Reduce, recycle, and reuse is becoming an increasingly popular refrain as more companies focus on the environmental impacts of their businesses. But can commercial truck tires check those boxes?
Retread tires can undoubtedly fit the “reduce” and “reuse” categories.
When the tread wears on a tire, instead of making a wholesale replacement and scrapping the used tire, retreading allows fleets to reuse the casing and replace the tread, extend the tire’s life, and reduce the number of scrap tires sent to landfills.
In North America, retreads make up about half of all truck tire replacements. In 2018, that totaled about 15 million tires in the U.S. and Canada. While the retread market is growing due to its cost and environmental advantages, some skepticism still exists about whether retreads are a good fleet fit.
These answers to frequently asked questions about retreads can help fleets make an informed decision.
How are Retread Tires Made?
Despite the name, retreading is about more than tire tread. The process starts with inspecting the casing, which must be in good condition for the tire to be retreaded.
“The modern retread process has evolved significantly over the years with the introduction of new technologies that helped influence the manufacturing process to focus on the entire casing, rather than just the tread of a tire,” said Shane Feasel, Bandag marketing operations manager for Bridgestone Americas. “Bandag uses a 10-step process to retread tires that include multiple inspection points and state-of-the-art technology to determine if a casing is qualified for retreading. This process includes using a patented, solid-state, non-destructive machine exclusive to Bandag dealers that exposes casings to up to 50,000 volts of electricity to check for punctures that are undetectable to the human eye.”
Thomas Stacey, B2B product category manager - urban & regional for Michelin North America, Inc., said the Michelin Retread Technology retreading process has nine steps to ensure retread tires are suitable for use.
“Recent improvements include automatic leak detection on the curing chamber and centering of the casing at the buffer for symmetrical buffing of shoulders,” he added.
To ensure tires are eligible for retreading, David Stevens, managing director for the Tire Retread & Repair Information Bureau (TRIB), said fleets should treat tires like investments and care for those investments to get the most value out of them.
“Retreaded tire manufacturing is about quality-in, quality out,” he explained. “Only sound, high-quality casings that pass multiple inspections end up going through the retread process.”
Retreaders have developed sophisticated inspection processes to ensure tires are fit to be retreaded.
“Tire casings that are overused, sometimes with exposed steel belts, cannot be retreaded safely,” said Luka Lojk, VP of sales and marketing for Tyrata, a tire sensor and data management company. “To ensure tires are not used beyond the threshold to retread safely, fleet managers are increasingly requesting automated tread monitoring to collect fleet-wide real-time tread depth readings with alerts for tires that fall below the target tread depth.”
Why Should Fleets Consider Using Retread Tires?
Economic and environmental benefits are chief among the reasons fleets use retreads.
“Retreads offer reliable, environmentally-friendly solutions for medium- and heavy-duty commercial fleets to extend the life of their tires, often by 200% or more,” said Feasel of Bridgestone. “In addition to helping generate billions of dollars in annual cost savings for fleets, using retreads reduces CO2 emissions, natural resource extraction, water consumption, air pollution, and land use.”
Stevens of TRIB said retreads could help fleets improve key metrics without sacrificing the quality of their truck and van tires.
“Retreads deliver the lowest total cost of ownership and highest ROI for their users. Retreads also deliver unmatched environmental savings and sustainability impacts,” he said. “Users of retreads don’t have to make any compromises in safety and reliability to achieve these savings.”
How do Retread Tires Compare to New Tires?
Thanks to the robust inspections during the remanufacturing process, retreads perform much the same as new tires.
“Advances in both new tire casing and retread sculpture design, together with advances in retread shop manufacturing technology, continue to improve the quality of retreads to the point that their safety and performance rival that of new tires,” explained Stacey of Michelin.
While performance may be comparable to new tires, Stevens of TRIB reminded fleets that proper care is critical for retreads.
“Retreaded tires are just like new tires — show them some love by keeping them properly inflated, don’t overload them, and properly maintain them. If you do that, your retreads will love you back and provide performance just as good as a new tire,” he said.
Are Retread Tires Cost-Effective?
Whether retread tires are cost-effective options depends on the type of tires fleets purchase. Retreading tires is more cost-effective than a wholesale replacement of a premium tire but may cost more than a low-cost, single-use tire.
“Retreaded tires perform as well as, and are less expensive than, new high-quality tires,” said Lojk of Tyrata. “Some fleet managers are still facing a decision between higher-cost tires that can be retreaded and cheaper tires that can only be used once. By automating tire tread monitoring, our Drive-Over System provides fleet managers with data that enables them to identify the best tires for their fleet.”
For those who choose to purchase tires with quality casings that can be retreaded, Stevens of TRIB said the difference in cost is significant.
“Savings range from 30-50% compared to a premium new tire. And the value only grows with each subsequent retread,” Stevens said. “Retreading a premium tire two times can keep that tire on the road up to 500% longer than an ultra-low-cost, single-use tire.”
The more fleets retread a tire, the more savings are magnified.
“After the first retread, fleet managers can begin to see spend reductions and cost savings, which continues after the second or third retread,” said Feasel of Bridgestone.
