One of the fundamental differences between an asset and an expense is that assets generally retain some value regardless of their condition. For example, fuel cannot be an asset because you'll never go to your local fuel depot and use credit from what's in the tank to pay for new fuel. But that's exactly what you must do with new truck tires after the tread is worn away because the casing has value when properly maintained.
Part of that maintenance process is the occasional repair. Anything from a bolt to a spoon can penetrate a tire and cause a flat. Small punctures in the center of the tread area can be repaired with a relatively inexpensive rubber stem (plug) and a repair unit (patch). Larger injuries to the tread and those in the shoulder or sidewall are referred to as “section repairs,” which require a more specialized process usually involving a full-service facility like a retread plant.
Regardless of whether or not you run retreads, preserving the casing is imperative to maximizing tire assets. How those assets are handled depends on your application. Some fleets prefer to run only virgin rubber, so all worn-out tires are submitted for casing credit. Those that retread their own tires will sometimes let the condition of the casing dictate the type of tread design (traction or highway) that is ultimately applied. But the bottom line is that once the original tread is worn, the tire should still have value.
While combing the scrap pile of a local retreader a few months back, I came across several virgin casings — never been retreaded and only a few years old — with the words “customer refused section repair.” Most of them had relatively small injuries in the shoulder or sidewall that could have been easily repaired. But the fleets were unwilling to spend $25-$35 dollars to protect their assets. So instead of retreading a perfectly good casing, the fleet purchased a new tire to replace it.
In most cases, the key to a good section repair program is a partnership between the retreader and the customer. By establishing clear guidelines on age and the size/location of the injury, a fleet can get the most out of their tire assets. If the retreader recommends a section repair in order to retread a tire using the guidelines, it's because the tire can be safely returned to service if it's repaired and ultimately retreaded.
How long has it been since you asked yourself or the people responsible for your tires to review your tire repair policy? Is it in place because there's documented proof that section repaired tires are more prone to separate? Or does it rely on opinions? Just remember that the retreader will only recommend a section repair when they're confident the casing is sound. One solution may be to authorize the section repair but restrict the retread to local use.
Perhaps the truck tire industry can learn an important lesson from the current earthmover tire shortage. For years, some mining and construction companies were resistant to retreading and section repairing large industrial tires. Now that the global demand far exceeds the supply, some in the industry are being forced to initiate a retread and a section repair program. Those companies with a program in place already have a relationship with a supplier, so it's business as usual for their maintenance department. But those without a program are finding it difficult to start from scratch when most suppliers are not able to accept new customers.
And nobody saw it coming.