In case you haven't already noticed, I am a huge proponent of retreading. Besides the benefits to the environment and lower operating costs, the continued improved performance of retreaded tires allows me to say — with a straight face — they can stand toe-to-toe with their new tire counterparts. Everything from improved inspection technology to advanced rubber compounds has made them more reliable, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that there is a major shortage of truck tire casings.
Back in the days of visual inspections, most fleets were reluctant to operate trucks with retreaded tires simply because the physical appearance of a casing could be very misleading. On the outside, it looked brand new. But on the inside, the lack of inflation pressure maintenance or improper tire repair procedures could have initiated belt separations and other problems that were emergency road service calls waiting to happen. It was enough for most fleet managers to throw their hands up in the air and swear off retreads forever.
A lot has changed since then and as a result, most fleets in North America have some form of a retreaded tire program. Whether they retread their own tires or turn in the casings for credit, there is tremendous value in preserving a second or third life for every tubeless radial truck tire. Since the performance and cost-per-mile benefits are measurable in most instances, even the most bottom line managers and old-school drivers must admit that today's retread is better than ever.
Unfortunately, the combination of improved technology and recent events overseas has all but dried up the casing market. Before they purchased Bandag, Bridgestone did not put a lot of emphasis on the benefits of retreading back in Japan, so there was a steady supply of high-quality imported casings that domestic retreaders could rely on. However, the company opened a tread rubber manufacturing plant in Thailand last November that can supply the growing markets in Japan, China and Asia so obviously that strategy has changed. Now that the rest of the world has caught on, the market for high-quality casing imports is growing while the supply is getting significantly smaller.
Notice that I qualified my previous statement with the words “high-quality.” There will always be a plentiful supply of imported casings that are readily available at an attractive price, but the retreadability still remains questionable to some degree. Major manufacturers are a known commodity in the casing business, so a container full of virgin casings with names like Bridgestone, Michelin and Goodyear is as close to a sure thing as you'll get. On the other hand, if you've never heard of the manufacturer or the name on the sidewall is not easily recognizable, there may be a good reason to question the retreadability of the casing.
Radial truck tire casings have never been more valuable, so fleets must take every step to preserve these important assets. Everything from regular inflation pressure maintenance to proper tire repair will have a positive impact on their value and performance, which means the lifecycle costs associated with neglecting truck tires will add up quickly. It is said that more than half of the cost of manufacturing a truck tire goes into building the casing, which means in theory the casing value should be about half the price of a new tire. While we haven't reached the stage where casing prices reflect their true value, I believe that day may come sooner than we think so fleets should be prepared.
Kevin Rohlwing can be reached at [email protected]