One of the best things about the truck tire industry today is that there is more consistency in quality than at any other time in history. Between computers, robotics and inspection technology, the major tire manufacturers have almost perfected the art of transforming rubber and steel into durable pressure vessels that can withstand most operating conditions and environments.

And from the retread perspective, modern mold cure and pre-cure processes have incorporated many of the same technologies to extend the life of the casing well after the original tread has worn away. Even the appearance has dramatically changed over the past few years, with machinery that matches the splice on pre-cure retreads and creates a bond line at the tread edge that is practically invisible.

So why do tires still fail in service? In addition to the obvious lack of inflation-pressure maintenance, there are variations in the quality of the dealers or retreaders that install, retread and repair the tires. Large fleets with facilities spread across the country are the most susceptible to service differences, while local fleets may be faced with limited options when selecting a vendor.

Now that I am entering my 26th year in the business, I'd like to pass on some helpful tips to assist fleets of all sizes in selecting a tire dealer or retreader.

The first thing to look for is a program that trains and/or certifies technicians. Companies that invest in educating employees often experience less turnover, fewer accidents and minimal customer complaints. By asking to see the training records, you can get a fairly good picture of whether or not the people who are installing and retreading tires are qualified.

Second, don't be afraid to ask for a tour of the facilities. Companies that understand the role of housekeeping in quality control will be more than willing to invite customers to view the shop or plant. Pay attention to whether or not there is a culture of safety. Lack of personal protective equipment or clearly marked exits and fire extinguishers may be a sign that the company is more interested in profit than in protecting employees.

Another sign of a progressive organization is the role of technology. I'm not saying that dealers and retreaders who still rely on handwritten tickets and index card inventory cannot deliver quality service and products. But I am saying that those who embrace computers, hand-held scanners and software that provides detailed reports are more likely to have back-up plans in place to continue operations in the event of an emergency.

Insurance in the commercial tire service and retread industry is more expensive than ever, so some companies are cutting costs by lowering limits and increasing deductibles. This may not be in the best interest of the fleet in the event of an accident. Vendors should be able to provide proof of insurance that clearly spells out the limits of coverage.

While there is very little, if any, difference in quality when it comes to the name on the sidewall or the tread edge, there can be huge gaps in the level of service that accompanies those products. the best tires and retreads cannot overcome improper installation procedures, so it's important to know if the company who is responsible for protecting these assets is up to the task.