HILTON HEAD, S.C.-The old image of the ``tire buster'' in a small tire dealership or independent repair shop has gone the way of T. Rex, according to a tire technician training expert who spoke recently at the Clemson Tire Industry Conference.
Tire technology is changing rapidly and becoming more sophisticated, said Kevin Rohlwing, director of training for the International Tire & Rubber Association (ITRA), at the conference held at Hilton Head March 21-23. Those who want to stay in the tire business must be sure to train their employees to deal with these changes.
``The most technically advanced process in the hands of a man who doesn't know how to use it is useless,'' Mr. Rohlwing said.
Two cries which are heard often in commercial truck tire centers these days are, ``Where's the tube and flap?'' and ``Hey, that's a light truck tire!'' according to Mr. Rohlwing.
``For the most part, we're looking at a tubeless tire society,'' he said, noting that the top five replacement and original equipment medium truck tires-comprising 75 and 83 percent of those respective markets-are tubeless.
Also, there is greater variation in truck tire sizes nowadays, with smaller tire sizes allowing more cube height in the trailer, Mr. Rohlwing said.
``They're trying to find ways to get more on those vehicles,'' he said. ``Two feet of extra cube height per trailer equals one extra trailer every five or six trailers.''
Conversely, some truckers are going for bigger tires which can take the place of duals and thus save money, he noted. ``I don't see how any tire technician can get away from smaller and bigger tires,'' he said.
In general, ``wider is better'' for tires, except in cases where tire inflation is 80 percent or less of optimum, Mr. Rohlwing said. Then the wide tires present a severe risk of a blowout, and no trucker can limp home on a seriously underinflated wide tire.
``Smaller duals and larger singles will require more road service,'' he said. ``There's no worse place to change a tire than the side of a highway. The police won't protect technicians on the side of the road. You're on your own, and where the tire goes flat, that's where you have to go.
``The cost of downtime requires prompt service,'' he added. ``The ones who will survive are the ones who can get their men out there fast.''
Wide tires require special equipment, Mr. Rohlwing said.
``Wide-base tires don't fit in regular safety cages, and the days of not putting your tires in safety cages are done,'' he noted. ``The blast of air from a wide tire will crush a garbage can as if King Kong stepped on it.''
Catastrophic ``zipper'' ruptures from steel cord fatigue also will continue to be major problems for tire technicians, he said. Sometimes you will get the warning sound-``a popping like popcorn''-of steel belts giving way before the zipper occurs, and sometimes not.
``When it goes, you don't want to be in the neighborhood,'' Mr. Rohlwing said. ``When you understand how dangerous these things can be and how poorly maintained most fleet tires are, it's a scary thing.''
Mr. Rohlwing made several strong recommendations on truck fleet tire care, including:
Avoiding string plugs and any other quick fixes when repairing flat tires. ``You don't want anybody fixing the flat, you want someone repairing the tire,'' he said. ``Getting it to hold air is a piece of cake, but restoring it to its former condition takes work.''
Learning how to service computerized, so-called ``smart'' tires containing imbedded computer chips, which are already on the market and will become increasingly common.
``Specific procedures must be followed, or else you're going to damage it,'' he said.
``The technician of tomorrow will have to have some computer training. If you can't program a VCR, how can you program a tire chip?''