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Home » BLOG » A Quick Guide: Keeping the Wheels on the Bus Going ‘Round

As a manager of school bus maintenance, you’re responsible for some pretty precious cargo.  On top of the strict safety standards from the state and federal level, you’re given tight budgets and face great demands.  How do you maintain a safe fleet of school buses without running out of money?

Required School Bus Maintenance

For some maintenance requirements, there are standards expected to incur costs.  For example, it is federally required that school buses have a steel cage around the fuel tank to protect against crash impacts.  Also, the body of the school bus needs to have a reinforced steel construction for rollover protection.  But you’re already aware of this – it’s in the specs of ordering the school bus!

Maintaining Your Tire Costs

One aspect of your fleet maintenance becoming increasingly more important to your budget are your tires.  School Bus Fleet states “ensuring that the tires on a fleet of school buses are in good condition should be an essential component of an operation’s maintenance program for the buses to run smoothly.”

However, there has been a recent hike in the price of tires due to the increasing cost of natural rubber – and it is dramatically affecting maintenance costs.

But while prices are going up, budgets don’t seem to be increased to compensate.  And that is where a school bus needs to get the most miles out of its tires while maintaining safe operations.

One prime example of the importance of tire maintenance occurred recently in Montgomery, AL.  Inspections were performed on the fleet of Montgomery Public Schools’ buses, and the “worn tires and insufficient bus maintenance were the primary reasons” an intervention letter was sent to the Transportation Division.  About 17 percent of the buses had tires worn to the point of major concern.

So what is an effort you can make to keep safety a top priority?

Tire Pressure and Your Fleet

Maintaining proper tire inflation is considered to have a large impact on the performance of your tires, and that doesn’t take any additional money from your budget.  Training your drivers on the warning signs of tire pressure and how to properly check tire pressure is a low-cost, high-reward effort.

Tire pressure affects handling and fuel efficiency. Under-inflated tires decrease fuel efficiency and increase the likelihood of damage inside the tire from elevated interior temperatures. Over-inflation makes blowout risks more likely from minor impacts with road debris. While performing your inspection, listen for an audible hissing from an air leak. If you hear this sound or see a flat tire, replace the tire immediately.

But school buses have one unique aspect to their tires and air pressure, which makes it more difficult to get correct tire pressure than in most other applications.  The culprit: the school bus axle.  According to Bob Bortner, our resident expert on school bus maintenance, “school buses are built with a tractor trailer axle.  Even with the bus fully loaded with school children, it never reaches its max load weight – creating the challenge to get the correct air pressure in the tires.”  By having incorrect air pressure in your school bus tires, your tires can experience irregular wear.  This causes you to remove the tires before the end of their life and waste the investment in your tires.

Perform Manual Pressure Checks

Whether or not a bus has a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), or if visually the tires look full during your initial inspection, you still need to perform regular, manual checks.

Use a pressure gauge after the bus has cooled for three hours or more after a drive. Cooler tire pressures will be lower than those from recently driven buses. Don’t use the sidewall pressure as an inflation directive. The pressure printed on the tires’ sidewalls marks the maximum cold pressure allowed for the tires. Look at the school bus certification label to find the correct pressure for all the tires.

Typical use and temperature fluctuations can cause drops in tire pressure, which further drives the point of pre-trip inspections that include tire pressure measurements. If the temperature drops by only 10 degrees Fahrenheit, the pressure inside the tires could fall between two and four psi. This same decrease commonly occurs through regular use every month. If the pressure decreases more often or drops more than four psi, the tire may have a hidden leak that needs attention.

 Saving Your Maintenance Budget

One way you can compensate for the imbalance in tires created by the improper inflation is to… balance your tires.  By using an internal balancer like EQUAL FLEXX, you can actively balance your tires to make sure that the footprint of your tires are always hitting the road evenly – meaning your tires will wear more evenly, last longer, and you’ll have more money left in your maintenance budget.

Another added benefit of having continuously-balanced tires is an increase in your fuel economy.  By dampening vibrations at the wheel-end, you reduce the rolling resistance of the tires and save fuel when going from one bus stop to another.

Wheels on the Bus Go ‘Round and ‘Round… and Stop

Along with the bus axle, your fleet has another unique quality: its stop-and-go driving pattern.  Bob Bortner highlights, “by constantly stopping at pickup and drop-off locations, the wheels and brakes of your buses can experience some serious heat.  If left unchecked, the brakes or wheel bearings on your buses can suffer unseen damage and compromise the safety of your fleet.”

In order to combat this threat, it is important to train your operators on how to recognize the effects of heat damage.  One easy way to check for excessive heat is to use Checkpoint; the indicators will distort on the lugnut if there is extreme heat, allowing the operator to let your Maintenance Technicians know that there may be an issue.  If you can catch the problems early, it means big savings – and a safer ride.

Keeping the Wheels on the Bus

Another easy maintenance check for operators: loose lug nuts.  While it may seem that loose lugnuts would be an obvious catch, it hasn’t been in recent months.  Just recently there was a school bus in Indiana that literally lost its wheels in transit.  Three weeks earlier, a school bus in Philadelphia lost two of its rear tires while transporting a bus full of school children on a field trip.

While it may seem that these situations happen without warning, think again.  A school bus in Toronto was pulled over in April when a number of drivers called police to report a school bus with wheels appearing loose.  According to the CBC article, the police reporting to the scene recognized that the rear wheels seemed to be coming loose and the bus was immediately taken out of service.

CHECKPOINT is our solution to maintaining the proper tightness of the lug nuts on your wheels. Placing CHECKPOINT on each lug nut allows you to detect lug nut movement. If all the indicators are pointed in the same direction, the lug nuts are tight. If one indicator points in a different direction, that nut, and potentially the stud, needs tightening or replacement.

By utilizing CHECKPOINT, you will be able to quickly and easily check the torque of your lugnuts – keeping your wheels on tight, your bus on the road, and your precious cargo safe.

Taking a quick look at CHECKPOINT before and after your trip is an important maintenance step. By quickly making sure the indicators are pointing in the right direction, you’re making sure the lug nuts are properly torqued, which aids in preventing wheel offs during travel.

Ultimately, the importance of keeping those on your school bus safety is paramount.  But the challenge of decreasing maintenance budgets can make where you invest a difficult decision.

But in the end, spending a little now on preventative maintenance can save you a lot on costs in the future.  And if you think about it, it can even save the future itself.