When you have a toothache, you go to a dentist. When your bathroom sink starts leaking, you call a plumber. When you need a stronger understanding of your vehicle’s tires, you…call a tire expert? That’s exactly what Government Fleet did to see what fleets need to know when it comes to this necessary piece of a fleet. T.J Tennent, aka “The Tyre Guy” is the president of Tennent, Winkelman and Associates, a tire forensics firm that provides tire training. Tennent can also be found testifying as an expert witness in court cases that involve tire failure. But as Tennent points out, “a courtroom scenario is not the best opportunity to meet me.”
The Basics to Avoid Tire Failure
So what should a fleet know to prevent the likelihood of ending up in court due to tire failure? Fleets should start out practicing proper tire maintenance. From Tennent’s experience, too many people don’t check the air pressure of their tires. He points to a past speaking engagement where he asked everyone in the audience when was the last time they checked the pressure in their vehicle’s temporary spare.
“Most people said, ‘I never have,’ that’s the typical answer.”
The good news is that there are a lot of devices that exist to assist fleet managers and maintain proper tire maintenance. Some of those are established by the OEMs. For example, General Motors has a tire pressure monitoring system, known as a TPMS, that is designed to help the operator of that vehicle or the maintenance person that's performing maintenance on that vehicle, understand that the tires are either inflated to proper tire maintenance or the tires need some attention through either an audible or visual alarm.
But Tennent says that even with that, and other companies out there that produce aftermarket tire pressure monitoring systems, air pressure does not get maintained as often as it should. It’s something that needs to be checked daily, according to Tennent. For a majority of fleets, there are government policies or procedures that the vehicle should be inspected prior to being used. This would equate to every morning before the vehicles use or before a shift starts. Those tires and other pertinent objects on the vehicle should be checked to ensure that the vehicle is in proper operating order before it's used. Those records should be retained for a specific amount of time.
“Unfortunately, that is not properly done at all in a lot of cases,” Tennent says. “And that should be on all fleet vehicles whether it's a car, pickup, little micro vans, and or a full-blown commercial truck.”
Under Pressure: Know Where You're At
Songs by Queen and David Bowie aside, Tennent says that if you're not sure what air pressure should your vehicle should have the first place to look is the door placard. This is where you can also find the gross vehicle weight. Why is this part important? The load that is applied to the tire is what determines what air pressure that tire should have in it. But this can be broken down further with two terms: overloaded and insufficient air pressure to carry the load. Tennent uses the example of a pickup truck used to haul a heavy load in a trailer. Adding the loads plus the weight of the trailer, the air pressure in the rear axle, and possibly the front axle, needs to be adjusted for the higher load-carrying capacity. In this situation where more air cannot be added to suffice all the extra weight, the tires could become overloaded.
On the flip side, if it’s been six months and the air pressure in a pickup truck’s tires haven’t been checked, the tires lose approximately one psi per month. And for every 10 degrees that psi is lost, a vehicle could be on the verge of the TPMS light coming on. In this situation, a vehicle may have insufficient air pressure to carry a load because of air pressure loss.
“People say ‘You know, the tire is not flat, it's just underinflated a little bit,’” Tennent explains. “Even if the tires underinflated a little bit for the load that it's carrying, there's damage being done to that tire, and that damage is progressive and continuous. Since tires don't repair themselves, you could be doing catastrophic damage to that tire, and over time, there's a very high possibility that if that behavior continues, you can have a catastrophic tire disablement.”
It’s in these cases that Tennent may get called in to testify based on existing evidence that the tire wasn't properly maintained.
Preventative Measures Beyond Visual Inspections
A key part of preventing tire issues down the road is doing more than a visual inspection. Tennent advises using a tire pressure gauge and using a TPMS inside the vehicle to understand what's going on. When it comes to fleet, he notes that fleet managers have three big concerns on their plate every single day that they come to work: Payroll, fuel, and, of course, tires.
“The easiest one, and the one that's free to control, is tires,” Tennent says. “If you've got a tire that's significantly under-inflated for the load that it's carrying, that tire can wear out as quickly as 40% quicker than it normally would under circumstances where the tire has been properly maintained.”
Tennent points out that the best way to reduce that cost is to maintain proper tire pressure, which requires the driver or other individuals that are involved with operation of that vehicle to help maintain tire pressure. From a monetary standpoint, if tires aren’t maintained properly, repair or replacement costs can be as much as 40% to 50% more than what was in a budget rather than if tires had been regularly checked, Tennent says.
On top of cost, Tennent says that safety goes hand-in-hand with this as well.
“If a tire has an issue, someone can easily become deceased or seriously injured due to the lack of maintenance of that particular product on that vehicle,” he says.
Making the Right Tire Choices
A good place to start when making new tire purchases is to measure the cost of the fleet and determine what category of tire should be bought that would be beneficial to the fleet. Tennent gives the example of a fleet with a number of vehicles that do a lot of off-road action in an area that has terrain that will easily wear down a tire. This is an example where a fleet manager may not want to spend the cost that it would take to purchase a higher-end tire. On the other hand, if a fleet has a lot of vehicles that aren’t going off-road, then fleet managers should consider purchasing one of the best tires on the market for something that will last longer.
“It's really important to understand not only the needs of your fleet but what type of tire would be best in your fleet to purchase so you get the highest bang for the buck,” Tennent says. “The highest price for a tire isn't necessarily something that you should do or consider doing if you're not going to get much mileage and the tires are going to be cut up; then you shouldn't spend that level of money.”
Out of Service or Scrap Tire Survey
To take off the tires or leave them on? It’s a tough question. To get some answers, Tennent recommends a scrap tire survey, which can help fleets understand why tires are coming out of service. The survey involves holding all the tires that have been taken off a certain set or group of vehicles and for several months, usually three to six months, documentation will be taken on each tire that came out of service,
Tennent says this is important as the likelihood that those tires came out of service for the same reason that the fleet manager thinks they came out of service is very rare.
“They're usually coming out coming out of service for some other reason like alignment, mechanical wear, or something like that,” he says.
For example, if tires are coming out of service due to alignment, the regularity of the vehicle maintenance program may need to be increased.
Another area that Tennent has seen lacking in fleets is that there isn’t enough knowledge of how many miles they are getting out of their tires. Due to this, a tracking program should be used to determine how many miles they're getting out of the tires. This, combined with a scrap tire survey, can give a much clearer picture of why a fleet may not be getting the mileage that they would expect.
“If you don't know how many miles you're getting out of your tires, are you going to know what your fleet needs?” Tennent asks before adding that just because another fleet has a similar setup does not mean you should be using the same tires. “You cannot. under any circumstances. compare your fleet operation to your buddies, even though they may seem very, very similar.”
In Conclusion: Things to Remember
Summarizing his advice for fleets, Tennent’s key takeaways are this:
Do not fail to check the air pressure in the tires on all the vehicles in your fleet in a regular way or in a way that fits your policies and procedures.
Understand what tires you're choosing for your fleet and understand what products you choose and how your fleet will operate at optimum efficiency.
“With tires, there are a lot of things that you should do to save money, but on the backside, if you’re not staying on top of everything you should be doing, one lawsuit will negate every penny that you saved.”