Every fleet interested in lowering its tire cost per mile has to look at every available option that extends tire life and mileage. One of these options is retreading. Truck tire retreading may not be right for every fleet, but for most fleets it makes great economic sense. In the U.S., it makes sense to approximately 75 percent of fleets.
About 50 percent of all radial-ply tires sold for the Class 8 truck market are retreaded. With today's improved truck tire casings, it is not uncommon for a casing to run 750,000 miles or more and be retreaded two or three times. This lowers a fleet's tire cost per mile significantly.
So how come 25 percent of the fleets don't retread? The most common type of carrier that refrains from retreading is the bulk hauler or tanker fleet, which may haul anything from milk to chemicals to gasoline.
The rigs these fleets run are equipped with fenders over the wheels that invariably get torn off if the tread and belt package separate from the casing when a tire fails on the road. Repairs to this equipment can cost more than $2,000.
Other fleets that don't retread are usually time-sensitive fleets that can't tolerate en-route delays of any kind, since they usually pay a penalty for late delivery.
It is rare anymore for a retread to fail and separate at the bond line. From studies done of roadside tire debris by The Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations, we all know that underinflation/overloading is the primary cause for en-route tire failures.
Therefore, these carriers' decision not to use retreads does not stem from any particular problem with retreads per se. Rather, they have decided not to use older, worn tires, which carry a higher risk of failure than new tires due to their greater exposure to punctures, road hazards and poor maintenance practices.
The economics of whether to retread or not are easy to compute. For fleets that can sell their original tire casings and avoid costly en-route delays, equipment damage, penalties for freight delays and loss of customers, it makes sense not to use older, retreaded tires.
But what about carriers that have fairly standard freight-hauling operations and equipment? What do you do when a fleet wants to stop retreading because it is experiencing high incidences of tire-related emergency service and costs?
I recently visited several truck fleets that were complaining of a high number of road-service calls and wondered if they should stop retreading to eliminate these high costs. Each fleet was different and received a quite different answer.
The first company was a large, national U.S. common carrier. A fleet survey performed on a significant portion of its equipment found that the tires were very well maintained. If anything, overinflation was a slight problem, even on its trailer tires.
The scrap-tire analysis revealed that because this fleet's tires were so well maintained they were failing when they were 6, 7, 8 and 9 years old! The problem was that one brand of tire was failing at a rate far greater than others and with a condition that is difficult to detect prior to its failure on the road.
There was no evidence that retreading was a problem. Making a blanket policy not to retread tires after a certain age was not correct for this fleet, since other brands of tires ran well after being retreaded ``later in life.''
Instead, this carrier decided to take a rifle approach to its problem. It decided to remove older tires of the specific problem brand to eliminate near-term road calls, not to retread these tires after they were 4 years old, and to continue retreading other brands that it was running successfully without age limitations.
The fleet kept the economic advantage that retreading provides and reduced road calls at the same time.
Another trucking company in Canada also was experiencing a high number of road calls and wondered if it should stop retreading. A fleet survey indicated that it, too, had pretty good tire maintenance.
The scrap-tire analysis revealed that one brand of tires was failing with more regularity than others once it was 4 or 5 years old. Some retread problems also surfaced, but these were not a large percentage of the failures.
However, the economics of this fleet's situation was different from that of the U.S. fleet. This carrier was paying a rather high amount for its retreads, from which it received a comparatively low amount of mileage.
As a result, the beneficial impact of retreading was very small for this fleet and could be wiped out with just a few road calls a month.
It has decided not to retread the problem brand tire. It also is considering not retreading at all, but is waiting to learn what cost savings result from removing the problem tires from its vehicles and whether it can obtain better retread pricing and sell its casings at an attractive price on a consistent basis.
At another U.S. truck fleet, the fleet manager wanted to stop retreading to reduce his high, tire-related road-call costs. A fleet survey revealed that tire maintenance on this fleet's tractors was good; on trailers, however, it was almost non-existent. In addition, a review of tires in this fleet's scrap pile showed that retreading was not a problem, while underinflation was.
The answer for this fleet was to improve trailer tire maintenance and keep the economic benefit it was deriving from retreading.
From time to time, some fleets do experience retread problems. In frustration, fleets sometimes think that ceasing retreading will cure their headaches. Before anyone recommends that course of action, however, a full analysis of tire failures should be made.
If a retread problem exists, the retreader should immediately call in the reserves and get all the engineering help he needs from his rubber and/or equipment supplier to correct his shop's quality problem.
The fleet should be kept abreast of efforts being made to solve the problem and advised when the fix is completed. This will greatly improve the odds of retaining the customer.
Fleets should change retreaders if they cannot get quality retreading from their current supplier and he shows them no attempt to correct the situation. They should not cease retreading altogether, though, because of this.
If you have a truck fleet that comes to you for advice on whether it should be retreading its tires or not, do a thorough fleet survey to determine the maintenance level the tires are receiving and the state of health they currently are in. If they are in sad shape and not maintained well, emergency road service costs will be high.
Then do a scrap-pile analysis. Analyze the data to determine if there is a problem with retread quality by brand, original casing quality by brand or maintenance. Isolate production dates to pinpoint the exact tire problem, if one exists.
If a tire problem does exist, it may have fooled the fleet into thinking the cause of its large number of en-route tire failures was retreading.
Then calculate the economic benefits of retreading to the fleet. Factor in operational considerations the carrier may have, including labor, equipment repair costs, delay penalties and any other factor the fleet identifies as important when computing tire cost per mile. (This could include wheel refurbishing for some fleets.)
Make a comparison of retreading vs. not retreading. Then review this information with the fleet manager, along with your recommendations.
Don't be afraid to tell him his tire maintenance should be improved, if that is the case. If he heeds your advice, he will reduce his fleet's road-call expenses and improve his tire performance.
Retreading is not for every fleet. But it certainly presents a powerful tool in reducing tire costs that should not be eliminated when the roots of a trucker's problems lie elsewhere.