Peggy Fisher: Some guidelines for repairing and retreading steer tires
Since there have been trucks and truck drivers, there has been an abundance of "old driver's tales" and "myths" floating around the trucking industry.
A few of my favorites are:
- Thumping a tire can tell you if the tire has the proper air pressure or not.
- All "Road Gators" come from retreads.
- You have to use the proper number of golf balls to balance a tire correctly.
I'm sure you know that there are problems with all of these statements, and I could list about 20 more that would make you laugh, cry or just throw up.
The thing about them is that there may be a kernel of truth buried in each of them (except for the golf balls), but somehow, confusion, ignorance or imagination have twisted them into perceptions that are just plain wrong.
Ever since I started my career working with trucks and truck tires, people have questioned the proper use, maintenance and regulations regarding steer tires.
• This column appeared in the April 10 print issue of Tire Business
For example, many people still believe today that steer tires can't be repaired or retreaded. But this is incorrect. So today, I'd like to provide you with the information you need to set the record straight with your commercial customers.
I'm sure you'll agree that tires on steer axles are probably the best maintained on a truck, bus or tractor-trailer since they are easily accessible for the most part, and if they fail suddenly, the driver may lose control of the vehicle.
Since this is a safety concern, most fleets and drivers ensure that these tires are properly inflated and many fleets do not allow tires on steer positions to be repaired or retreaded. They prefer to have clean, original tires on these positions. However, that is just personal preference, not the law.
The only federal regulation regarding repairing tires on steer axles is found in Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation (FMSCR) Part 393.75 Appendix G to Subchapter B — Minimum periodic inspection standards, 10a, (10), which states: "A vehicle does not pass an inspection if it has any tire on any steering axle of a power unit with a boot, blowout patch or other ply repair."
This regulation was written more than 60 years ago, so if the terms, "a boot, blowout patch or other ply repair" seem strange, it's because they became obsolete long ago, even before I started in this business.
In today's terminology, they are known as section repairs.
You will note that there is no mention of nail hole or puncture repairs. Therefore, steer tires can have an unlimited number of puncture repairs as long as they are made properly according to industry standards that limits their size to 3/8ths inch and prohibits the repair units from overlapping.
With the cost of tires going up again, many fleets and tire service suppliers that have policies regarding whether puncture repairs can be made in steer tires and the number that can be made may want to revisit these policies, and those that don't have any policies may want to establish written guidelines for steer tire repair.
If you have commercial accounts that fall into one of these categories, here are some tips you can pass along to them.
Every fleet should have its own policy for repairing steer tires that should include:
Number and location of the puncture repairs that can be made.
There is no limit to the number of nail hole repairs that can be made in the crown area of a steer tire that are a maximum of 3/8ths inch in diameter after repair preparation. (The crown area is 1½ inches in from the edge on each side of the tread.)
Puncture repairs up to 5/16th inch can be made in the shoulder area. It is strongly recommended that reinforced shoulder repairs are made that position the longer repair unit so that it does not end in the flex zone of the sidewall.
So as an example, a fleet might state in its steer-tire policy that a maximum of three puncture or reinforced shoulder repairs can be made in a tire used on a steer position.
Prohibition of section repairs — The policy should state that no section repairs are permitted in tires used on steer axles.
If a fleet has different types of operations, it may want to have different steer tire policies for each.
For example, a policy for tires used on steer axles in pickup-and-delivery operations may permit a larger number of puncture repairs than a policy designed for steer tires on vehicles used in high-speed, over-the-road, line-haul operations.
A policy for yard trucks, that are always in the yard just moving trailers around, may permit an unlimited number of puncture repairs in steer tires.
The fleet should specify that all repairs in steer tires must be made according to a specific repair manufacturer's, retreader supplier's or other industry recognized organization's repair procedures.
The policy also should require the installation of a blue triangle patch on the sidewall near the repair location that indicates any bulge that results from the repair is repair-related and not a separation in the tire so that inspectors do not place the tire out of service.
Finally, the policy should require that repaired steer tires in inventory be identified as usable on steer positions either with a sticker or writing on the tread that says "OK for steers" or some other verbiage.
It should also require the repair technician to mark the repair unit with the facility's DOT code and his/her initials as well as write "OK for steers" alongside it.
Whether it's legal to retread steer tires is also a question that pops up frequently, so let me make this clear:
There are no federal regulations barring the use of retreaded tires on steer-axle positions on medium- and heavy-duty vehicles used in freight transport applications.
The only federal regulation regarding the use of retreads on steer axles of commercial vehicles is found in Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation (FMSCR) Part 393.75 (d), which states: "No bus shall be operated with regrooved, recapped or retreaded tires on the front wheels."
Since this regulation prohibits the use of retreads only on passenger buses, it does not apply to commercial trucks and tractors.
Nevertheless, most fleets do not use retreaded tires on the steer axles of their vehicles.
This is due to several things, including misunderstanding of the federal regulations, the desire to reduce perceived safety risks and driver resistance to their use due to long-ago negative experiences with retreads.
However, there are many fleets — including a few of the largest in the world — that have used retreads successfully on steer positions in specific applications for many years with no problems, even though steer tires experience the most stress of any wheel position on a commercial vehicle due to the lateral forces they experience.
Therefore, your fleet customers may want to reconsider their tire policies regarding using retreads on steer axles.
There are some applications in which retreaded steer tires perform quite well. The first is vocational trucks that have different sizes of tires on the steer and drive positions, such as refuse trucks, cement mixers, oil field vehicles, mobile cranes, building material delivery vehicles, etc.
It makes sense to retread steer tires in these applications as fleets would have to sell them otherwise since there are no other positions to put them on once they wear out. They usually operate at slower speeds and are not generally operating on highways.
The second is local pickup-and- delivery vehicles that return to their terminals every night and whose tires have short tread life due to high frequency turning and stopping.
There may be other applications in which retreaded steer tires would perform well, and fleets should establish their own policies for retreading steer tires based on their specific operations. These policies should include:
The maximum number of times a tire can be retreaded for use on the steer axle.
The maximum age of the retreaded casing that can be used on the steer axle.
The number and location of repairs that can be made in the casing of a retreaded tire to be used on the steer axle.
The minimum tread depth at which steer tires should be removed from the vehicle.
Fleet requirements for marking casings for use on steer axles so that they are easy for service technicians to see in a tire rack or on a service truck.
If operating in California, the policy should include the state's required labeling that certifies the tire's compliance with the Industry Standard for Retreading and is acceptable for steer-axle use. This labeling includes the letters RS, which stand for Industry Retreading Standard and the characters F1 and F2. The F1 indicates the tire has been retreaded once; F-2 indicates it has been retreaded twice.
Any other operational considerations specific to the service conditions in which the tires operate.
By knowing the facts, fleets can develop intelligent tire policies that make sense, save money and help them operate efficiently.
These clear policies help their tire dealers and retreaders understand their requirements so that the dealers can meet fleets' expectations, and life is good for everybody.
There's no place for "myths" or "old driver's tales" in this industry. So, just run like hell if a trucker tells you, "I overinflated my 22.5 low profile tires to 140 psi, because I heard I can save a lot on fuel."
Peggy can be reached via email at [email protected].
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