Taking care of and maintaining truck tires is an essential part of any fleet’s preventive or scheduled maintenance program. Simply “kicking the tires” and doing a quick once over is bound to miss important details that can be the difference between making your drop off or sitting on the side of the road waiting for roadside service.
Here are 13 tips to help lengthen tire lives, prevent unnecessary downtime, and help keep drivers and the motoring public safe.
Top 5 Tips for Tire Maintenance
1. Maintain Air Pressure
Everyone can agree on one tire maintenance tip: Keeping tires properly inflated is the most crucial tire maintenance element.
“Driving on underinflated tires causes excessive heating, which is a tire’s biggest enemy, and causes most tire-related ERS events,” said Judith Monte, vice president, marketing and customer success for Aperia Technologies. “Maintaining optimal tire pressure is necessary given today’s high tire, fuel, and labor costs, but it is nearly impossible to achieve manually. In NACFE’s latest Annual Fleet Fuel Studies, more than 85% of user fleets spec ATI (Automatic Tire Inflation) on their trailers, and there’s been a 168% year-over-year increase on ATI for tractors.”
Remember, the temperature can affect tire pressure, especially around the change of seasons.
“When we go from 90 to 50 degrees in just a few days, the air inside tires can cause the tire pressure sensor light to come on. Make sure the pressure is correct before beginning your day,” said Dennis McGowan, manager, Towing & Roadside Operations at HONK Technologies.
And be sure drivers check truck tire air pressure before each trip.
“Have drivers not only check for low air pressure but make sure the air pressure is similar in each tire. This will provide more miles to removal as well as increased fuel economy,” said Todd Barker, regional manager, TA Truck Service Commercial Tire Network.
Regularly checking air pressure should be done in tandem with other tire-related maintenance needs.
“It is imperative to maintain proper air pressure and do frequent tire inspections, including the inside and outside sidewalls of the tires. Also, scheduled maintenance services like tire balancing and rotation should be performed on time,” said Matthew Tiner, VP of customer experience at Tirescanner.
In addition to maintaining air pressure, ensure trucks are correctly loaded. Truck tires support a vehicle, and when a tire is overloaded, the tires can no longer grip the road effectively, which can impact how the truck handles and fuel economy.
“Never overload your vehicle past recommended weight,” said Jordan Garcia, strategic accounts for BendPak.
2. Check Tread Depth
Truck tire tread depth needs to be correct and deep enough on all tires.
“At a minimum, conduct the penny test before starting your day. Stick the edge of the penny with Lincoln upside down in between the treads. If you can see Lincoln’s face, it’s time to change the tires,” said McGowan of HONK Technologies.
3. Ensure Proper Training
Ensure that technicians and drivers are correctly trained on tire maintenance.
“Understanding how to properly measure tire pressure is key for both technicians and drivers. Cold inflation pressure (CIP) measurements should only be taken on tires that have cooled for at least three hours after driving to ensure an accurate reading,” said Monte of Aperia Technologies.
4. Pick the Right Tool
Pick the right tire for your application.
“A tire’s tread, compounding, and construction are optimized based on route and driving application. When you don’t pick the right tire for your application, the tires tend to wear much more quickly. For example, suppose tires designed for long haul applications are used in an urban setting. In that case, the tread will prematurely scrub off,” said Monte of Aperia Technologies.
5. Perform Consistent Review & Inspections
Truly, proactive tire maintenance is critical for fleets to maximize revenue-generating uptime and improve their tires’ lifecycle.
“We advise our fleet customers to conduct a thorough tire assessment before each haul, checking inflation pressure at each wheel position, measuring tread depth, and tracking mileage on tires. It is also vital to check tires throughout the trip, conducting a hands-on assessment to identify cracks, cuts, or bulges that may have occurred during the haul. A routine pre-haul inspection and quick assessments while on the road can significantly improve tire performance, limit unnecessary costs and help diagnose any issues that might halt operations,” said Steve Hoeft, chief operating officer for GCR Tires & Service.
Randy Davis, master technician for YourMechanic.com, noted that fleet vehicles eat tires for lunch because they’re in constant use, and people naturally drive less carefully if the car isn’t theirs, so they end up hitting their tires on curbs and potholes.”
