Tires were a tough commodity to get hold of throughout much of 2005. While tire manufacturers anticipate an improved supply/demand balance for 2006, it still makes sense to pay close attention to tire selection and maintenance for increased longevity. It can reduce tire costs and unexpected downtime, while maximizing the number of retreads and minimizing “crisis” purchases at your local tire dealer.
Tire selection for medium- and heavy-duty trucks has admittedly become a bit more complex in recent years with the introduction of more application-specific designs. That trend, according to Guy Walenga, engineering manager for North American commercial tires at Bridgestone, will continue. Gone are the days of the “one-tire-fits-all” methodology. Manufacturers now offer a variety of tire designs for on-highway, off-highway and varying combinations of both.
“That complexity is actually an advantage for fleets and owner/operators,” Walenga says. “Today, tread designs and compounds are developed for optimum performance in specific environments.”
Match to the application
To determine the best tire for your particular situation, tire manufacturers suggest you begin by estimating how much time you spend on and off the road. Your answer will help determine the correct tread depth and tread compound. “It’s a balance between traction needs, tread voids and mileage,” says Curtis Decker, national manager at Continental. “Misapplication tends to show up faster off-road because it’s a tougher application from the standpoint of expected mileage, heavy loads and impacts and abuse from foreign objects.”
But be careful not to overestimate the amount of traction you really require. “It’s easy to misjudge your traction needs,” Decker cautions. “Some people mistakenly believe that if they go off-road at any time, they need the most aggressive tire available. But if you have an off-road tire that spends a significant amount of time on improved surfaces, you won’t be satisfied with the mileage from your tires because you’ll burn them up on the highway. Purchase a tire that will offer the best option in the majority of the time that the truck is used.”
Additional aspects you will want to evaluate include off-road surface conditions, weight of loads carried and speed traveled.
“If you’re on gravel and rocks, you’ll want something different than if you run in soft soils or mud,” says Doug Jones, customer engineering support manager for North American tires at Michelin. “And if you go through a lot of debris, you’ll want a tire with reinforced sidewalls to resist punctures.”
Ply rating (along with air pressure) affects how much load your tires can carry. A heavily loaded vehicle will need a tire with a higher ply rating that will allow it to better handle the weight.
Many off-road tires have speed restrictions, some as low as 50 mph. As you move to line-haul tires, speeds increase. “If you don’t fully understand your application and mount the wrong tire, it will heat up and deteriorate, which will cause it to come out of service early,” says Jones.
Remember that your local tire dealer can be your best friend when it comes to matching tires to applications. “There are lot of different tread designs, compounds and sizes. So it’s best to work with your tire professional who understands all the options and knows how new tire offerings and retreads fit into your fleet,” says Al Cohn, technical marketing manager for commercial tires at Goodyear.