A significant controllable expense for beverage fleets is tire maintenance.
Carrying heavy loads and often making many starts and stops, beverage fleets need to ride on carefully maintained tires that have been selected for the right position on the vehicle. While there is much that goes into maintenance—from balancing and alignment, to tire designs specific to the industry’s needs, to new computerized systems—all experts agree that one thing is essential: proper inflation. Too much air and the tires wear too quickly; too little and the truck will become a danger on the road, especially with the considerable weight carried by beverage vehicles.
“Tires are the third largest controllable expense that a fleet has,” says Greg McDonald, engineering manager, corporate accounts, Bridgestone America’s tire operations. “After fuel and drivers, tires are a leading expense to the fleets, and it’s one of the low hanging fruits that offers a substantial opportunity for them to save money.” That money will go to the bottom line and make the companies more sustainable. “If you are not maintaining your tires, and as a result losing tires out on the road, your road service calls will cost a fortune,” McDonald says. “But if you can catch a tire sitting on a lot that needs a repair, replacement, or re-treading, it is a lot less expensive for the fleet to do that on their own property and their own shop than it is to have downtime, possibly a late delivery, pay a road service call, and a premium price for the product that they would receive on a road service call.”
“Beverage trucks normally operate in tough environments,” says Paul Crehan, director of product marketing, Michelin Truck Tires. “As the beverage delivery fleet trucks deliver products to keep us cool and refreshed, the tires are subject to urban road hazards, narrow roads, tight turns, curb contact and obstacles tough on equipment.”
Some of these fleets operate in urban environments while others are more regional. “Most of these deliveries are for local, point-of-sale stops, so these fleets are generally operating from a home base where they return at the end of the delivery schedule. When challenges arise from tire maintenance perspective, downtime becomes the focus. So selecting the most appropriate tires and maintaining them is key,” Crehan notes.
The best practice for tire maintenance is simply to not neglect tires, says Alex Chmiel, director of marketing, commercial tire vehicles, Continental Tire the Americas. “It sounds basic but maintaining the proper air inflation in a tire will greatly increase the mileage of your tires, improve the fuel efficiency and protect the tire casing for either retreading or resale,” he says.
Continental conducted a study where it inspected tire inflation at a truck stop, checking all the trucks that pulled in. This “unscientific survey” found that on average, 12 percent of the tires were underinflated, and is the cause of 90 percent of punctures. When those numbers are combined with government studies showing that tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) can improve the commercial vehicle fuel efficiency by 1.4 percent, “you can see the potential impact of ensuring a tire is inflated properly,” Chmiel notes.
Chmiel advises beverage fleets to take a “fully holistic approach to tire maintenance that not only looks at the tire itself, but also the outside forces that may impact it, such as driver characteristics, alignment and air pressure. Taking the time to educate the fleet managers and their drivers is vital to holistic tire maintenance plans. There are so many different variables that can cause a tire to underperform. It is important that the tire manufacturer works with our customers to help them realize the best performance from their tires,” he says.
It all starts with the tire selection process, regardless of the performance attribute that a company is seeking, says Norberto Flores, marketing manager, Goodyear Commercial Tire Systems. “Goodyear truck tire tread patterns and tread depths are designed to deliver specific performance benefits, such as fuel efficiency, while resisting irregular wear and delivering optimal tire life.
“Because truck tires represent such a significant investment, it’s important to develop a maintenance program—and every good tire maintenance program starts with regular inflation checks. Maintaining correct inflation pressure levels is the single most important maintenance practice that a fleet can employ to positively impact tire wear, casing integrity and overall tire performance. It also helps promote fuel efficiency,” Flores says.
It’s the air inside a tire that actually carries the truck’s load, he says. Under-inflation causes the tire to flex more as it rolls down the highway, which results in internal heat build-up. Excessive heat can cause a tire’s components to deteriorate, which can damage the tire’s structure. “Under-inflation also can negatively impact a truck’s fuel economy since it forces truck engines to work harder,” he notes.
Along with air pressure, tire balance and alignment also contribute to longer tire life, Flores says. Correct balance can prevent irregular wear. “Misalignment can cause irregular tire wear and truck vibration, and can impact fuel economy. If any of the wheels on a truck are not aligned properly, the total drag on the vehicle increases,” he notes. A key trend is fleets realizing that careful, systemic documentation and analysis of tire maintenance and performance can help them get the most out of their tire investment through tools like Goodyear’s Tire Trac, Flores says.
At Hankook Tire America, Brian Sheehey, director, commercial tire sales and marketing, adds: “There are different applications and positions for truck tires. Each tire is uniquely developed according to its own operating requirements. Choosing the right tire is important. It is a significant factor in maximizing tire life and safety.”
Tire air pressure is the most critical factor in terms of safety and fuel efficiency, he notes. “If the air pressure is lower than recommended, the load is not carried correctly. If the air pressure is too high, the size of the contact footprint with the road is reduced, possibly reducing cornering and traction performance. Air pressure is also a significant factor in calculating fuel efficiency. It is important to follow the right tire load index in relation to the GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating) and actual load weight.” Tire rotation is also critical, Sheehey says. New technologies like tire pressure monitoring systems, automatic tire inflation, and air pressure supply systems can help maintain proper inflation while the truck is on the road, but the expense of these tools puts some companies off, says Bridgestone’s McDonald.
He concludes that the essentials of a tire program are inflation pressure and maintenance. For now, the cost of technology keeps many fleets from embracing it, but regulations will require their use and economies of scale will drive the prices down. “The technology will get there, but for all these tire pressure monitoring systems and air pressure supply systems, it is probably going to take a government mandate for commercial vehicles, similar to what the auto industry went through a number of years ago,” McDonald says.