Davis noted that tire maintenance is vital to ensuring driver safety.
“Preventive maintenance comes down to checking air pressure to ensure that tires aren’t under-inflated and performing daily inspections to make sure there aren’t nails stuck inside of tires. If a vehicle isn’t being used, it’s helpful to drive it around for at least 5 minutes a week and make sure tires aren’t developing flat spots,” Davis added.
And while hands-on inspections before, during, and after a haul are essential to maintaining overall tire life, consider having your fleet of service vehicles regularly inspected by a tire professional.
“We utilize a standardized Tire Assessment program where our TIA-trained technicians check each wheel position each time they inspect a vehicle. This helps uncover and address problems before they halt operations and directly impact a customer’s bottom line. Our technicians interpret our Tire Assessment data to make safety-focused preventive maintenance and service recommendations, helping customers avoid downtime due to costly and unexpected repairs,” Hoeft added.
Top 8 Tire Service Tips
1. Know the Tires
Before you service truck tires, you need to know what you are looking at. There are several changes in the industry that could cause damage if a technician was not aware.
“Verify whether you’re using directional tires, as they are relatively new to the industry. These tires are designed to rotate in only one direction and, if installed incorrectly, can cause thousands of dollars of damage to the truck,” said McGowan of HONK Technologies.
When getting new tires, it’s important the tires getting replaced match the same tread on each axle.
“If the tires in the back don’t match each others’ tread, they can cause rear driveline wear. If the two tires in the front are unequally worn, it can impact the steering geometry and cause the vehicle to pull to one side or another. To prevent uneven tire wear, Davis recommends thinking of tires as pairs and replacing them at the same time. Note that the front and back tires don’t need to match each other,” said Davis of YourMechanic.com.
The bottom line, “don’t install mismatched tires,” said Garcia of BendPak.
2. Perform Tire Rotations & Wheel Alignments
Once tires are placed on a truck, they receive uneven wear and tear on the tread.
“Rotate tires every 6,000-8,000 miles to distribute tread wear evenly and help extend tire lifespan,” said Barker of TA Truck Service Commercial Tire Network. “Additionally, complete a full three-axle wheel alignment, where appropriate. This will promote even wear and add more miles before removal.”
A huge factor in premature tire wear is poor alignment.
“One way to check if truck wheels are out of alignment is checking if the steering wheel is off-center and if there is a slight vibration when driving on the highway,” said Garcia of BendPak.
3. Ensure Proper Wheel Torque
Wheel torque is the simple act of adjusting the lug nuts on your wheels to ensure they are not too loose or too tight.
“Always torque wheels to the recommended specs when completing an installation,” said Barker of TA Truck Service Commercial Tire Network.
Loose lug nuts can fall off while driving, while lug nuts that are too tight can damage bolt threads or snap off and break.
4. Fix Problems Immediately
Fix minor tire issues before they become critical tire issues.
“Technologies such as Halo Connect predictive tire analytics identify minor tire issues early, allowing issues to be solved conveniently and cost-effectively. Most minor tire leaks can be fixed with a $30 patch, but if left untreated, can ultimately sideline a truck and cost upward of $700 to fix,” said Monte of Aperia Technologies.
5. Use Safety Tools
When maintaining, servicing, or installing tires, always wear proper eye protection.
“With larger tires, if you over inflate or if there’s damage, a tire can explode, which sends shrapnel everywhere. You don’t want one of those shards in your eyes,” said McGowan of HONK Technologies.
Barker of TA Truck Service Commercial Tire Network recommended to “always use an OSHA approved tire inflation cage while inflating a tire.”
Additionally, always be observant.
“Never stand between or pass through the space between the vehicle being serviced and the service vehicle on the side of the road,” Barker recommended.
6. Adhere to Roadside Safety
If you’re changing or servicing a tire in the field, adhere to proper roadside safety. McGowan of HONK recommended:
- Position your vehicle as far off the road as possible.
- Keep yourself on the non-traffic side of the truck, if possible.
- Wear high-vis, ANSI class 3 visibility gear (when required) and place warning lights, cones, or flares on the road to alert drivers.
