Serves the Commercial Small Fleet Market of 10 – 50 Vehicles

Tire Maintenance: It’s Not Just Checking Tire Pressure

November 2017, by Les Smart

This truck demonstrates uneven treads on dual tires. Photo by Les Smart.
This truck demonstrates uneven treads on dual tires. Photo by Les Smart.

Have you read articles on tires until you are blue in the face? Perhaps there will be a nugget or two in this article that you haven’t thought of. Or maybe you are putting off tire maintenance because it’s too costly, too much trouble, or any number of excuses.

I will go into some of the usual topics like tire pressure and tread wear, but first …

You have built a $3 to $30 million business over one or more generations, and you are making an appropriate profit most years. Do you think about liability? I bet you do, but do you relate that to tire failures and more specifically to catastrophic tire failures? What happens to your business if a worn, damaged tire fails at speed — it doesn’t even have to be high speed — and your driver loses control of your fleet vehicle and it plows into another vehicle?

If one or more of the occupants is a young to middle-aged passenger, especially a working mother or father, your liability skyrockets. I like to call this the $5 million accident. You don’t want to lose your business in the event of one of these failures just because you were lax in making sure that your tires were in good condition. Let’s see what you can do to avoid this type of situation where your tires are concerned.

Tire Pressure

This one seems obvious, but do you (or your supervisor) check each tire’s pressure periodically? Or do you leave it up to your maintenance provider? Buy a decent tire gauge and use it. There are two types of gauges. Make sure that the tire gauges read truck tire pressures and aren’t only for passenger car tires, which operate at lower pressures. If properly equipped, even vans and SUVs run on light truck or LT tires.

One of the gauges reads to 100 psi while the other gauge reads to 150 psi. Make sure the gauge will read to the pressure needed for your tires. There is a decal on the door jamb or “B” pillar that tells you what to inflate your tires to; it should be in every light truck and van. If it’s not there or is illegible, then go to the manufacturer’s website to look for the data. There is also a maximum load/pressure embedded in the tire’s sidewall.

One of the gauges reads to 100 psi (right) while the other gauge reads to 150 psi (left). Make sure that the tire gauges read truck tire pressures and aren’t only for passenger car tires, which operate at lower pressures. Photos by Les Smart.
One of the gauges reads to 100 psi (right) while the other gauge reads to 150 psi (left). Make sure that the tire gauges read truck tire pressures and aren’t only for passenger car tires, which operate at lower pressures. Photos by Les Smart.

Tire pressure needs to be consistent on dual-wheeled vehicles. If the inside dual is underinflated (and this isn’t easily seen), the majority of the load is being carried by one tire, not both.

Don’t mix treads on rear axle(s) on dual-wheeled vehicles. This can result in uneven wear at a minimum and a loss of traction at the most unfortunate time.

You can also add valve stem extenders (see photo below). That way, with a dual wheel vehicle, the inside dual is easier to access when adding air. I highly recommend these; they work and are inexpensive.

With a dual wheel vehicle, valve stem extenders can make it easier to access the inside dual when adding air. Photo by Les Smart.
With a dual wheel vehicle, valve stem extenders can make it easier to access the inside dual when adding air. Photo by Les Smart.

Additionally, you can add a central tire inflation system for units equipped with air brakes. These are expensive (approximately $1,500 or more), but are worth it, especially on trailers (see photo below) in some regions where the weather inhibits regular tire inspection/ inflation (except when the vehicle is in the shop for maintenance).

A central tire inflation system can be useful for units with air brakes. Photo by Les Smart.
A central tire inflation system can be useful for units with air brakes. Photo by Les Smart.

Tire Treads

Make sure there is adequate tread left on ALL tires. Some passenger tires have wear bars in the tread. Replace when your tires have the wear bars, even with the rest of the tread.

Most maintenance providers will not replace a tire prior to being worn down to 4/32 inches. Ideally, I like to have then replaced before that. Never let them get bald or thread bare! Remember your families, drivers, and other lives depend on you keeping your tire fleet in good shape.

If there is a mismatch in tread designs on the rear of dual-wheeled vehicles (see photo below) due to a failure replacement while in route, make sure your tire provider corrects this at its earliest opportunity. The new replacement tire can always be matched with others of the same design and used in the future.

Make sure that your tire provider corrects a mismatch in tread designs. Photo by Les Smart.
Make sure that your tire provider corrects a mismatch in tread designs. Photo by Les Smart.

Check that the tires are wearing smoothly.

Tire Sidewalls

Check your sidewalls for cuts and damage (bulges). A tire can be cut on the side and appear to be serviceable, yet rain and standing water can penetrate to the steel belts and corrode the belts. This will lead to a failure of the tire.  

It's important to check tire sidewalls for any cuts or damage.The tire depth gauge shows a deep sidewall cut. Photo by Les Smart.
It's important to check tire sidewalls for any cuts or damage.The tire depth gauge shows a deep sidewall cut. Photo by Les Smart.

The photo (above) with the depth gauge (showing how deep the cut was) was on an operational truck at a location that I had come to audit. Needless to say, I red-tagged that truck right then and the rear tires were replaced the next morning. This is a good example of how the $5 million accident happens.

Pay attention to your tires. If more people did, I wouldn’t be able to take all the photos you see here.

About the Author

Les Smart is president of Smart Fleet Management, a small and medium fleet consulting company. He can be reached at [email protected].

Related: Why Buying the Cheapest Tires Could Cost You More

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