Article written by Jack Glenn at Freightwaves
It’s easy to overlook wheel-end maintenance in the fast-paced trucking industry.
After all, if the wheels aren’t turning, revenue isn’t churning. But giving your wheels just a bit more attention may actually save you more in the long run.
One often overlooked consideration is just how much tires affect fuel economy. It all comes down to wear and tear, but when is the best time to replace them?
While the first couple of 32nds of the tread wears down rather quickly, Bortner said that miles per 32nd actually increases as it wears down — to an extent.
“The key to a good tire maintenance program is getting to that last usable five 32nds or so,” Bortner said. “That’s when the miles per 32nd increase substantially as well as fuel.”
However, he noted that fleets often replace tires prematurely, citing wear-and-tear issues or driver complaints. “They never realize the benefits of the maximum miles per 32nd as well as miles per gallon at the end of the life of the tire,” Bortner said.
Bortner said it’s a good idea to replace the tire once the tread diminishes below the 5/32 threshold.
When it comes to wear and tear, it turns out that air pressure is a major contributing factor.
“Overinflated or underinflated, you’re gonna have issues and won’t get the miles per 32nds that you want,” said Bortner, noting that he surprisingly encounters many fleets that admit they don’t know the correct pressure to use.
“A lot of people use what’s on the sidewall of the tire. Well, that’s not the optimal air pressure,” he added. Bortner recommends basing the tire pressure on how much you plan to haul.
With your loaded tractor-trailer on a scale, he suggests using your tire manufacturer’s load information table — measuring tire size and weight of the load — to calculate the optimal tire pressure for the specific haul.
“Get the truck weighed, go to the load inflation tables available online, and that will give you the optimal air pressure,” Bortner said. “That, in turn, is going to give you the best mileage. You’re not going to be overinflated or underinflated.”
Also, remember to make sure your tires are aligned properly. Bortner explained that alignment can reduce tire wear and improve fuel efficiency. Quality alignment also can help prolong the life span of suspension components.
Tire rotation is another component that must be performed correctly and routinely — something Bortner said larger fleets often fall behind on. He recommends all fleets rotate the steer and drive tires two to three times during their life.
“What a lot of the fleets say is, ‘It’s too time-consuming. It’s hard to keep track of,’” Bortner said. “So I talk to them about working it into their preventative maintenance program. They already have the truck jacked up when they’re checking brakes. It’s pretty simple to unbolt the tire, move it to the other side and bring the other one over.”
Head over to our blog to check out tips for proper wheel end maintenance!