Lately, for some unexplained reason, people have been pondering the mysteries of tires.
Questions like, ``Where does tread rubber go?'' and ``What happens to the air I put in my tires? And ``Why can't I make a buck in this business?'' seem to be haunting people.
I don't know if it's because the world seems so topsy-turvy right now or because people just need to get lives, but the questions still remain. Here, then, are some explanations for those gnawing questions.
Tread rubber whodunit
``Where does tread rubber go?'' For years that was a mystery, but people are a lot smarter today and a lot more allergic so we now know without a doubt what happens to tread rubber that wears off tires.
I'm not talking about the ``road gators'' that litter the highways as a result of tires running under-inflated, but rather the rubber that disappears from tires in normal operation. Since the highways are not discolored with blackened tread bits, you have to wonder if perhaps the tire tread disappears along with our socks that never seem to make it out of the dryer.
Well, the transportation and tire industries have been concerned about this problem for a long time. It is estimated that more than 600,000 metric tons of tire tread are worn off American vehicles every year. Instead of leaving black smudges on the highways, tiny particles of tread are worn off tires and are released into the air. The concern was that all of this material might remain in the air, in suspended particles that could be dangerous to humans.
In tests made near highways it was found that virtually no rubber stayed on the road due to wind, rain, and movement of the surrounding traffic. Instead the microscopic tread particles that become airborne are heavy enough to fall to the ground. In fact, most of the particle debris found along roadsides accounted for at least 50 percent of the total missing tire tread and possibly much more. The most plentiful tire debris is in the form of styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR), the most common rubber hydrocarbon in tire treads.
It is estimated that the rest of the worn tread rubber is dissolved through oxidation and devulcanization. One estimate speculated that devulcanization accounted for 30 percent of the disappearing SBR. Wind, water runoff, oxygen and microbial attack all act to help degrade tread particulates which degenerate faster than the tread rubber on tires.
Since tire tread rubber is essentially an inert material, it doesn't contribute to acid rain or soil pollution and since it is microscopic it doesn't bother most of us. However, if you are a latex allergy victim, it's a different story.
Latex is the basis of natural rubber. At least 70-75 percent of the natural rubber produced today is used to make tires. (The rest apparently goes to making latex gloves and protection for other smaller body parts, as well as paint and adhesives.)
In passenger tires the tread cap is a blend of natural rubber, butyl and SBR and the tread is almost exclusively SBR. In commercial truck tires, varying amounts of natural rubber are mixed with SBR to make the tread, depending upon the performance characteristics of the tire. Therefore, some latex particles can be found in natural rubber tread particles along the side of the road.
Ground rubber from recycled tires is also mixed with asphalt in some paving processes. Natural rubber, SBR and butyl rubber are added to improve the temperature sensitivity of asphalt at both low and high temperature extremes. In the U.S., recycled rubber has been used to reinforce asphalt since the early 1960s. When the asphalt is being mixed or sprayed, natural rubber latex particles are almost certainly being aerosolized. As a result, latex allergens have been found in tire dust, roadside dust and air samples. That's why you may experience a reaction around streets that are being paved, or asphalt that is being added to roof structures, or if you live near highways.
New research has found that there is something else to worry about in tire road dust. Millions of people spend hours each day stuck in traffic. This traffic nightmare is not just costing us time and money but perhaps even our health.
Asthma rates have been steadily increasing and are now up 75 percent over the last 20 years. Surveys show the closer to busy, congested roads you live, the higher the asthma rates. In the past we have blamed it on pollution and diesel exhaust, but new research finds that road dust may be what's making you wheeze. When the road dust particles were analyzed, researchers found latex from tires and asphalt as expected. But they were totally surprised to find large amounts of allergenic pollen grains and mold far from their origins.
Apparently tires can grind pollen particles so fine that they remain airborne for miles and can be easily inhaled to trigger an allergic reaction. It was also found that even minute particles of pollen could trigger an attack rather than whole pollen grains. Yet few would suspect it came from road dust.
Where's the air?
As far as where the air in tires disappears to, that's a question that has been understood for a long time. Most people in the tire industry, I'm sure, know that air migrates through the tire liner at a rate of about 2 psi per month in truck tires. On its way through the tire, the air-which is also carrying moisture with it-contaminates the steel and initiates the growth of rust in the steel body plies. This naturally weakens the tire.
The oxygen in the tire, accelerated by the presence of water vapor, causes rusting of steel rims as well as corrosion on aluminum wheels. (Aluminum corrosion, known as aluminum hydroxide, is an extremely fine dust that is difficult to see even inside the tire.) The particles formed by the corrosion process can get lodged in the valve seat and cause leaks, or air can escape from affected areas along the bead flange.
Blockages from these particles can occur every time the inflation pressure is adjusted or checked with a gauge. That's why it's important to use a dryer on your compressor or to at least drain your air lines frequently to eliminate moisture in your inflation air.
Now as to why your fleet customer's tires always seem low, there are several possible reasons:
* He only checks and adjusts tire pressures every nine months.
* He allows tires to run with nails in them if they don't penetrate the casing (they eventually will).
* He uses the wrong or cheap valve hardware and doesn't bother with valve caps.
* The tie beads are not fully seated since he fails to use adequate tire lubricant when mounting tires.
* His rims are cracked or the flanges are bent.
* The rims are highly corroded and air leaks from around the valve stem or bead seat areas.
Show me the money
``Why can't I make a buck in this business?'' That's a question that has been plaguing the tire industry for as long as anyone can remember.
The truck tire business is certainly a dog-eat-dog world. The marketplace is such that fleets expect you to cut your price on new tires and retreads to win as well as to just keep their business. How did this market phenomenon come about in which the way to sell tires is to simply cut the price? Did the guy who invented the wheel (and the tire not long after) dream up this sales technique, too? He must have because it seems that it has been around as long as dirt.
Somehow, the collective commercial tire industry has developed weak knees and caves any time a fleet manager says, ``I can buy it cheaper from So-And-So.''
As a result we've got an industry in which margins are paper-thin, dealers are consolidating to stay in business, and those who aren't are being forced to change the products they sell. And who is to blame? The fleets for demanding ridiculous price cuts? The competition for dropping their prices?
No, price cuts are self-inflicted wounds. No one can lower your prices other than you. You are the culprit.
To correct this situation, look at how you set your tire and retread prices. Some dealers base them on the competition's prices. This is really stupid. Most businesses go broke by cutting prices. No one goes broke by raising prices. Why base your prices on what the moron down the street does? He's going out of business and you're trying to beat him to it!
Other dealers base their prices on cost. This isn't too bright either since the better you get in reducing your costs, the lower your prices will be and the higher your cost, the more money you'll make! What you really need to do is drive your costs down and your prices up in order to increase your margins.
So what should you do when making sales calls?
Hang tough! Ask for prices that are higher than the competition and stick with them. Present a full features-and-benefits sales presentation that will justify your higher prices. Use testimonials. Fleet buyers are really afraid that they will be paying more than other fleets for your tires and service. If they know they will be paying what other fleets are paying, then they don't have to negotiate-which is something most people don't like to do anyway.
Finally, you have several tire products in your bag of tricks. If price is really an issue and the customer says he can only pay, for example, 20-percent less than your price, offer the fleet a 20-percent lesser quality tire for 20-percent less money. But if he wants the premium tire product, he's got to pay the premium price. Be strong and hang tough.
Now that you have the answers to these brain-gnawing questions, go enjoy life and prosper.