The only thing on your rig that actually touches the road is tires. As such, it’s hard to underestimate the importance of proper tire maintenance, which can help reduce expenses (such as expensive tire replacements), increase fuel mileage and boost driving safety.
“Think about a tractor trailer going down the road with an 80,000-pound payload,” says Donn Kramer, the director of marketing and innovation for the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. “Tires are the most important element to starting and stopping a vehicle. You have brakes, but tires are what stop your truck. Tires really perform more work than most people can imagine; they’re what really delivers driving performance.”
Every truck driver should strive for the lowest cost of ownership and the lowest cost of operation. To achieve that, here are key tire maintenance items you need to be aware, according to Kramer.
1. Proper inflation. Here’s the bad news: Underinflated tires are one of the largest contributors to early tire wear, unsafe driving and lower gas mileage. Now for the good news: Keeping tires inflated to their proper psi is one of the simplest maintenance procedures around.
According to tire experts, a tire inflated just 10 psi below its recommended air pressure levels can reduce truck fuel economy between 0.5 percent and 1 percent.
And according to the U.S. Department of Energy, underinflated tires decrease gas mileage by more than 1.25 billion gallons of gasoline annually.
Moreover, air loss occurs naturally and continually; a typical tire loses two to three pounds a month. Other factors also can contribute to air loss, ranging from a poor tire bead seat, external temperature variations, bad valve cores, loose valve stems and punctures from nails and other road debris.
“The single biggest challenge is maintaining proper inflation in cold weather,” Kramer points out. “Higher altitudes also can affect inflation levels. Having a system or a maintenance practice to manage inflation is probably the single most important maintenance item to which trucker should adhere.
Because proper inflation levels are contingent on the loads being carried, Kramer suggests working with a qualified tire expert to find the right psi. “You need to follow a standard for driving while loaded or unloaded,” he notes. “The problem is you don’t want to bleed hot tires down – you want to check tire pressures when they’re cold. Check them once a week if they’re in service all the time.”
Tire pressure monitoring systems provide an easy way to keep tires properly inflated.
2. Correct alignment. Every six months, check the alignment setting on the steer and drive axles; just getting a front-end alignment is not enough. If a tire is out of alignment, or if the rear axles aren’t perpendicular to the chassis (or in the case of tandem axles, parallel to the direction of travel), tires will wear faster or irregularly. Misalignment also creates extra drag, which reduces fuel mileage – and ramps up operating costs. Follow manufacturer’s specs and set up a regular maintenance schedule.
3. Repair know-how. If you drive a lot on rock and shale that can damage treads or punctures tires, truckers should be familiar with what problems can or cannot be repaired, and know the repair specifications. If they aren’t, errors can lead to premature wear and vehicle vibrations. But in the long run, it’s far better for truckers to develop a good relationship with a qualified commercial tire dealer who can provide professional tire-repair service.
4. Monitor tire wear. Savvy truckers regularly check tire treads for signs of wear. A lug tire can wear down to 2/32-inch of tread depth before pulling it; for tires on a steer axle, don’t go below 4/32 of an inch, Kramer says.
When tires reach the point where they don’t provide traction on the drive axle, and retreading them isn’t a consideration, Kramer suggests replacing them and transferring the worn tires on a trailer and running them down to 2/32-inch of tread depth. “Maximize the life of the tire…and utilize every ounce of tread depth,” Kramer advises. “Or retread the tires, or consider selling the casing when the tread gets down to 2/32 of an inch.”
Also be alert to unusual wear patterns, such as feathering and cupping, as well as cuts, cracks, blisters and bulges. If detected early enough, some of these issues can be corrected to extend tire life.