While it can be a challenge to know what’s on the mind of real-world truck drivers, a few hours at the recent Mid-America Truck Show in Louisville, KY, proved that their opinions about retreading remain strongly divided. The Tire Retread Information Bureau (TRIB) sponsored a “Spot the Retread” contest and gave away more than $10,000 in free retreads. Yet despite the rising cost of fuel and tires, there were still a lot of drivers and owner-operators who refused to even consider the option of running retreads.
I recently had the pleasure of addressing a group of risk management people in the trucking industry and during the discussion on tire inflation, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements generated some serious questions. To begin with, there was some concern about the fact that OSHA defines service as the demounting, mounting, inflating, deflating, installing, removing and handling of tires used on large vehicles like trucks, tractors and buses.
There is no doubt that the tires on the steering axle get the most attention from drivers and maintenance personnel. In many cases, when a tire fails on a drive or trailer position, the driver can still maintain control of the vehicle and guide it to the shoulder without an incident. But the unpredictability of a steer tire failure dictates a higher degree of caution, so decisions regarding tires on the front axle are typically made from a much more conservative standpoint.
On Nov. 13, 1973, the Dept. of Transportation (DOT) established the current testing standard for tires on vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 lbs. or more. It was intended to ensure that tires were constructed in a manner that could withstand the operational conditions associated with trucks. It also required markings on the sidewall so the user would know the load-carrying capacity as well as other important information.
As part of my day job, I speak at a lot of events on a wide variety of topics. While the content covers practically every aspect of the tire and wheel business, one issue has undoubtedly been the hottest topic over the past few years. Since tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) were mandated by the federal government on all vehicles with a GVWR of less than 10,000 lbs. starting with the 2008 model year, retailers have struggled to some degree to keep up with the operational changes that this technology created.
In December 2008, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) approved regulations to reduce emissions from diesel trucks and buses that operate within the state. Part of the greenhouse gas legislation requires heavy-duty vehicles to use SmartWay-verified low rolling resistance (LRR) tires when operating on California highways, regardless of where they are licensed or registered. This regulation applies to tractors with a GVWR greater than 26,000 lbs. and 53-ft. trailers, including dry van and refrigerated.
Trucking professionals have seen the word “cold” molded on a tire’s sidewalls next to the maximum load and corresponding inflation pressure for decades. It basically means that tire pressures should be checked when air temperatures and tire temperatures are the coolest. During the summer months, when the average low temperature is between 60 and 80 deg. F across most of the country, cold inflation pressures are probably the most consistent throughout a fleet. But in the fall, ambient temperatures can have a much wider spread, which can lead to problems.
If you’re looking for an example of a government agency that performs regular inspections of the workplace, look no further than the Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA. MSHA governs all of the mines in the U.S.—from the local gravel quarry to the mammoth open pit and underground mining operations. When it comes to maintaining or repairing the equipment that operates in these environments, MSHA inspectors always make sure the “lock out, tag out” rule is regularly followed to prevent an accident.
After a decade of helping bang the drum promoting proper torque, it appears the effort has not gone to waste. Most fleets and truck tire service providers fully recognize the importance of tightening fasteners with the correct amount of force. Thousands of torque wrenches have been purchased in the industry, and it looks like they are still being utilized on a daily basis. And in a sign of real progress, many of those wrenches are periodically checked and recalibrated because they are used so often.
Judgment calls have been part of the tire industry since I was a teenager working out of a road service truck. Imagine driving 20 mi. into the middle of nowhere to fix what you think is a flat tire only to find out that the inside of the tire is a tangled mess of steel and rubber; that tire was flat long before the driver noticed. And since you just came from another jobsite, you don’t have a replacement, so you’re left with two options: drive back to the shop to pick up a tire or single it out.
In every line of work, there are always some inevitable problems that appear to be without a solution. Saying these are the costs of doing business is simply easier than saying there has to be a solution, but we just can’t figure it out. When it comes to preventing run-flat tires in the trucking industry, the search for nirvana has led us to travel numerous roads, most of them with obstacles that cannot be avoided.
Stop and take note because I believe we may be on the cusp of a revolution in the truck tire industry. Like the tubeless tire on a single-piece rim that replaced the old multi-piece tube-type and radial-replaced bias, the trend towards replacing duals with wide singles is no longer a trend. Years ago the weight and fuel savings were not enough for most fleets to look past the shorter tread life. But the price of fuel keeps going up and treadwear is improving so the number of converts continues to grow.
If I had a quarter for every phone call that started with the words, “My customer got a ticket for…,” I would have a whole bunch of quarters. There seems to be some varying interpretations of the federal regulations on truck tire and wheel inspection, so I thought it was time to dedicate this month’s column to help clear up some of the confusion.
It’s been almost four years since ABC’s 20/20 investigative report on passenger and light truck tire aging, yet the subject still manages to grab the occasional headline despite the fact that there is still no data linking older tires to accidents. Most recently, the state of Maryland introduced senseless and misguided tire aging legislation that could open the floodgates for other states to pass similar or worse regulations.
With all of the increased attention that CSA has placed on the condition of truck tires and wheels, the physical appearance of the assemblies is more important than ever. While most tires appear to be round and black to the average law enforcement official, the wheels are a completely different story. After all, from a distance all tires basically look the same, but rusty wheels are noticeable across four lanes of traffic.