While you don’t buy tires nearly as often as you stop for fuel, tires are right up there on the list of your highest variable costs. With new tires running around $300 to 600 each – higher for off-road haul trucks – it really pays to adopt cost-cutting tire practices. Bill McClusky, business consultant for American Truck Business Services in Livingston, Tenn., offers some tips to make your tire purchases and maintenance pay off.
Spec for your application.
Since longer tire life means lower costs, the effort put into carefully spec’ing will pay off. The four main tire applications are long haul, regional, on/off road, and urban. Each application makes very different demands on tires, from as little as 20,000 miles for urban to more than 200,000 miles for a long-haul team. Specific steer, drive and trailer tires are available for each application. If you’re spec’ing a new truck, you can pick any tire size suitable to your application. A new truck’s drivetrain and electronic control module (ECM) are set according to the tire size that’s spec’d. Different size replacement tires may require drivetrain and ECM adjustments. Changing tire sizes also may cause clearance issues.
Shop for the best value.
When you know the type of tire best suited to your application, judge the tires’ value: getting the most for your money, whether you spend a little or a lot. Making an informed choice means keeping written records of purchase dates, fuel mileage and tread depth, then comparing records among the models you’ve used.
Get a warranty.
Most standard new tire and retread warranties are about the same: coverage limited to normal-use defects in workmanship, product, and material. Warranties are based on time or wear, not on mileage. Most new tires come with a warranty and this will fully cover the tire’s lifespan, or until the tires wear to 2/32 in. Others provide full coverage for specified time periods or wear amounts, and coverage is prorated, using remaining tread depth and current market price.
Perform routine maintenance. Proper maintenance of tires, wheels, axles and steering also will help keep your tire costs to a minimum. Wheels naturally lose alignment and balance. Bushings, shocks, bearings, suspension and steering components wear out.
- Check wheel alignment periodically and look for heavy or flat spots on the tread of the tire. When this happens, the tire either has ceased to be centered on the hub and is bounding out of round, or it is out of balance.
- The plungers inside shock absorbers create friction, and friction creates heat, so if the shock (not the outer dust barrel covering the top half of the shock) is hot to the touch after driving, it’s working. If it’s cool to the touch, it is not working and it should be replaced.
- Make sure the bushings at the top and bottom of the shocks are inspected and replaced whenever they’re worn. If you can grab the shock absorber and rattle it, the bushings have pounded themselves out, and the shock isn’t working as designed.
- Whenever you need to scrap a tire, inspect it to determine the cause of the failure, and keep records.
Maintain proper inflation. Maintaining proper inflation is free, relatively easy, and it’s the highest-saving maintenance you can perform on your truck. Improper inflation is the most frequent reason tires fail or wear out prematurely. And it also wastes fuel and weakens performance.
Perform a daily pre- and post-trip inspection to check pressures, look for leaks, punctures, broken valve stems or embedded objects such as nails. Even absent of damage, truck tires typically lose one to two pounds of pressure a month from normal use.