7. Watch Driving Habits
Practicing good driving habits will help you get the most out of truck tires.
“Driving over the speed limit and slamming on the brakes too much will wear on tires from brake skid damage,” said Garcia of BendPak.
8. Train, Train, Train
Like maintenance, training both technicians and drivers remains highly important when implementing a tire management program aimed at getting every dollar you paid for out of your tires.
“We’ve seen many instances where drivers ignore tire issues or occasionally add air to leaking tires instead of bringing the vehicle in for service. Driving on chronically underinflated tires can damage the casing, which holds 75% of the value of a tire, and can ultimately inhibit a tire’s retreadability,” said Monte of Aperia Technologies.
Tires & Last-Mile Delivery
Last-mile delivery is a booming fleet segment. These fleets are tasked with delivering goods from a transportation hub to a final delivery destination. With the COVID-19 pandemic still impacting consumer’s day-to-day lives, the growth of online shopping is just one thing driving this segment. And, as with any vocational segment, last-mile delivery has its own set of challenges.
Last-mile delivery fleets mainly operate in high-scrub, urban and suburban environments.
“Due to their environments, it is critical for last-mile delivery fleets to install highly durable tires that can withstand frequent starts and stops along their route. The harsh operating environment of last-mile delivery fleets also highlights the value of proper tire selection,” said Hoeft of GCR Tires & Service.
Last-mile (city) driving is the hardest type of driving on tires.
“The constant stop and go, lots of turns, and curb rubbing that goes on, makes tires earn their keep! The fleets should look for tires with stronger sidewalls, thicker plys, and maintain proper air pressure to have the best tire experience,” said Tiner of Tirescanner.
Due to the increased amount of residential driving, make sure to perform regular tire rotations.
“Rotate or flip the tire on the wheel to keep the outside of the tread from wearing much faster than the inside of the tire. This is especially common on steer tires because of the tight turns in business parks and residential neighborhoods,” said Barker of TA Truck Service Commercial Tire Network.
When selecting a tire for last-mile, the main consideration is how and where it needs to perform.
“Understanding where a vehicle is going to spend most of its time (urban, highway, off-road) and the application type will influence the tire attributes needed to best support a fleet. Traction, durability, and retreadability are all-important tire considerations for last-mile delivery fleets,” Hoeft said.
Today, many last-mile services such as Amazon, UPS, and FedEx, are switching to city vans like the Dodge Ram ProMaster, or the Mercedes Sprinter, which are designed for last-mile delivery.
“City vans are designed to be fuel-efficient and make good city vehicles, but, in most cases, they still have old-school spare tires underneath. Make sure the spares are in good condition, properly inflated, and show no rust. Even if your drivers don’t change their tires, it’s much easier for the tech to use the mounted spare instead of having to go find one, which takes much more time, and is usually a more costly service,” said McGowan of HONK Technologies.
Have a proactive tire maintenance program to ensure customers receive the products they need on time. A broken-down truck on the side of the road is not delivering its goods.
“Tires are one of a fleet’s most valuable assets as they play a huge role in determining the truck’s fuel efficiency and downtime. Being able to determine problems before they arise will allow trucks to spend more time on the road and less time on the side of the road or in the shop,” said Garcia of BendPak.
Given how important quick last-mile delivery has become, McGown of HONK noted that it’s worth considering a service for roadside assistance to deal with tire issues and other problems.
Drivers can be active participants in making small changes to ensure longer lasting tires in the last-mile segment.
“Last-mile delivery drivers can help vehicles last longer by distributing the center of gravity of their packages to avoid putting excessive pressure on a tire. And, of course, all the usual driving rules apply to last-mile delivery driving, such as avoiding potholes, driving at a safe speed, and not braking too fast,” said Davis of YourMechanic.com.
The Bottom Line
Technology is improving every day, and tires are a prime beneficiary of the improved technology.
“With more complex vehicles on the road, it is as important as ever to seek advice from professional tire service providers. Picking the right tire and maintaining it properly is great for the wallet, but also the safety of everyone on the road,” noted Tiner of Tirescanner.