ROCHESTER HILLS, Mich. (Nov. 7, 2005) — It's fall and the leaves are morphing into gorgeous hues of color and whispers of winter can be heard especially at night if you listen real close.
I was wondering what's in store for us this winter, especially with the rather severe weather some parts of the country have experienced this year. So I thought it wise to check the Farmer's Almanac—the 189-year-old publication that has an uncanny ability to predict long-range weather with amazing accuracy—for its weather forecast.
“Mother Nature seems to be in the mood for some amusement,” states Peter Geiger, editor of the 2006 Farmer's Almanac. (Translation: You're screwed.)
This winter the Almanac describes the weather as a “Polar Coaster” due to its many ups and downs on the thermometer. According to Managing Editor Sandi Duncan, “The East is on tap for a crazy ride, with the temperatures and weather initially leading into the winter season seeming mild, but the bulk of the winter will turn out to be unusually cold, with plenty of snow, especially in the northern sections.”
The Almanac also is forecasting an overall warmer winter for the West, but predicts a fair share of snow and cold periods in the country's midsections. Conclusion: Wax up your snow shovels and get out your tire chains!
That's right tire chains. Those are the heavy things that fleets took off their trucks last spring and haven't thought about since. If you sell tire chains to your commercial accounts or are running a fleet of trucks of your own, I hope you've been thinking about them.
September and October are good months in which to winterize truck fleets. That means that tread depths on tires—especially drives—will be scrutinized and worn tires will be replaced or rotated.
Windshields will be checked for cracks and windshield wipers will be replaced. Batteries, lights and brakes also will be inspected to ensure they are up to all the challenges that winter's wind, rain, snow and hail can throw at them.
While these vehicle components may be getting a closer scrutiny, they normally get checked throughout the course of the year. What are quickly forgotten and don't get checked once the warm weather returns are tire chains.
Now is the time for fleets to drag out the chains, inspect them for damage such as broken links and fasteners, repair them if possible or replace them if necessary. This is a job that's a real drag since conventional link chains for an average tire weigh approximately 51 pounds per pair for singles and 92 pounds per pair for duals. Cable chains weigh about 18 pounds per pair for singles and 35 pounds per pair for duals.
Usually they just get thrown in a barrel for storage and now have to be sorted out and untangled. Odds are they weren't prepped with WD-40 for storage and are now rusty and corroded.
If they were run on roads sprayed with magnesium or calcium chloride and were not rinsed off before storing, the resulting corrosion may have deteriorated them to the point of replacement.
However, while this work is a pain in the butt, it can be an expensive proposition for drivers to find they don't have chains. Or that they have to drag out the chains in the middle of a snowstorm and find they can't be hooked up because they're broken.
Many states won't let vehicles travel without chains when snow or ice conditions are hazardous and will make them park until road conditions improve. Some states fine commercial vehicle drivers who ignore tire chain laws or cause accidents because they didn't install them. For example, Colorado fines truck drivers $100 for not carrying chains, and $500 plus a $60 surcharge if that driver is involved in an accident that blocks the highway.
Washington requires truckers to carry chains at all times between Nov. 1 and March 31. The fine for failing to carry chains is $101; failure to put chains on during specific chain enforcement periods results in a mandatory court appearance.
Drivers in Oregon who disregard that state's chain requirements are subject to a Class C traffic ticket and a fine of $141. It they're involved in an accident and don't have chains on their tires, the cost snowballs to $165.
There are three types of traction devices grouped collectively under the term “tire chains.” The first are conventional steel link chains. The second are cable chains that are constructed with high-strength steel spring cross-member rollers. And the third are “automatic traction devices” (ATDs) that are mounted under the vehicle and sling rotating chain segments under the inside drive wheels as the vehicle rolls down the highway.
The driver can activate these devices when the need for extra traction is required.
Some states permit all three types of traction devices while others may have restrictions on cable chains or require additional tire chains if ATDs are used.
When selecting tire chains there are a few important points that should be remembered. First, chains should always be selected that have been designed specifically for radial tires. These chains have shorter cross chains than older designs used for bias tires and allow the position of the side chains to be higher on the tire sidewall and away from the flex area.
This positioning reduces susceptibility to sidewall damage caused by the chains.
Chain manufacturers produce chains for radial tires in specific tire sizes. The correct chain for the tire size must be used for optimized utility and performance.
However, chains always should be checked to see that they fit the tires they are going on—before they are needed. While winter traction products are uniform in size, tires are not. They vary in size by manufacturer, tread type and wear.
Deep lug tires may require a larger traction product than a like-sized highway tire. Some tires may require the next smaller size chain.
Chains should always be checked for proper clearances between them and the vehicle. There should be adequate dual spacing, especially if using single tire chains on each tire of a dual assembly. The greater deflection of the radial tire may require more dual spacing in marginally spaced dual assemblies.
Use them correctly
Once the fleet has the right chains, using them correctly is vital to their safe and optimal performance. Follow these recommendations:
* Chains should never be used to tow other vehicles.
* Tires should not be deflated to install tire chains.
* The mounting instruction and procedures of the chain manufacturer should always be closely followed.
* Chains should always be applied as tightly as possible by hand when first installed and then, after driving approximately one quarter mile, the vehicle should be stopped and the chains tightened again. Chains should be kept tight throughout operation.
* If a cross chain should fail, the vehicle should be stopped immediately and the broken chain should be repaired or removed. One broken chain will cause slack and result in additional cross-chain breakage and twisting.
* When running on chains, speeds should never exceed 30 mph.
* Chains should be removed immediately when driving on bare roads.
* Chains should be used only when necessary. The possibility of damage to the tire or the chain increases as driving speed and length of travel on the chains increases. As a general rule, chains should be used only as long as required.
When traction devices are required, they should only be installed in designated areas. These areas should be well-lit, snow-packed and on the widest part of the roadway.
Some sites have a Department of Transportation inspector to make sure chains are on properly before letting vehicles proceed. Drivers should keep in mind that chains are designed for traction, not stopping, and should always allow for ample stopping distance.
After using tire chains, they should always be rinsed off to remove de-icing solutions that have high corrosive characteristics. Prior to storing them in the spring, they should be sprayed with an all-purpose lubricant, such as WD-40. This will help retard rust and ensure a longer product life.
Ah spring! Hopefully, that's when good weather will be with us once again. I'd check the Farmer's Almanac again to see if that is the case, but you know, I think those folks there are having too good a time making lively and amusing weather predictions.
I'll stick to my predictions for spring 2006: April showers will bring May flowers. It's not as amusing, but it's a lot less work—and a lot more accurate.