Inflation is Key

Maintaining Optimal Tire Pressure is Essential to a Successful Preventative Maintenance Program

Advanced systems can be installed on each trailer tire to monitor pressure. Some systems also can keep tires properly inflated while driving. (Photo courtesy of Ervin Equipment)Advanced systems can be installed on each trailer tire to monitor pressure. Some systems also can keep tires properly inflated while driving. (Photo courtesy of Ervin Equipment)

A kick to a tire doesn’t reveal much more than the stiffness of your boot and it certainly isn’t a good gauge of the level of air pressure in a tire. Tire pressure is one of the most important aspects of a tire maintenance program, because it can have the greatest impact on safety, fuel efficiency, wear life, overhead costs and customer satisfaction.

1.  The Silent Money Eater

Costly Blowouts

One of the biggest concerns related to driving with underinflated tires is the risk of a blowout. Most fleets will experience at least one blowout this year due to underinflated tires, and the costs associated with getting a rig up and running after one occurs add up quickly. New tires can run between $350-$1,000 apiece, and if you need roadside assistance or a tow, tack on an extra $400. That doesn’t even factor in the costs associated with lost time when drivers are out of service or damage to the truck, trailer or other vehicles and property, outcomes that can result in more insurance claims and increased premiums.

Reduced Fuel Efficiency

As underinflated tires roll they bend more, which builds internal heat and increases rolling resistance. This can reduce fuel efficiency by up to 5 percent and carriers with larger fleets can see a substantial increase in fuel costs over time.

Reduced Tread Life

Low tire pressure not only affects overhead costs, but it can impact the tires themselves. Underinflation of just 6 psi can result in a 25 percent reduction in tread life, so drivers are not only filling up more often, they are replacing or retreading tires more frequently. Reduced tread life also can be another culprit in causing dangerous and costly blowouts.

A preventative maintenance program that involves inspecting wheels, tires and duals on a regular basis can help reduce the risk of costly blowouts and downtime. (Photo courtesy of Ervin Equipment)A preventative maintenance program that involves inspecting wheels, tires and duals on a regular basis can help reduce the risk of costly blowouts and downtime. (Photo courtesy of Ervin Equipment)

2.  A Defensive Strategy

Clearly, driving with low tire pressure can have a negative impact on the bottom line. Regular, manual checks reduce those costs to some degree, but they also add labor costs. Checking pressure on 18 tires and refilling two to three can take up to 30 minutes. Doing so on a weekly basis adds up to 26 labor hours per year, per truck. To avoid the extra labor expense, operators and carriers can install advanced monitoring systems.

Advanced Warning

Tire pressure monitoring systems do just that− monitor tire pressure so the driver doesn’t have to. Because of this, these systems can substantially reduce the overhead costs associated with a tire maintenance program. The systems feature sensors mounted to each of the wheels. They constantly track the psi of each tire and transmit pressure levels to a factory-installed or retrofitted display to alert the driver so he can stop and refill before a blowout occurs.

Fill ‘Er Up

But you can go a step further by battling deflation before air pressure becomes an issue. An automatic tire inflation system not only monitors tire pressure, but also uses the trailer’s existing air supply to automatically fill the tires if they fall below a certain psi. The system routes air through each axle and rotary union assembly, and distributes it to each tire as needed.

These types of systems dramatically decrease labor hours and overhead costs associated with tire maintenance. They also can provide an average fuel savings of 1.4 percent and increase tire life by up to 10 percent, which reduces costs even more. Because they nearly eliminate the risk of a blowout due to underinflation, they enhance the safety of the driver and other motorists. Another benefit is reduced downtime, which can ensure more on-time deliveries and satisfied customers.

Some systems even go beyond monitoring and inflating to track the temperature of the wheels. If any become overheated due to issues like a hub bearing or break-related failure, these systems alert the driver before costly damage to the wheels and tires occur. Most systems are also compatible with satellite communication systems so both the driver and the dispatcher can monitor tire condition at all times.

Typically it takes just one year for carriers to see a return on this type of investment. One manufacturer says it can see an annual savings of up to $1,960 per trailer per year with this type of system. Some manufacturers even feature calculators on their websites that estimate the savings users can expect on fuel costs, tire repairs and replacement and service calls. By the time the trailer is sold, traded in or retired, this can add up to substantial savings and those who paid for the system will have gained up to 50 percent of the original cost of the system at trade in because of higher resale value.

3. The Total Approach

While tire pressure is the most critical part of a preventative maintenance program, it isn’t the only one.

The Ins and Outs  

Drivers also should check the wheels and surface of the tires regularly to make sure they are in good condition. Inconsistent wear patterns or smooth spots typically indicate the wheels need to be realigned. Failing to do so could significantly decrease wear life and increase rolling resistance, which means higher fuel consumption. Check the tread and look for sidewall separation, cuts or gouges and inspect the exposed belt or ply material for damage.

Lug nuts also can become damaged or loosen over time, which puts extra stress and weight on the other nuts. This can cause the wheel to fracture, so to avoid this drivers should periodically check the lug nuts to ensure they are in good condition.

Finally, you can’t cover tire maintenance without talking about tread. Whether drivers are up against rain, sleet or snow, proper tread depth is critical for good traction control. A good rule of thumb is the deeper the weather element, the deeper the depth. The DOT specifies that tread depth should be at least 6/32 of an inch in snow, 4/32 of an inch in rain and 2/32 of an inch when traveling during normal conditions.

Win the Inflation Battle

It’s a good idea to check wheels and tires before each trip, but it’s also important to remember to check them more frequently when traveling longer distances or over rough roads.

There are numerous benefits to a comprehensive preventative maintenance program, and paired with advanced monitoring systems they can add up quickly. From increased safety to reduced repair and replacement costs, from lower fuel consumption to longer wear life, it’s a plan carriers can’t afford to be without.

About the author: Jeff Weber is vice president of sales and marketing for Ervin Equipment. For more information about this company, visit