WASHINGTON-``They travel in the gutter, so they pick up a lot of scrap,'' he said. It's not a pretty picture.
But the tires used by the U.S. Postal Service on its 200,000-plus vehicle fleet see some of the most severe duty anywhere while on their ``rain, sleet, snow or dark-of-night'' routines.
William E. Messitt, a vehicle maintenance analyst for the Postal Service, has been trying to elevate the lowly tire, specifically re-treaded tires, from the gutter, so to speak. And his at times one-man campaign to convince the service to use more retreads on its vehicles appears to be succeeding, based on figures he has provided TIRE BUSINESS.
The number of retreaded tires used by the Postal Service between 1992 and 1995 has increased 118 percent-43 percent alone from 1994 to 1995.
In 1992, the service purchased 265,000 tires for 179,000 vehicles. Of those, 215,000 were new tires; the remaining 19 percent were retreads. This year-as the fleet grew to 206,000 and tire acquisitions to 315,000-the service bought 206,000 new tires; retreads totalled 109,000, or 34.6-percent of the total.
Why the rise in retread usage?
Mr. Messitt chuckled. ``I've been pushing the hell out of them, in all honesty.'' He attributed the growing numbers to ``continuing efforts and awareness'' by management in the service's 189 vehicle maintenance facilities nationwide.
But for an honest evaluation, just ask the men and women who deliver the mail. Mr. Messitt has discovered that the types of tires on their vehicles are pretty much ``transparent-it's just a tire, as far as the users are concerned.'' The service has had no problems with its retreads, he said, and has actually found they get slightly better mileage than new tires.
To the average eye, that mileage probably isn't much to crow about.
The service's 137,250 white, snub-nosed LLVs (Long Life Vehicles)-and the 28,200 DJ5s (Jeeps) the LLVs are slowly replacing-suffer the most severe tire wear, averaging only about 3,500 miles annually on a set of tires.
``That's unlike any other vehicle in the world,'' he said.
Chalk that low mileage up to constant abuse. The tires sustain damaged sidewalls from repeatedly running into curbs, and scrub wear from turning in and out and going around parked cars at low speeds.
That often puts them ``in the trash heap,'' he said, ``because even though the tread is not worn that much, the sidewall is so damaged it takes the tire out of contention for retreading.''
``Our goal is to get a tire that's designed more towards the use that we would give it,'' he explained, ``rather than just getting a tire off the shelf.''
The General Services Administration (GSA) is developing a test just for the LLVs to determine tire design specifications, Mr. Messit said.
The tire sizes now used by the Postal Service fleet are:
P185/75B14 and P205/75B15 for the Jeeps;
LT195/75R14 for the LLVs;
8R19.5 for two-ton vehicles; and
11R22.5 for seven- and nine-ton cargo vans and tractor-trailers.
If the service eventually gets a better tire for its LLVs, Mr. Messitt expects retread usage will continue to increase.
The analyst said he's ``trying to make managers in the field more aware that a retread is a viable way to go, and can save money in the process''-in some cases up to two-thirds the cost of a new tire.
The total spent on tires in 1992 by the service was $12.6 million, with retreads accounting for 19 percent of that, or $2.4 million, according to Mr. Messitt.
In 1994, retreaded tires represented 25 percent of the $13.5 million tire acquisition budget. As total tire purchases swelled to $19.1 million this year, the service spent $5.1 million on retreads.
The service's fleet also includes 6,500 two-ton vehicles, 2,750 cargo vans, 7,100 tractors and trailers, and 24,200 miscellaneous vehicles.
While the Postal Service has most of the larger tires it uses retreaded, he said he has ``made some real strides in getting them to retread the smaller ones.''
In some areas, though, the service has had difficulty finding retreaders. Mr. Messitt recalls telling American Retreaders Associa-tion board members: ``Don't let the Postal Service come to you-go after them.''
And he continues to tell postal managers: ``Don't wait for retreaders to come to you. Go to them.''
He hopes both sides will meet somewhere in the middle.
Equipment and tread rubber suppliers Bandag Inc., Goodyear, Hercules/Cedco and Oliver Rubber Co. are on the GSA's Qualified Products List, and Mr. Messitt said the Postal Service is ``fair game'' for any retreader using those firms' processes and rubber.
He urged retreaders to pursue business from postal vehicle maintenance facilities: ``Their numbers are in the phone book.''