Since it began in the 1920s, the retreading industry has had a wild and fascinating ridewith tremendous growth followed by incredible shrinkage.
While passenger tire retreading pretty much died out in the 1960s and 1970s, truck tire retreading endured and even flourished with the radialization of truck tires and the eventual success of precure retreading, which was introduced by Bandag Inc. in 1957. Nothing has changed the direction of retreading since then as much as the federal government's SmartWay program overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
SmartWay was begun in 2004. It is a voluntary program that encourages fleets to use technologies for line-haul Class 8 trucks that reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gases.
This program has created a list of components that improve fuel economy. New fuel-efficient tires that provide reductions in fuel consumption of at least 3 percent as compared with the most popular products now in use have been on that SmartWay list since the early days of the programbut not retreaded tires. The reason was the difficulty in determining what a fuel-efficient tire was and coming up with a test procedure that everyone could agree on to determine whether the retread could save 3 percent in fuel.
The difficulty that retreads presented is that a retreaded tire is a two-part system. The question that flummoxed everyone was which to measure, the casing, the tread, or both. Measuring the rolling resistance of the tread alone is tough, but measuring the casing is just as difficult.
An enormous amount of complexity results from the countless possibilities of casing and tread combinations, so determining the rolling resistance values for all retreaded tires is almost impossible. The EPA considered defining a SmartWay-verified retread as any retread placed on a SmartWay casing. However, if it made this decision, then even deep lug, high traction (open shoulder) retreads could qualifywhich was certainly not the desired outcome.
So in 2010 a committee of tire manufacturers was formed from within the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) to develop a single test method and a reporting system to measure retread tire rolling resistance and help the EPA grapple with this complex issue.
As a result of this committee's work in June of last year, the EPA established a verification program for retread tire technologiesboth precure and mold curewhich included procedures for testing retreads and the target values they should achieve in these tests. It decided that for fleets to obtain the expected reductions in fuel consumption, SmartWay-verified retreads must be used on the drive and trailer positions along with SmartWay-verified steer tires.
The fuel-efficient retreads can be retreaded on any casing. The casing does not have to be a SmartWay-verified fuel-efficient casing. However, for standardization of the testing method, the test procedure requires that all retreads used on conventional-width tires used in dual configurations be tested on a new Yokohama Super Steel RY-617, 295/75R22.5 casing made in the U.S., which happens to be SmartWay-verified. Wide-base retreads are to be tested on any new, SmartWay-verified wide-base tire casing.
Since last June Bridgestone Americas, Continental Tire the Americas L.L.C., Goodyear and Michelin Americas Truck Tires all have succeeded in verifying both drive and trailer precure treads, and Marangoni Tread North America and Michelin's Oliver business unit have added precure trailer treads to the SmartWay-verified retread list as well. (The list is available on the EPA's website at www.epa.gov/ SmartWay/technology/tires.htm.)
While the SmartWay program is strictly a voluntary one, the regulations issued by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) are not. California decided that it liked the SmartWay program so much that it mandated the use of fuel-efficient new tires and retreads along with some other fuel-efficient technologies on trucks and trailers that operate within the state in order to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions there.
The big impact this regulation has is that it affects not only fleets that are domiciled in California but every other tractor and 53-foot van trailer that enters the state, too.
The regulation requires owners of affected tractors and trailers to meet the following requirements for low rolling resistance tires:
c Beginning in 2010, all 2011 model year and newer affected tractors (with sleeper cabs and day cabs) and 53-foot van trailers must use SmartWay-verified low rolling resistance new tires or retreads.
c 2011 model year and newer tractors and trailers using retreaded tires comprising a SmartWay casing retreaded with any retread material prior to Jan. 1, 2013, can continue to use those tires for the useful life of the tread or until Jan. 1, 2014, for tractors and Jan. 1, 2017, for trailerswhichever comes first.
c Any tire retreaded after Jan. 1, 2013, must be retreaded with a SmartWay-verified tread on any casing.
c 2010 model year and older affected tractors must use SmartWay-verified new tires or retreads by Jan. 1, 2013.
c Affected tractors that use two or more open-shoulder drive tires must use SmartWay-verified tires or retreads by Jan. 1, 2013.
c Tractors using new non-fuel-efficient, open-shoulder, drive tires made before Jan. 1, 2013, can continue to use those tires for the useful life of the tread or until Jan. 1, 2015whichever comes first.
c Any new, open-shoulder, drive tire produced after Jan. 1, 2013, must be SmartWay verified.
c Tractors using non-SmartWay open-shoulder retreaded tires made prior to Jan. 1, 2014, may continue to use those tires for the useful life of the tread or until Jan. 1, 2016.
c Any open-shoulder, retreaded drive tire retreaded after Jan. 1, 2014, must be retreaded with a SmartWay-verified retread on any casing.
c 2010 model year or older 53-foot van trailers (except 2003 through 2009 model-year refrigerated van trailers) must use SmartWay-verified tires by Jan. 1, 2017.
c 2003 through 2009 model year refrigerated van trailers must use SmartWay-verified tires or retreads beginning Jan. 1, 2018, through Jan. 1, 2020, depending on the trailer model year.
SmartWay's specifications and CARB's regulations finally answer the long-asked question of what constitutes a fuel-efficient retread. Answer: a low-rolling-resistance tread applied to any tire casing.
This is good news. If the government had specified that fuel-efficient retreads had to be applied to SmartWay-verified casings, we would really have a problem since there are not enough SmartWay-verified casings out there to fill the demand for retreadable casings.
In addition, CARB was smart enough to recognize that many fleets operating in or through California have tried to use fuel-efficient retreads by having SmartWay-verified casings retreaded, and the agencywill allow them to continue to use them until Jan. 1, 2014, for tractors and Jan. 1, 2017, for trailers.
Since so many fleets travel into or through California, these regulations affect a huge number of commercial vehicles and in essence mandate the use of SmartWay-verified low-rolling-resistance new tires and retreads on a large percentage of the national fleet. This mandate will move fleets away from standard retreads to fuel-efficient ones in a very short time.
As a result, this may have the biggest impact on retreading and your tire and retread customers since truck tire radialization.
So, what to do now?
Advise all your fleet accounts that if they travel into or through California with 53-foot van trailers, their vehicles fall under the CARB regulations. Advise them to check the tires on their vehicles to ensure they are good for travel in California. They should use the DOT codes on the sidewall to determine the production dates for both new and retreaded tires.
If they have vehicles designated for California travel and are not going all out with fuel-efficient tires and retreads across their entire fleet, recommend that they identify these vehicles for use in California in some easily recognizable way and keep a supply of SmartWay-verified new tires and retreads in a separate area for installation on these vehicles.
Identification is important so that technicians recognize these vehicles require special tires.
If the fleet is not moving to low-rolling-resistance tires, ask why.
With diesel fuel over $4 a gallon, a 3-percent savings in fuel can easily pay for the small reduction in tread mileage a fleet may experience and the additional higher, upfront cost of low-rolling-resistance tires and retreads. Fleets have to start looking at total tire costwhich is the cost of the tire as well as the savings it provides over its life (including fuel), rather than just the purchase price. While this adds a bit of complexity to the equation, it is one that in this day and age must be calculated.
A lot of costly, new regulations have been coming out of Washington over the last five years that greatly impact trucking. But this one, regulating the use of fuel-efficient retreadsinstigated by the EPA and mandated by CARBmay just benefit fleets in the long run. The retread industry will benefit, too, by rolling with it.