Inspectors don’t usually target trucks at random. They have a hunch.
When your wheels are dirty, rusty or corroded, you might as well attach a giant red flag to the back of your trailer.
Bob Bortner, mid-Atlantic territory manager for commercial tire and fleet solutions leader IMI, says that inspectors are more likely to focus on a truck with dirty and corroded wheels as opposed to ones that are nice and shiny. So getting your rims nice and clean should be at the top of your to-do list.
“Fleets that keep up with the refinishing of their steel and aluminum wheels are more prone to receiving a ‘Hey, just go on through’ from inspectors,” Bortner said during a recent appearance on FreightWaves’ WHAT THE TRUCK?!? “But if you pull up and your wheels are brown and the paint’s chipping off, yeah, that’s a red flag; that’s when they’re going to take a little bit more time to do some digging, and who knows what they’ll find?”
As one of the top five vehicle out-of-service violations, tires and wheels are among the first things inspectors review, looking for elongated bolt holes, cracks or a missing DOT stamp. Anything less than satisfactory, Bortner said, could very well lead the inspector to search other areas of the truck, leading to further violations.
Bortner said this is exactly why fleets and owner-operators should look into having their steel and aluminum wheels refurbished and refinished.
Bortner said the process is actually cheaper than replacing the wheel outright. “A lot of the commercial tire dealers have a system to refinish them.” But he said only IMI uses MILCURE, the leading three-step wheel refinishing process.
“With the human doing the coating, you can’t be as consistent as you want,” Bortner said. “Luckily, we have a trainable robotic arm that applies the same consistency and thickness [of powder coating] on every wheel, every time.”
IMI’s MILCURE System, with its self-learning robot, continuous conveyor and jib crane, is available for in-house installation, giving your fleet the ability to automate your steel wheel refinishing operation.
For steel wheels, the process starts with a visual inspection for defects, after which the wheel is placed in a blaster to remove all old powder and coating. Once there’s nothing left but steel, another visual inspection is carried out.
Bortner said the wheel then receives a powder coating before being placed in an oven, baking the powder onto the rim. Post-cure, the powder’s thickness is checked and a chemical called M.E.K. is applied. If the chemical rubs off any powder, the wheel needs to be baked a little longer and at a higher temperature.
The process is similar for aluminum wheels. But unlike other refinishing processes that shave the aluminum completely off, damaging the rim right down to the DOT stamp, the ALUMINATOR deeply washes, buffs and shines the wheel.
Bortner says any and every crack will be exposed after the thorough cleaning process. “A lot of other current equipment out there will only [clean] one side, and they can’t tell that there are cracks on the other side,” he said.
He recommends that all fleets consider refurbishing and refinishing their wheels before winter, as road treatment, especially in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, is known to be corrosive to wheels.
“You want to make sure your provider is using a powder that is taking that into account,” Bortner said. “Make sure it’s specific for the steel wheel … . You don’t want to be using the same powder on your steel wheel that they use for a fence post or a mailbox.”