said, there is always room for improvement, so fleets need to insulate themselves from sales pitches, special pricing and tire tests that are designed to entice fleet managers to make a change. Since margins are tighter than ever, it’s easy to get
There is nothing more frustrating than being told that a simple puncture in the shoulder of a truck tire is unrepairable. After all, the difference between the location of a repairable puncture and one that is non-repairable is often measured in millimeters. For decades, the only puncture repairs that were allowed in the field had to be located in the crown area, which is the center of the tread approximately 1 to 1.5 in. from each edge.
Thirty-four years before George Harrison ultimately popularized the term “taxman” in the hit of the same name with The Beatles, who would have known that the Revenue Act would start an endless cycle of taxation on tires. The first Federal Excise Tax (FET) in 1932 was based on the physical weight of the tire, and it applied to all tires and inner tubes. In 1956, the Federal-Aid Highway Act added taxes for off-highway tires and tread rubber to establish the Highway Trust Fund, which would direct the money collected to highway construction and maintenance. This
Technology has an ironic way of solving one set of problems while creating another. When bias ply tires and leaf spring suspensions dominated the trucking industry decades ago, drivers expected trucks to ride like trucks. I can still remember an entire summer of balancing tires for a school bus fleet because we eliminated a vibration for one driver. Word traveled fast around the garage and within a week of iproving the ride, we had a steady stream of drivers with similar problems that we were happy to solve.
My forecast for radio frequency identification (RFID) tags in truck tires was mostly cloudy in early 2012. There was a lot of talk regarding field tests and blue-sky benefits but no real solutions. Fast-forward about a year and a half, and Michelin announced that it is making its patents for RFID technology available at no cost in order to promote it in the truck tire industry. The main condition is that whomever uses the technology must agree to execute it in compliance with international standards established by several tire companies.
In early 2010, I predicted price increases on truck tires because of production issues regarding natural rubber, which traded at around $1.42/lb. at the time. About a year later, I wrote another column about weather impacting the price of natural rubber (NR)—and it hit an all-time high of $2.81/lb. just a short time later. Between 2010 and 2011, the price of natural rubber doubled; as a result, every company announced at least one price increase citing the rise in raw material and energy costs. I guess you could say I saw that one coming.
When the subject turns to the topic of taking risks, I’ve never been one that hopes the current saves the ship when the iceberg is clearly in view. In other words, if I always trust my instincts when I think the chances of survival are slim to none given the current course, it always works out in my favor. Of course, I’ll offer my opinion to the captain and encourage others to join me on my way to the lifeboat, but I don’t plan on dying a hero or a fool.