Several associates of mine in the tire industry are currently engaged in an amusing competition. They have older cars with well over 150,000 miles that they are driving and maintaining. The informal contest they have is to see who can drive his car the longest.
One of these gentlemen, with over 200,000 miles on his Crown Victoria, recently had his transmission overhauled; another had his 12-year-old car repainted, and a third replaced the engine in his.
Why are they doing this?
The real reason is, they are tire guys! (Is any other explanation really needed?) The justification they offer is that the cost of the repairs is much cheaper than monthly car payments for the next four to five years.
Most trucking fleets use this same rationale in regards to maintaining their tires. Since tires are their second-largest vehicle expense after fuel and oil, fleets too are sensitive to new purchases that could increase their monthly tire costs/payments.
Therefore, for the most part, they are willing to spend money on repairs to extend the life of their tires and reduce their tire cost per mile.
And this makes good economic sense. An original, radial tire may cost around $300. If that tire falls victim to hazards of the road, it would be cost-effective to repair it with any number of nail hole repairs and even two or three section repairs if necessary.
Usually, spending up to the value of an original casing is cost effective. It also would be economical to repair retreaded tires using the casing value as the cost limit and good judgment as to the probability the tire would run out its next life to determine the extent of the repairs that should be made.
Of course, this assumes that the repairs are made properly and will last the life of the tire. However, this is not always the case.
Obviously, if a repair made to the tire fails, the money invested in the repair is lost. But repair failures usually result in casing failure as well. (Eighteen percent of the failed tires whose cause could be determined in The Maintenance Council's ``Tire Debris Study'' resulted from bad repairs.) And this is extremely costly.
Imagine spending $3.50 to $35.00 to repair a tire-depending upon the size of the injury-only to have it fail and take the $80 casing along with it. Now, the fleet has not only lost the $80 casing and its repair cost, but it must purchase another $300 tire long before it should have been necessary. (Let's hope a road service call was not required too!)
This would be analogous to taking your car in for an oil change and blowing the engine a few miles down the road because the mechanic forgot to put in the oil.
Keeping and maintaining a car well over a decade and 100,000 miles doesn't start when the odometer turns over. It requires good maintenance throughout its life.
Naturally, as the owner, you want to take your vehicle to a professional auto repair specialist who not only will perform the repair at a reasonable price-but do it right the first time. You don't want to be left stranded on some lonely highway during the wee hours of the morning or have an accident that could jeopardize your safety.
One thing I cannot understand is why, in our litigious society, on-the-wheel, ``rubberized string'' repairs are still being made and are so popular.
These repairs clearly defy the accepted Industry Standard for Tire Repairing which requires that an injured tire be demounted, the interior inspected, the injury be drilled out and a plug and repair unit installed.
This Standard specifically states: ``NO TIRE MAY BE REPAIRED ON THE RIM.''
Yet repair material manufacturers still make string repairs, knowing how they are used in the real world, and tire servicers still install them with the tire on the rim.
I guess it's because plugging is relatively cheap and gets the customer back on the road quickly. Also, a repair materials manufacturer once told me that if they stopped making the stuff, they would lose half of their sales revenue.
That's a powerful argument for making this material. However, an equally powerful argument against making and using it is the safety and liability issue.
The danger of ``on-the-rim, string repairs'' is that while the injury may look small on the outside, the interior may have significant damage which goes unnoticed because the tire is not demounted.
There have been several cases in which these repairs failed the tires and caused serious accidents. Of course the lawyers for the injuredparties sued the tire repairers as well as the repair manufacturers and anybody else who they thought may have had some money.
Perhaps on a truck dual-wheel position the risk of loss of control is small. But there remains the risk of on-the-road tire failure and flying tire debris which can cause accidents, too.
Most retreaders know the tires that make it to their shops with these types of repairs usually require extensive section repairing or end up being rejected because the string wicked moisture into the casing and rusted a large area around the original injury.
Either way, an inexpensive repair can end up costing a whole lot more in the long run both to the fleet and repair supplier as well as to innocent motorists.
There are some fleets that insist on using string repairs because they get their drivers back on the road quickly. But if they knew how much these repairs were really costing them and the safety implications they present, maintenance managers would have to change their minds.
Tire dealers who service these fleets say they can't afford not to do these repairs-customers will take their business elsewhere. However, with the liability of installing a repair that does not meet industry standards, you can't afford to do them. Wake up and smell the rubber. It's all over the road!
There is a movement in the repair industry to certify tire repair people like ASE-certified auto repair mechanics. This is a good idea, but such a program is difficult to set up and implement since it requires its own special infrastructure. However, I think one day it will come about.
In the meantime, a few tire repair manufacturers as well as the International Tire and Rubber Association (ITRA) are doing their best to provide formal tire repair training to anyone wanting it.
REMA Tip Top has a training van which traverses the country providing mostly nail hole repair instruction to repair specialists at their companies' locations. Tech International offers a free, three-day training course in Johnstown, Ohio, which covers all types of repairs and includes free room and board. The ITRA also offers a three-day repair course at its training center in Louisville, Ky.
The trucking industry is extremely competitive. For some fleets, survival of the fittest may come down to those that run their tires the longest, get the most miles, and have the lowest tire cost per mile.
This is a little more serious than just seeing who can put the most miles on their tires. To win this life and death contest, fleets need safe and reliable tire repairs made by trained, professional tire repair specialists who use good quality repair materials every time.