According to research from North Carolina State University, by incorporating retreads fleets have lowered tire costs to less than 1.5 cents per mile, which is well below the industry average.
Stevens added that fleets who don’t consider retreads could be missing out on economic benefits.
“If you’re not using retreaded tires in your operation, you’re simply leaving money on the table and not taking advantage of the engineering that went into the new tire in the first place and the value you can extract from multiple retreads,” he said.
How Many Times can you Retread a Tire?
If savings depend on how many times a tire is retreaded, the question becomes, “how many times can you retread a tire?”
“Tires can be retreaded multiple times, as long as the casing is not damaged by prolonged use or uneven wear,” said Lojk of Tyrata. “Monitoring tire tread closely as tires approach end-of-life is essential to the retreading process, and it is very difficult to do well without an automated system in place.”
Following his “quality-in, quality-out” maxim, Stevens of TRIB said fleets should expect to be able to retread a tire more than once when working with the right manufacturer.
“High-quality, new commercial truck tire manufacturers specifically design their tires to be retreaded multiple times, and they provide warranties guaranteeing those multiple retreads,” he noted.
Are Retreaded Tires Safe?
Past criticism of retreaded tires is that they’re not as safe as new tires. However, state and federal studies, including those conducted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and the American Trucking Associations, concluded that is not the case.
“It is a common misconception that tire rubber debris on highways is due to tire retreading. Many think that retread tires are more susceptible to heat and other safety concerns, but this is not true,” said Feasel of Bridgestone. “Issues like heat build-up, under-inflation, and over-inflation, and tread baldness impacts any tire, brand new or retread.”
Over the past 20 years, the safety of retreaded tires has been the subject of at least six studies.
“Every single study concluded that retreaded tires are as safe as new tires,” shared Stacey of Michelin. “Statistics compiled by the U.S. DOT show that nearly all tires involved in any tire-related accidents are underinflated or bald. Properly maintained tires, whether new or retreaded, do not cause accidents.”
What are the Environmental Benefits of Retreads?
Retreaded tires offer significant environmental benefits compared to low-cost, single-use commercial tires. Retreads reduce the number of tires that wind up in landfills and reduce the use of raw materials used to make tires, which comes with its benefits.
Because of the reduce and reuse nature of retreads, fleets can expect to extend a tire’s life while also reducing its impact on the environment.
“Retreading contributes to the productive lifecycle of a tire. By utilizing the original quality casing, a retread can eliminate millions of scrap tires sent to landfills each year. Additionally, it takes much less energy to produce a retread compared to the production of a new tire,” said Stacey of Michelin. “According to TRIB, it takes approximately 22 gallons of oil to manufacture a new medium-truck tire, but it takes only seven gallons for a retread — a natural resource savings of 68%.”
Looking at these statistics on a macro level, the environmental benefits of retreading add up.
“A retread tire uses 15 gallons less oil and 90-100 pounds less total material than a new tire,” explained Bridgestone’s Feasel. “In 2018, it was estimated that the U.S. and Canada tire retread industry saves approximately 217.5 million gallons of oil and delivers 1.4 billion pounds of landfill avoidance each year. Using retreads also reduces CO2 emissions, natural resource extraction, water consumption, air pollution, and land use.”
Michelin’s Stacey said retreads give fleets the ability to reap both environmental and economic benefits.
“Retreading continues to be the strongest contributing factor to promote sustainability and reduce fleet tire costs for both large and small North American fleet customers,” he said. “As in new tire technology, retread technology continues to evolve and push the envelope toward safer, more fuel-efficient and longer wearing treads.”
What Types of Applications are Retread Tires Ideal For?
Traditionally, bus and heavy-duty trucking fleets have been the biggest users of retreads, but today, retreads can be used by a much broader range of applications.
“Retreads are used for a number of commercial applications, including private waste fleets, food and beverage haulers, municipal waste fleets, package haulers, major long-haul carriers, and large lease/rental fleets,” said Feasel of Bridgestone. “Retreads are also depended on by the United States Army, school buses, government fleets, and the Department of Defense for both on and off-road vehicles.”
Stevens from TRIB advised fleets interested in retreads to work with a dealer to find the right fit.
“If you’re looking for a specific application, the retread industry has solutions for you,” he said.
Michelin’s Stacey agreed that fleets of many different types could benefit from retreads.
“Based on the continual improvement of both new tire and retread technology, there are very few applications and operations where a retreaded tire can’t perform at new tire levels,” he said.
Does Fleet Size Matter?
Large fleets use most retreads, but that doesn’t mean they’re only available to fleets of a specific size.
“Almost 90% of fleets with 500 or more trucks use retreads in their operation,” said Stevens of TRIB. “They do that because they know retreads provide the lowest total cost of ownership and highest return on investment (ROI) without any sacrifices in safety and reliability.”
Michelin’s Stacey noted that small- and medium-sized fleets shouldn’t rule out retreads.
“Retreading is critical to maximizing a fleet’s investment in tires. Large fleets understand this and have largely adopted retreading in their tire programs,” he said. “Over the past few years, we’ve also seen more small- and medium-sized fleets, as well as public/government-municipal fleets turn to retreading to better manage their operational budgets and their environmental commitments.”